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Mindless action in Malwani
By Jyoti Punwani

The police firing in Malwani on 7 June, which claimed the life of 22-year-old Kalim Shaikh, father of three infants, is a classic example of the so-called secular government’s attitude towards minorities. It is also a sad commentary on the failure of Mumbai’s citizens in building a group in Mumbai after the 92-93 communal riots, which would be able to prevent or at least deal with such outbreaks.

Like the demolitions that have been taking place all over the city of late, the demolition of the unauthorized extension to prayer hall in a Malwani cemetery, which sparked off the violence, was conducted in a heavy-handed and insensitive manner. The BMC and the police are aware that Malwani is a sensitive are with a history of communal rioting. Its predominantly Muslim population is lower middle class, largely uneducated and either unemployed or self-employed. There are enough semi-educated young men around at any given time to get provoked into violence over a religious issue.

Soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 92, it had taken a police officer of the stature of AA khan to calm down the agitated mob which was being provoked by a maulawi in Malwani. Obviously, no lessons were learnt from that experience and the only precautions that the BMC and the police took this time were to cordon off the cemetery where the demolition was taking place. The police tried that morning to contact the chief trustee of the prayer hall, but finding him and his son out of town, they didn’t bother to contact any other trustee.

Nor was the local mohalla/peace committee taken into confidence, say the police, else they would not have allowed the demolition to take place, and perhaps even attacked the BMC demolition team. That speaks volumes about the kind of mohalla committee that is in operation, and also about the police’s relationship with them. As expected, the sight of so many policemen cordoning off a religious site inflamed religious fears, and as the rumour spread that the cemetery’s mosque was being demolished, young men ran towards the demolition site shouting Allah-o-Akbar. The police described this as an "anti-Hindu slogan".

The Srikrishna Commission report is replete with instances of the consequences of the lack of Urdu-knowing policemen in Mumbai. For a Malwani policeman to describe ‘Nara-e-Takbeer, Allah-o-Akbar’ as an "anti-Hindu slogan" is unforgivable. The police allege that the youth were violent and stoned buses and the police. One young man who was part of that mob claims they were only shouting slogans and it was the police which began beating them up. He saw a maulana being caned and his friend being made to sit in a police van. Later, his friend was charged with serious offences.

Whatever the truth, there’s no doubt that buses and shops were damaged, a police chawki attacked, a temple desecrated and policemen injured. A police drive, Prakash Shinde, was in hospital for a long time even after his forehead was stitched up – doctors suspected a fractured nose and had to wait till it showed up on the X-ray.

Shinde was sorry about the death of Kalim Shaikh and concerned about his three children. His description of how he came to be wounded was chilling – unarmed, he had to drive the police jeep through a 2000- strong, armed mob, whom nobody was trying to calm, except he and the two other occupants of the jeep. The glass pieces which flew all over when the stone broke the jeep’s windshield and landed on his forehead, could well have pierced his eyes and blinded him. He, too has three children. The Rs 25,000 promised him as compensation had not reached him when I met him, and nobody, except the ACP for whom he worked, had cared to visit him. 

This experience made Shinde demand that wireless police personnel should not only be provided with arms, but is allowed to use them too. "There’s no point trying to reason with the mob," he said.

The same hardening of attitudes was evident in the trustees of the temple which was broken into by a Muslim mob that day. The pujari, Bans Narayan Shukla, saw the entire incident from a window across the narrow street. The armed mob broke the lock and the iron grill, then broke the idols of Hanuman and Durga. There was no police in sight. When he returned to the temple, he found Rs 10,000 missing from the collection box.

"Don’t they teach them in the madrasas sprouting all over the place not to break idols and loot money? In this fight between them and the BMC, where do we come in?" asked some angry Hindus. The local mosque trustees had offered help in rebuilding it, but the temple trustee, Ram Vruksh Gupta, had refused. The mood among the influential Hindus in the area was belligerent. The police had pressurized them not to allow the Shiv Sena to make a grand event of re-installation of the idols (a similar exercise carried out in December 92 in Bandra by Sena MP Madhukar Sarpotdar had seen ugly slogans being shouted, and three days later, violence began in the area). The trustees claimed they didn’t want to politicize the issue, but those sitting around them made it clear that a month later, i.e., on July7, the VHP would take out a morcha and conduct a reinstallation ceremony. 

Why did they refuse the offer from the Muslims? "Can’t they control their children? In 92 also, they broke our temple and offered help. What meaning does it have? Where are they when the damage is being done?" At the same time, they admitted that a temple some distance away was saved by local Muslims.

Jabbarbhai, the trustee of the damaged structure, claimed that they had been detained at the demolition site till the police firing, otherwise they would have been able to calm the mob. The police deny this. There’s no doubt however that nobody tried to calm the mob. The locals claim that the firing on a peaceful crowd provoked the violence, the police – and, significantly, the Hindus – allege that they had no alternative but to fire as they were outnumbered and under attack. However, Kalim’s family says he was shot as he emerged from his lane to buy electrical material, unaware of the situation outside.

Two eye-witnesses, Halimabai and Asamt Bi, say the mob was running away in panic when the police jeep came. "Instead of calming them down, the policemen just started shooting. Kalim lurched when he was hit and held on to a grill. The policemen fired at him again. When he fell, the officer went up to him, overturned his prone body with his boot and rifle butt, then shot at him again, and then kicked his body into the gutter." A number of cases were foisted on Kalim. Shamshu, injured in the firing, says he was shot when he came out of the toilet. 

Significantly, though the police claim that those in the forefront of the violent mob were fired at, there’s no case on Shamshu. How does the police then explain him being injured in the firing?

The police have a lot to answer for regarding the arrests, too. Manoj, a tailor, was picked up along with half-a-dozen Muslims who were sheltering outside his home. Fahim Siddiqui was arrested while walking with his cycle. Both were let off at midnight along with a few others. The rest were charged. Among those charged with desecrating the temple, is a student apparently returning from school. The pujari said he couldn’t recognize the mob which broke into the temple. The temple trustee was not a witness to the desecration. But the police claim they arrested those who the trustees identified.

After the incident, three ministers descended on Malwani: Krupa Shankar Singh, minister of state for home, who announced that all those arrested would be released (the police refused to do so), Naseem Khan, who pulled up the police and Nawab Malik. Not one of them visited the temple, though Singh was specially requested to do so.

Compensation of rupees one lakh was announced for Kalim, and thanks to Samajwadi Party chief Abu Asim Azmi, Shamshu was shifted to Nair Hospital. But there’s been no compensation to the Hindus whose shops were damaged, or to the temple trustees. To add fuel to the fire have been the statements of the local Muslim League and former Congress ‘leader; Farouque Azam, who threatened to break all temples inside police stations if unauthorized mosques continued to be demolished.

The next day, his boys went around enforcing a bandh in all the Muslim areas and gheraoed the Malwani police station. The government remained a silent spectator; apparently, the Congress wants Azam to emerge as an alternative to Abu Asim Azmi, their coalition partner. Azam was the first to felicitate the new police commissioner MN Singh, best –known for the way he terrorized Mumbai’s Muslims after the March 12, ’93 bomb blasts.

Malwani was the fifth incident of communal rioting in Maharashtra after the Congress-NCP-Samajwadi government came into power. In all, six such incidents have taken place, in which four Muslims have died due to police firing. In contrast, during the ‘communal’ Sena-BJP reign, only one incident of police firing on Muslims took place. The Shiv Sena, to prove its credentials, had issued strict orders to the police to prevent communal riots. Mohalla committees were activated and minor incidents nipped in the bud. The Congress doesn’t feel the need to prove itself, hence it has issued no special instructions to the police. The police remain the same trigger-happy, communalized force that was so severely indicted by the Srikrishna Commission. 
(Source: Communalism Combat)
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