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Sectarian clashes at the doorstep of Mumbai
By MH Lakdawala, Mumbai

The riots which broke out recently in Kalyan have sent down the chill amongst the Muslims of Maharashtra. Walking on the carpet of shattered glass on the kutcha lanes in Kalyan, 60 km north of Mumbai, it's easy to slip into the November of last year. In the town of Malegaon, up north in the state, you find the same metallic smell of arson, the blackened shells of burnt shops and houses. Main roads fork into galis which divide Muslim and Hindu neighbourhoods. The lanes lead to narrow alleys between tiny houses. The alleys act as sieves for this congested area. Some of them are so narrow that you have to walk sideways. Dark drains lie still, heaped with garbage which hasn't been cleared for days. There is a lock outside every house regardless of whether the family is in. 

The riots erupted around 11.30 pm on 9 April following the discovery of the fatally-stabbed body of a Shiv Sena member who was a resident of Rohidas Wada. Director-general of police Subhas Malhotra said that clashes broke out between two groups on Ambedkar Road around 10.30 pm after the Sena activist was stabbed to death. The police immediately rushed there, but were attacked by the mobs. The DGP said the police opened fire after teargas and baton charges failed to disperse the clashing groups. Five policemen were injured in stone pelting. Four vehicles, including two police jeeps, were damaged.

Confirming the incident, Thane Police Commissioner, Surendra Shangari, said that the rioters gutted about 10 houses belonging to members of both communities before the police arrived on the scene. By the time the police contained the rioters in Rohidas Wada, they turned their ire towards the neighbouring Dudh Naka area. A Shiv Sena activist and two women died- one Nusrat in Police firing in night-long clashes, arson and looting the first sectarian violence reported anywhere near the commercial capital in almost a decade. Malegaon too had its woman victim killed by a stray police bullet in Bilkis Bano. The same incredulousness can be seen in the faces of the family. ''What had she done? Why did she have to go?'' asks Nusrat's family. 

It is still not clear what sparked the violence, but the police suspect an old enmity between the killed Sena activist, Ashok Vitthal Walunj, and local Muslim leader Iqbal Sheikh who was injured in the violence. Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal said that Magisterial inquiry would be ordered into the incident. 

Irrespective of the genesis of the riots, what has made Muslims nervous is the chilling resemblances to Gujarat. The same weapons were used: gas cylinders and rags dipped in petrol, set alight and tossed on the target. Deep analysis casts the blame elsewhere: ''The police were late. The police are biased.'' The blame pours from the Muslims. 

Also there was a pattern to the spread of the riot. Just like Gujarat. The rumour mill was abuzz with gory accounts of how the victims were tortured and killed. The rumour mill also hints at cases of anonymous people being stabbed. There was a pattern to the spread of the riot. The targets appear to be carefully chosen. Located in the fringes of Kalyan, away from Police presence. 

Like Gujarat, women were also in fore front in the Kalyan riots. Her voice choked with sobs, Mumtaz Feroz Khan displayed large bruises on her legs and described her horror when once friendly Hindu neighbours turned hostile against her. "I would have been beaten to death, if I was not saved in time," Khan said, tearfully recounting the attack. 

"My neighbour Savitra and five other Hindu women caught me by my hair, shouted obscene words and beat me with iron rods," Khan said. "I fell at Savitra's husband's feet and begged for mercy. "He saved my life," Khan said. Along with her husband and four children, she fled her home in Rohidaswada, a Hindu and Muslim neighbourhood in Kalyan, when mobs from both communities burned and looted houses late on the night of 9th April.

More than 700 Muslims from Rohidaswada have taken shelter in the Bazme Sadaqat madrasa left with nothing except the clothes they are wearing. The refugees at the madrasa say they get threats when they try to return to their homes. "They (Hindus) tell us they will turn Kalyan into Gujarat. They throw stones and bottles at us," said Saeeda Sheikh, another refugee in the madrasa. 

"We had good relations with our Hindu neighbours. I just cannot understand why they suddenly did this," said Khan adding her house has been completely ransacked. "The savings we had collected rupee by rupee and household items we gathered over the last 20 years have all gone in a single night." 

Muslims in the camp said that police had picked up scores of young men from their homes. "Three of my sons were beaten mercilessly by the police and taken away from home," said Hussainabi Sheikh, weeping. "We have no trust in the police. If they had helped, our houses would not have been burnt and looted," said Khan. The refugees also accused the police of failing to extend any help. But police officials deny the charges. 

Thane police commissioner S.M. Shangari told The Milli Gazette that 350 people have been arrested since the riots broke out. "People who have any complaints should go to the nearest police station. I have instructed them to give all help." Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal claimed that riots in the state were being organized to defame the Democratic Front government. They stopped the Gudi Padwa morcha but couldn't stop a Sena morcha which worsened the situation. Deputy Chief Minister's explain, ''It was illegal, we know. And the police stood by and let it happen because it was peaceful. The indisciplined Sainiks, who refused to listen to their leaders, pelted stones and by the evening fire-tenders were overworked trying to douse the blaze in another list of shops and commercial establishments. Bhujbal dismissed the Shiv Sena demand for arrest of NCP Corporator 'for being responsible for the riots', and termed it as 'politically motivated' stand. But this corporator has since been arrested.

But one glaring difference, as compared to Gujarat, is observed in Kalyan. State government meant business and was bent upon preventing riot to aggravate or to spread to other areas as compared to the Gujarat government. Hence police took stern action against the rioters and successfully controlled it within a day.

The genesis of the Kalyan riot is another example of politics creating a communal divide among communities that lived together without ill-feeling for years, concludes a report of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) which had sent a three-member fact-finding team to Kalyan on April 13. The report disagrees with the National Minorities Commission which stated that the outbreak of violence was not a communal riot. The CPDR report states that the build-up of tension at Rohidaswada, where the riot broke out, was due to Shiv Sena member Ramesh Walunj's defeat at the hands of a Muslim, Iqbal Sheikh. The Walunj family had a hegemonic hold over the area, which appeared to be slipping out of their hands because of this defeat, the report says. It also says tension had built up as soon as the election results of the corporation election were announced last year. 

Shaikh and his associate, Rasool Shaikh (who is an influential cloth merchant) had been Sena loyalists before joining the NCP. The two ensured the victory of Ramesh Walunj's wife, Usha, in the 1995 municipal elections. The ward was then reserved for women. So Sena was jolted when Iqbal Shaikh filed his nomination as an NCP candidate. His victory communalised politics in Rohidaswada and Ambedkar Road, an ancient locality of cobblers and conservancy workers, and also in the Muslim locality of Doodh Naka. Problems came to a head when Ramesh Walunj's son, Umesh, joined the Bajrang Dal.

Old Kalyan town, where Hindus and Muslims live cheek-by-jowl, had been peaceful since 1984, although it had gone up in flames during several religious riots earlier. Violence returned to the town on April 9, 2002, when a tiff over a fare between Bunty Chavan, a municipal worker, and a Muslim rickshaw driver is said to have triggered off riots that left five persons dead.
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