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An eyewitness account of Sholapur riot

Nine killed, but as usual, Muslim business 
establishments were the main target 



On the morning of the fateful Friday (October 11), some local Muslim organisations of Sholapur, including Alshabban and Muslim Vikas Sangh, had called for a strike to protest certain blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammd (PBUH) made by American clergyman Rev Jerry Falwell. Passing through Sakarpet, a downtown Muslim-dominated area, one found the bandh call written in Marathi, Urdu and English on black boards outside the local mosque as well as at crossroads. Clusters of people were standing around them, reading and discussing the issue. All shops were closed, and ominous vibes filled the air.

A posse of policemen was deployed in the area, but its size or the posture of the cops did not suggest that they were anticipating any great trouble. The situation in other parts of the city, including Saat Rasta, the main commercial area of the city, looked deceptively calm. But this was just a calm before a devastating storm of communal hatred and organised mob violence against an unsuspecting minority.

Soon after the Friday prayers, Muslims took out a protest rally . As if on a clue, violence broke out with a hailstorm of stones hitting processionists. It was quickly followed by attacks on shops and houses of Muslims simultaneously all over the city by large mobs. Locals identified Shiv Sena and RSS activists in the mobs shouting Jai mata ki before barging into houses and dragging people outside to be thrashed brutally. The targets were shops and business establishments of Muslims. As the attacks began, Muslims rushed to save their properties. Eyewitnesses said the police, instead of controlling and dispersing the mobs, opened fire on the Muslims. At the last count, nine people were killed and 34 injured. While two of the injured were Hindus, the remaining were Muslims.

Of the killed seven died in police firing, and two in mob violence. Almost all injured persons sustained grievous injuries in sword attacks on their heads. One of the victims, Abdul Razzaq, lost his right eye, which was plucked out by the mob. The economy of Muslims in this major textile town of Maharashtra has suffered a devastating blow as more than 200 showrooms, factories, shops and business establishments, ranging from a timber depot to wholesale shops of oil and textiles to petty shops, were reduced to ashes as the mobs, after looting them, set them afire.

Locals said that the spree of looting and arson continued throughout Friday night and on Saturday. That the police had given mobs a free hand was obvious from the fact that many of the shops were looted and torched in the immediate vicinity of police stations.

The organised manner and frenzy of the mobs reminded people of what they had heard about Gujarat earlier this year. The pattern in choosing targets and carrying out destruction was also akin to the carnage in Gujarat. "Just like Gujarat, the police in Sholapur has given protection to killers, looters and arsonists, instead of common people", is the refrain of victims.

The families of Mohammed Bilal (35), Asif (20), and Mahboob Ibrahim (25) said they were fired upon by the police while they were standing on their roofs in Shastrinagar area after the Friday prayers. Muslims businesses suffered extensive damage running into crores of rupees in areas like Begumpet, Mangal Chowk, Jodabawi, Ashok Chowk and Mangalwarpet. The victims of plunder include S N Salar, whose wholesale oil shop was looted and burnt causing a loss of Rs 30 lakh. The police later recovered oil cans worth Rs 2.5 lakh from a nearby house. 

In Jodabawi, Chowdhry Timber Depot was burnt. The loss was put at Rs 1 crore. The depot was burning even after five days when Maharashra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh visited the riot-affected areas. In Navipet the crockery shop of Jamal Khandekar was looted and reduced to ashes. He suffered a loss of Rs 40 lakh. Similarly, hosiery, footwear, furniture and cloth shops and showrooms were burnt in different areas. 
Kamaluddin Nadaf was another major victim who lost his furniture shop, a two storied-building, and a hotel. Abdul Quader, a businessman from Bhopal settled in Sholapur for the past several years, lost everything as his Banarasi sari shop was burnt. In one single complex, five shops were burnt. Ghulam Ahmad suffered a loss of Rs 50 lakh as his two-storied house and two shops were destroyed. In another part of the city, scrap warehouses and homes were burnt.

A lady advocate, Mangal Chochekar, and a lady councillor, Bismillah, said that mobs indulging in arson and violence were too large to be stopped.

Those who were not directly affected by violence became targets of the police. Local people said even though the minority community was the target of the violence, most of the arrested were also Muslims. They said at least 500 Muslims were arrested and taken to Pune and Kolhapur jails, far away from Sholapur. Muslims in this important city, located at the confluence of two national highways, are living in fear, with nobody to turn to.

This has left the Muslims of Sholapur disgusted with the state's Congress-NCP government. "What this government has done is not different from the way Modi government behaved in Gujarat against Muslims. With what face can we talk of Gujarat?", a local Muslim Congress leader vented his resentment before visiting journalists.

Maharashtra's deputy chief minister Chagan Bhujbal, who holds home portfolio controlling police, law and order, admitted that this was an attempt to repeat Gujarat in Maharashtra. But his claim that the miscreants failed in their attempt had few takers.

However, the gravity of the situation and intensity of violence has largely gone unnoticed outside Sholapur. Even within Maharashtra few people are aware of its intensity. The pathetic condition of victims came to light only after a delegation of leaders of different organisations led by the Jamiatul Ulama-e-Hind general secretary, Mehmood Madni, visited the city when curfew was till continuing.

The delegation, including representatives of Dalit, tribal and Christian organisations, had to face police wrath while entering the city. It was only after the intervention of a couple of Muslim ministers of Maharashtra that the delegation was allowed to visit the riot-affected areas.

Chief minister Deshmukh and two Muslim ministers, Naseem Khan and Hussain Dalwai, had to face the wrath of Muslims for the biased role of the police in the riots. Local Muslims are demanding ex-gratia payment to the families of those killed and injured in the violence and compensation for losses suffered by businessmen. It is obvious that restoring confidence of the minorities and Congress party’s secular credentials will take a lot of hard work by the Congress-led coalition government of Maharashtra.

¯ MG Correspondent

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