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Kanpur: one-sided PAC riot

Clockwise: A shop burnt near Takia Shah Park, four scenes from a 3-storey mosque vandalised and burnt in Mestonganj; six pictures showing damage to the Takia Shah Park mosque (local Muslim volunteers are seen repairing the damage), mandir near Chowbey Gola where idols were damaged, Below: Muhammad Sulaiman, principal of Faiz-e-Aam College

Muhammad Sulaiman, principal of Faiz-e-Aam CollegeKanpur riot, which erupted on 16 March and continued unabated for the next two days, was mostly a repetition of the familiar, one-sided, PAC violence we were used to until the Rapid Action Force (RAF) was formed by Narasimha Rao after great Muslim pressure and protests. The PAC has been thoroughly discredited and side-lined to the point that a judicial order prevents it fromentering Meerut where its brave jawans committed crimes unheard of in the police history anywhere in the world.

Yet the PAC still exists all over UP and the local administration, unwillingly at times, takes the help of this infamous force in order to quell civil disturbances. With this background it was called to the streets of Kanpur when riots suddenly erupted after the Friday prayers on 16 March. Its unnecessary firing on the protesters, killing three youths instantly at Chowbey Gola (three others succumbed to their wounds later) led to rioting by the Muslim mob in which some shops and a few tiny mandirs were damaged in a nearby bylane.

The thoroughly communalized PAC was quick to revive its old tactics. Soon 'Hindu' mobs were assembled and advanced to Muslim localities under PAC protection. Here they looted and burnt shops and damaged around six mosques under PAC protection. One of the damaged mosques lies in ruins in Takia Shah Park. About 1000-strong-mob was brought to this area under PAC protection. It indulged in breaking the old mosque for close to three hours (pictures on the left) and retreated only after pulling down the minaret and most of the outer walls and burning the covered area.

A similar mob in Mestonganj rampaged through a three-story mosque and destroyed whatever it could find before setting all its three floors on fire. Signs of large scale destruction and fire were still visible when I visited the mosque on 1 April.

Muslims everywhere told us that it was not a Muslim-Hindu riot. Instead it was a Muslim-PAC riot in which the PAC brought lumpen elements of the majority community during curfew hours and at times forced them to loot, destroy and burn Muslims’ shops and places of worship and burn copies of the holy books found in places of worship. There were many stories of how Muslims and Hindus helped each other and sheltered neighbours belonging to the other community.

It is yet another sign of the communal approach of the BJP-led state government that the chief minister has not found time to visit a burning spot next door; no enquiry of any sort has been ordered; and no compensation has been paid so far. Instead, a prominent Muslim leader and intellectual, Muhammad Sulaiman who is head of a local college, has been placed behind bar with no proof of involvement in the riots. His bail application is still being opposed by the police. Sulaiman was arrested on 23 March in a James Bond-like operation while meeting a Delhi journalist in the latter’s hotel room in the city. The journalist was hounded out of town.

Text and photos: Zafarul-Islam Khan q

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