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Kanpur riot-hit await justice
By Rajesh Ramachandran, Kanpur

The controversial movie Gadar is playing to packed houses here at Hir Palace cinema hall on the Mall Road. There has not been even a whimper of protest, though it is hardly four months since the riots broke out here. So, aren't the Muslims of this industrial town easily excitable? Here is the story of a subdued community, deeply hurt, yet, unable to convey its anguish.

Two months after the riots, the Uttar Pradesh government on May 16 ordered an inquiry by a retired IAS officer, Sewal Kumar Mukherjee. But Mukherjee is yet to collect evidence or hold hearings. Senior superintendent of police Arun Kumar admits that Mukherjee, sitting in Lucknow, has so far only sought files.

‘We do not know the terms of reference of the commission. We haven't seen the notification or announcements asking people to record evidence,’ said Jamil Akhtar Nomani, the local secretary of the Jamiat-ulema-Hind. The Muslims here feel helpless because they believe the government perceives them as the ‘other’, the media have painted them as baying for Hindu blood, and also because they are in search of leadership - social and political.

These moderate Muslims know the longer it takes for a leadership to emerge, the greater is the threat from the radical section within the community. No Muslim believes that the ‘three-day madness’ from March 16 was a communal riot. ‘On the first day, it was the Muslims against the police,’ said SSP Arun Kumar.

‘Justice has eluded us,’ said Qadri Mohammed Sami, the city's Qazi or religious leader. For the man on the street, it was as if the Muslims were being taught a lesson: ‘No judicial commission was set up to investigate the huge one-sided loss of property and life. Justice is like a balm that soothes the nerves and, if not delivered, may cause people to succumb to radical ideas,’ said a businessman who sought to remain anonymous.

SSP Arun Kumar reminds, ‘Seven men from the Provincial Armed Constabulary were suspended, pending departmental enquiry; cases of looting have been registered.’ But the issue is not mere looting, but the cause of firing which caused the death of 11 Muslims (this is the official figure, the unofficial one is almost double).

The Muslims did not trigger the violence this time, they claim here. Of the 13 civilians and an additional district magistrate (ADM) dead, 11 were Muslims. All 11 succumbed to bullet wounds - police bullets, they say. The toll substantiates the Muslims' claim. Of the two Hindus who were killed, even the police say Mantu Sonekar was accidentally burnt to death while indulging in arson.

The Muslims are demanding a CBI inquiry into the death of ADM CP Pathak. Local papers had carried screaming headlines claiming that Pathak was killed by a shot fired from a mosque. Muslims claim that Pathak was trying to save them and want to know who killed him. No arrests have been made for the ADM's death. In a system where former chief ministers are dragged out of their bedrooms at midnight, where retribution implies immediate arrest, the Muslims say they have lost hope that punishment would be meted out to the members of the PAC, who, they say, started the attacks.

(Times of India, New Delhi, 2 July 2001)

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