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Malegaon Riots
Mushawarat delegation visits the riot-ridden city of Malegaon
By MH Lakdwala, Mumbai

* Shafiq Ahmed Azizullah's dream was to join the Army. The 23-year-old had even filled up the recruitment form, which mentioned his roll number in the National Cadet Corps: MAH/JD/1991-60553. The clothes he wore last Friday are packed tight in a polybag propped up against the family's loom, waiting for the panchnama. The bullet made two holes in his clothes: one in the front of the waistband, the other, behind. The blood has dried up, the pain festers.

* Nihal Ahmed's father was swallowed by a mob of around 70. They beat his skull open with an iron rod as his terrified 23-year-old son watched on. Nihal waited till the mob left and then took his uncle and another man along to bring his father home. After four hours in pain, his father succumbed.

* Salim Ahmed's body was found from the gutter in front of a medical store. He had stepped out of his house to buy medicines for his mother. I sent him to his death, cries his mother.

*Muzammil Khalil Ahmed, 28, was shot dead in his undergarments. Workers strip to their inner garments when working at the looms. In the middle of work, he had gone to ease himself. His wife, Aaliya, is two months pregnant.

These are few of the thirteen people who lost their lives in last week's police firing in Malegaon, thirteen men and women who've left behind grieving families and memories that sting.

One of the persons who just escaped the police bullet said grudgingly," the police didn't have to snatch the anti-US handbills; they ganged up with the Hindus to teach us a lesson"

Irfana Hamdani, an advocate and the wife of the owner of Diamond Mill, the biggest power loom that was burnt down in the riots, says how she is sure that the riots were planned.

The incident took place Friday October 26, in the Perry Chowk area of Malegaon, about 246 kilometres from Maharastra capital Mumbai, when police prevented a group of 100-odd Muslims returning from Friday prayers from distributing handbills asking people to boycott U.S. goods to protest the American military offensive on Afghanistan.

The pamphlets, which made no laudatory reference to either the Taliban or Osama, bin Laden were allegedly torn up by a constable of the state reserve police. He neither read them nor asked what they carried but plucked them out of the hands of one of the protesters and tore them up. That pamphlet was already in circulation in Mumbai. This provoked a heated altercation between the police and protesters. Police forces say they were forced to open fire. Five people died in the first round of police firing and soon the protests spread to several Muslim pockets in nearby villages.

The initial skirmish between security forces and the protesters soon acquired communal overtones after several Muslims alleged that their shops and homes had been looted and burnt by Hindus. There are now fears that a region that has witnessed communal peace for nearly eight years (the last outbreak was after the demolition of the Babri Masjid) could get mired in the vortex of communal disharmony again.

"Both the communities have worked towards some sort of peace in the last few years. They used to sit together and resolve differences but now all that seems to have gone. The way they are attacking each other, it seems they have lost their sanity," said Asghar Ali, a resident.

Besides Malegaon,incidents of arson were also reported in nearby Ravalgaon, Soundane, Umrane, Zodge, Jaykheda, Askheda, Kalwan, Antapur, Dabhadi, Manmad and Aghar, while mobs pelted stones at places of worship at Zodge and Askheda. Five platoons of SRPF have been deployed in the town to maintain law and order.

In Umrane, a large village of some 15,000 inhabitants in Deola Taluk, all 15 Muslim families left on October 26 itself. Two days later, local thugs torched their houses.

In Karanjgavhan, 13 kilometres from Malegaon, three mosque officials were assaulted by a mob of about 40 people on October 28. Shaikh Sohaib, whose head was injured in the attack, says, "All 12 Muslim families in the village had left. The police told us that they could not give us protection and asked us to go away. We had locked ourselves inside the mosque."
To add to the problems, rumours doing the rounds are only feeding the hatred and suspicion. One story talks of how entire truckloads of arms are reaching Malegaon. Another story talks of women flower-sellers being ritually mutilated and killed by rioting mobs. There is no official record of such deaths, but villagers do not trust figures given by the police.

In the nearby village of Savandgon, two trucks were reportedly set ablaze. A violent mob damaged a few shops at Satana to Naka. In Azadnagar, the mob tried to set fire an electric sub-station, but police rushed to the spot in time and dispersed the mob.

In camp area, a cotton mill was set ablaze while in Shivar, two plastic industrial houses were set on fire. In Dhabhadi village, the mob burned down nine shops and a truck. Armed forces are deployed to maintain law and order in these areas.

Ejaz Ahmed Ansari, a schoolteacher, says, "There was no provocation. We just want to know why the police objected to the distribution of the handbills. The police should have allowed the crowd to distribute the handbills. The riots would not have happened then."

What angers the Muslim community is that the police fired directly at the crowd before trying other mob control measures, like firing into the air or using tear gas. Many of those injured in the firing claim they were just innocent passers-by.

Malegaon has acquired notoriety for communal flare-ups. The first major riots here were recorded in 1942. The next round of rioting happened in 1963. Violence flared up again in 1988 and 1992.

Malegaon has a large Muslim population that had migrated from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The people depend mainly on the handloom industry but the industry is on the decline.

The riots had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan or the U.S. With Malegaon municipal elections slated in December, the reason for sparks turning into a bonfire may not be hard to find.

They were simply the outcome of power politics in the area. Malegaon has always been a stronghold of the Janata Dal till October 1999. In 1999, Mr Shaikh Rashid,of Congress who runs a transport business, trounced the veteran socialist and president of the state unit of the Janata Dal (Secular) Nihal Ahmed, who was earlier a leader of the opposition in the legislature, by a margin of about 28,000 in a surprise development.

Nihal Ahmed saw a golden opportunity to turn his fortunes around. He had ruled the roost in the city for nearly 20 years before being defeated in 1999 by a Congress rival. "Ahmed built his reputation for years as a secular Muslim. But losing that election in 1999 was a shock to him and he thought that he could regain his lost base only by 'going extremist'," says a state Congress committee executive.

On October 19, a week preceding the riots, Nihal Ahmed, was given permission to hold a rally where he preached peace but says some hotheads brought along pictures of Osama bin Laden. This might have triggered tensions since the Congress (I) MLA, Mr. Rashid Sheikh, who defeated Mr. Ahmed, too is competing for the same political space, long dominated by Mr. Ahmed.

The eyewitness allege that it was Shaikh who instigated police to resort to firing. Thus it was tug of war between two Muslim MLA's.

Malegaon burned, lives were lost and Maharashtra once again tops the chart of communal locations in the country. The trouble was aggravated mainly because of three reasons: inept handling by police, a history of communally divisive politics in a decrepit town which cannot manage its own affairs - it does not even want to become a Municipal Corporation from a Council - and a total lack of anticipation by the authorities

It started as a people versus police incident; the people being those who came out of the mosque. As in 1992, here the police became the targets of the mob and the retaliation led to deaths of Muslims and soon, in an inexplicable manner - this is what a future probe which the Government has been saying is possible, should look into more than anything else - turned communal.

Policemen on the streets were not sensitised to find how a delicate communal cauldron, long on simmer, could come to a boil: an eye-batting moment. Once the trouble spread, they seemed woefully lacking in initiative.

Mushawarat delegation visits the riot-ridden city of Malegaon
New Delhi: A Musli Majlis-e-Mushawarat delegation that visited the riot-ridden city of Malegaon in Maharashtra where more than a dozen Muslims lost their lives, said in a press release here on 7 Nov. that the riots have destroyed more than 200 shops and seven large warehouses as well as a number of vehicles and residential complexes. The delegation was headed by Syed Shahabuddin.
According to the press release, several mosques were badly damaged in the arson including mosque in Sangmeshwar and Paltan Masjid in Camp area. The properties of the two mosques including a madrasa in the vicinity of the Palton Masjid were totally destroyed. All shops in the mosque were burnt down. Two other mosques and Eidgah were also damaged in the riots.

The press release adds that the minority community is increasingly thinking that the police is biased towards it and its actions are offending. It also believes that police crosses its limit causing severe law and order problems. The delegation demands that action should be taken against irresponsible and careless city administration and police.

The delegation that visited the area met local people and administration and advised them to maintain restraint so that no innocent people are arrested anymore. It demanded that the people of minority community who have left areas due to fear like Sangmeshwar and Camp should be rehabilitated in these areas. It also asked for adequate compensation for relatives of people who lost their lives during the riots and those who were injured and start immediate rehabilitation work. The delegation also demanded to assess and compensate those who have lost their business during the riots. The press release names the people killed during riots as follows: Shafiq Ahmad Azeezullah, Rafiq Shah Hamid Shah, Khalil Ahmad Muhammad Saeed Shikari, Bilqin Bano bint Muhammad Abbas, Muhammad Ismail Muhammad Ibrahim, Muzammil Khalil Ahmad, Riyaz Ahmad, Shaikh Ahmad Shaikh Murad, Bapu Ram Das Bachao, Muhammad Ishaq Driver.
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