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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Communal riots 2003: a review
By Asghar Ali Engineer

Communal riots have become the fate of this country thanks to our politicians and their selfish interests. And ironically most of the riots are engineered by those politicians who claim to be most patriotic. Their patriotism is designed to win power by propagating hate politics against minority communities. The year 2003 too, like previous years, saw its own quota of communal violence.

The communal violence began in Gujarat in the New Year. Gujarat is ruled by Narendra Modi, a hard core RSS man who was responsible for Gujarat carnage of 2002. Gujarat witnessed series of communal clashes on 2nd January 2003. Most of these incidents occurred in Central Gujarat, the region from where the BJP won maximum number of seats. And no wonder most of the victims were from minority community. The police officials admit that stray cases of communal violence have not stopped since the Gujarat carnage. After the election results, more than dozen cases of violence, including murders, stone pelting and arson, occurred in 10 different places, most of them in Central Gujarat.

On 2nd January Darbhanga, Bihar witnessed communal riot in Lalbagh area in which 8 persons were injured including two policemen and police had to impose curfew. And on 2nd January communal violence took place in Ahmad Nagar, Maharashtra, in which 5 persons were injured including one 70 year old woman. The violence broke out on the question of burial ground land (qabrastan). Police bandobast was tightened after these clashes between the two communities.

The hate propagandists have created such polarisation between Hindus and Muslims that any small incident like scooterists knocking down member of another community or cricket game involving two communities results in communal clashes. In Vidarbha towns of Akot and Risod cricket resulted in communal clashes on 9th January in which 1 person was stabbed and six injured and in Risod 150 shops were gutted resulting in loss of crores of rupees. Risod is a sleepy town in Washim district. Both the towns are in communally sensitive district and have mixed population. In Akot a trader called Sadarani was grievously stabbed during the game.

It was again in Gujarat that communal violence broke out on 15th January on the occasion of Uttarayan festival in several towns like Ahmedabad, Godhra and Navsari. At least 15 persons were injured in these clashes. Stone throwing and mob clashes took place in Dariyaganj and Gomtipura areas which are communally most sensitive in Ahmedabad.

On 14th January violence erupted in Ganjbasoda town in Vidisha district of M.P. due to alleged case of cow slaughter. Cow slaughter is another issue on which violence erupts time and again. On hearing about cow slaughter the mob went on rampage, setting 60 shops belonging to Muslims on fire. Members of Bajrang Dal are alleged to be behind these communal disturbances. These Bajrang Dals activists were encouraged by the success of BJP in Gujarat. Some houses and vehicles were also set on fire. 22 persons were arrested. All this happened even though the culprit and his family members were arrested. Night curfew and section 144 were imposed and situation was stated to be under control. 

There was communal riot in Mungir town in Bihar on 16th January in which two persons including an Imam of the mosque were killed. The violence erupted after one Umakant Yadav was killed. Umakant was killed by some goondas belonging to minority community. This news spread like wild fire in the city and members of both the communities came out on the streets with dangerous weapons. They fought against each other and apart from the Imam another person Muhammad Shamu also was killed and two more persons were injured in firing. Laloo Prasad Yadav, President of RJD said in a statement that these clashes in Mungher were result of clashes between criminal elements. Six persons were arrested and FIR was filed against twenty persons.

On 22nd January a dispute between doctor and patient took full-fledged communal eruption in Warud in Amravati District of Maharashtra. Asif Pathan whose wife got blinded due to wrong treatment by an Ayurvedic doctor attacked him. Pathan was then beaten up by two Bajrang Dal activists who were protecting the doctor in anticipation of attack. Though Aisf khan surrendered himself to the police 3,000 strong mob protested the attack and some Bajrang Dals started attacking properties belonging to Muslims. Police brought the situation under control and some Bajrang Dal members were arrested. Dr. Lokhande was also a VHP activist and it is alleged that he was receiving threats from SIMI activists.

Bhivandi is another communally sensitive town where communal situation worsened two days before Bakra Eid on February 9 when some Bajrang Dal members attacked cows being brought by Muslims. The police took 9 cows in custody and police-Muslim clashes flared up in which 34 persons were injured including 26 policemen. The Rapid Action Force was immediately brought to control the situation. The communal cauldron in Bhivandi was first stirred by Bajrang Dal members and incitement by some Muslim leaders added to the gravity of the situation.

For Gujarat communal violence has become so common that if it does not take place it becomes a news. Communal violence took place in Mehsana district on the occasion of Bakra Eid on 12th February in which at least eight persons including a police constable received stab and sword injuries in Takodi village of Mehsana district. It all started with some Muslims allegedly bringing calves for slaughter. When the police tried to stop they were greeted by volley of stones. It is interesting to note that some sources said that the real cause of trouble was Panchayat election in which a Hindu was elected Sarpanch with the help of some Muslims and the other group of Muslims opposing the Hindu Sarpanch did not allow these Muslims to enter the mosque.

On 19th February there was trouble in Dhar, M.P. when some Bajrang Dal members tried to enter the Kamalmoula mosque forcibly. When the police did not allow them there was call for bandh and violence erupted. There were incidents of violence and some one threw petrol bomb on police and police fired back in which two persons were injured. Another police station was gheraoed and some motor vehicles were set afire. One police van was also set on fire. The RPF was brought in. Fifteen policemen were also injured. A BJP MLA alleged that two persons died in police firing. However, police denied any person was killed in firing. It maintained no one was even injured. Thirty- five persons were arrested in the whole district and more than 25 persons were injured during the disturbances which included 15 policemen. 

On 26th February clashes broke out between Hindus and Muslims in Banglore while a Hindu religious procession was passing from near a mosque. There was stone throwing from both sides in Vedika and Ashok Nagar areas. Many shops and vehicles were damaged and when police tried to intervene its vehicles were also damaged. The mob set fire to one wine shop also. Many people were injured including 12 policemen.

Again on 1st March one riot erupted in Banglore D.J. Halli area after the India-Pakistan cricket match. Some 500 persons entered the area shouting slogans and stone pelting started. The police resorted to lathi charge and fired in the air to disperse the mob. More than 8 persons including four policemen were injured.

Ahmedabad and Baroda also witnessed communal clashes on 2nd March after Indo-Pak cricket match. The police fired in which one Muslim youth was killed in Shahpur area. More than 12 persons were injured including one Assistant police commissioner. Same day stray incidents were also reported from Baroda and a group of Hindus celebrating India’s victory over Pakistan clashed with group of Muslims also celebrating India’s victory.

During Moharram procession in Bareilly on 7th March communal violence broke out in which 4 persons were seriously injured one of which died subsequently. The police arrested 163 persons.

Near Bahraich in Saravasti district in U.P. village Barga-bargi dispute broke out on hunting wild bore and people of one community attacked people of another community in which 30 houses were set afire and two children were burnt alive. Twelve persons were injured. Many persons fled from their houses out of fear. 

On 18th March Hindus and Muslims clashed in Indore, an important trading city of M.P. when a Muslim fired on a Hindu in a state of inebriation. The mob then set fire to vehicles and two houses. However, the police brought situation under control. 

The next round of communal flare up was reported from Gorakhpur in U.P. on 20th March a highly sensitive town where Gorakhnath temple is situated and Mahant Adityanath of BJP contests election from there. Adityanath is known for his militancy and extremism. He is a BJP M.P. from this area. The clashes took place on the occasion of Holi when a procession of Holi revellers led by Mahant Aditynath was going through Zafra locality. An argument took place with some members of minority community and the Holi revellers in a fit of anger broke down the wall of Kerbala. The two groups began to throw brickbats at each other and some people started firing. The Imam of Ghazi Rauza mosque was hit in the cross -fire and died. More than a dozen scooters and vehicles were burnt and shops looted. Two more persons were killed and thus in all three persons died during the disturbances. Mayawati, the then Chief Minister removed Director General of Police for his failure to control communal violence.

Next communal riot was reported from industrial town of Rajgangpur 400 km. from Bhubneshwar in Orissa on 11th April. Two persons were killed in the clashes. Violence erupted when procession of Lord Hanuman was being taken on the occasion of Ramnavmi. Some unidentified persons pelted stones on the procession and hell broke loose. The district administration had made strict police arrangements but it could not prevent communal violence. When the situation was getting out of control the police fired killing two persons. The deceased were identified as Manik Kumar Sahu (28) and J.J.Nag. Additional forces were rushed to control the situation.

On 16th April Panki Block of Palamu in Jharkhand State saw communal clashes between the two communities in which one person died. Some people burned the flag of a religious place. Then the persons belonging to other community started stoning from shops and from a religious place. Then others also retaliated and next day a dead body was found from a nearby well but it is not certainly known who killed him.

Gulbahar Pathan was killed in Baroda, Gujarat and his body with severed head was found with deep wounds and violence broke out on 1st May between Hindus and Muslims. Similarly on 10th May violence was reported from Bhavnagar, Gujarat clashes broke out on minor road accident and situation got out of control and one person was killed and seven others – policemen and journalists were injured. The clashes erupted in Ranika area of Bhavnagar. The person was killed in police firing.

Though Kerala is comparatively free from communal clashes but for last two years there have been clashes between Muslims and RSS activists. In January 2002 also some 5 persons were killed when the Hindus attacked Muslim fishermen. The Muslims retaliated this time and on May 2, 7 persons were killed in Marad beach area under Beypore police station in Kerala. Last year RSS had killed Muslims and this year brother of one of the deceased took revenge by killing seven persons. The Muslims had used a nearby mosque for hiding weapons and so the mosque was taken over by the Government. The Muslims fled from the village in fear and Sangh Parivar was not allowing them to return. They could return only after few months when the chief minister intervened.

Hyderabad witnessed communal violence in Melapalli and Nampalli areas on 6th June. The clashes went on whole night and next day too stone pelting and incidents of setting fire continued. About 10 motor vehicles were set afire. One person had died in clashes on 5th June night and this further provoked violence.

Jamner of Jalgaon district in Maharashtra experienced communal clashes on 18th June when brother of Ramesh Mali who was killed last year on the same day attacked one Muinuddin Sheikh and seriously injured him. Last year on 18th June 5 persons were killed in communal riots. However, the police and local political leaders intervened and controlled the situation.

Normally Jammu and Kashmir has been free from communal violence despite repeated attempts by militants to cause communal violence. However, a small communal incident occurred on 1st July between Hindus and Muslims and shops were burnt and looted in Jammu. The trouble started when 150 Hindus who had fled from Kullar area due to threats from militants were sitting on dharna. They started pelting stones on the shops belonging to Muslims as they objected to blocking the road. The authorities rushed to the trouble spot. Sub-divisional magistrate of Kishtwar was roughed up by the demonstrators. Four shops and three small structures were set ablaze. Police fired to disperse the mob. Four civilians and seven policemen were injured.

Twenty four shops were burnt and three persons were injured in Mehkar town of Buldhana district in Maharashtra when quarrel over money matter between two youths of different communities took place. Soon it developed in serious communal clashes. The police fired injuring three persons. An indefinite curfew was imposed. The police authorities said 20 others including 13 police persons were injured. The police rounded up 47 persons in all.

Baroda and Junagadh saw communal clashes on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi in which one woman was killed and 10 people were injured on 1st September. Godhra also witnessed violence on 5th September when Ganesh idols were being taken for immersion. In these clashes 25 persons were injured including one DSP. The procession was stoned when passing through minority area and many shops were set ablaze. The immediate provocation came from objectionable slogans written on walls of masjid. The role of BJP MLA came to be criticised by both communities. His supporters in the procession shouted derogatory slogans.

There was serious communal trouble in Kodinar town of Junagarh district in Gujarat. The VHP and Bajrang Dal people looted and burnt 26 shops belonging to Muslims. The police arrested 53 persons, which included one Bajrang Dal leader. The police seized one car, one tractor, swords, gas cutter, tins of kerosene and gas cylinders from the rioters. According to the police there was short circuit in one Hindu shop and it was burnt. But the VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders without verifying set rumour afloat that Muslims have burnt the shop. The VHP organised bandh in protest against the arrest of 53 persons.

About hundred families from tribal dominated villages of Jhalawar district after Bajrang Dal activists destroyed a mosque with bombs and subjected Muslims to series of attacks over three consecutive days from 22-25 September. Police have arrested 30 people in this connection but the RSS Iklera Tehsil Karyawahak Kanwarlal Meena and his accomplice Devi Lal who masterminded the operation were absconding.

Bihar experiences not much communal violence thanks to Laloo Prasad’s efforts. But that does not mean there is no communalism and RSS is sleeping. RSS-VHP are quite active spreading communal feelings. In Ara, Bihar, communal violence broke out on 5th October on the occasion of Durga Puja. The RSS controls some puja samitis. According to eye -witnesses there was a garbage dump near the pooja pandal and people used it as open urinal also. On that day a Muslim youth was urinating. The youth was criminal minded. Members of pooja samiti tried to stop him and there was argument. The RSS gave it a communal colour. Some RSS youth went round on motor cycles spreading the rumour that the Muslim youth not only urinated on the Durga idol but broke the kalash also. Some miscreants gathered and started burning and looting Muslim shops. When the situation became out of control the police opened fire killing two Hindu youths. Some 70 shops were burnt and 48 cars set ablaze. It is obvious that it was conspiracy by the RSS to spread communal violence in Bihar and try to seize power from Laloo Prasad Yadav. Laloo knows this well and he not only took immediate step to curb the violence but also denounced it as RSS conspiracy.

On 13th October Agra in U.P. was involved in communal vortex when U.P. minister of state for science and technology visited Agra. There were widespread clashes between two communities and curfew had to be imposed in two police circles of Agra. The main reason was that Chowdhury Bashir had defected from BSP and joined the Samajwadi Party of Mulayamsingh Yadav. The Jatavs who are supporters of BSP protested against Bashir and it took communal turn. Fire arms and petrol bombs were pelted back and forth and several houses and vehicles were set on fire. Arson and looting continued till late in the night. The mob tried to forcibly enter the house in which Basheer had taken refuge and tried to set it on fire. The timely arrival of the police, however, saved Bashir’s life.

Agra again erupted on 2nd day despite heavy police bandobast and violence spread in the city in which one person was killed. He was beaten to death. The U.P. Government transferred district collector and SSP for their failure to control communal violence. At least at seven places houses and shops were set ablaze. Two godowns of leather were also set afire. Agra is main centre of leather goods.

On October 15 Kurla, an eastern suburb of Mumbai went up in flames when a Muslim girl was teased by some Hindu youth at night between 10.30 and 11 p.m. There was argument between members of two communities and then violence began. Kurla has large Muslim population and is highly communally sensitive. Police was rushed and Jt. Commissioner of Police Javed Ahmed also visited the area. Tough temporarily situation calmed down but erupted next morning again. Some miscreants pelted stones at Jama Masjid on New Mill road. In retaliation petrol bombs and soda water bottles were thrown at Hanuman Mandir. Several persons were injured grievously. State Reserve police, Rapid Action Force and Riot Police were rushed.

Aligarh, a communally quite sensitive area in Uttar Pradesh, saw communal strife again on 1st November when an Arthi (dead body of a Hindu) was passing through the passage lying through a Muslim cemetery. The Muslims tried to stop the passage of the body and dispute broke out and both sides started firing on each other. Several people were injured. They also indulged in arson and heavy brickbatting. Two scooters and some road - side kiosks were burnt. Police resorted to heavy lathi charge and fired rubber bullets to disperse the clashing groups. The administration had to employ para-military forces like PAC and RPF. Curfew had to be clamped in Delhi Gate, Kotwali and Sasni Gate police station areas.

Gujarat cauldron continues to boil since the post-Godhra carnage and communal incidents keep on taking place every few days. Communal violence revisited on 2nd November leaving three persons dead and 45 injured. This time it occurred in Viramgam, 65 kms. from Ahmedabad. There was heavy stone pelting, arson and firing. One person was killed when police fired 15 rounds and two persons fell to bullets from private arms. Trouble broke out when a cricket ball landed in the nearby temple. This was enough provocation for communal violence. Marauding began and at least 30 shops were looted and burnt. Curfew was imposed at 12.40 p.m. In all twenty five persons were arrested including the BJP councillor Puroshottambhai Vasrambhai Jadav who fired from his gun killing one person. His gun was also seized. Those killed were identified as Zakir Allah Rakkha Multani (30), Zakir Yousuf Multani (35) and Sharif Shafibhai (25). 

Ahmedabad once again erupted on November 9 when rumours spread that a person of minority community was stabbed in Juhapura area. Communal violence spread in Kalupur area in which two persons lost their lives. One was burnt to death and another was stoned to death. Besides this 5 persons were stabbed. Police had to lob several tear gas shells and have imposed strict ban on persons pouring out on streets.

In Hyderabad Talaguda area violence erupted between Hindus and Muslims on the question of constructing a wall for a place of worship. Police resorted to firing and 5 persons were injured in firing. However, the police frustrated the attempt to attack the houses of one community.

On 17th November violence broke out in Vai in Satara district of Maharashtra. Vai is a sacred town for Hindus. The violence broke out when some members of Pratabgadh Utsav Samiti forcibly tried to stop a truck taking some cattle. More than 500 persons collected near a place of worship and stone pelting and arson began. The Hindutvawadis spread rumour in the town which intensified violence. Varsha Deshpande of Yuva Kranti Dal who toured the area along with the police said how these Hindutvawadis discovered any cows. The fact is, she said, there was a dead calf of she buffalo, which was skinned by some dalits. The mob set one tempo, two jeeps, a motor cycle and several cycles ablaze. Members of minority community were feeling highly insecure.

On 21st November violence broke out in Parbhani in Marathwada area when a bomb exploded near Jama Masjid after last Juma prayer of Ramadan in which 35 Muslims were injured and curfew was imposed in Parbhani district. According to the police two motorcycle riders threw the bomb when prayers was going on in Rahmatnagar mosque. The explosion took place at 1.50 p.m. After the bomb explosion two shops were set ablaze in Gujri Sarafa and Shivajinagar areas. It is said that Shiv Sena-BJP workers are involved in the explosion.

Hyderabad again erupted on 4th December and surprisingly this time it was between Sikhs and Muslims. It is alleged that some Muslim youth damaged a gurdwara in Kishanbagh area. One person was killed and four were injured in stabbing incidents. When news about attack on gurdwara spread Sikhs collected near it and began to attack Muslims. Muslims also retaliated and some Sikhs were injured.Hyderabad again witnessed communal violence on 6th December when Muslims were mourning on demolition of Babri Masjid on that day in 1992 and Hindus were celebrating Shaurya Divas (day of courage). Police resorted to firing in Sultan Shahi and Gowlipura areas late in the night to stop mobs resorting to looting and arson targeting the opposite community. Three persons died due to bullet injuries and two died in stabbing incidents thus taking the toll to five dead.The victims alleged that role of police worsened the situation. Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu visited the victims who complained to him. He ordered strict action against guilty police officers. An indefinite curfew had to be clamped in eight police station areas in the walled city and 21 plattons of paramilitary forces had to be deployed.

Thus the year 2003 also witnessed number of communal riots throughout India in which several lives were lost and hundreds were injured and properties worth crores of rupees were damaged. Most of the major states both in north and south were affected by communal violence. It is in smaller states with small Muslim population like Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh etc., which did not witness incidents of violence. Assam and other North Eastern states generally experience ethnic violence but not so much communal violence. This year there were hardly any incidents of communal violence in this zone. Also, West Bengal was free of major communal incidents. Since the left Front Government has taken over West Bengal has been free of communal violence, though not of communalism. Bihar too, since Laloo Prasad Yadav has been in command has not seen major riots. Thus it is clear that if governments are determined to curb communal violence it can be effectively checked.
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