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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORTS

Communal riots in 2004

By Asghar Ali Engineer

Like the year 2003, 2004 also did not witness any major riot. In fact the Gujarat carnage of 2002 was so traumatic that it may take sometime for the country to see communal violence on such scale. It is well known fact that major communal riot cannot take place without planning and organised efforts. The Gujarat carnage would not have been possible without BJPs and Gujarat Government’s involvement. Of course it cost the BJP dearly and one of the reasons of losing the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 was the Gujarat carnage as admitted by no less a person than A.B.Vajpayee, the BJP Prime Minster. Thus for the time being the BJP dare not involve in organising rioting on such major scale.

It is for this reason that both in 2003 and 2004 we do not find any major sustained communal violence except for riots in which couple of lives were lost. It is interesting to note that for last few years Western zone of the country i.e. Gujarat and Maharashtra have mostly witnessed communal violence. Gujarat still remains communally sensitive and without major de-communalising campaigns (and there is no such possibility as long as the BJP is in power in Gujarat) Gujarat will remain communally highly sensitive. Maharashtra too is quite communally sensitive next to Gujarat. Though there is Congress-NCP secular alliance in Maharashtra, there are no serious efforts to ideologically fight the Shiv Sena-BJP combine. Shiv Sena-BJP though it failed to come to power in the last state assembly election, it continues to wield ideological influence.

Thus the first communal clash in 2004 took place in Vadodra, Gujarat. Due to a cycle mishap the two groups belonging to Hindu and Muslim community clashed with each other and started pelting stones at each other on 6th January in Sajaynagar, Tsiwadi. According to the Police Commissioner Sudhir Kumar Sinha when the SRP personnel tried to control the mob, it was attacked. The SRP Jawans then fired two rounds in the air. SRP Jawans were injured in the stone throwing.

Then on 8th January 7 persons were injured and two of them seriously, in a group clash at Jalgaon-Jamod Tehsil in Buldana district of Maharashtra. A minor incident involving a cyclist and a truck driver escalated into a major clash between Hindus and Muslims. Senior police and revenue officials rushed to the spot and controlled the situation. 

In M.P. state elections had taken place in December 2003 and the BJP had won. The BJP is trying to Hinduise tribals in Jhabua and other tribal belts of M.P. in order to win their political support. It had campaigned in a major way in Jhabua district, which is adjacent to Gujarat state. Thus Jhabua became communally quite sensitive. Thus communal clashes took place in Jhabua district between Bheels and Christians on 17th January. Actually Bhils attacked Christian Missionaries and killed one person.

Communal tension was on the rise for last few months, following the decision of the RSS-VHP cadres to prevent religious conversions by Christian missionaries. Backers of the latter, belonging to the ferocious Bhil tribe, struck back on Friday night with bows and arrows in the Alirajpur area killing one person (unofficially three), injuring over a dozen, and setting a few vehicles and buildings ablaze. It was alleged that the most serious incident had occurred when a religious procession of Sadhvis attached to a Hindu Saint Asaram Bapu at Amkhunt village was attacked and the women manhandled. The Sadhvis were distributing religious literature when the surprise attack occurred.

Earlier a 9-year-old girl was raped and murdered and her body found in a toilet inside a missionary school. It had raised communal temperature as some Christians were suspected to have done that. But it was a false rumour and Chief Minister Uma Bharti herself confirmed that the culprit arrested had no connection with the church. It seems the religious literature being distributed was not innocuous and likely to have provoked some Christians. Chief Minister assured that the Christian missionaries working in the area would receive full protection.

It was again in Godhra in Gujarat that a communal incident took place on 18th February in which six persons were injured, including a police sub-inspector and two constables when members of minority community and the police clashed in this sensitive town. The flare-up comes barely 10 days before the Sabarmati Express incident two years ago. It all started during police operation to arrest Salim Paanwala, one of the main accused in the Sabarmati train carnage from Umar Masjid in Saat Pul area. The locals alleged that the cops misbehaved with them, beating them up and ransacking their houses. One Amin Guri sustained serious injuries and was shifted to SSG Hospital in Vadodra for treatment. Two other civilians injured in the incident were identified as Rafiq and Yaqub. According to the SP. Police more than 35 persons were arrested. Though situation was under control, additional forces were deployed to maintain law and order. Paanwala was absconding and on being tipped police came to arrest him and this incident took place. Among those beaten up by the police was Husaina Farooq Jiteli, a six-month pregnant woman. She told the cops hit me on the abdomen when I resisted my husband’s arrest. The house of Kasimbibi adjoining the mosque was ransacked. “My two sons had just returned from the mosque when the police broke open the door and began beating up them”, she said.

Ujjain in M.P. witnessed communal incidents on 22nd February as M.P. under BJP rule has become more communally sensitive. The state under the BJP was experiencing more and more communal incidents. On 22 February two groups clashed on the question of removing illegal shops in front of a mosque after which 7 areas came under curfew. These shops were being removed for facilitating Mahakumbh Mela. In these clashes 10 persons including I.G. police Sarabjit Singh were injured. The police used lathicharge, tear gas shells and water cannon to control the clashing groups. More than 57 persons were arrested. About 200 Muslims who had taken refuge inside the mosque were transported to safe places.

Vadodra in Gujarat again witnessed communal violence on 27th February in which three persons were killed and 13 others were injured. The violence erupted after the Tazia procession was stoned in Bavamanpura area. One person was beaten to death. Paresh Pushwani when he was travelling on scooter was attacked by a mob of 200 persons. He succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. One another person was hit by the police bullet and one person was stabbed to death. Thirteen persons injured included four police personnel in stone pelting. Nagin Parmar and Chotalal Borsi were attacked by sharp weapons by a mob in Paginate area of which Borsi succumbed to his injuries. On 29th February one person was stabbed to death again in Panigate area. But police refused to accept it as a communal incident and ascribed it to personal quarrel.

On the eve of Moharram small incidents took place in several towns on 2nd March in India. Moradabad in U.P. witnessed stone throwing, one person was stabbed in Baroda, Gujarat, ships were closed in Ajmer in Rajasthan. In Pratapgarh one laundry was set on fire. In Barida Muslims decided not to take out Tazia procession to maintain peace in the city. Baroda again witnessed violence on 4th March when one more person was stabbed in Yaqutpura area. There were incidents of stone throwing between two communities in Yaqutpura, Fatehpura and other areas. More than 5 persons were injured including two policemen. Police resorted to firing in the air to disperse the mob.

After Moharram Holi festival on 7th March became an occasion for communal clashes in Darvha town of Yeotmal district in Maharashtra. Curfew had to be imposed after 16 persons were injured. Violence broke out when coloured powder fell incidentally on the mosque. And 24 persons were injured when clashes broke out in Sikandrabad locality of Allahabad in U.P. when minority community members objected to Holi revellers passing through a particular lane. Two groups pelted stones at each other damaging many shops and vehicles in the area.

Ahmadnagar in Maharashtra experienced communal violence on 7th March when a Shiv Sena MLA was arrested for provoking violence on 3rd March. Ahmadnagar had witnessed communal violence on 10th of Moharram (3rd March) and next day i.e. on 4th March in Chitre Road, Sarjepura, Tillikot, Milindnagar and Delegate areas Muslim shops were attacked, burnt and looted. The violence continued for more than five days. Though Muslims were main victims the police arrested many Muslim youths. Muslims were greatly upset due to alleged partial role of the police.

Bhavnagar in Gujarat came under pall of communal violence after one person was stabbed on 4th March at midnight. More than six persons were injured including a woman in these communal clashes. This happened when one group tried to stop another group from taking out religious procession. The police also recovered body of a 9 year old child with injuries on its body but it was not clear whether he was killed in communal incident.

One person was killed in Chirli village of Gwalior in M.P. on 7th March on the occasion of Holi and 23 were injured of whom many were critical. The clashes between Hindus and Muslims started when Holi revellers threw colour on some Muslims. Knives and other weapons were freely used during the clashes.

Baroda was under spell of communal violence yet again on 4th May when 5 persons were injured in walled city when the two groups clashed with each other. The police was forced to lathicharge, then used teargas shells and then fired in the air when a mob attacked a house. The mob damaged two vehicles in Chabuksawar Mohalla and Pancholi area. Two persons were arrested for resorting to violence. Two injured youth were taken to hospital of which one was in critical condition. His name was Shahnawaz Qureshi. The police fired two rounds but no one was injured. The clashes broke out after two persons quarrelled on the question of parking their vehicles. 

Next communal disturbances took place at Chita Camp, Trombay in Eastern suburbs of Mumbai on 7th May. Police sources said that trouble began following an altercation between members of the minority community and devotees who were participating in a procession taken out from Mariamma temple in Cheetah Camp. Some members of the minority community objected to the procession being carried out late in the night in front of the mosque. They objected to the playing of drums. Some one threw stones on the procession and devotees retaliated. Temples and mosques are situated close to each other. Next day there was stoning at the time of Friday prayers. The police lathi charged and brought the situation under control at midnight. Eighteen persons including several policemen were injured.

Next rioting broke out again in Gujarat in Savarkundla Town of Amreli district on 14th May. A police head constable Abdul Sattar Baloch stabbed one Sukhabhai from the Koli community. He later succumbed to his injuries and people returning from his funeral procession began to stone Muslim houses and set a truck ablaze. Curfew was imposed. Sukhabhai was stabbed during cricket match. He died one week after that. The communal disturbances broke out after his death.

On 15th May communal riots occurred in Gomtipur Ahmedabad. Eight persons were injured and more than 16 persons were arrested. The members of two communities clashed on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti. Two shops were also set ablaze by the rioters.

Meerut, a communally sensitive city in U.P. witnessed communal flare up on June 19 in which two persons were killed. The communal flare up took place after one Babi Gujar was killed on 18th June and people returning from his funeral began to stone near an Eidgah. Communal violence intensified thereafter and one person was stabbed and one was killed by firing. Curfew was imposed in the Sardhana area of Meerut where disturbances broke out. The police sources said three persons were killed. Many were arrested. Curfew continued next day also and in all 48 persons were arrested.

Next Sanghavli village in Muzaffarnagar district in U.P. came under spell of communal violence on 21 July in which one woman was killed and 20 persons were injured. One Dalit girl two and half years old Shivani was knocked down by a car belonging to a Muslim. Thereupon Dalits attacked the Muslim locality and began to fire. The police on receiving information rushed to the scene and took injured to the district hospital where one woman Raghuviri succumbed to her injuries. 

Gujarat continues to take cake in communal violence. Verawal in Gujarat witnessed communal frenzy on 26th July in which 2 persons were killed and 8 were injured. The violence between the two communities broke out on the question of eve teasing. A young Hussain Zair was killed in Taj Society when police opened fire to disperse rampaging mobs that resorted to heavy stone pelting and setting ablaze nearly 40 shops and as many vehicles, police said. Another person was stabbed to death in Jalaramnagar area and was brought dead to civil Hospital. The person could not be identified. Curfew was imposed but rioting was going on in some areas. The girl who was teased belonged to Kharva community and teaser was a Muslim boy.

Belgaum on border area of Karnataka and Maharashra witnessed communal clashes between the two communities in which about 50 persons including 20 women were injured in Durbar Gulli of the town. The injured had to be hospitalised. The Belgam Devathal had organised puja in all the city temples to mark the last Tuesday of Adhik mass. A large number of people thronged the temples. Some devotees began to throw turmeric powder at a temple in Durbara Gali as members of minority community were coming out after offering prayers from a mosque. Some people objected to turmeric powder being thrown and scuffles started. After the ritual persons from both the communities started pelting stones. Both the communities blamed the police for inaction. A year before also violence had broken out during the same ritual.
On 16th August Akola came to experience communal violence in which one person was killed and one was severely injured. During the celebration of independence day there was some quarrel between two groups and violence broke out. The person who died was identified as Rau. Six persons were arrested. This led to communal tension in the area.

On 15th August violence broke out in Petla in Anand district of Gujarat on the question of parking an Autorickshaw between two communities. The police had to resort to firing in which one person was injured and curfew had to be imposed. Many shops were set ablaze. To keep the situation under control additional police force was rushed to Anand.On 7th August there were serious clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Akot of Akola district in Maharashtra in which 3 persons were injured. It started with a man being wounded by a scooter of another community. Stone throwing started after arguments between them. One car was also damaged. The police reached the spot swiftly and cooled the tempers with the help of social workers. Akot is a communal sensitive area so security was immediately beefed up.

Then on 29th August in Dekhar Gaon of Anjha Taluka in Mehsana district of Gujarat witnessed clashes between two communities in which more than 15 persons were injured of which two persons were in critical condition. The police reached the spot on time and brought the situation under control. According to the police a son of a retired police officer had gone to the village for Puja and clashed with persons of minority community and others got involved from both communities.

Jalna and Purna in Marathwada district of Parbhani in Maharashtra witnessed bomb blasts near a mosque after the Friday prayer on 27th August in which 23 persons praying in the mosque were seriously injured. The persons who threw bombs came on motorcycles and their faces were masked. Their identity could not be established immediately. Since it was on the eve of state elections it was suspected that communal forces tried to ignite communal violence to polarise Hindus and Muslims. The department declared security alert throughout the State in view of these bomb attacks. Mr. Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief also warned in a press conference in Marathwada that communal mischief will not be tolerated. This bomb incident created an acute sense of insecurity among Muslims.

In Khantalao, Bhandara Maharashtra communal violence broke out on 11 September on the question of land ownership and 20 persons were injured. Many shops were set ablaze. More than 60 persons were arrested. The trouble broke out when Siv Sena and Bajrang Dal people gave a call for bandh to protest against a plot of land near a temple having been wrongfully occupied. The Shivsainiks soon became violent and began to attack minority community in which 20 persons were attacked. More than 35 places were set to fire. Curfew was clamped to control the situation

Muradabad in U.P. another communally sensitive place, saw communal disturbances on 15 September in which one person died. The problem began with dispute about the construction of a wall in the courtyard of a mosque. Stoning and firing took place between Hindus and Muslims and one person was killed and 18 persons were injured including two policemen. The members of two communities fought despite the presence of the police personnel.

Baroda again came under communal spell on 19th September in which six persons were injured when Ganesh Chaturthi procession was being taken out in the Panigate area which is hyper sensitive and witnesses communal violence repeatedly. The procession was passing through Dudhwala Mohalla of Panigate area.

Badohi in U.P. known for carpet weaving experienced communal violence on 24th October when idols of Goddess Durga were being taken out. It took violent turn when some slogans were raised during the procession of idols. The mob set afire several shops including an electronic shop on Chauri and Gyanpur Roads. About 24 persons were injured. Rapid Action Force and additional police forces had to be deployed to control the situation. The mob also damaged buses and obstructed movement of trains on Bhadohi-Varanasi-Janghai route. 10 persons were arrested for rioting and violence.

In Padrona Qasba of Kushinagar, U.P. disturbances broke out on the question of hoisting a flag near the idol of Durga in which 25 persons were injured and 38 persons were arrested according to the police. 

Bhopal in M.P. saw communal clashes in the Shahjahanabad Policethana area on 26th October in which one person died and one was critically injured. Curfew was clamped and judicial inquiry ordered. Deceased was identified as Jaiprakash. Two children quarrelled and their elders intervened leading to communal clash.

Zakaria Buder area in Mumbai witnessed communal violence on 1st November near Cottongreen station in which seven persons were injured. Trouble broke out when a fruit vendor Habibullah was beaten up by some youth from Ambewadi Chawl because of previous enmity. Habibullah’s friends intervened and two groups started pelting stones and threw bottles.

Silcher town in Assam also was rocked by communal violence on November 7 in which 50 shops belonging to minority community were burnt and looted and they sustained loss amounting to crores of rupees. It all started when police refused to give permission to take out a funeral procession of an employee who was murdered through minority locality. The mob went on rampage and curfew had to be imposed. 

All the riots we have described above started with small incident which are quite common place but did not assume serious proportion and could be controlled easily as there was no intention by any communal party to exploit these incidents for engineering communal violence for political purposes. No major communal riot can take place without previous planning and providing infrastructure for the same. Any of these incidents could have assumed serious proportions if any communal party had intended to exploit it for their interests. 

The major riots also start with small triggering incidents. In that case police is also under pressure not to act and let the violence spread. In post-Gujarat situation, the communal forces did not want to engineer any major riot and hence both in 2003 and 2004 we see only small communal incidents but no major and widespread communal violence. In all these instances the police could effectively control communal violence as they could act independently without any political pressure. If the police is under strict instruction not to allow communal incidents and politicians do not interfere no riot can continue beyond few hours. Widespread communal violence takes place not only by the connivance of unscrupulous politicians but by their complete involvement. 
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