Aligarh under communal siege
Milli Gazette Online
17 April 2006
Aligarh: Once again Aligarh is passing through the fire of communal violence. It may be a temporary phase, but once again Hindu and Muslim neighbours are seeing each other with suspicious eyes. It is for the sixteenth times that Aligarh is reeling under curfew. According to official figures, six people have died, nearly 150 people are injured, 30 of them seriously. Five of the seven police station areas are under curfew. Almost 150 persons have been arrested for rioting. A few mediamen too received injuries. Six top administrative officials including District Magistrate and Senior Suprintendant of Police have been suspended for their failure in containing and controlling the riot. Entire curfew-bound areas are encircled by police and para-military forces. Scarcity of essential commodities like medicine and milk has hit the poor masses hard. Social activists are constantly trying to provide people with helping hand in their time of distress. Political parties are out with their agendas and pointing the accusing fingure at each other.
of some of the seriously injured in the Aligarh riots
From a centre of education and industrial empowerment, Aligarh has drifted to chaos. This is my Aligarh today. Aligarh remained riot-prone since Independence but the last few years saw no violence. People were confident that the chain of riots has been broken finally. Suddenly, on 5 April, Hindus and Muslims clashed at Dahiwali Gali, a very sensitive area in the town. Provocative slogans were raised against each other and heavy stone pelting followed. Communal tension quickly built up laced on account of rumours making rounds. In the morning of 6 April, all was still well. Shops in the main markets opened, people come out on roads and started their daily routine. Unfortunately shopkeepers of the Sarrafa Bazar decided not to open their shops demanding that the administration should first arrest those who had broken glasspanes of a jeweller's shop. Rumour mills started grinding and the situation quickly worsened.
The bone of contention between the two communities is a place adjoining a mosque. There was a simple platform here once upon time, where a "Piyao" (water outlet) was built. Local inhabitants used to use the platform to offer drinking water to the passersby. After sometime, when a water outlet was under construction, Muslim inhabitants voiced strong dissent and pointed out that the platform was in fact part of Muslim land belonging to the neighbourhood mosque. After a lot of argument, a water outlet was finally constructed. In 1978-79 a bloody riot took place starting that that very spot, resulting in heavy
casualties of innocent people. This is the place where a communal leader had killed a six-month-old girl by stretching apart her legs much before similar incidents took place during Gujarat pogroms in 2002. Last year too, tension built up at that same spot but fortunately Ahmad Hasan, health minister of U.P., was present in Aligarh and under his directives, the district administration frustrated the attempts of communal forces bent upon starting a riot. This year, Hindutva forces initiated some new practices by decorating the spot with red clothes and when Muslims objected as these developments were contrary to the compromise agreed upon, they seized the opportunity and communal clash was ignited. Analysis confirms that the uncooperative attitude of the shopkeepers at the Sarrafa Bazar and initiation of new practices on the water outlet are the two important causes behind the new riot.
On 6 April, when shopkeepers of the Sarrafa Bazar refused to open their shops and started raising slogans against the Muslim community, the communal temperature started rising and the members of the other community too started assembling. Provocative slogans were raised from both sides. Police tried its best to disperse the crowd but instead the verbal war extended to the adjoining area of Kanwari Ganj. Demographically, the area of Kanwariganj is such that its upper part is inhabited by Muslims while the lower part is dominated by Hindus. For almost three hours sloganeering, stone-pelting and exchange of fire between the two communities took place. Two shops, one of them a readymade garment store on Chauraha Abdul Kareem, were destroyed and looted. Anarchists tried to break open shutters of the National Watch Company at Railway Road and rioters took law and order in their hands at some other places. All the three shops belonged to Muslims. Four people received gunshots near Farsh (Kanwariganj), two of whom died instantly, the other two were declared dead at the Medical College. They were identified as Navaid (30), Sarfaraz (21), Azam (28) and Shadab (22).
Local residents say that police was discriminate in its application of force and did not follow the due procedure set for such situations. This smacks of a deeper conspiracy which saner elements of our society should unearth. Family members of the victims say that while stone-pelting and slogan shouting was going on from both sides, the police targeted only Muslims who were in fact in a defensive position. On the other hand, shopkeepers of the Sarrafa Bazar who were not only aggressive but also violent were spared by the police.
On 7 April, Shri Prakash Jaiswal, Union Minister of State for Home paid a visit to the city and met with injured persons at AMU's JN Medical College where he announced ex-gratia compensation, i.e. 2.5 lakhs for the survivors of the dead, Rs. 50,000 for the seriously injured; Rs. 25,000 for the victims of simple injuries. Earlier the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav had also announced monetary compensation to the tune of Rs. 5 lakh to the survivors of the dead, one lakh to the seriously injured and Rs 50,000 to those who received simple injuries.
All political parties, with the exception of BJP, condemned the role of the district civil and police officials in handling the situation. Subsequently, these officials were all either suspended or transferred.
When administration came back on rails, it swiftly adopted corrective measures. Former MLA Krishna Kumar Nauman (BJP), a known trouble-maker since long, was arrested on 6 April and charged with Sec. 107/16 for leading the mob and inciting religious passion. His bail application, presented on the 7 April, was rejected by the Court due to the seriousness of the charges against him.
The situation started to swiftly change after arrival of the district administration's new team. No political or religious leader was allowed to visit the city. Continuous presence of Dr. Ashok Kumar, Commissioner Agra Division, and Rizwan Ahmad IG (Zone), in the city forced the lower rung of the administration to act fast in an impartial manner.
Friday prayers on 7 April went out peacefully in city's mosques without any trouble. In the morning of the same day, the dead body of Gulab Mohammad was found in Bhujpura and in the afternoon another injured youth was brought to the Medical College. Once again temperature started rising. Local people say that Gulab was targeted by rioters while police claimed that the wife of the deceased herself said that he was killed due to a dispute over some loan. Same day, a youth called Waseem, a resident of Kamalpur village, was shot by rioters after verifying his identity at Singhal Dharam Kanta on Agra Road. Still in serious condition, he is under treatment at the medical college at present. The incident shows the gravity of the situation which fascist forces have created. After this development, the Station House Officer of the concerned police station was suspended. Sunday, the 9th April, passed off peacefully except that a youth shot at noon died at the medical college. His identification became a problem for the authorities. Hindus claimed he was a Hindu while Muslims claimed he belonged to them. The youth was circumcised, meaning he was Muslim while he bore the Hindu tattoo sign of 'Om' on one of his arms. His body was kept for 18 hours for identification. When nobody came forward, a panel of three doctors namely, Dr. Heera Singh, Dr. A.K. Singh and Dr. Ram Bihari Goyal, declared him "Muslim" on the basis of his circumcision and accordingly he was buried as a Muslim by a social organization called "Manav Upkar Sanstha." But next day, 10th April, Devki Nandan Kori, M.L.A. of Sasni, claimed that this youth was his son Trilokinath alias Vikki. He said this after seeing his photograph in a Hindi daily. On his insistence, the body was exhumed. Deoki Nandan "identified" him and took charge of it for last rites as a Hindu. Thus the
casualty rose to six. On the same day two persons received burn injuries in Bhujpura. Police claimed that they were making a bomb while local people are confident that they are victims of a bomb attack.
An in-depth analysis of the first five days demonstrates the laxity of the administration. It shows that if the district civil and police authorities had taken appropriate actions on the very first day of the flareup (5 April), Aligarh may have been saved from communal fire. If all the trouble makers at Dahiwali Gali were nabbed in the night itself, then the situation may not have drifted so far. During all these unfortunate events, reporting of Hindi and English dailies remained balanced. Electronic media also displayed restraint and impartiality except one channel (Channel 7) which went so far as to air file footage of Mau riots alongwith Aligarh's coverage. Commissioner Dr. Ashok Kumar and I.G. (Zone) Rizwan Ahmad immediately took notice and expressed their displeasure during their press briefing on 9 April. As the local media is largely controlled by elements with a particular ideological and political affliation, they alongwith the reporter of the concerned channel walked out of the press conference shouting slogans against the officers. But the media started behaving and next day, 10 April, the concerned channel called back its female reporter and the coverage became balanced.
A hard fact is that Aligarh may not have returned quickly to normalcy if senior officers like Dr. Ashok Kumar and Rizwan Ahmad IG had not camped in the city. Their presence assured impartial and fair handling and also infused a sense of confidence among the lower rung of the administration and police. Some communal organizations, like RSS and BJP, did not like their presence because fascist forces were contained and found it hard to continue their anti-minority agenda. It is a matter of sthame that the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Kalyan Singh, who oversaw the demolition of the Babri mosque, demanded the removal of Rizwan Ahmad and called him an "I.S.I. agent." Kalyan Singh should be taken to task for levelling such an allegation against an officer who was doinghis duty to restore order and peace.
Both the central and state governments played key role in containing the communal flare-up. The visit of Shri Prakash Jaiswal, Union Minister of State for Home, was instrumental in healing the wounds. He played a positive role in the suspension of the erring officials. At the same time, local MLA, Vivek Bansal and M.P., Vijendra Singh devoted their whole power in restoring peace and harmony to the city. The state government took laudable steps and instituted an inquiry panel headed by Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mishra and Director General of Police Headquarter, S.K. Rizvi. The compensation announced by the State Government was distributed by Khwaja Halim, Heavy Industries Minister, U.P. on 9 April 2006. All the suspended officials were directed to report at Lucknow. This is the indication that Uttar Pradesh Government is serious about punishing the erring officials and maintaining communal harmony in the state.
It will be appropriate to point out that while the old city of Aligarh was burning, the campus of AMU remained peaceful and represented an island of peaceful co-existence. The AMU administration remained on its toes to protect harmony and extended timely help to the injured irrespective of their religious affliations. Doctors and staff of the AMU's Medical College took good care of the injured. Without their dedicated help, the number of casualties could have been higher.
Aligarh is an educational and industrial centre. Its negative or positive developments also affect our image on the national level. There is an urgent need to resolve the issue of the disputed water outlet in the Dahiwali Gali as well as the the long-standing issue of the boundary and gate at Shah Jamal graveyard which is being resisted by the Hindu community and also the graveyard of the Exhibition Ground where almost half of the land has been grabbed by the other community which refuses to let Muslims construct a boundary. All the three spots belong to the Muslim community which complains of encroachment by the other community. Court cases take time and in between communal forces seize the opportunity to incite and exploit the masses. It is for the governments, both at the centre and state, to step in and discharge their constitutional duties of protecting the rights of citizens. The delay in settling these three key issues will continue to provide ammunition to fascist forces and help them vitiate the communal atmosphere in the town.
Dr Samdani is reader in the Faculty of Law, AMU