Back from “Gujarat”: Faizabad fires extinguished but wounds of hearts yet to be healed

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Faizabad: Everybody is astonished at how Faizabad turned into “Gujarat” on 24 October. Without Narendra Modi coming to Faizabad, everything happened here which had taken place in Gujarat after the Godhra episode. About 60-70 shops of Muslims were consigned to the flames after looting them. Rioters entered after breaking open the locks of Waqf Hasan Raza Khan’s Masjid   Chowk which is situated in the middle of the Chowk. Shops within the mosque enclosure were also set ablaze after looting them. The office of my newspaper Aap ki Taqat inside the mosque also became the target of the goons’ wrath. They looted all that they could and burnt and destroyed whatever they could. The city, which was an example of peace and harmony to the world, whose residents used to proudly say that they are living in Ram Rajya and riots can never take place here, were made to realize by the rioters that by burning paper-made Ravan, Ram does not become victorious.

Like every year, this year too Durga puja’s procession was heading towards Guptaar Ghat from Government College via Bazaza Chowk Rakab Ganj along its traditional route where idols are immersed. Many idols had already been immersed but still a big caravan of trucks and trollies with idols of Durga was on the road. Groups of drunk youngmen were dancing to high pitch music. The eyes of Ma Durga, who was being worshipped with great devotion for four days, would have been filled with tears at seeing all the brutalities that were being perpetrated before her own eyes.

News of a girl being teased spread in the market. The crowd accompanying Ma Durga procession ran to catch hold of the accused boy who ran fast towards a Muslim mohalla. The crowd ran after him while throwing stones at him. People living in the Muslim mohalla thought that the other community was attacking them, so they too started throwing stones at the crowd which retreated hastily.

The matter could have ended there but those who had planned in advance to indulge in rioting, left Ma Durga and began to attack, loot and burn the shops of Muslims. The rioters fearlessly advanced to the Chowk from Rakaab Ganj and looted the shops and set them on fire so violently that even the ceilings of shops caved in. The rioters had kerosene and petrol canisters which they were using freely and fearlessly. Their morale was high. After the shops, they moved towards Masjid Chowk. The Masjid was locked after Maghrib namaz. They broke open the lock, climbed the stairs, looted and burnt the shops of the mosque. Then they entered the mosque itself and desecrated the holy books and other objects.

I had not gone to Gujarat nor seen the riots there with my own eyes. Also I could not see whatever happened in Faizabad on 24 October from 5 to 9 p.m. It was a matter of coincidence that I did not go to my office for that whole day. At 10 p.m. when I got the news of the destruction of Faizabad, I went out. The city was dark and whatever light was there, was of the flames arising from shops which were set ablaze by the rioters. There were two or three fire tenders which were unsuccessfully trying to extinguish the fires. The fire brigade men were in a fix whether to extinguish the fire of shops of Muslims first or those of Hindus. Those who had set on the shops ablaze hoped and wished that only the shops of Muslims would burn but the fire failed to identify which shops belonged to Muslims and which to Hindus.

Masjid Chowk was engulfed in smoke. Its entrance gates, built by Nawabs of Awadh and called “Tendra,” had become decafed and ugly because of the fire. Faces of district officers, who were helpless before the rioters, were indicating that they could not save Faizabad’s civilization from destruction. The helplessness in the eyes of Ayodhya-Faizabad MLA, who was standing along with the fire brigade staff, was telling that for four hours Faizabad had become Gujarat.

Next day, after a small incident of stone pelting, District Magistrate Deepak Agarwal imposed curfew which was probably necessary for bringing the situation under control. The restraint and patience shown by Muslims on 24 October was indeed unparalleled, though after seeing the burnt shops and desecration of the mosque the danger of Muslims losing patience was in any case high. During the curfew, Friday Namaz was offered and Muslims, on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha sacrificed their feelings also along with the animals.

Fires that had engulfed the shops were extinguished. Namaz was offered in Masjid Chowk also. District administration defended their ‘inability’ to bring the situation under control on the pretext that since the riots had started in Rudauli, Bhadarsa and Faizabad simultaneously, the limited security forces could not discharge their responsibility fully. But is someone there to answer the question as to how and since when Ravans settled down in the city of Ram?
Manzar Mehdi is the editor of Aap ki Taqat newspaper. His office at Masjid Chowk too was looted and burnt by the rioters - See more reports on pages  3,5,8

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2012 on page no. 1

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