Special Reports

Communal Riots 2009 – a review

If communal violence erupts it is more because of weakness of secular forces than the strength of communal forces, writes Asghar Ali Engineer
The year 2009 also did not witness major riots and this pattern is continuing since Gujarat riots of 2002. However, no year so far has been riot-free. Communal violence erupts on smaller scale in different places throughout India. It is interesting to note that since Mumbai riots of 1992-93 there was no major communal riot until Gujarat riots in 2002 except in Coimbatore in 1998 in which about 40 persons were killed. Similarly since Gujarat riots of 2002 there has been no major communal riots except in Kandhamal, Orissa, in which also around 40 persons were killed.

The year 2009 began with the UN in its 7 February report condemning slow progress of communal riots probe in Gujarat and calling for speedy justice. “A large number of criminal cases relating to the communal violence in 2002 remained uninvestigated or have been closed by the Gujarat Police and the miserable plight of those internally displaced from their homes continues” said the UN Report by Human Rights Council. It was indeed a matter of shame that the UN Human Rights Council had to remind us of that. In fact it is Narendra Modi’s deep-rooted communalism and arrogance of power which brought such disgrace to our country.

Fortunately January remained riot-free but with February communal situation began to slip down the slippery slope. It began with Nanded in Maharashtra. Maharashtra is one of the communally most sensitive states though it has been ruled by the Congress most of the time. In the centre of Nanded town near Railway station two youth belonging to Hindu and Muslim communities had a quarrel and soon it acquired communal overtones; five youth were injured and had to be hospitalized. It began with eve teasing and youth of two communities came out on the streets and fought. Sharp edged weapons were openly used. One of the injured was in critical condition. All shops in the area downed their shutters. However, the police controlled the situation quickly.

It happened in Tanda town of Ambedkar Nagar when murder of Ramjor took place communal violence erupted and one house and several shops of minority community were set on fire. The police acted promptly and police force and PAC were sent to control the situation. However, much damage was not done and police controlled it in time. M.P. Madhya Pradesh has become another sensitive state since BJP has taken over. On 11th March, communal violence broke out in Mahidpur of Ujjain district which has considerable Muslim population. Some Muslims returning after the Prophet’s birth Day’s procession were asked to avoid a route where Ramayana recitation was going on but processionists insisted on taking that route and that led to violence in which one person was killed and 17 were injured. Police resorted to firing and one person was killed and about 24 persons were arrested.

Festivals like Holi, Diwali or Ganesh Chaturthi generally witness outbreak of communal violence. On 11th March on the occasion of Holi four U.P. towns, Benaras, Azamgarh, Lucknow and Bareli witnessed communal violence. In all, four persons were killed and more than 22 were injured. Curfew had to be imposed in several parts of two cities. Police bandobast was made in all these cities to check further spreading of violence. Two persons were killed in firing in suburb of Benaras after colour was thrown on some Muslims. The incidents took place in Vellur and Bazari Deh and two police officers in charge of these police stations were suspended. High police officials were camping here to keep the situation under control.

The other incident took place in Khilafatpur of Azamgarh district where one person was killed and two were injured. In Lucknow in Nawagaon area one person was shot dead. In Bareily old city also two people of different communities clashed on throwing colour and five persons were injured. And in Faridpur area one person was killed during Prophet birth Day’s celebration.

During Holi festival reports of violent clashes from other places were also received. In Ghazipur U.P. a six-year-old girl was killed and several persons injured. Also from Bihar there were reports of 3 persons killed in Chapra and Nawada districts. In Delhi too one tailor was stabbed to death.

Again in Maharashtra in Rabodi area of Thane, near Mumbai, communal violence broke out after a road accident. Police fired more than 30 rounds when the mob refused to disperse. According to eye witnesses about seven autorickshaws, one milk van, four shops and three houses were set on fire near Kranti Nagar and rioters hurled stones and soda bottles at the police. Two police inspectors suffered serious head injuries. Rabodi had witnessed violent communal clashes in September 2008 also on the occasion of Navratri.

In South Karnataka also communal violence broke out and some mosques were seriously damaged on 15th March. It was alleged by the Congress members in the Karnataka Assembly that volunteers of the Sangh Parivar were in the forefront of the violence and police completely failed to control violence. It was even alleged that Ram Sena leader Pramod Muthallik and others were trying to convert Karnataka into another Gujarat. Karnataka has been witnessing attacks on Christians and churches also. It was also alleged by the Congress and other secular activists that on the eve of General elections BJP was trying to polarize Karnataka to win elections.

On 4th April Pusad witnessed communal violence in which a Muslim couple and a Hindu boy were killed. Pusad and Digras in Yavatmal district also had witnessed serious communal violence in 2008 on the occasion of Holi and now on 7th April 2009 Pusad again came under spell of communal violence. In 2008 it was in Digras that police brutally assaulted Muslims and broke their homes, looted cash. This time Police repeated these atrocities against Muslims in Pusad. In 2008 R.R. Patil was Home Minister and in 2009 Jayant Patil was Home Minister. Neither took any action against the police though video clippings of police atrocities were shown. So much for secularism of the Maharashtra Congress. And all this happened on the occasion of General elections. It was because of such communal violence that the seat went to the Shiv Sena. It was the Congress’s own loss. Many riots are organized just to win elections. One can call it winning elections through murder and killing. Pusad and Digras in Maharashtra have become communally highly sensitive thanks to VHP, Shiv Sena and other communal organizations and to mysterious silence, nay approval of the Congress. It appears Congress government deliberately posts rank communal police officers in these places. Police becomes looters and rioters in uniform. Besides one mosque 45 houses belonging to Muslims were set to fire. The Ram Navmi procession comprising 20,000 people was taken out with loud speakers blaring the tune Mandir Vahin Banayenge (we will construct Mandir on that place only). The procession stopped near Mohammadi Masjid and indulged in stone throwing and rioting broke out. And this happened despite the fact that many Muslim leaders had welcomed the procession in Lohar lane to promote communal amity.

Next, Anand in Gujarat came under the spell of communal violence on 27th May. A 14-year old Muslim girl was murdered by a non-Muslim youth who later committed suicide. The girl’s throat was slit with sharp edged weapon. This led to clashes between two communities. According to the police there was massive stoning by both sides. Five houses were burnt down. However, no one was killed. The police seem to have controlled the situation.

Assam which is normally not very communally sensitive witnessed communal riot on May 28. In this riot five persons were killed and hundreds more rendered homeless following communal clash in Western Assam’s Kokrajahr district. The police said that the trouble had erupted over a piece of temple land, after some hooligans drove out people living there. The residents alleged that a local police officer had played partisan role and demanded his removal, which was opposed by the members of another community.

In Nanded, Maharashtra, communal violence broke out on June 18 when some people from Chopala area of the town objected to drugs being sold. The mischief mongers gave it a communal turn and members of both communities began to attack each other in which about 7 persons, including two women were injured and had to be admitted in the Government Hospital. The electric connections were severed and indulged in communal violence in darkness. However, police reached in time and brought the situation under control.

Mysore has been a peaceful town but under the BJP rule whole of Karnataka is turning communally sensitive. Mysore also came under the wave of communal violence on 3rd July in which 3 persons were killed. Communal flare-up took place on the question of desecration of a religious school. Police fired in the air and lobbed teargas shells to disperse the mob. Prohibitory orders were enforced in four police station areas. In Udaigiri scores of houses were set on fire in Kyathanamaranahalli. However the incidents soon spread over to other areas like Udaigiri, Gayatripuram II stage and Rajivnagar. The rioters snatched the pistol of an inspector. Many houses were looted and set afire, police said. The tension continued next day also and a BJP leader who was seated in a car with a Muslim friend was stabbed though, stabbing was connected with a financial dispute.

After Mysore it was Shahpur area of Ahmedabad which was engulfed in communal violence on 17th August in which about 8 persons were injured. The violence broke out after alleged desecration of an idol in a temple. However, according to another source the real cause was playing music before the mosque. The whole area was littered with stones and pieces of glasses. Shahpur is a Muslim majority area of Ahmedabad city.

Interviews with local residents showed that the trouble had begun a week ago when some people tried to build a temple near the Ahmedi mosque opposite the Nagoriwad police Chowkey. Yet another version was that the mosque authorities objected to the noisy procession, as evening Namaz was being offered. Nearly half a dozen houses were torched and property damaged on both sides in the clashes and many injured. Many police officers were also injured among others. It was also reported in some newspapers that two people were stabbed from minority community and were seriously injured.
During the Ganesh festival in September Maharashtra again witnessed communal violence in places like Sangli, Miraj and Icchalkaranji in Kolhapur district on 7-9 September. Ichhalkaranji which has population of 3 lakhs and is a textile town. Even after a month when I met some Muslims from Icchalkaranji they were living in fear. In fact riots had spread to other towns like Sangli and Miraj also. Extensive damage was done to 60 Mosques and Dargahs in the whole region.

During the Ganesh festival in this region of Western region various Ganesh Pandals were put up on which arches and posters showing Shivaji killing Afzal Khan were shown and this was objected to by some Muslims and it also became a controversy between the Congress and Shiv Sena-BJP and communal violence broke out. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mr. Ashok Chavan accusing the communal parties of fanning the riots for a political capital.

Mr. Gopinath Munde, the BJP leader from Maharashtra on the other hand, blamed the Congress for communal flare up exploiting it for electoral purposes. There is a proof, if any proof is needed that communal violence is used mainly for electoral purposes by political parties. However, one hope-giving feature of these rioting was that Hindu women in villages where mosques were damaged not only repaired these mosques but also provided protection to the Muslims in villages and persuaded them not to migrate to other places.

On 13th November we held one day workshop on Women for Secularism in Icchalkaranji in which many women from these villages who repaired mosques and saved Muslim lives in villages were also invited. I heard them speak and was inspired from their determination to fight communal forces. It gave me new confidence in the people of India to keep India secular. They were mostly illiterate village women who came out so strongly against communal forces. Again the communal riots were sparked to exploit religious sentiments for electoral purposes.

Another thing to be noted is that Icchalkaranji, as pointed out, is a textile town and was once stronghold of left trade unions. It went into flames like Bhivandi, another textile town near Mumbai, went up in flames in 1970 and 1984 communal violence. The Left trade union workers get as easily polarized in religious camps as other people. The left ideology hardly protects them from communal ideology.

On 23rd September Jaisalmer, Rajasthan saw communal frenzy in which one person died and 10 persons were seriously injured when a religious structure was demolished which was disputed in Fatehgarh area of Jaisalmer. Also a dozen shops and four vehicles were burnt and offices of SDM and Tehsildar were ransacked. Jaisalmer is a border town and Pakistan is just a few kilometers away. The Muslims of Jaisalmer can hardly be distinguished from Hindus culturally or linguistically. It has no history of communal violence either. Yet the BJP rule in Rajasthan gave phillip to communal forces in the area.

On October 24 communal tension erupted in Shravasti town near Bahraich in U. P. when meat pieces were found inside a mosque. The Muslims of the town blocked the road and threw stones and attacked vehicles. The protestors blocked the Bahraich-Shravasti road for hours and tried to torch buses. According to the police, people noticed pieces of meat near the mosque but when they entered the gate of the mosque they found more pieces of meat and in no time some 500 people gathered shouting slogans and demanding arrest of those responsible. Some people of the town had dispute with members of minority community and they might have left pieces of meat inside the mosque. Some 14 persons were identified.

This was, in short, the account of communal violence in the year 2009. In all during 2009, 23 lives were lost and 73 people injured. It is very difficult to estimate loss of properties but undoubtedly public and private properties put together it would run into hundreds of crores of rupees. Also, it would be observed that riots took place in U. P., Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, M. P., Assam and Gujarat.

However, there were no riots in West Bengal, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Also, very few riots took place in this year in Gujarat and maximum riots took place in Maharashtra. This year hardly any riot was reported from Baroda in Gujarat which is highly communally sensitive state. Thus we can say while there is some improvement in Gujarat in terms of occurrence of communal violence in Maharashtra we witness no such improvement.

The government in Maharashtra is secular but has no political will to curb activities of the Shiv Sena. Shiv Seainiks can get away with anything. Also the Shiv Sena mouthpiece continues to be highly abrasive and no law applies to it. About Gujarat much communal violence has gone down but not communalization. Since 2002 riots brought great disgrace to Narendra Modi. He is unwilling, at least for the present, to have more communal violence but there is hardly any let up in communalization and polarization on the basis of religion. The great divide between Hindus and Muslims continues to be what it was in 2002 and Gujarat continues to be Hindutva laboratory.

It is also to be noted as pointed out earlier, there has been no major communal disaster after 2002 except in Kandhamal in Orissa. However, there is one difference that in Orissa BJP was a junior partner in Government and though it could inflict communal damage once in Kandhamal, the process could not continue as in Gujarat. Navin Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Orissa realized his mistake in allying with the BJP and he broke with it after the Kandhmal riots. This rupture stopped the process of Hinduization of Orissa.

However, in Gujarat, BJP was the real boss and hence after 2002 there was no such rupture and hence the process of communalization remained steady. If communalization goes on communal violence can be organized when needed. Communal violence cannot go on, on major scale for obvious reasons. And in U.P. and Bihar, the two states of Hindi belt which often witnessed major riots during the eighties, communal politics there was seriously weakened due to emergence of caste-based parties there like Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal (United) etc.

There has been great change in power equation in the Hindi belt though small skirmishes continue there. Tamil Nadu and Kerala were always dominated by caste and left politics respectively. But in both the states there was eruption of communal violence temporarily. In Tamil Nadu the Hindu Munnani, an OBC party experienced a temporary rise after conversion to Islam in Meenakshipuram and because of clashes between OBC and Dalits. However, communal politics could not be sustained on a long term basis.

In Kerala too RSS tried to find its foothold in a section of society which was left out of power equations. It did succeed to some extent and apart from clashes between RSS and CPM, riots occurred between Hindus and Muslims also but only on few occasions. Assam though not a communal prone state but after ASSU movement in early eighties the Rajasthani business community there felt highly insecure and hence brought in RSS and communalized polity to some extent. However, it succeeds in engineering communal violence here and there but it is difficult to sustain communal discourse in Assam also for historical, cultural and linguistic reasons.

All this abundantly proves that communalism is a political and not a religious phenomenon and that communal graph goes up and down depending on political dynamics of a region. It gives us hope that bewildering diversity of Indian society cannot sustain communal violence on long term basis. If communal violence erupts it is more because of weakness of secular forces than the strength of communal forces.

Secular parties often lose courage and political will in the face of communal onslaught at certain junctures. If secular parties show courage and strong political will there is no reason communalism will have long lease of life. (Secular Perspective)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2010 on page no. 13

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