Focus

Dhule Riots: How a petty squabble led to “Kargilli Firing”

By Feroze Mithiborwala

Dhule: This was the first time that we came across this term - ‘Kargilli Firing’. It was in a meeting in Dhule where activists from both the communities were present that a young Muslim mentioned this term and most of us were shocked beyond words. What he was basically stating was that the police opened fire with an agenda to kill as if they were at war with Pakistani troops over the Line of Control.
 

Thus the deep-seated anti-Muslim bias amongst vast sections of the police is indeed evidently true, frightening as it sadly is.

There was also another first. We have come across many reasons for riots that break out spontaneously and these range from arguments over a scooter accident, to kite-flying, to a love affair, to a little incident outside a temple or a masjid being the norm.

But the recent riot in Dhule on the 6th of January certainly tops the bill, as it was precisely a petty and frivolous squabble over a food bill at a food-stall which set off this riot resulting in the  death of six youngsters, namely Imran Ali Qamar Ali (25), Aasim Shaikh Naseer (21), Saud Ahmed Raees Patel (18), Hafiz Mohammad Aasif Abdul Haleem (22), Rizwan Hasan Shah (24) and Yunus Abbas Shah (20), with three others who had their legs amputated.

Needless to say that the police firing was only directed towards the Muslim rioters, whilst the Hindu rioters were provided cover to loot, pillage and burn properties in Macchi Bazar. The evidence has all been captured on mobile-video recordings and the police are clearly seen to be participating in the general looting and mayhem. You can access this by mere googling “Dhule Riots YouTube” and the evidence is there for all to see. This was a riot that should never have happened and once it started, it could and should have been easily contained by the police within a matter of two hours or even less.

Macchi Bazar is a Muslim populated mohalla which serves the best non-vegetarian food in Dhule. Thus in the evening there are droves of Hindus who come here to eat. Right across the local chowk is Madhavpura, a Hindu majority locality.
The incident was sparked off by a heated argument between a Muslim youth and a Hindu food-stall owner over a bill. It took a violent turn, with an exchange of blows and then the Muslim youth went over to the Police chowki located right opposite the stall barely 20 feet across the street. The policemen advised the boy to go to file his complaint at Azad Nagar Police station, as it could not be registered at the chowki. The point to be noted here is that, this is the most communally sensitive spot in all of Dhule and the policemen stationed there should have known better.

Here itself the feud could have been nipped in the bud, if a constable could have taken the trouble to walk 20 feet across the street and sternly warned the two erring parties to settle their petty affair peacefully. The Muslim boy, seeing the Police inaction, called his friends to support him and so did the stall  owner. The situation quickly deteriorated into a stone and bottle throwing match from both quarters.  Here too there was a failure of the youth from both the communities who live just right across but do not have friends in the other community whom they can reach out to and appeal for an end to the mindless fighting. Even the social leadership on either side was absent and so were their elected representatives. All it would have taken were for a few community leaders to step in and control the mobs, with a certain degree of physical threat to their own lives. Or maybe that is why they all stayed away, hiding in the safety of their homes.
The police later intervened but sided entirely with the Hindu community, as has been the case with many riots across the country in the past. Prior to the firing, water cannons were not used, nor was there a lathi-charge or tear-gas firing  to disperse the crowds. The police firing could have also been in the air and that would have been sufficient to disperse the mobs. But the police chose to open fire right into the Muslim locality and they fired above the waist, with an agenda to kill. As of now, it is still not clear as to which police officer gave the orders to shoot as they are still passing the buck.

We were informed that in the recent violence at the Bhim Nagar locality of Dhule in 2011, where many policemen were injured grievously during a riot in which two police vans were burnt, the police dealt with the situation without firing a shot and brought it under control within a matter of hours without any loss of life. Also recently in the Azad Maidan riots in Mumbai on 11 August last year, the police performed their task admirably and did not fire on the Muslim mob which had gone on the rampage. Thus successful precedents of the police having controlled riots, without resorting to bullets within a few hours of an incident are there for all to see and learn from.

Mind you, it was just a matter of containing the violence between four lanes at a chowk, which is the meeting point for Machhi Bazaar, Pala Bazaar, Tasha Galli, Maulvi Ganj and Madhavpura. The riots, which continued to rage for over three hours, did not spread to any other locality in Dhule. Even as rumours of a riot swirled across the town, people in other localities gathered at their chowks to guard their areas with a clear sign that they were not going to either participate or start attacking the other community in their area. 

Another important point is that neither did this riot spread to the rural outskirts of Dhule or North Maharashtra, as has been the case in the recent past when embers could have fanned flames in Malegaon, Nasik, Raver, Chopda and Nandurbar.

The other positive sign has been the role of doctors and nurses, due to whom many innocent lives were saved. Here it must be stated that these doctors were all Hindus from the Lokmanya, Astha and Suhas hospitals. If it were not for doctors like Dr. Sanjay Khopde, the death toll would have been much higher.

The negative element has been the statement issued by 41 lawyers who  stated that they will oppose any prosecution of the police and stand against defending any of the Muslim rioters. The lawyers have turned judges. This has also been the case after the terror attacks in Varanasi and Pune, where a section of similar lawyers had pronounced the suspected Muslim youths as terrorists and guilty prior to a trial. The Indian Bar Council needs to take action against such lawyers who are undermining the judiciary and the Indian Constitution itself.

The media has played a mixed role. In the first phase, it failed to portray the prejudiced role of the police. Local channels were taken off the air which helped contain the fear and rumour-mongering.

A lot of misinformation was planted into the media by the police itself, so as to build a case for the indefensible police action. But this story is certainly collapsing like a pack of cards.

Even during our visit to Dhule, we found that secular activists from across communities were discussing the matter without any tension amongst them. Normally after a riot, there is an uneasiness that creeps into the atmosphere, but here in Dhule this was not the case. It was Rahul Wagh (BAMCEF-Borkar) and his friends Narendra Khairnar, Ravi More, Jay Wagh amongst others who invited us to Dhule. They mobilized their Muslim activist friends like Abdul Sattar, Adv. Salahuddin, Ashfaque, Habib, Babu Sheikh, Farouq Sheikh, Liaqat Pathan, Majid Khan, Muhammad Zaid, Zainulabedin, Munir, Nafees and many others who were all active in the post-riot situation. Be it at the hospitals where they carried the dead and the injured, or in organizing food and relief for those who had lost their properties and businesses, or working to maintain calm in the town -- all of them played a key role in ensuring peace.

Whilst hearing the Muslim activists, it was clear that they felt entirely orphaned. None of them denied or defended the fact that the Muslim youth were involved in the rioting and stone-throwing. All they said was that youth from the Hindu community behaved likewise. This also came out that the entire police action and arbitrary and lethal firing was directed solely at the Muslim community and this is what led them to coin the term “Kargilli Firing”. Abdul Sattar, both a businessmen and a political leader (from the Shah-Fakir Muslim OBC community) broke down whilst speaking and stated that the entire Muslim community found itself very “helpless and orphaned”. All they said was that they wanted justice from the government.

The recent timely visit by the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chawan and his sensible observations, as well as a financial package for compensation and rehabilitation has done much to heal the wounds. More important, he has announced that the policemen who participated in the riots are suspended and a trial will be conducted against the police as well. The Judicial Commission of inquiry will go a long way in recording the facts and ascertaining the truth.

We held many discussions with both the young Hindu and Muslim activists. Dhule, though a city with a good infrastructure, is wrecked by high unemployment and the entire region of North Maharashtra is devoid of industry. The degree of criminalization is very high, with many involved in the illicit Kerosene, Gas, Liquor and Satta-gambling rackets. All of these are controlled by political leaders, mainly belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar whose bonhomie with the Shiv Sena nowadays is reaching new heights.

The youth with a petty criminal record are forced by the politician-police nexus to work for these parties as brainless storm-troopers and deployed at times such as these.

Within the Muslim community, there lies another serious problem whereby youth cannot find organizations and platforms that are secular.  This is due to the abject failure of the Leftist and socialists movements as well as the liberal-secular Muslim activists of Dhule. Here in fact the Phule-Amedkarites-Bahujan movements have a more humane approach of reaching out to the Muslim community, who they rightly see as from their own Shudra social structure, though now belonging to a different, though egalitarian, religion.

With the approaching local elections later this year and the national general elections in 2014, it is feared that more riots would be engineered, as political parties had no other way to face the electorate, save the agenda of communal polarization, hate and fear-mongering. Thus it is for the secular activists and the masses to build the unity of the people so that they can unitedly face this challenge.

Feroze Mithiborwala is a peace activist in Mumbai. He was in Dhule on 13 and 14th January leading a fact finding team.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2013 on page no. 1

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