Fact-Finding report on the Dhulia Police firing

A fact-finding team from the All India Secular Forum consisting of Dr Suresh Khairnar( Nagpur), Mayatai Choure (Kamptee), Ranjit Pardeshi (Dhulia), Adv. Karim Salar (Jalgaon), Rahul Wagh (Dhulia) and Asif (Malegaon) visited Dhulia city on 12 May, 2010 for fact finding the incident of police firing on 6 May 2010 and the resultant community reaction on 6 May and its aftermath.

Dhulia city, 300 Kms north-east of Mumbai, has about 0.5 million population out of which 40% are Muslims, mostly engaged in the powerloom industry. They are known as Ansaris. The rest of the population is engaged in agriculture and allied industries.  Sugarcane, banana, groundnut, cotton and of late grapes are the major crops of the region.  A few ginning as well as sugar mills are located in the region. Though Dhulia and Malegaon are twins for many reasons, unlike the latter which is situated at a distance of a mere 50 km, Dhulia is historically a peaceful city from the communal point of view. However, people started feeling communal tension since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was launched by the Sangh Parivar in the early 1990s.  A number of smaller skirmishes were reported in the following years from Nandurbar, Sakri, Navapur and Pimpalner which are situated on the borders of Gujarat and Madya Pradesh.

Prior to the recent incident, the last big Hindu-Muslim riot in the city of Dhulia took place in October 2008 over the controversial Afzal Khan-Shivaji poster, in which about 10 people lost their lives.  A separate enquiry report on this riot was released by AISF then.

The Enquiry: The fact-finding team visited Dhulia to investigate the recent incidents that took place on 6 May.  

Incident:  On the day of unrest, 6 May, 2010, when the administration was busy conducting MHT-CET exam, someone pasted a computer generated cartoon of Prophet Muhammad on the district collectorate notice board. Creating images of Prophet Muhammad is considered to be a blasphemy by Muslims. One Bilal Ahmed who happened to visit the collectorate, on seeing the poster, rang up Mr Sawaal Ansari, NCP Corporator, and informed him of the mischief. Sawaal Ansari, in turn informed one Harshawardhan Kadam Bande, Ex-MLA and NCP leader.  A delegation led by these two leaders called upon the District Collector who in the presence of the Superintendent of Police, assured the delegation that the culprit(s) would be arrested within one hour.  However, hours passed without the police arresting anyone. Meanwhile, a crowd of Muslims numbering a few thousands gathered at Assi Footi Road, Tiranga Chowk. The crowd demonstrated against the blasphemy and demanded immediate arrest of the culprits. It is reported that the crowd turned violent and pelted stones on ST buses. According to the media, 14 buses were damaged which the Muslim representatives refuted saying only two buses were damaged. A police force was deployed on the scene. The SP Mr. Himmatrao Deshbhratar appealed to the crowd to disperse peacefully, assuring them that the culprits would be arrested soon.  He even requested Mufti Mazood Ahmed (35) to appeal to the crowd. Standing on top of the Police vehicle, Mufti appealed to the crowd to disperse.

When the fact-finding team enquired about the incident, Muslims said that heeding the appeal of the Police officer and the Mufti, the crowd dispersed peacefully, and as it was the time for namaz they went to offer namaz at the Subhani Masjid.  However,  when the Namazies came out of the Masjid after offering namaz, they found themselves surrounded by RAF commandos and local police who started firing indiscriminately on the crowd without warning and unleashed frightening attack on people and property. As a result, three persons were grievously shot. The names of the injured persons are: 1. Shiraj Ahmad, age 35, works at Seva Automobile, hit on the back and paralyzed, being treated at a private hospital; 2. Adil Ahmad, age 17 years, 12th pass student returning from CET exam, hit on the hip from the back, being treated at a private hospital; 3. Shoeb Ahmad Hussain, age 25 years, hit on the back, now in police custody.

Mufti Mazood Ahmed who was requested by the Police to appeal to the masses to maintain peace, was also brutally attacked by the commandos, his two fingers are fractured and in bandage now.  

Eye witnesses told the team that immediately after this firing without warning, the police launched an offensive in the Muslim busti, forcefully entering into houses, hurled abuses at women inside their houses, beating whoever was found including women and children, breaking furniture and throwing about utensils in the kitchen and arresting around 40 Muslims from their homes.

The fact-finding team visited Taj Transport Garage which, according to the eyewitnesses, was ransacked by 15-20 commandos who beat up the owner Mohammad Alim and picked up six employees of the garage identified as Basheer Bhai, Basheer Pathan, Mustaq, Wasim, Aslam and Riffique Sheikh.

Similarly the Commandos broke open a shuttered shop, Maharashtra Battery Works, and razed it to the ground. The batteries were smashed beyond repair. Another engineering workshop run by Haji Muhammad Shafi Ramzan Shah, was also raided and his worker Shafique was brutally attacked and taken to custody.

SP Mr Himmatrao Deshbhratar, when contacted, stated that he was planning to arrest 5000 Muslims. When asked how can he maintain law and order with the arrest of so many people, he replied that the Guardian Minister Mr. Abdul Sattar had told him that these people (referring to Muslims) understand only the language of sticks.

Habib Khan, a senior citizen, informed the team that his grand son Naseem Khan s/o Yusuf Khan was beaten up by police when he went to pan-shop at Assi Footi Road, and was arrested. There are over 25 youngsters (all below the age of 25) still in custody.  Yusuf Khan managed to get his son released within two days but he (Naseem Khan) was taken into custody once again.

Incidentally, the sitting independent MLA of Dhulia Mr Anil Gote had called for Dhulia bandh on 5 May, a day before the incident, in protest against the physical attack by his political rival Mr. Harshwardhan Kadambande.  Mr. Anil, the second accused in the Telgi Stamp Paper Scam, was away from his constituency on the day of the incident. Mr. Kadambande states that ‘local political rivalry is the root cause of the trouble in Dhulia.

Muslims claimed that police seemed to have come with a plan to damage our properties.  Over 20 cars and more than a hundred houses were damaged. Police on the other hand says that the Muslims themselves damaged the property and put the blame on the Police. The arrested people have not been released till today. Hindus say that it was a clash between police and Muslims and that there is no communal bad blood in it.

1. Over 25 Muslim youths (below the age of 25) are still in police custody charged with criminal allegations.
2. Properties, particularly vehicles, were vandalized. The fact-finding team could see over 15 vehicles, some of them expensive ones, still in damaged condition in Muslim mohalla.
3. Three Muslims are grievously injured in police firing.
4. The Superintendent claims that ‘Muslims understand only the language of the canes, and the attack on them had contained the unruly masses and averted a possible communal riot.’
Comments: 1. The indiscriminate attack on Muslim masses suggests that the police came with a pre-determined mind to ‘teach a lesson’ to Muslims; 2. Communal prejudice among the police is very strong; 3. Many Muslims abstained from responding to the query by the team as they think it might bring them to police’s vindictive attention, as they themselves opined; 4. Even those who responded, requested to keep their name undisclosed; 5. Police has created a fear psychosis among the people for no obvious fault of them.
 Report by Suresh Khairnar, Convener, All India Secular Forum