Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective January 1-15, 2011)


No year in India has been riot-free. Some years like 1992-93 post Babri Masjid demolition, 2002 in Gujarat witness major communal catastrophe, 2008 in Kandhamal riots or some years witness riots which are not nationally taken notice of. The year 2010 of course did not witness riots like Mumbai in 1992-93 or one like in Gujarat in 2002 but did witness riots mostly in either middle level cities or even small towns and villages.

However, some riots were really disturbing and also one cannot be oblivious of ever increasing trend of communalization due to all out efforts being made by RSS and its other outfits. Even a moderate party like the Congress has felt danger from communalism and tried to focus attack on communal BJP in its own interest. The BJP may not be upfront in promoting communal politics for various reasons not to be discussed in this article but is using other organizations of Sangh Parivar to do so. The BJP is in power in a few states and it is going all out to promote RSS in these states and also to recruit people with the RSS background in various government services which itself is great danger to our secularism.

The Congress focusing on communalism in its 84th session is more symbolic than substantial. It is still not ready to take on communal bull by its horns but is fighting it rather sheepishly. The Congress is the only national party with secular ideology but is not honest as it should be in fighting menace of communalism. Otherwise there is no reason why India cannot be riot-free.

According to the Home Ministry data between 2001 and 2009 6,541 communal clashes occurred and 2,234 persons were killed. Though the number of communal clashes may be correct officially the number of casualties is never reported accurately in official records for various reasons. In 2002 in Gujarat alone, all non-official sources agree, was 2000 dead and official sources are showing number of deaths between 2001 sand 2009 i.e. over a period of 8 years as 2,234 i.e. minus Gujarat total number of dead over a period of 8 years in all only 234 persons died which can hardly be accurate. But if we take official figure of dead in Gujarat riots of 2002 as 1000, then over a period of 8 years 1234 people died i.e. more than 150 people per year which is not so small, after all.

In 2009 the last riot had taken place on 30th December in Bhilwada, Rajasthan. This year too Rajasthan witnessed two horrible riots. The Sangh Parivar is doing everything possible to convert Rajasthan into Gujarat and Rajasthan is already on its way to becoming one. Maharashtra too is communally very sensitive state though it has always been ruled by the Congress except for one term i.e. from 1995 to 2000 by the Shiv Sena-BJP. The first riot in 2009, as per our record, took place in Evatmahal, Maharashtra on 16th January. The apparent cause was the rumour that Shivaji’s and Bal Thackeray’s photographs have been blackened in the College Chowk. The Shivsainiks came out on the road and started pelting stones on shops, buses and other vehicles. The police, however, brought the situation under control without any loss of life. The police arrested 50 Shivsainiks for rioting.

Karnataka, especially South Karnataka, is another communally sensitive area. The Ramsena has become hyper active since the BJP came to power. Both Christians and Muslims are being attacked in this state. Attacks on churches and mosques have increased. On 31st January Churches were attacked in Bhatkal and Mysore and a glass painting of mother Mary was attacked in Mangalore. Apart from this in Mangalore two mosques, one orphanage, one shop and one house also came under attack. One student was injured in an attack on the orphanage.

Next Shimoga in Karnataka and Bareilly in U.P. experienced communal violence on the occasion of Prophet’s birthday. In Shimoga the provocation came when a Kannada paper Kannada Prabha published Kannada translation of Taslima Nasreen’s article. Taslima Nasreen denied having anything to do with it. It was an article on burqa which was originally written in English in 2006 and it was a distorted translation according to her. Shimoga and Hassan experienced communal violence and both towns were put under curfew. Though there was no loss of life properties and vehicles were set to fire. Curfew was enforced and extended for two days to contain the situation.

Barielly in U.P. also saw communal violence on the occasion of Prophet’s birthday. On March 2 Muslims were to take out Julus-e-Muhammadi i.e. Prophet’s birthday procession. There were thousands of Muslims in the procession when some Hindus objected to procession being taken from a particular route. Bareilly has no history of communal violence. Both sides were throwing stones and attacking vehicles and houses.

It was difficult or 300 constables to contain the huge mob and hence imposed curfew which helped bring the situation under control. However, on March 8 the police arrested Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, President Ittahid-e-Millat Council for delivering provocative speeches in the procession. When Muslims protested he was released on 11th March. Then the Hindus protested and said he was released under pressure from Muslims and fresh trouble broke out on 12th March.

Since Holi and Prophet’s birth day coincided Muslims decided to take out julus two days later but Shabani Mian of Anjuman-e-Khuddam-e-Rasul did not agree to defer and hence for last two years two processions were being taken out and this year it resulted in communal eruption. There are various conjectures as to why Bareilly suddenly erupted which had remained quiet even after demolition of Babri Masjid. Some say Mayawati felt insecure as the Congress was performing well and that she had secret understanding with the BJP to polarize Hindu and Muslim vote. It is true that the Congress and BSP are at logger’s head and would not mind engineering communal violence. Communal violence is a political phenomenon, not religious one.

Thus Bariely remained under curfew for a long time which it had not witnessed before and sustained huge losses of property. This riot, mainly due to rivalry between Congress and BSP assumed national importance and this issue was raised even in Parliament also.

Next it was turn of Hyderabad on 30th March. Hyderabad old city is communally highly sensitive thanks to rivalry between Majli-s-Ittihadul Muslimin and BJP. In the old city poorest of poor Muslims live along with Hindus some of whom are traders and supporters of BJP. Most of the poor Muslims support the Majlis. Majlis is trying to increase its political clout and hence decided to celebrate Prophet’s birth day on a grand scale and even went to the extent of creating a copy of the Prophet’s mausoleum in the old city which had never happened before.

It also decorated old city and the area remained under illumination and decoration for long after the Barawafat i.e. Prophet’s birth day. The BJP, not to be outdone, celebrated Hanuman jayanti on a big scale and created huge sized statue which was not the tradition. It led to tension when the BJP workers tried to remove Prophet’s birth day flags and decorations and clashes occurred.

There were other factors besides this rivalry between the Majlis and BJP. New Chief Minister Rosaih had taken over after death of Rajshekhar Reddy in the helicopter accident and his son Jaganmohan Reddy was aspiring to become C.M. but the congress high command chose Rosaiah. Many were of the opinion that he was behind the riots trying to destabilize Rosaiah. Yet there was another theory that some big builders engineered the violence as land prices are skyrocketing in the old city and builders are interested in big development projects by getting the land vacant through engineering violence.

There was yet another theory that the BJP wanted to increase its base in the area and so far it has not tested power in Andhra Pradesh though it is already in power in neighbouring Karnataka and hence it sent VHP cadre to provoke communal violence to consolidate the Hindu vote. It is said that these people came on motorcycle and injuries inflicted were of the same kind.

This riot was also of major kind and persisted for a whole month and old city remained under curfew for that period greatly inconveniencing the poor who could not even go out for work. There was shortage of food, milk and vegetables. Various NGOs came out to render some help to the poor. These are the political games which politicians play and subsequently poor suffer. Two persons were killed in stabbing incidents besides huge property losses.

The attacks from outside were such that several young Muslim boys of 9 to 14 years of age formed defence squad and tried to scare away attackers from outside who entered the old city to engineer violence. A student from U.K. carried out study of this spontaneous defence squad and read out a paper on her field study in the Asia conference in Australia in which I was also present. These young boys acted spontaneously and no political party or agency had organized them. This communal violence continued for whole month i.e. up to beginning of April.

Agra in U.P. came under spell of communal violence on 25th April when 25 shops were set to fire as rumour spread that some people teased some girls. It took communal form and these shops happened to be in Shivaji Market of Fort area. However, authorities denied that it was communal in nature. But it seems it was communal in nature two groups belonged to two different communities.

Dhule in Maharashtra too is sensitive area which has witnessed worst riots earlier too. Outside collector’s office there appeared a poster with the cartoon of the Prophet of Islam on 4th May which provoked Muslims to protest. The police fired on the agitating mob and also lathicharged thus injuring more than 4 people were injured and several more in lathicharge. During stone pelting vehicle of Dy.S.P. was also damaged. However, Minister in charge of Dhule Abdus Sattar convened peace committee meeting and violence was stopped.

It is so funny that in India even 60 years after independence and our secular Constitution communal violence breaks out on small and very insignificant issues like in Amalner Maharashtra where riot broke out on 19 May on the question of grinding spices in a grinding mill. The floor mill belonged to a Muslim and a Hindu customer wanted his spices to be grinded on priority basis and resulted in a bitter exchange and violence broke out in which Muslims were targeted  The Police had to fire in the air to disperse the mob and two persons were injured in firing.  Even the police came under attack and 9 of them were injured.

Jodhpur in Rajasthan witnessed communal violence on 23rd May near Balesar village. The dominant community of Sainis attacked police station after member of this community died in a police firing after damaging an Idgah. The incidents took place after dispute over removal of a particular shop for road widening. Then the labourers working on NREGA scheme damaged the portion of the Idgah.

Then came the turn of Ahmedabad where communal violence erupted on 26th May. One person was killed in acid attack in Shahpur area. Shopkeepers immediately downed their shutters. Tension spread to other areas of the city, as knives and swords were out and two people were stabbed. The clashes began when a marriage procession passed by a mosque at prayer time. Eleven people were injured when rival groups stoned and police was forced to fire. One of the injured Vijay Datania died in the hospital triggering fresh violence. It was alleged by People’s Union for Civil Liberties that the Modi Government was mainly responsible for communal violence and a delegation of PUCL met Governor to intervened and stop violence.

The communal violence however, continued to spread in other areas and later in Chalte Peer Ki Dargah area an armed mob of masked boys slashed a scooterist’s throat barely 15 feet from police station. In retaliation armed mob set two motor bikes on fire.

Again it was in Rawer of Jalgaon District, Maharashtra that communal violence broke out on the question of eve teasing on 2nd June. The police first resorted to lathicharge and then to firing to disperse the mob. (12 persons were injured in stoning and firing. After the incident of eve teasing a mob attacked the Mastanshah Masjid. Three policemen were also injured in communal incidents. The mob attacked several shops and properties belonging to Muslims.

Malegaon experienced communal unrest when news spread that 6 dead cows were found on the road. Malegaon would have exploded if the police had not countered the rumour. The cows were not killed or slaughtered by any one but they died of suffocation while being transported. Some Hindutvawadis published on internet bodies of badly injured cows by doctoring these photographs to incite violence. But it did not work. People refused to be provoked. Malegaon, otherwise, is highly sensitive area.

Sarada town in Udaipur district erupted on 24-25 July after two drunk gangsters fought one of them Muslim and the other a tribal as Sarada happens to be a tribal area. The VHP, RSS and BJP exploited this incident o the hilt and provoked tribals into seeking revenge and distributed arms to them and all of them were made to gather near Muslim area and it all happened the Congress ruled state that 70 houses belonging to Muslims were burnt right in the presence of S.P. and District Magistrate.

Also about 500 Muslim families were dishoused in 6 other villages in this district. One Congress M.P. and his MLA wife were also present when these houses were burnt and destroyed. They belonged to the same tribal group. Thus tribal loyalty proved to be stronger than ideological loyalty. What is worse the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, supposedly a secular man did not take any action against guilty S.P. and D.M. despite repeated representation to him by human rights activists. Muslims are very angry with Gehlot for deliberately not taking any action. I also personally told him when I met him at P.M.’s house in Delhi in a meeting but he had no convincingly reply. Instead he promoted the S.P., a tribal from North East and transferred him. He even refused to hold a judicial inquiry. Not only that even adequate compensation was not offered to those who lost everything they possessed. Paltry amounts were offered and when Muslims refused police intimated them into accepting.

Since the BJP has lost elections in Rajasthan it is trying to use communal card to come back to power. The Congress is not ready even to understand this. It appears Gehlot is not interested in controlling communal elements in Rajasthan and giving them full latitude to do what they want and going totally unpunished.

Ratlam in M.P. which is normally a peaceful town came under communal spell after some people threw cow dung on a mosque which was being painted on 4th September. This led to clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Muslims set fire to a motorcycle.  Thereupon people from another community came on the streets with weapons and began to set fire to motorcycles and other vehicles. One section of the city came under spell of violence. However, then the police intervened and brought about reconciliation between warring groups.

On 6th September Deganga, West Bengal saw communal violence when Rahul Gandhi was to begin his tour of West Bengal. Haji Nurul Islam is accused of presiding over a four hour mayhem on September 6 in Deganga that led to destruction of properties belonging to Hindus and the desecration of a temple. A rattled Trinamool has launched an investigation into the matter. The violence that started on September 6 and continued uptil 9 despite deployment of Army, was triggered  by erection of a wall around a Muslim cemetery at Kartikpur that Hindus said  blocked entry to a temple and  pandal of Durga puja. Nurul-n-Islam led a march to the police station and on the way mob damaged houses and shops.

But then Muslims decided to submit memorandum to the police. This again led to Hindus gathering with weapons and forced their entry into nearby Muslim houses and began to damage them. On Kalalseri some houses were damaged and a tractor and a tempo were set afire. However, the police officer fired 6 rounds in air to control the situation. But even then the crowd continued to commit violence for quite sometime. Thus properties worth several lakhs were destroyed.

This time Malerkotla went through a bout of communal violence though Malerkotla is a place known for communal harmony as it was Nawwab of Malerkotla who had saved the children of the 10th Guru Govind Singh and hence Sikhs did not harm Muslims of Malerkotla even in 1947 partition riot and this is the only district in Punjab from where Muslims did not migrate to Pakistan.

It was on September 12 that bout of communal violence took place after the Qur’an burning incident in the US was to take place. Since a Christian priest in the US was to burn copies of Qur’an a church was vandalized in Malerkotla after the Eid celebrations. The police had to impose curfew. The angry mob also burnt a police motorcycled. The police had a tough time controlling the angry mob. Muftyi Fazlur Rehman who appealed for peace said that the disturbances were politically motivated. He also maintained that events were pre-planned. After the news of disturbances in Malerkotla the Christians in Ludhiana blocked the entire area and similarly Muslims also gathered near Jama Masjid in Ludhiana to protest against the burning of Qur’an in US. The unruly mob set ablaze the office of the forest department and two police vehicles in Poonch after four people get injured when police fired warning shots in the air and lobbed teargas shells. In Jammu region the mob burnt effigies of Barrack Obama.

Finally District Jhalawad in Rajasthan came under spell of communal violence on 20th September after tribals provoked by the Sangh Parivar ransacked Manoharthana and few other villages after a tribal girl was raped by three Muslim boys. Most of the Muslims lost everything and had to leave Manoharthana with clothes they were wearing. Everything else was burnt or looted. We heard their woes and those of Sarada village in Udaipur district on 12th December in a Jansunwai (public hearing). In Manoharthana too the police did not act and allowed Adivasis (tribals) to burn and loot.

The Sangh Parivar is communalizing tribals and dalits and using them for indulging in communal violence. In Manoharthana the two factions of BJP were involved. Thus it was factionalism within BJP which became one of the causes of the communal violence in Manoharthana, Rajasthan. Also, BJP is making all efforts to convert Rajasthan into Gujarat and Congress ruling party is quite oblivious of this.


Centre for Study of Society and Secularism


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