(Secular Perspective October 16-31, 2016)
The news of outbreak of communal violence on 5th and 6th August 2016 in Maker village and Chhapra town, both in Saran District (Bihar), was disturbing. One Muslim youth by the name Mubarak posted a derogatory image that could have outraged the religious feelings of Hindus in a small WhatsApp group. Members of the Muslim Community of Maker Village (where Mubarak belonged to) condemned Mubarak for posting the derogatory image. In response to the derogatory image, there was a massive mobilization of Hindus and communal riots broke out in Maker Village on 5th August 2016 and on 6th August in Chhapra town. Mubarak’s house was completely damaged by Hindus who were mobilized and so were other houses and shops belonging to Muslims and a mosque.
If the scale of the violence was not very large as no lives were lost, the fact that riots could occur in Bihar which in recent State Assembly elections had defeated hegemonic-communal forces was worrying enough. The news reports were sketchy and did not give detailed coverage of the riots. Centre for Study of Society and Secularism therefore thought it necessary to visit the area with a team of prominent citizens to interact with the survivors and other stake holders and report to all interested in knowing the truth.
The Team members were as follows:
Vibhuti Narain Rai, former DGP, UP and Ex-Vice-Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Anatarashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalay;
Vijay Pratap, Director, SADED;
Irfan Engineer, Director, CSSS;
Shahid Kamaal, President, Bihar Rashtriya Sewa Dal,
Vinod Ranjan Gandhi Smarak Nidhi,
Uday, Convenor, Bihar All India Secular Forum;
About Saran district:
The district of Saran is in Saran Division of north Bihar. Chhapra is the principal town of the district and is also headquarter of the district. Hindus constitute 89.45% of the population of Saran district, whereas Muslims are 10.28% of the total population. This can be compared to the state-wide composition of 82.69% Hindus and 16.87% Muslims. The Scheduled Castes population of the Saran District is 5.84%.
Chhapra is the most populous town in the district. The total number of households in Chapra is 37,800. Chhapra is a very important trade centre in Bihar. In the manufacturing sector the chief employers are factories and small scale industries. 10.38% of the total population of Chhapra lives in slums.
Maker is a rural area with total number of households of 14,398. Its total population is 76, 251 that has shown 11.1% increase over the last 10 years. Though majority of the population i.e. 55% are agricultural labourers, there is a growing awareness about education. Due to limited livelihood opportunities, there is substantial migration out of Maker and Chhapra.
Maker village is spread out and divided into various hamlets or tolas. The tolas are more or less organized according to caste and communities. The Muslim hamlet is in midst and surrounded by other tolas. There is a High school in the village. The first mosque was built about 30 years ago and the second mosque was built about 20 years ago. Before the two mosques were built, people had to go to Dakhin Tola, an adjoining village to pray. Due to natural growth of population, Muslim villagers felt need of a mosque in the village. Thus the above mentioned mosques were constructedto facilitate old people and others to offer their prayers.
Muslims are poorer compared to the Hindus. Their land ownership is marginal. A few of them are farm labourers and others undertake unskilled labour jobs. A very small section has been doing a little better off compared to others, Mubarak’s family amongst them. Mubarak’s family runs a small hotel which fetched them enough income to construct a pucca house with several rooms, steel cupboards and other furniture and amenities. Mubarak’s elder brother was earning his livelihood in Bhopal. The family invested in Mubarak’s education and sent him to Bengaluru. Migration within and outside the country, particularly to the Gulf countries for livelihood and employment had also enabled the community to marginally improve their condition. Another strategy for better livelihood was focus on education and thus a small section of the community was able to marginally improve their conditions compared to the past. However, others reacted to this perspective and said they are still worse off compared to other communities.
Since last about 15 years, Muslims have been celebrating Eid-e-Miladun Nabi by taking out a procession with Islamic flags. The flags are mistaken to be flag of Pakistan. There is display of swords, as is traditional in such processions. The procession converges on the mazaar (grave) of Auliya Baba. As the procession passes through the village it evokes sense of competition among a section of upper caste villagers, particularly those from Vaishya caste. They started taking out Ram Navami procession since last two years. Some leaders of Hindus participate in the Eid-e-Miladun Nabi procession and likewise some Muslim leaders / elders participate in Ram Navmi procession. The competitive celebration of festivals leads to creation of loyalties to the respective communities and a solidarity bond within as opposed to common bonds across the communities between villagers. These events are seen as sectarian events and promote segregation and even a sense of rivalry.
Visit to Maker:
Talking to Muslims in a mosque on 2nd September, the summary of discussion was as under:
Ashutosh Kumar posted a video that was derogatory to Islam on a WhatsApp group that consisted of Hindus and Muslims. In reply, Mubarak, who is a resident of Maker Village but presently studying in Bengaluru, posted a video derogatory to Hindu Goddess. The members of the community were strongly condemning the post of Mubarak even though according to them it was in response to a post derogatory to Islam.
The derogatory post of Mubarak was made viral by Hindu nationalists and they started mobilizing popular opinion. Several meetings were held to mobilize people and incite them against Muslims. On 4th August, some members of the Hindu community went to Maker Police Station to file a complaint. Members of Muslim community were supporting the Hindus in filing FIR against the offensive post. They encouraged Jaishankar Shah to file the FIR. The SHO, Sanjay Gupta, of Maker Police Station however, refused to register the FIR of the incident as, according to him, the complaint did not pertain to Maker and that the complainant should go to Parsa. SHO Sanjay Gupta did not appreciate the seriousness of situation and may have tried to shirk from taking on additional workload. Gupta took refuge in ruse that crime was not committed within his jurisdiction as the offensive image was posted from Bengaluru.The SHO should have at least informed the SP about the incident but he did not do so. The refusal to register FIR became an additional ground to mobilize the Hindus to attack the Muslims.
On 5th August, mob was mobilized in Rajendra Vidyalay in Maker early morning at about 6.00 am. Some 5,000 people gathered and the BJP MLA Satwant Tiwari, also known as Chokar Baba, was also present. Before the Muslims could comprehend their response, the mob reached Chowk by 6.30 am and started attacking Mubarak’s house. Whatever could be looted and carried away was carried, including jewellery. Except for the brick walls, everything else was destroyed in the house which included 3 steel cupboards, furniture etc. and thrown outside. They also tried to torch his house. According to the brother of Mubarak, the total loss they suffered was to the tune of Rs. 15 lakhs. After attacking Mubarak’s house, they initially dispersed but returned again after 15 minutes and attacked a mosque and a few houses belonging to other Muslims. Likewise they returned three times attacking three dozen Muslim houses and two shops. Mohammed Siraj’s tempo was attacked and its wind screen, side glasses and rear view mirrors were smashed. His godown was attacked.
Role of Police
As the mob was marching from Rajendra Vidyalay to attack Mubarak’s house, the police also accompanied them. However, they were outnumbered and ill-equipped. Muslims felt that the police were silent spectators by design and allowed the rioters free hand. According to Siraj, when he pleaded with Sanjay Gupta to control the mob attacking his godown and tempo, Gupta pulled out his gun and pointed towards him and threatened him. Muslims we talked to alleged that the SHO, Sanjay Gupta, as well as that of SP Pankaj Kumar Roy was partisan.
The District Magistrate, Deepak Anand we talked to, said that he received a message at about 10.00 am on 5thAugust regarding the road blockade by villagers on the issue of the derogatory WhatsApp post. The SP and the DM immediately left to reach the spot and camped there till 4.00 pm till peace was restored. The SP and the DM promised the mob that they would arrest Mubarak who had posted the derogatory post. They imposed Section. 144 of Indian Penal Code and closed down the access to internet in order to check spread of rumours. In the evening they called a meeting of the peace committee.
On 6th August, Bajrang Dal had called for a bandh. The DM took the politicians into confidence to ensure that the bandh would be peaceful. There was a small procession of about 100 persons in Chhapra Town. Between 9.30 am to 10 am, riots started in Karim Chowk in Chhapra town. The DM reached the spot in about 2 minutes. Muslim shops were being stoned and tyres were burning at various nooks and corners. The SP and the DM managed to disperse the crowd. Within 2 hours, they cleaned the city. On 7th and 8th August, minor incidences of pulling down loudspeakers from the mosque continued but otherwise peace was restored. According to the DM, 7 to 8 shops were damaged and wares of about 51-52 hawkers were set afire. The police force, according to the Magistrate succeeded in saving about 20 shops from being damaged by the rioters. In Marhaura block and Panapur too some minor incidents of pushing each other between the two communities took place.
The magistrate claimed that the administration distributed Rs. 18 lakhs to 36 shops as compensation according to the State Government policy. The owners of the shops, which were damaged in the riots, were paid compensation up to Rs. 2 lakhs depending on the damage suffered.
Findings and Conclusions:
- The Act of posting derogatory image outraging the religious feelings of Hindus must be condemned at the outset and the guilty person must be punished in accordance with law.
- What we found disturbing was that even in state of Bihar where the RJD-JD(U)-Congress alliance Government is in power, communal violence can be orchestrated with ease by members of Sangh Parivar. The riots did not happen overnight. They were planned and mobilization was undertaken for days if not months. Though the Muslims firmly believed that Mubarak had posted derogatory image outraging the feelings of Hindu community within a closed WhatsApp group of the area consisting of mixed religions, that was in response to a another derogatory post outraging the feelings of Muslims. However, the derogatory post could not be verified by us and the DM too did not verify existence of any such message. However, the Muslims were strongly condemning the act of Mubarak posting any derogatory image and were supporting the demand of strictest action within the law.
- Mubarak’s post was extensively circulated by the members of Sangh Parivar with the intention of outraging the religious feelings of Hindus and mobilizing them into their fold. A Hindu would not want the post to be circulated. S/he would straight head to police station to lodge a complaint and get the guilty punished and the image deleted. Ashutosh Kumar, a member of the WhatsApp group has been arrested for circulating the derogatory post of Mubarak. The post was getting viral and the administration could (or should) not have been unaware. Be as it may, the post was made viral and misused to mobilize Hindus. In the mob of about 5,000 that gathered on 5th August in Maker was not spontaneous in response to something that happened on the night of 4thAugust or the morning of 5th This indicates that they had been mobilized on an appointed day and time. Some people who had gathered in Rajendra Vidyalay returned as they did not want to indulge in violence. The mob marched towards Mubarak’s house accompanied by scanty police force. The mob was led by BJP MLA Satwant Tiwari also known as Chokar Baba. Nandu Tiwari of Bajrang Dal too was there. The DM told us in his narrative that on 6th August, bandh call was given by the Bajrang Dal. In spite of assurance of peaceful bandh on 6th, the mobs started attacking Muslim shops. The hand of the Hindu Nationalists in the communal violence is evident.
- Social media is being extensively misused to promote hatred against other communities and for communal mobilization. Communal riots need elaborate planning and mobilization of resources – lethal weapons and massive mobs. Social media has made mobilization of people easier. Though the Indian state has extensively misused S. 66 of IT Act to muzzle any criticism of the Government and any opposition denying freedom of expression, the section is nevertheless underutilized as far as hate propaganda, particularly against minorities is concerned. Social media is increasingly being misuse to make a post (propagating hate) viral and to spread rumours of an impending attack by the members of “other” community.
- Inaction of the officials of the State of Bihar is evident in this particular case. The culture of police officials behaving as lords and rule unto themselves doesn’t go well with the rule of law promised by the Mahagathbandhan. How the intelligence officials missed the mobilization that was going on using the objectionable post is difficult to understand. Even more difficult to understand is the gross delay in communicating with the DM regarding the outbreak of communal violence in Maker. Timely intervention and deployment of security forces could have deterred subsequent attacks and greater damage. Timely arrest of Mubarak for the post would have pre-empted the excuse available to the rioters in Chhapra and Maker.
- Strictest action should be taken against Sanjay Gupta, SHO of Maker, for his failure to register an FIR of the offensive post and not making adequate security arrangements in Maker where the family of Mubarak resided and the community therein was the likely target. The DM said they received information of the riots only at 10.00 am whereas the mob had gathered in Rajendra Vidyalay at 6.00 am and by 6.30 am riots had started in Maker. The mob attacked Mubarak’s house and dispersed, was emboldened to return after sometime to attack other houses and mosques and Sanjay Gupta informs the DM only at 10.00 am!
- The SP and DM called peace committee meeting in Chhapra on the evening of 5th August and despite knowing that the situation was volatile permitted the bandh and rally on 6th The DM was either naïve to believe in the assurance of the Sangh Parivar members that the rally would be peaceful when the atmosphere was communally volatile or intimidated by the overbearing threats of communal elements within the peace committee!
- The DM also had his own biases against the minorities. When we informed him that the minorities were still feeling insecure, he promptly replied that minorities in Pakistan too were insecure! We reminded him that Pakistan was not secular and had limited democracy intermittently whereas India was secular and democratic wherein all the citizens of the country had been guaranteed equality and security by the Constitution. Such prejudices may have influenced the decisions takenand coloured the judgment of the officials concerned. Anti-minority bias among the bureaucracy needs to be addressed and responded to. Otherwise it will affect the efficacy of the rule of law and ultimately the secular character of the state – the plank on which the Mahagathbandhan won the state elections.
- The political response to the communal violence in Chhapra and Maker, to the increasing insecurity among the minority, communal discourse and polarization has been very weak. The secular civil society did not act promptly and effectively. We feel that countering the communal discourse and polarization is ardent and long drawn task which should be undertaken if we do not want our democracy to be undermined.