Malegaon Riots 2001: Asghar Ali Engineer
MALEGAON RIOTS - A NEW ERA OF VIOLENCE?
November 16-30, 2001
by Asghar Ali Engineer
The Malegaon was shaken with sudden spurt of communal violence on 26th October after the Friday prayer in the after noon. Communal violence often has connection, direct or indirect with announcement of elections. Within a couple of months elections to Municipal Council (to be soon declared municipal corporation) are expected in Malegaon and other towns and parties and contestants are worried about their vote banks. The people have to pay price for being governed through elected representatives.
The riots in Malegaon are quite serious and biggest after the Mumbai riots of 1992-93. It is not that riots had not taken place after the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 during the Shiv Sena-BJP rule as one commentator had suggested. Several riots had taken place in Penn, Junnar and other places during the SS-BJP rule. But it must be stated that the Malegaon riots would take the cake in the post-Babri riots in Maharashtra.
Malegaon, a taluka, is a Muslim majority town in the Nasik district. It has roughly a population of 800,000 of which nearly sixty percent is Muslim. These Muslims, most of them, had migrated from U.P and Bihar after the mutiny in 1857 due to persecution by the British, are quite poor and illiterate. Hardly any government in Maharashtra did anything to improve their economic conditions. Government after government used them for votes. A survey shows that the incidence of T.B. is also quite high among the Muslims of Malegaon. Malegaon, it must be noted, is an important centre of power looms like Bhivandi near Mumbai.
Besides elections which will be soon announced the incidents of 11th September in New York and Washington, were also responsible for what happened in Malegaon. Muslims in Malegaon, like the Muslims in many other places in India, are quite angry with the USA for its continuous carpet bombing in Afghanistan in retaliation to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and Pentagon in Washington.
These Muslims are expressing their resentment against the USA and the Britain which has joined the USA in punishing raids by giving a call for boycotting the American and the British goods particularly the Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, the popular soft drinks. Some Muslim scribes from Deoband and other places in U.P. had given a call appealing the Indians in general and Muslims in particular to boycott these soft drinks. Many Muslim hoteliers had even stopped selling these drinks. Some young boys in Malegaon were distributing the pamphlets appealing the Indians to boycott these goods and they went to distribute these pamphlets after the Friday prayers.
However, these pamphlets had nothing communal or offensive or even a thing in support of terrorist attacks on 11th September in New York. It contained only an appeal to boycott American and British goods. The district authorities had made police bandobast outside all sensitive areas. Malegaon is considered as one of the most communally sensitive areas in Maharashtra. So the authorities wanted to take no chances and the police bandobast was tightened.
One of the constables of the SRP (the state reserved police) snatched a pamphlet from the boy who was distributing it and reprimanded him. According to another version he even slapped him and arrested him. It is said that the boy refused to hand over the pamphlets to the constable. This led to protest from the people coming out of the mosque and resulted in skirmishes with the police. It is also said that the pamphlet in question was being distributed in Malegaon for the last one week before that Friday. It is also said that the Imam of the Jami' Masjid Mufti Muhammad Ismail and one advocate Shuaib intervened and asked people to disperse peacefully. It is obvious that much trouble could have been avoided if the police had requested for the pamphlet and had not used the force. It is also pointed out that first the police demanded the pamphlet and it was refused and then force was used. Actually it should not be the job of police on duty to demand for the pamphlet. It could have been collected politely by a plainclothesman from intelligence department. Instead an SRP constable seized the pamphlet and so much violence resulted.
But there was anger against the police and also against the USA's attack S.P, Suresh Ahire reached there with reinforcements and the local Congress MLA Sheikh Rashid also reached the spot. People were demanding apology from the police for snatching the pamphlets and arresting the boy. As the crowd was getting restless the police resorted to lathi charge with great intensity. Many people were injured and they began to run from there. The crowd ran towards Muhammad Ali and Qidwai Road and had scuffle with the police. Stone pelting began and many people including three policemen, it is said, were injured.
It is then that the police used force and begin firing in the direction of Muhammad Ali Road. The police fired 9 rounds in which 7 persons were injured. Three persons died of which one was a boy of 18 years, who was hit in the head, the other was a 23 years old man who was hit above his navel and third was a woman Biqis Bano 45 year old who was drying clothes on the terrace was hit in the chest and died in Faran hospital. It will be seen that all three were hit above the waist and none was fired upon below the waist.
Before we proceed further some comments about the role of the police will be in order. The police, particularly those at the lower ranks, often fire in excess against weaker sections of the society particularly the minorities, tribals and dalits. They hardly have respect for human rights or even for others life. When they fire on these sections they often fie to kill them. The way the sub inspector Kadam had fired on dalits in Ghatkopar a few years ago in which more than 10 dalits were killed is another proof of this. The Gundewar Commission had also observed that the firing was in excess. And we do have the Srikrishna Commission Report, which probed role of the police so painstakingly, police station by police station and concluded that the police was guilty of deliberately killing Muslims in many instances.
If the government does not pay attention to intensive training and sensitising the police towards human life this will keep on repeating in riot after riot as it has been happening in the past. No such attention is being given despite so many instances of the police brutalities. It is true we have many IPS officers of high integrity but they are few and far in between. For example in Malegaon too Mr. Bali, an Additional Director of the Police was sent to control the situation. He is man of great integrity and had controlled riots in Bhivandi during 1992-93 but it was too late. By the time Bali went to Malegaon damage was already done.
The crowd became even more restless after the firing and more than seven persons having been hit above the waist the crowd became even more restless. The firing took place at about five minutes past four O'clock on Muhammad Ali Road. The crowd from there spread to the other side of the river Mausam and began indulging in looting and burning shops and other properties belonging to the majority community, and the sections of majority community retaliated by burning shops and properties of Muslims. There is a Shiv Sena organisation in Malegaon called Janta Raja which is controlled by the Anand Dighe faction of Thane. They incited the Hindus to attack Muslims and their properties. The Samna also wrote, as usual, provocative articles and even said that if Muslims are in majority in Malegaon we are in majority in villages and we will teach them a lesson.
On 26th October 2001 lot of cases of arson took place between 4 and 7 P.M. in Dana Bazar, in Gur Bazar, Kirana Bazar, Shashtri Chowk, Nihalnagar, Muhammad Ali Road etc. The majority community communal elements openly began provoking people in number of areas around Malegaon like Samakser and camp and Suigaon and rumours began to spread in all directions as happens in most of the riots. In Samakser Muslim properties were destroyed, looted and burnt. Now communal elements and anti-social elements from both the communities were openly looting and burning properties. There were two cases of stabbing but all others (about 13 persons according to the official figures and 15 according to other sources) were killed in the police firing. About 12 persons were Muslims among those who died and two Hindus and one was unidentified.
The looting and burning continued for few days and the situation came under control only after 3rd November. Curfew had to be imposed for long hours from the very first day and day-curfew has been relaxed only on 7th November. The night curfew, however, still continues.
It is highly regrettable that such a major riot took place in which 15 persons were killed, more than 12 were injured in police firing and 477 persons were arrested. We heard many painful stories of killing of people. One Khalil Member, a person who was working for peace was called from his house on the pretext of controlling the mob and was killed. Water pipes were broken by the miscreants and Malegaon went without water for few days. A rumour was also set afloat that milk has been poisoned and many had to go without milk.
In villages and nearby areas it is mainly Muslims who suffered. In places like Rawalgaon (the famous chocolate town, Deola and Kalwan it is Muslims who mainly suffered. In Malegaon alone the properties worth more than 15 crores were destroyed and in these other places properties worth more than two crores were lost. Some estimates put the losses much higher.
It is also pointed out by some that the riots were caused mainly by election rivalry between the present Congress MLA and Nihal Ahmed of Janata Dal (Secular). There is no doubt both are political rivals and Sheikh Rashid, the Congress MLA even alleged that Nihal Ahmed had provoked the Muslims and riots ensued. However, Nihal Ahmed denies the charge. It is true that Nihal Ahmed had taken out a procession against the Afghanistan war on 19th October (i.e. previous Friday) in which many Muslims joined and some youth even carried the placards with Usma bin Laden's pictures. Nihal, however, maintains, he did not control the youth who carried the placards. It was not he who invited them to join and carry the placards.
Whatever, the fact is that elections of Municipal council is due in Malegaon probably in December and politicians are tempted to cater to the sentiments of their voters. Both Sheikh Rashid and Nihal Ahmed had an eye on the coming elections and wanted to be on the right side of their voters' sentiments. It is however, for all of us to reflect that elections at what cost? Should we play with the sentiments of our people as our politicians have been doing so far? Can elections be fought only on communal issues?
The BJP is also hotting up Ayodhya issue once again since elections in U.P. are due. It is exploiting the issue of terrorist attacks and is enacting POTO and strongly justifying it again to cater to the Hindu sentiments on terrorism. The Congress-NCP Government also failed miserably in controlling the riots in Malegaon and around despite the town being given to the army control. This itself is a serious thing that the army had to be called out on the third day of rioting.
The charge that when the Congress is in power more riots take place (already small riots up to more than 40 have taken place in Maharashtra since the Congress-NCP Government came to power) and when BJP or Shiv Sena is in power riots are far and few in between. Whenever the Congress is in power it is obvious that the BJP or Shiv Sena are out to cause communal trouble to alienate Muslim voters from the Congress, on one hand, and to consolidate their Hindu vote bank, on the other.
Thus the Congress has to be doubly cautious while in power to maintain communal harmony. But it is often seen that it miserably fails to maintain communal harmony as it happened in the case of Malegaon. To prevent riots police machinery on one hand, and the administrative machinery, on the other hand, must be spruced up. But the Congress government hardly plays any role and neglects very vital function to maintain harmony. The Congress once again has proved that it is incapable of pulling up the police force. If it has to revive itself and won over Muslims in U.P. it must play very proactive role in controlling communal situation where it rules. But there are no such signs and as usual it is succumbing to communal pressures.
Though the Congress Committee led by Motilal Vohra has given clean chit to the Chief Minister Mr. Deshmukh, in handling riots, it can hardly convince the victims of riots in Malegaon. It also must be pointed out that despite such vicious communal atmosphere, Hindus and Muslims saved each others lives. The Muslims protected four Hindu families in Pawar Gali and Hindus protected Muslims in other areas. This gives us hope in otherwise politically hopeless situation in the country.
The Government initially had ordered only Magisterial inquiry but later on due to pressure from Mrs. Sonia Gandhi a judicial inquiry has been instituted. So much for the Government's seriousness about Malegaon riots. Mr.Bhujbal, the Home Minister, had also turned down compensation for those killed and injured saying it will amount to rewarding the mischief makers. Mr. Bhujbal should have known that very few miscreants are killed. It is mostly bye-standers who pay with their lives. A woman who was drying clothes on the terrace was killed. How can she be a miscreant? The Government has now announced to give compensation though amount has not been fixed.