Mau Riot 2005: report by Subhashini Ali
SUBHASHINI ALI: REPORT ON MAUNATH BHANJAN RIOTS
On the 14th of October, communal rioting broke out in the weaving center of Maunathbhanjan ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ known as Mau ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. The population of Mau consists largely of weavers and others connected with the various aspects of the weaving business. Most of them belong to the minority community. There have been incidents of rioting and communal tension in the past but, for the last twenty years, there have been no clashes or major incidents. Prompt administrative action has contributed significantly to this because there are certain ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“traditionsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ in Mau that lend themselves very easily to communal conflict. At the end of the Ram Lila every year, a Bharat Milap processions is taken out which stops in front of the main mosque of the town in the Shahi Katra Maidan. A stage is erected here and the Bharat Milap is enacted. For a couple of hours, the Maidan is full of those participating in the procession and loudspeakers are used while bhajans etc. are sung and recited. The entire population around this area is Muslim and they also participate in the celebrations.
Before Independence, when the mosque was repaired and renovated the Ram Lila committee raised an objection saying that the mosque had been extended by a few feet. The administration of the time arrived at a peculiar compromise according to which the wall of the mosque is hit three times by RamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s chariot. Similarly, the Tazia procession during Moharram passes in front of the nearby Sanskrit Vidyalaya. In the same period, when this was renovated the Muslims alleged that this building had also been extended by a few feet and the administration resolved this issue by deciding that those carrying the Tazias at the head of the procession would climb two step leading up to the Vidyalaya (but only two) and then descend and continue on their way. As a result of these strange administrative decisions, there is often tension in the town at the time of Moharram and Dussehra and the administration has to be very alert. For a long time in the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“40s and until the early ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“70s, Mau was a stronghold of the CPI and activists and cadres of the Left played an important role in maintaining communal harmony. The influence of the Left, however, diminished rapidly and today politics in Mau like in the rest of UP are dominated by caste and communal mobilizations, propaganda and voting.
This year, Durga Puja and Dussehra co-incided with Ramzan and the situation, therefore, became more sensitive than ever. Unfortunately, the UP Government today takes administrative decisions based on political considerations and important officials are posted because they are pliable and/or corrupt rather than because of their administrative abilities. The administration in Mau was particularly inept and completely under the influent of important politicians belonging to the ruling party. The criminalisation of politics in general and the fact that the local MLA, Mukhtiar Ansari, has an impressive criminal record obviously made matters worse. It is also extremely important to remember that the whole of Eastern UP is the region in which the Hindu Mahasabha (BJP-supported) MP from Gorakhpur, Mahant Avaidyanath
has formed various militant organizations like the Hindu Yuva Vahini. For the last few years, he has been indulging the most vicious anti-Minorities campaign going to the extent of attacking their homes, shops and persons all with complete impunity. He has consistently put himself to the right of the Sangh Parivar itself and has outdone it in the shrillness and violence of his campaigns and activities. All of these factors had a role to play in the tragedy that enveloped Mau after 13th October.
A CPI(M) delegation consisting of Premnath Rai (State Sectt. Member), Ram Kripal (MLA) and myself visited Mau on the 30th October when curfew was lifted in the entire town for the first time. The District Committee Secretary of the Party, Veerendra Singh and other comrades ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ Chow. Shamsul, Imtiaz, Ramavadh Singh, Misra, Faheem etc. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ joined the delegation in Mau and we went round most of the affected areas, met many of the riot victims, members of the press and also the district magistrate and other officials. At the end of our visit, we were able to come to some conclusions about what happened in Mau.
Soon after the main Durga Pandal was erected on 7th October, a tense situation developed because part of the structure was in front of some Muslim-owned buildings. When objections were raised, crowds collected and there was some verbal altercation and then stone-throwing. The police had to intervene and a police officer was injured but they acted determinedly and removed the structure. A few days before this there had been an incident when an idol from a temple was removed and then found the next day. It was very clear, therefore, that there was a great need for prompt administrative alertness and intervention.
On the 13th evening, the Bharat Milap procession was taken out and the crowd assembled in front of the mosque. Because of Ramzan, the worshippers inside the mosque were there for much longer than usual in order to recite the Taravi (Quranic verses). While their recitations were going on, the loudspeakers were turned on by the Ram Lila committee and the playing of bhajans started. Unfortunately, the members of the administration present did not do anything and some members of the Muslim community voiced their objections and verbal altercations started. There was a lot of confusion and hullabaloo after this and, it is alleged, that some miscreants removed the loudspeaker wires. In any case, senior administrative officers arrived and intervened and then spent several hours talking to Ram Lila committee members who had announced that they were suspending the Bharat Milap program. Ramjit Singh a BJP MLC who is a leader of
the Committee was present and he, along with others, finally decided that the Bhartat Milap would now be held on the 29th October. After this, everyone left the place thinking that the matter had been resolved.
On the 14th morning at about 8.00 a.m., however, the local unit of the Hindu Yuva Vahini sat on dharna in front of the adjacent police chowki, protesting against interference in their religious observances. The local police did precisely nothing and soon large crowds collected and verbal altercations were followed by stone-throwing. And then Ajit Singh Chandel of the HYV allegedly starting firing injuring 3-4 Muslim youths. This news spread like wildfire and in the nearby Rauza and Sindhi Colony area, shops and buildings belonging to Hindus were set on fire. A large printing press, several cloth shops etc were burnt. The policemen standing here ran away. The administration remained paralysed for several hours before curfew was finally imposed but by then there had been several incidents of arson and looting.
Soon after the imposition of curfew, Mukhtar Ansari made a public appearance in Mau aboard an open jeep. It has been reported that the local administration requested him to come to help them restore peace. In any case, his moving around openly after curfew had been imposed was an extremely provocative and unjustifiable act and, if the administration had in fact asked him to come, this only proves their total incompetence and criminal ineptness. In any case, he went to the Kotwali and met the wounded young men and then proceeded to an area on the main highway called Salahabad Mod (Turning).
On one side of the Turning is a very large building that houses a Sizing and Calendaring unit that belongs to Hali Atiq Simla and his brothers. This had been set on fire and a large crowd of Muslims had collected in front of it. The road turning off the Highway has many small shops and tenements inhabited by Yadavs.
Death & Destruction
We visited this area and met many people here. Ashok GuptaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s house is in front of the Simla unit and, in fact, he and his family helped the Simla family rescue their workers and salvage some of their belongings and then, they themselves, had to face arson and loot. Many of the poor Yadav families also met us. All their shops and tenements had been completely destroyed and everything they possessed had been burnt to ashes. They claimed that the crowd that was watching the Simla unit being torched was greatly provoked by Mukhtar AnsariÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s arrival here and they followed his vehicle and were then responsible for the losses they suffered. In the middle of this road is the neem tree under which one Ram Pratap Yadav ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ a poor man who had come from his village a kilometer away to Mau for some work and to make some purchases ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ was shot dead. The people we talked to said that at the time that he was killed, they were running away for their lives or trying to save their families or some of their possessions and so they did not see who shot him but that the shot was fired by someone around the MLA. When we asked them if any of the Simla family were there at that time they said that did not see any of them and in any case they were busy saving themselves at the time. Only one man said that one of the brothers may have been in the crowd. These points are important because in the FIR filed by Ram Pratap YadavÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s brother, he has named Mukhtar Ansari as his brotherÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s killers. Subsequently, when he met the Chief Minister along with MukhtarÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s brother, Afzal, an SP MP, he retracted his earlier statement and said that, in fact, one of the Simla brothers had killed his brother.
In the afternoon of the same day, there was a mob attack on the railway station where a train was waiting and it was only because the few GRP personnel present reacted and fired into the mob that a major calamity was averted. There are two mosques near the station and one of them has suffered some damage and 2 people were killed in this incident. After this, all trains running to and from Mau were stopped for two weeks.
Further down the road from Salahabad, on the left is a large settlement of very poor weavers known as Alinagar and beyond this is another similar settlement, Chhoti Rahjaniya. 176 homes in the former and 56 in the latter have been totally destroyed. There is not a scrap of clothing left in any of them. A man and a woman were burnt alive and one man is being treated for serious burn injuries. All the looms have been either burnt or looted and all the families are completely destitute.
Damage to property all over Mau has been tremendous. While several shops and buildings belonging to the majority community have been burnt and looted, the minority community has suffered immeasurably greater losses. Large wedding halls, educational institutions, hospitals and nursing homes, shops, seed stores and hundreds of homes have been looted, burnt or reduced to rubble. In the outlying areas and semi-rural areas also there were many attacks on Muslims.
Men of Peace
In the midst of all the madness and viciousness, there was much evidence of humanity. Com. Veerendra, whose own home was looted, saved many shops and homes with a few other people in his area. Com. Shamasul and others kept 4 Hindus in their home for several days before handing them over into the safekeeping of the police. And in the whole area of Mirza Hadi pura which comprises of a large section of Mau town which is completely dominated by the Muslim community no harm whatsoever befell the majority community.
On the 16th October, the District Magistrate and Supdt. of Police were changed and the new officers were able to restore peace almost immediately. As a result of this, the Alvida Namaz on the 28th was also permitted and it passed off peacefully. By the time we visited Mau, the town was limping back to normal but the scars will not heal for some time.
Role of HYV
It is important to remember that the Sangh Parivar and the HYV left no stone unturned in their effort to spread the violence and to gain as much political mileage from the tragic events as possible. Panchayat elections were on in UP when the rioting broke out and the BJP called for bandhs in many of the nearby towns like Ghazipur and Ballia. They also made very provocative speeches and statements at press conferences in which they repeatedly referred to ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œHindu genocide in MauÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â?. Avaidyanath tried to enter Mau with a huge mob of his supporters within days of the outbreak or rioting and had he not been prevented by the Gorakhpur administration, all hell would certainly have broken loose.
After we had gone around the town, we met the press, some political leaders and also members of the administration. From what we gathered in these conversations, there are very disturbing developments which may lead to more unfortunate events in the future. For one thing, there is intense political rivalry not only between but within political parties which results in their indulging in one-upmanship in promoting both caste and communal polarization. There is also an almost complete absence of secular individuals and groups in the public arena. With a few honourable exceptions of some journalists and Communists, all others were badly infected with the communal virus. The result was that leaders and activists of so called ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“secularÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ parties were also seen looting and encouraging rioting. Another very dangerous development is that members of the Sangh Parivar and Hindu Yuva Vahini are also convinced that communal polarization and conflict is the only way out of their political decline and are also engaged in one-upanship. An example of this is the fact that while some BJP leaders were in favour of going ahead with the Bharat Milap on the 29th October, they were shouted down by the hotheads in their entourage who said that while they would not only not hold the Bharat Milap but would not celebrate Diwali either. While it is certainly true that they will have few takers for this new announcement, their determination to keep tempers high is clearly visible.
It is absolutely imperative, therefore, for the Government to come down strongly against all communal elements and to ensure peace and harmony but also to ensure that effective and able officers are posted in districts especially those that are known to be sensitive. It must also take steps to curb the dangerous activities of Avaidyanath and his cohorts and of criminals of every hue and persuasion.
While all those who died or were injured during the riots must be compensated, those who have suffered great economic losses must be helped in every way to resume their economic and livelihood related activities.
What is most important is that all left and secular groups, organizations, parties and individuals must do all that they can in Mau and in the neighbouring areas to restore some sense of trust and amity between different communities.