Recent Riots in Maharashtra

Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective Nov. 1-15, 2002) *

The Maharashtra has been witnessing riot after riot both major and minor. Among major riots were in Malegaon in October 2001 and now in Sholapur. Malegaon riot was not only a major riot but had shaken the whole state. More than 13 persons were killed in that riot. In last few days two riots in Sholapur and in Badlapur shook the state. In Sholapur more than 9 persons were killed while in Badlapur there was no loss of life but resulted in large destruction of property.

Several other riots also took place like in Jalgaon, Pune, Buldana and other places. Ironically it is Shiv Sena which has been alleging that more than 44 riots have taken place in Maharashtra under the Vilasrao Deshmukh Government. It also alleged that properties worth 31 crore was lost in these riots. It is therefore, important to examine who is responsible for these riots.

The riots in Sholapur are quite disturbing. Sholapur is no doubt communally sensitive place. It had witnessed riots in early eighties. But it was peaceful since that time. Sholapur is a major city in Maharashtra and is well known for its textile industry. It is known for its working class character. Most of its population consists of working class. But like in other places in India there is severe crisis in textile industry and people are suffering economically.

Muslims form a substantial part of the Sholapur population. There are about 20 per cent Muslims in the population of 10 lakhs. These Muslims, it is interesting to note, mostly belong to the lower castes like Baghbans and others. There are also those who are in weaving industry. There is also the bidi rolling industry which employs large number of workers, mostly women. Then there are many low caste Hindus from Andhra Pradesh most of whom also work in looms. Thus Sholapur has unique character of its own.

Politically speaking it has been traditionally a Congress stronghold. The Sharad Pawar Congress also has its influence. The Shiv Sena -BJP does not have much influence in this industrial city. It is also important to note that low caste Muslims like Baghbans are quite assertive there. It is from this city that backward caste Muslim movement arose and also the Muslim Marathi writersí movement which was led by Prof. F.H.Bennur, a retired professor of political science in the local college. The Muslim Marathi writers movement has acquired credibility of its own and holds its sessions regularly.

The rioting in Sholapur started on 11th October on Friday on the question of insulting remarks against the Prophet of Islam by an American Baptist priest Jerry Falwell. A protest rally was taken out by the Muslims in Sholapur. The Muslims had also given call for observing bandh on that day. The police fired in the air to disperse the crowds as some Muslim boys tried to force Hindus who had not closed their shops. When they refused these boys tried to forcefully close their shops and trouble began.

The police responded by declaring curfew in Tilak chowk and other affected areas. The protest march had started after the Friday prayers and there was no leader worth the name to restrain the protesters. The protestors also attacked the nearby Navratri Mandap. The local mandal members retaliated and the riots broke out. Later the house of former BJP MLA Narsingh Lengji was also attacked. However, the MLA was not at home at the time of attack.

The violence then spread to various parts of the city and as usual it is poorest and weakest sections of society who suffered. Shashtrinagar is an area where poor people, rickshaw drivers, bidi workers and others stay. And there are mostly qassab (butchers) in the Tashqand Chowk area.

Once riots broke out areas like Tilak Chowk, Begumpeth Vijapurbees and suburban areas of Neelamnagar, MIDC and Saharanagar were affected and mostly Muslims suffered in these areas. In these areas shops, factories and houses belonging to Minority community were set afire. In many cases the rioters broke open the shops, looted the goods and then set them to fire. Some 10 rickshaws were burnt near Begumpeth rickshaw stand. The Gujrat sari shop belonging to Abdul Qadir Khatri was looted and burnt and he sustained a loss of Rs. 10 lakhs and other sari shop belonging to Abdur Rahim Khatri sustained a loss of Rs.5 lakhs. In all 7 sari shops were set afire. Many factories were also totally destroyed in this area.

The former BJP MLAís house was set on fire in Sideshwarpeth by the Muslim miscreants. Though Mr. Lengji, the former MLA was not at home at the time his family members were there. They were saved by his Muslim neighbour Ismail Wurud. This was a good gesture of humanity and friendship on his part. The senior police inspector of the area was suspended for negligence of duty.

The showroom of optics Dr.Abu Sufyan and his house were attacked near employment exchange on next day (Saturday) in the morning and whole establishment was destroyed. But Abu Sufyan and his doctor wife Yasmin were persuaded by their Hindu neighbours to leave the place and migrate to a safer area. That saved their lives.

It should also be mentioned here that the role played by Maulana Shahabuddin Salafi was very laudable. He restrained the Muslim youth in Saharnagar area and Asranagar area otherwise the Muslims would have suffered far more damage. The Muslim youth were quite violent in their behaviour. It was restraint and wisdom exercised by the Maulana and also Police Commissioner Mr. More that saved the situation. The Maulana also protected many Hindu lives in these areas.

Maulana Shahabuddin Salafi was very critical of the violent Muslim youth. He felt they were not at all guided as to how to behave during the bandh. These youth attacked the Durgadevi puja pandal and this news spread like wild fire in the city and resulted in this disaster. It was outrageous on their part to have attacked the pandal. The Deputy Chief Minister Shri Chagan Bhujbal blamed the communal forces for the planned manner in which they tried to wreak havoc in Sholapur. He alleged that these forces wanted to repeat Gujrat in Maharashtra but the riot was brought under control.

Badlapur village in Thane district went up in flames on 20th October. It has population of about 10,000 of which Muslims are in majority. This was the fourth riot in Thane district in last eight months. Earlier three other places in Thane district Kalyan, Bhivandi and Murbad saw communal violence. In this village most of the Muslims are from Kokan area and are generally well to do. They have rice mills, shops and other business establishments. The percentage of education among Muslims in Badlapur is quite satisfactory.

Several shops and factories like saw mills belonging to minority community were set ablaze by the Shiv Sena and BJP activists. The clashes started between Hindu and Muslim youth on the question of teasing a Muslim girl who had come to Badlapur for pursuing her education. Though no one was killed in these riots 10 persons were injured two of whom are said to be serious. All the injured have been admitted in hospitals in Mumbai. The main loss was economic.

According to Minister of State for Home, Shri Kripashankar Singh, 40 persons have been arrested in connection with these communal disturbances. Among those arrested are two Bhartiya Janta Party Corporators (Badlapur is in Corporation area), Sharad Mhatre and Sanjay Bhoir ñ and a former corporator Maood Kohari, an official said. However, Mr. Singh refused to confirm. Mr. Singh said he was unhappy with the police commissioner of Thane as number of communal incidents have occurred in this district.

Inquiries on the spot revealed some rivalry between Shiv Sena and BJP in this area and one of the reasons of this communal incident is the race to capture more Hindu votes in the area. The incident of eve teasing was mere spark. Communal situation was simmering in Badlapur for some time, members of both the communities said. Bajrang Dal has been quite active in this area for past eight months. The Muslims of Badlapur said that they had voted for the BJP corporator Mr. Bhuir and why should they be subjected to such violence.

Amravti district - Shendurjana Ghat in Vidarbha area of Maharashtra also witnessed communal incidents at the time of immersion of Durga images on 21st October. There was stoning on the procession when it was passing through a mosque area. More than 90 persons were arrested. The police had to resort to firing in the air to control the mob. However, there was no loss of life.

Though number of riots (more than 44) have taken place in Maharashtra during the PDA regime the entire blame cannot be pinned on the government. The Hindutva forces are keen to capture power in the state and are busy polarising Hindus and Muslims. In Jalgaon and other places repeated attempts have been made to engineer communal violence for this purpose. It is not basically fight between Hindus and Muslims who want to live in peace. The VHP and Bajrang Dal, motivated by their political agenda are spewing poison and provoking violence. All these disturbances in Maharashtra should be seen in this perspective. It seems that the present Government in Maharashtra is trying to control communal violence but major and minor incidents are taking place from time to time. Mr. Bal Thakckaray of Shiv Sena tried to provoke Hindus through his utterances on his Dasehra eve speech instigating the Hindu youth to form suicide squad. Such utterances keep the communal situation on boil and an small incident becomes spark for minor and or major communal riots. The Hindutva forces are determined to keep India polarised on communal lines. At the hands of these forces India is going the Pakistan way where the jihadi groups keep Pakistan in a state of turmoil.

As these riots are occurring quite frequently in Maharashtra the State Government has now decided to revive the Maharashtra Prevention of Communal, ANTI-SOCIAL, AND OTHER Dangerous Activities Act. It was allowed to lapse in eighties with enactment of NASA. But it is sought to be revived in view of frequent communal incidents. The accused or the potential offender can be detained for a period of six months under this Act. There is no doubt if the Government acts promptly and takes proper measures occurrence of such incidents can be prevented. Riots take place only either with Government collusion or negligence.

* Centre for Study of Soceity and Secularism, Mumbai.

return to New collection at South Asia Citizens Web

Return to South Asia Citizens Web