Communal Riots - 2002

by Asghar Ali Engineer

[ 17 January 2003]

India could not free itself of curse of communalism even more than fifty years after independence. If anything it has been getting worse year after year. There has been not a single year in post-independence period, which has been free of communal violence though number of incidents may vary. The year 2002 has been one of the worst years in this matter right from the beginning as the Gujarat carnage began in the very beginning of the year. We will come to this carnage little later.

In the year 2002 the first reported riot took place in Kozhikode (Calicut), Kerala on 3rd January. In the clashes between two communities (Hindus and Muslims) five persons were killed. The clashes occurred on the question of eve teasing. The whole region came in the grip of violence. More than twenty persons were injured including five women. Properties worth lakhs of rupees were destroyed. A heavy police bandobast was made to bring the situation under control. Kerala is generally thought to be free of communal violence. But occasionally it also experiences such frenzy and bout of communal violence. However, it is generally brought under control as the Kerala government usually does not allow things to go out of had.

Gujarat was next to come under intense bout of communal carnage. It was of the kind, which India had never experienced accept at the time of partition. The communal carnage in Gujarat shook whole world. It was difficult to believe such intense communal frenzy could be incited by the BJP for its political gains. More than 2000 people were killed most cruelly in this carnage according to very reliable sources though the Government admits only about 1000 dead.

The communal carnage began with burning of coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express coming from Ayodhya and bringing kar sevaks. Godhra is communally highly sensitive and yet the Narendra Modi government took no steps to prevent such incidents. The kar sevaks, as usual, deliberately or otherwise, provoked Muslim vendors on Godhra station including dragging a Muslim girl towards the coach. There was no police on the station despite intelligence reports warning against communal violence.

It is alleged that a mob of 1500 persons (mostly Ghanchi) Muslims collected and set fire to coach S-6. But it still a mystery as to who set fire to the coach. The forensic report says that the fire was lit from inside the coach, not from outside and t required at least 60 litres of inflammable substance like petrol to do the job. The Concerned Citizens Tribunal comprising retired Supreme Court Judges and other eminent S-6. Nothing can be said with certainty. This happened on the morning of February 27 and hell broke loose all over Gujarat on 28th February.

The VHP, the Bajrang Dal and BJP gave a call for bandh (Gujarat-wide strike) on 28th February and violent incidents started from the morning of 28th February, particularly in Ahmedabad. And before the sun set on 28th February more than 100 persons were killed in Ahmedabad alone. Most ghastly incidents took place in a place called Naroda Patia where more than 80 persons were burnt alive including women and children and number of women were raped in full gaze of public. The other ghastly incident took place in Gulbarg Society, Chamanpura where about 40 persons were burnt alive including the ex-M.P. of Congress Ahsan Jafri.

What is worse the Chief Mister Narendra Modi justified such frenzy and described it as reaction to action in Godhra. And all this happened with full complicity of the police and bureaucracy. The honest officers who did not allow carnage in their areas were instantly transferred by the Modi Government.

Some ministers who led the mobs have been named in FIRs. Many mosques and mausoleums were demolished and ground was leveled. Some accounts maintain about 700 such religious structures were brought down or severely damaged. Ahmedabad, Baroda, Mehsana and Panchmahal districts were the worst affected districts covering entire north and central Gujarat. There have been various estimates of the properties destroyed but generally it is maintained properties worth more than 10,000 crores were looted or burnt. The business lost due to closures and migration of labour is several times this figure. Hundreds of Muslim families were totally uprooted. The carnage continued for more than five months.

We have written a great deal on this already and much has come to light in various investigative reports, National Human Rights Commission report and other reports. It is record that more than 30 such reports were prepared by various committees, a record for any riot so far. It was a one sided carnage and not a riot in usual sense. Suffice it may to say that it will go down I history as the worst communal carnage in history of India.

The next riot took place in Kaithal, Haryana. Though the cause of the violence on disturbances on 28th February is not clear but it seems to be related to Gujarat incidents. According to The Hindustan Times report Shiv Sena, VHP and Bajrang Dal mobs pulled down a mosque and caused extensive damage to two others. They damaged at least four mazars (mausoleums) and enforced a complete bandh. Prohibitory orders were later clamped down on the town.

According to HR correspondent ìthe administration acted only after the damage had been done.î According to him a mob started out in the morning, brandishing unseathed swords, iron rods, sticks and other weapons and forced shopkeepers to pull down their shutters. When they reached a mosque near a school, they barged into the building and started pulling it down. They climbed the dome and pulled it down while people watched the whole operation. The police made only feeble attempts to stop it. The mob later demolished the mausoleum of Pir Nurani Badshah and three other mazars were extensively damaged which are visited mostly by Hindus.

A mosque near Ambedkar chowk was damaged by rampaging mob and pulling down portions of another mosque and a house belonging to a cleric behind the mosque was set afire. This extensive damage was done to several mosques and others were demolished. All this was naturally shadowed by the developments in Gujarat.

During the Maharashtra bandh call given by the Shiv Sena, VHP and BJP on 1st March to protest the setting ablaze of coach of the Sabarmati Express on 27th February in Godhra a violent mob went on rampage in Murbad 80 kilometer from Mumbai. Fortunately Murbad was the only town affected during the call for bandh by the Sangh Parivar.

During the bandh in Murbad the Bajrang Dal morcha began looting and burning Muslims shops. According to the report released by the Maharashtra Minorities Commission Inspector Vijay Jagtap, the officer in charge in tehsil town of Murbad went down on his knees to plead with the mob to spare the madrasa. However the mob of Bajrang Dalis was determined to attack madrasa and shops nearby. It burnt down six shops in the market.

It also looted the houses of two prosperous grain merchants and set fire to a jeep belonging to a transporter. The bandh was total and all shops were closed. The mob was also determined to attack the families of some of the well to do Muslim shopkeepers. But they fled minutes before the attack and saved themselves. According to the SP. Police Thane rural Inspector Jagtap was outnumbered by the Bajrang Dal mob. He had just four constables with him. Murbad has no history of communal riots but now Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dal and VHP are becoming aggressive in all places and disturbing communal peace at any available opportunity.

The Police claimed that it fired 13 rounds in the air but the Minorities Commission said that it did not come across anyone who could corroborate the police claim. The Police claimed that they had arrested 32 people including the local Bajrang Dal leaders and charged them with attempted murder, arson and loot. The Muslims are a microscopic minority in Morbad and are afraid of giving any details of damage to the madrasa and are praising the role of the police, according to the Minorities Commission.

On 17th March communal incidents took place in Loharu in Bhivani district of Haryana. Loharu was once under a Muslim ruler and was know as Nawwaab of Loharu. There is thus Muslim population in this town. A mob of three hundred incited by the rumour of cow slaughter attacked two mosques and at least 15 shops and houses belonging to the minority community. The police had to fire in the air when the mob could not be controlled by can charge.

When the people belonging to the majority community heard that a cow has been taken for slaughter in one of the mosques, it set out to attack and set fire to this mosque and shops near the mosque were also not spared. According to a UNI report quoting the police sources said that a mob of 300 Shiv Sainiks set fire to another mosque near the railway station and set fire to many shops in Purana Bazar. And in this area all 15-20 shops and houses belonging to minority were burnt down. The palace of Nawwab of Loharu was also surrounded by a mob but additional reinforcements were requisitioned from other places and the palace was saved from being damaged.

Next incidents of communal violence took place in three places in Rajasthan in which three persons were killed on 25th March on the occasion of Muharram. The immediate provocation was the holding of poornahuti yagnas (a Hindu religious ritual) and kirtans for the Ram mandir at various temples on the route of tazia processions.

Curfew had to be clamped in the town of Gangapur, 80 kms from Sawai Madhopur, in central Rajasthan where 3 people were killed and 15 injured in police firing. According to the police violence broke out when activists of the VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal collected at an ancient Hanumanji mandir for a yagna and kirtan. The police asked them not to gather but they defied police orders and began to shout provocative slogans when the tazia procession came closer to the temple. The police was compelled to open fire when tear-gassing and can charge had no effect.

The Gangapur city has 25% Muslim population and earlier was considered to be the stronghold of SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) in Rajasthan. It has always been prone to minor communal irritations although this is the first time that violence has erupted on such a large scale. In different parts of Southern Rajasthan where the Sangh Parivar has strong presence communal tension was simmering. But the situation was kept under control.

Gujarat was still simmering on the occasion of Holi in the last week of March. A Home Ministry official said on the eve of Holi that there was tension in Anand, Vadodra and Ahmedabad and the army had been called in again to stage flag march to instill a sense of security. He also said that stray incidents of communal violence had also taken place in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

On the occasion of Holi on 30th March four persons were killed in communal violence in Akola. Of these four three were killed in police firing and 15 others were injured. The provocation was reportedly due to throwing of colour on a mosque in the old city area on Friday by some miscreants, Pankaj Gupta, Inspector General of Police, said. The police intervention arrested the situation from getting worse. Two persons were arrested for colour throwing. Incidents of stabbing and stone throwing again took place on Saturday after namaz when the police was making some arrests. However, according to Minority Commission Chairman of Maharashtra seven persons were killed in Akola disturbances and he has blamed the police for mishandling the situation.

In Haveri, Karnataka also the police had to open fire on the day of Holi to disperse two clashing groups, which were on the rampage and set fire to a few shops during the Holi revelries in Rattihalli, near Haveri. The disturbances started when some people belonging to minority group objected to the Holi procession which the other group ignored and went ahead with their programme.

On 5th April 3 there were bomb explosions outside three mosques in Hugli district, near Kolkata. Eight persons were injured in these explosions after the Friday prayers. When the police reached Chndr Nagor area of Sikon Bagan, the miscreants attacked the police with stones and ran away. There was hand grenade with one of the miscreant, which exploded and he was critically injured. Paramilitary forces and Rapid Action Force was called in to control the situation. In these disturbances one person died and 7 were injured and 30 persons were arrested.

Bahraich town in U.P. witnessed communal flare up on 1st April when some temples were desecrated and in retaliation a mausoleum was desecrated. The Purana Bazar locality of Nanpara area was gripped with communal tension as a result of the desecration. One person was arrested and security was tightened.

On April 10 Kalyan some 80 kms from Mumbai flared up resulting in loss of three lives. This was result of an old feud between two persons belonging to two different communities. Soon it resulted in mob violence, arson and loot. Curfew was imposed on the area. The clashes turned into communal one as the Shiv Sena claimed that of those dead, one is a Shiv Sainik. The police resorted to firing 10 rounds as the mob attacked the police van. The incidents started when a horse-carriage owner Salim Sheikh stabbed Ashok Walunj and Walunj stabbed Sheikh. Walunj died. Sheikh was also critically injured.

Walunjís mother died of shock and Sheikhís wife Naseem also died of wound. On hearing this a mob of 400 persons gathered leading to arson and loot. Fifteen houses, including a shop belonging to a Shiv Sainik, were burnt. Rohidaswada where the incidents took place has often witnessed communal tension.

On 20th April, communal clashes started after murder of a student who was allegedly killed by some people belonging to minority community. Security was tightened and Rapid Action Force was also deployed. Curfew was imposed after explosion of bomb near a police van. According to the police there was bomb explosion at one more place. Five persons of minority community were arrested. After the incidents in Mahow there were communal disturbances in two more villages in the vicinity. In Ashapur Gaon a person from minority community was shot dead and in Choradia too, one person from minority community was shot dead.

On 13th April two persons were killed in Nandurbar in Maharashtra one of whom was killed in police firing. Six were injured in the firing. One who was killed in police firing was Yogesh Rathore. Nandurbar is a tribal dominated town bordering Gujarat where communal violence continued since February. Trouble began in Kali Masjid locality when two groups clashed on game of cards. It soon turned into large-scale clashes next day. People threw stones and attacked each other. Deputy Superintendent of Police was also injured during these clashes. Seven houses were burnt in the town. Two journalists were also injured.

On 13th May in Saharanpur in U.P there were two bomb explosions outside a mosque, which resulted in communal tension. One more bomb was found in a shoe. There was a chit with it on which ëArya Senaí was written. It happened in Khan Alampura locality. On 14th May there were clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Badaun in U.P. on account of personal feud in a marriage. There was private firing and stone throwing in which 12 persons were badly injured. The clashes lasted for nearly three hours when police controlled them. The mob began setting fire to various properties. Sixty persons were arrested by the police.

On Ist June there were communal clashes in Tilaknagar area of Bangalore. The clashes started when some one took objection for taking out procession in front of a mosque. There was firing by the police to disperse the mob. One person was stabbed and thirteen persons were injured. Sixty persons were arrested by the police. The mob was indulging in stone throwing and setting fire to properties.

On 19th June three persons died in Jamner taluka of Jalgaon district two of whom died in police firing. One five -month old baby died of suffocation when its mother held it tight to her bosom to save the child. Of the three persons one died in police firing and two were burnt alive and one stabbed to death. 40 persons were injured. There was tension in the town since 7th June when a dead animal was thrown outside mosque. To start the riot one Ratnakar Padmakar Joshi stole the silver eyes of Hanuman idol on 15th June. He was arrested by the police and silver eyes were recovered from him. Subsequently the toll in Jamner rose to five and 22 were injured.

The one who died in police firing was Yusuf Khan Aziz Khan Pathan (32). Two others, Ramesh Mali (55) and an unidentified driver of a tempo were burnt alive while Shaikh Gulab Sheikh Aziz (24) was stabbed to death.

Subsequently the disturbances started in Jalgaon and Bhusaval too on 20th June. The Hindutvawadis declared bandh in the district and properties were set on fire. A driver Haji Riyaz Ahmed was burnt alive and many trucks and tempos were burnt in Jalgaon area. More than 100 persons were arrested. One Anis Ahmed was seriously wounded when attacked with sharp weapons. His intestines came out but he survived. One Rukhsanabi and her husband Abdul Aziz were also seriously wounded on the bandh day in Jamner. Some Hindus saved the lives of Muslims in Shashtrinagar.

In Pune there was an attempt to provoke communal riot on 31 July by throwing eggs wrapped in paper on three Ganesh temples. There erupted violence after discovery of these eggs in these temples. The police resorted to lathi charge to disperse the crowd. The security was tightened and three companies of state reserve police force was brought and 4 companies of strike force was also put in charge. These eggs were thrown near Ganesh temples in the darkness of night. As soon as this news spread people collected and began raising slogans. They divided themselves in three groups and forced people to close their shops. One group consisting of 400 persons proceeded towards a mosque despite the police attempt to dissuade them. They began stoning the Muslims coming out of mosque after prayer and Muslims also began throwing stones. Police resorted to cane charge and dispersed the crowd. The police said that Muslims showed lot of patience and this helped. However, the BJP convenor Khardekar gave call for bandh and this increased the tension. I is suspected that a Hindu Mahasabha ember is responsible for throwing the eggs.

On 21 September there erupted communal violence in Veejapur taluka of Aurangabad in Maharashtra on the occasion of Ganesh chaturthi. There was incident of stone throwing on the procession. The mob then set fire to 34 shops, 3 auto rickshaws, 4 motor cycles and one tempo were burnt. Police used tear gas and fired two rounds to disperse the mob. 21 persons were arrested. Six persons were injured. According to the police properties worth 50 thousand were destroyed.

Sholapur in Maharashtra erupted on 11th October in which about 9 persons were killed in all. The riots erupted when some Muslim organisation led by Muslim Vikas Parishad, relatively unknown organisation founded by a former journalist turned leader gave a call for observing bandh as Christian Baptist priest Jerry Falwell in America had called the Prophet of Islam as ëterroristí. The Muslim youth belonging to this organisation tried to force some Hindus to close their shops. The protesters went in procession after prayers on Friday afternoon and threw stones on a Navratri Pandal. Hindus reciprocated and riots broke out. More than 115 persons were injured and police arrested over 500 persons. Subsequently Muslims suffered heavy damages and large number of shops belonging to them were burnt down. Of all the dead five died in police firing and rest in cases of stabbings. The communal incidents went on for two days.

The Muslims suffered heavy damages in these riots. The Muslim leaders alleged that it was an attempt to ruin Muslims economically in Sholapur. A large number of Muslim shops in different areas were looted and then burnt down. They have lost more than 10 crores worth goods and properties.

Yet another communal incident took place in Badlapur in Thane district when some Hindu youth teased a college going Muslim girl on 20th October. There was private firing and five persons were injured. The police reached an hour later to this far-flung place and fired in the air to disperse the mob. The tension was brewing between the youth of two communities for more than a week. The mob set fire to a sawmill, a rice mill, several shops and some houses. 40 shops belonging to Muslims were set on fire, according to some sources. Over forty persons were arrested including two BJP corporators and one Muslim leader.

In Gujarat several places like Mehsana and Baroda witnessed communal frenzy again during and after recent elections in Gujarat. Most of the clashes took place during processions of victorious candidates in election.

On the last day of the year i.e. on 31st December too Gujarat witnessed rioting in Dahor. The communal disturbances started with some Muslims allegedly teasing an Adivasi girl. Both the groups Adivasis and Muslims clashed in which three persons were seriously injured. The police imposed curfew and 30 persons were arrested. Two shops were also set afire. The two groups fought with swords, lathis and other weapons.

Thus the year 2002 witnessed riots throughout India and particularly in Gujarat. As pointed out above Gujarat carnage shook the whole country and created a dubious record of brutal killing of Muslims with state complicity. This year will be remembered for this carnage for years to come.

(Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai:- 400 094, India; E-mail:- <> )

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