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Communal Violence in Indore

The "Bharat bandh" of July 3 saw communal violence erupt in Indore, with the police either on the sidelines or allegedly conniving in the attacks on the minorities. A number of events preceded the flare-up. Now fear and insecurity haunt the minority areas.

COMMENTARYjuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly10If the murder of Lalit Mehta in Chhat-tarpur laid bare the brutal consequences of the contractor-bureaucracy-politician nexus that has sprung up around the NREGA in Jharkhand, Tapas Soren’s fate reveals a different consequence of the same fact. The state of corruption seems institutionalised and regularised – with its coordinates of 5 per cent here and 7 per cent there. In stark contrast is every provi-sion of the act designed to empower work-ers and the rural poor – the ability to demand work, the capacity to decide which works get sanctioned in what order, the right to receive wages on time, the dis-bursal of wages in a public and trans-parent fashion, the right to inspect the documents relating to the NREGA, and others. These are forced to languish as is the promise of genuine, participatory change that they hold out. In such a sys-tem ‘anyay’ will inevitably be an everyday experience, one that will seek out and drain those among the poor who dare to try and make the NREGA work for them-selves – as Tapas did.Dilip Soren hopes that provision will be made by the state government for ade-quate compensation to Tapas’ two chil-dren and a job will be provided to his widow Dasmitudu. But he is also deter-mined that part of the outcome of this tragedy should be speedy development of the village and that those responsible for this state of affairs be brought to book. Apart from the government enquiry which has been instituted, perhaps the first step towards this can be the social audit that Chhotanagpur Adivasi Seva Samiti plans to conduct. After all, if the crisis is a result of the determination to ensure that the participatory elements of the act break down, it is only an equally strong determination to ensure that they are made operational that will in the long run be the cure.Notes1 The following account, except where otherwise indicated, is based on conversations with Dilip Soren, the brother of Tapas Soren, and Jemma Mendis, an activist of the Chhotanagpur Adivasi Seva Samiti, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi soon after Tapas Soren died at Safdarjang Hospital on July 8. 2 A video, which includes testimony taken from Tapas Soren when he was conscious soon after he was brought into hospital, is available at http://youtube.com/watch?v=thhLuJSc11E. On the video, despite the visibly painful burns, he recounts some of the circumstances of his action and repeatedly affirms that people should not tol-erate injustice any more.3 All statistics relating to employment generation in Hazaribagh are taken from the implementation status reports provided online by the ministry of rural development. http://nrega.nic.in/writere-addata/mpr_out/MPRimpl_34_99_0708.html; 42.34 lakh person days were generated for the 1.23 lakh households.4 http://nrega.nic.in/writereaddata/mpr_out/empgen_new1_34_99_0809.html 5 This was mentioned by both Dilip Soren and Jemma Mendis.6 All the figures relating to Tapas’ financial transac-tions were provided by Dilip Soren.[Readers can post their comments on this article in the blog section of the EPW web site. The blog will be open until August 5.]Communal Violence in IndoreJaya Mehta, Vineet TiwariThe “Bharat bandh” of July 3 saw communal violence erupt in Indore, with the police either on the sidelines or allegedly conniving in the attacks on the minorities. A number of events preceded the flare-up. Now fear and insecurity haunt the minority areas.In the wake of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) call for an all-India bandh, Indore witnessed widespread violence on July 3 and 4, 2008. Eight persons died. (Seven of them were Muslims.) Many people were injured and were admitted to hospitals in a serious condition. This was just a glimpse of the communalist forces active in the town and in Madhya Pradesh (MP). BackgroundIndore has had a glorious past of commu-nal harmony. The Holkar state was known for its secular and progressive rule in the region. Indore was also a major textile centre in central India. Hindu and Muslim labourers worked side by side and the working class culture constituted a major bulwark against caste and religious divides. However, the mills have closed down. Indore is no longer an industrial town. It is now a major business hub and a real estate hot spot. Trade union politics has given way to communal politics. The working class culture has been replaced bythe neo-rich culture of shopping malls. The town is flush with loads of unaccounted money. At the same time, unemployed youth are available in large numbers for recruitment into various activities whichcharacterise the distorted lumpen capitalism of our time.After the BJP government came to power in the state again in 2003 the Hindu right wing organisations geared up their activi-ties on all fronts and the local administra-tionsupported them. ‘Path sanchalans’ are organised regularly by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in different parts of the town. All public parks are used for morning ‘shakhas’. The premise of a girls’ college has been taken over to build a temple complex. ‘Surya namaskar’ is compulsory in all government schools. Communal politics has made deep inroads in the administrative set-up as well as in the audio-visual and print media. Temples in the premises of police stations are a common feature. It is in this milieu that activists from the Bajrang Dal and other allied organisations have routinely registered their rowdy presence at the railway station, at the airport, in hospitals, and of course, on the streets. The Christian and Muslim Shafi Mohd Sheikh, Ashok Dubey, Sarika Shrivastava, Pankhuri Mishra and Sourabh Das helped in collecting the data, meeting the victims and in writing this article.Jaya Mehta (jaya_mehta@hotmail.com) is an economist and Vineet Tiwari (comvineet@gmail.com) is a human rights activist and journalist, both are based in Indore.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 26, 200811communities have been attacked innumer-able times. The Muslims retaliate locally. The Christians lodge their protests in various secular forums. However, the skirmishes occur with greater frequency than before.As a background to the violence on July 3 and 4, one needs to mention two specific occurrences during the past year.(1) Karbala Dispute: Over the last 150 years or so Muslims have been using a particular piece of land, the Karbala ground, for their three-day long fair of Moharram. This land was given to them in 1890 by Holkar rulers. They have all the necessary proof regarding legal owner-ship of the land. In 2000, Bajrang Dal,RSS, VHP andBJP activists claimed that there was an old Hanuman shrine in the ground. A Hanuman idol was installed and they started worshipping there every Tuesday. The case went to court. In 2006, the court mandated that such activity should stop. A huge protest was organised against the ruling in April 2006 and the ‘aarti’ continued. Taking no cognisance of the court order, the administration decided that the Hindu organisations would be allowed to perform aarti on Tuesdays and the Muslims would continue using this ground for the Moharram fair. In 2007, Moharram fell on January 30, a Tuesday. The clashes between the two communities started 10 days in advance. Muslims were humiliated and beaten up mercilessly both by the saffron brigades and the police. One old imam in a mosque was beaten up by the police and both his legs were fractured.On January 30, the administration decided that the Muslims would use the ground till 9 pm. After that the ground would be vacated for the Hindus to per-form the aarti. The Muslims gathered on Karbala ground in a large number (about 5-10,000). At 9 pm, a small group of Hindus reached there. The collector requestedthe Muslims to vacate the ground. The humiliated mass in thou-sands refused to vacateandwere assaulted by the police. TheKarbalaissue has become a ready excuse forstarting a confrontation at any time.The Hanuman idol is there, the mazaarorthe dargaah is there in the other cornerofthe ground. Despite the presence of police security, the area is always tense.(2) Arrest of SIMI Activists: On March 27, 2008, the Madhya Pradesh police made a sensational arrest of 13 Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists, who included Safdar Nagori, the organisation’s top leader and Shibly Peedical Abdul, a Kerala-born computer engineer, sought by the police since 2006. The media publicitythat these arrests got generated an impression in the town that many Muslims in Indore had links with the terrorist organisation. A number of innocent people have been harassed by the police in this connection. The cases were registered in Pithampur, an industrial suburb of Indore which belongs to Dhar district. The bar council of Dhar passed a resolution that no lawyer would take up the cases of those arrested in SIMI connections. When one lawyer came forward to take up the cases he was beaten up in the court. In this way, those arrested were denied their fundamental right of defence. Incidentally, Dhar has also been experiencing communal politics since the Babri demolition. The issue of Kamaal Moula masjid and ‘Bhojshala’ is known to everyone.It is against this tense background that one looks at the happenings from July 3 onwards.Chronology of EventsTheVHP andBJP gave a call to observe the Bharat bandh on July 3 to protest against the Jammu and Kashmir government’s order revoking the transfer of 40 hectares of land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board. The local leadership of BJP and the allied organisations naturally decided to make the bandh a big success. It was an opportunity to once again demonstrate their power. As the day broke, the saffron activists unleashed a reign of terror determined to stop all routine activities and in addition harass Muslims in the town in whatever way possible. At around 10 am, the bandh supporters marched in a procession and entered the Badwali Chowki, a Muslim-dominated area. They shouted provocative slogans and misbehaved with local residents. There was not enough of a police force to control the hooligans. This happened afterwards in other Muslim-dominated areas – Ranipura, Lodhipura, Mukeripura, Narsinghbazar, etc.In Khajrana area, rowdy mobs of 10-15 teenage boys spread out and attacked, with hockey sticks, Muslim men and women walking on the roads. The victims were poor labourers wanting to go for work. Two women were coming home after a funeral. All these people were stopped, their religion was ascertained by their looks or by their names, and then they were beaten up. The police did not help the vic-tims. They were left unattended on the road. When the Muslims went to the police station, there were only a few constables present and they refused to lodge their complaint. The Muslimsthenattacked the police station. This was sufficient for the police to behave in the most brutal manner. The bandh supporters were there in large numbers. The local ‘patidar’ com-munity arrived on the scene with private guns. Some ammunition and arms was reportedlywithMuslims also. There was firing resulting in the loss of three lives. Incidentally, all the three were Muslims.In Mukeripura area, when a mob of bandh supporters were near a masjid, they shouted provocative slogans. There was stone pelting from the rooftop of a building. The bandh supporting mob started throwing stones in retaliation. On the local television channels one could see that the police stood by helpless, unable and unwilling to stop the violence. In all, four people died in the violence which erupted in the town on July 3, 2008. Apart from three Muslims who died in Khajrana, one Sindhi Hindu youth died in Mukeripura. Local residents reported that he was play-ing cricket outside his house, when the saffron cadre took him to the riot affected area. He died there with head injuries. Police and district administration imposed curfew in four areas of the town. The next day, on July 4, fresh violence erupted in many other areas and in Juna Risala, two lives were lost because of police firing. Newspapers say that Muslimscom-ing back from the nearby masjid after ‘namaz’ in Juna Risala started throwing stones and petrol bombs. The police was thus forced to open fire. However, accord-ing to the residents in the area the reality was just the opposite. The Muslims were
COMMENTARYjuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly12coming back peacefully after the namaz. A petrol bomb was thrown on a scooter standing near the masjid. It caught fire, the Muslims were agitated. The saffron squads were present on the spot. The stone throwing took place from bothsidesand the situation got out of control.Thepolice resorted to teargas shells and firing almost simultaneously.The area also has police residential quarters. The Muslims threw stones and petrol bombs on those houses and people witnessed that there was firing from the roof tops and from windows of the police quarters. Two people diedinthe firing (both Muslims). After this, curfew was imposed in the whole town. On July 4, when curfew was imposed in the whole town, a religious procession of Venkatesh Mandir was not stopped in the Chhatripura area. Some 3,000 people participated in the procession. It is to be noted that the procession was taken out in an area, which had witnessed rioting and killing just a day before. Sumitra Mahajan a Member of Parliament, Mahendra Hardia a legislative assembly member, and many other BJP leaders participated in this procession. The police and administration found themselves helpless.Kailash Vijayvargiya, a minister in the state government, was given the responsi-bility of restoring peace and order. He repeatedly alleged that SIMI has been behind this eruption of violence. The director general of police reasserted this allegation. When asked to provide satis-factory evidence, the press was informed that the police was looking for evidence. The very next day the Pithampur police recoveredfourlive country made bombs, eight detonators and batteries from a mine in the vicinity of the Pithampur-Rau bypass. Although the police did not expli-citly connect the riots with the discovery ofbombs and the detonator, all the news-papers prominently placed the two news items adjacent to each other.The curfew continued for five days. Sewa Bharati, anRSS outfit, offered help to the curfew affected people by providing them food. Along with food, they also distributed copies of a local eveninger, which had brought out a special issue on SIMI’s activities in Indore. At the same time, the Bajrang Dal activists stood outside a hospital (Rajeshri Hospital) and did not allow Muslim riot victims to be admitted there.On July 7, 2008, the BJP leaders took out a peace march in a riot-affected area. The implicit message to the minority people was – “Look, nothing happened to us and nothing will happen to us. You be aware of our strength”. The collector and superintendent of police (SP) reaffirmed the message. There are hoardings in the town asking the union government to take back the Haj facilities from Muslims. The Congress leaders came and took the BJP, RSS and district administration to task. They addressed the press and raised a big protest in the assembly at Bhopal. With the elections approaching, the focus will soon shift from providing real justice to the victims to collecting votes.After five days of curfew the town limped back to normalcy. Like Ahmedabad, Indore is also divided into two. The Muslim majority areas are simmering with anger and a sense of terrible insecurity. These areas are still under police guard. In many households the earning members are still not able to resume their work. The other side has resumed its normal life. The middle class Hindu community blames the Muslims for the disturbance in the town. The Hindu right wing activists go on with the refrain that they wanted a peaceful bandh; it is because of the non-cooperation of Muslim community at large and the militancy of SIMI activists that bloodshed occurred.Administration and PoliceBoth the collector andSP in the town took charge just about a month before the vio-lence. The administration was admittedly unprepared for the violence which erupted inthewakeof the bandh call. The police forcerecruitedin the sensitive Muslim majority areas was inadequateanddid precious little to confront the saffron squads harassing the Muslim families.On July 4, the Khajrana area was under curfew. The police van arrived there on the pretext of guarding the streets under curfew and entered the Muslim residential area. Reportedly, the police force went on a ram-page without any provocation from any quarter. The police threw stones at Muslim houses and vehicles parked in the street.There is the more serious question of police opening fire at Khajrana on July 3 and at Juna Risala on July 4. The Muslims in Juna Risala refused to perform the last rites of the dead, till the first infor-mation reports (FIRs) were lodged against three policemen. Reportedly, even though the FIRs have been lodged, no action has been taken against them. On the other hand, the bandh supporters demanded that the FIRs be taken back. Any action against these policemen would bring down the morale of the entire police force, it is said.The story of police action in Khajrana is even more sinister. One 17-year old boy Imran was going for work. When he saw the crowd in front of police station, he turned back to go home. According to his 14-year old younger brother, a policeman caught him, dragged him down to the ground, put the gun on his face, pulled the trigger and walked away. The mother found the body in the city hospital.Till now, in communal conflicts, private parties were attacking each other with sticks, stones, knives and other such weapons. This is the first time that private guns have been used on such a large scale. Apart from those who died in firing, a large number of wounded persons suf-fered from bullet injuries. It needs to be investigated how many licences were issued lately for fire arms and to whom. MediaMost of the pictures in the newspapers, or footage given on TV showed the Muslim boys and youth with beards and caps throwing stones or shouting. It is clear where the cameramen were and when these photographs were taken. The cameramen stood on the other side, i e, the side of the BJP-VHP people. Channels were continu-ously showing the scenes of violence for next two to three days after the incident with the label “live”.Once curfew was declared and rioting stopped, the media started reporting in great detail how people (the middle class) were passing their time during the curfew – playing cricket in the streets or inside the compounds of their multistoried buildings; men were cooking some special dishes, or, watching TV with the family or playing cards, etc. The media reported how marriages were organised under the curfew, and so on.The BJP leaders were projected as peace-seeking people appealing to the
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 26, 200813public to calm down. They led massive peace rallies. Little space was left for reporting the plight of those poor families whosenearones had died or those who were lying in hospitals. There was no effort in the media to mobilisepublic opinion to take action against the culprits of this crime. In fact, as already men-tioned, the media collaborated in divert-ing attention to SIMI involvement.ConclusionsThe July 3 Bharat bandh for Amarnath shrine land was only an excuse. Any odd excuse can cause a flare-up in Indore. And every new flare-up makes the situation more volatile. Indore is indeed a mini-Gujarat in the making. The Muslims are insecure. They cluster together and seek shelter in the religious infrastructure whether it is Friday namaz or sending their children to madrasas. At the same time, the Muslim youth is restive and desperate.The Hindu right wing has many suffi-ciently well-organised squads of young activists who are ready to cause mayhem anywhere at a very short notice. No one dares to resist them. The administration and media offer support with impeccable loyalty to the ruling party’s political agenda. The educated and elite Hindu middle class is complacent, rabidly anti-Muslim and anti-reservation. The rest of the Hindu community (the poor and the lower caste) is silent. This silent majority has no opinion, primarily because it has no confidence that its opinion matters anywhere.It is of utmost urgency that the secular space be recovered. Politics has to be neces-sarily wrenched from the domain of caste and religious divides so that the meaning-ful agenda of development, employment and equitable growth comes on the centre stage. One hopes that the civil society groups and the left parties, and secular forces from other political and non-political parties/organisations will come together and take up this ambitious task without losing any time. One hopes that sufficient confidence can be instilled in the silent majority. It can then claim its democratic space and declare, “We will not allow Madhya Pradesh to become another Gujarat”.Memory’s Fatal Lure: The Left, the Congress and ‘Jeevan’ in KeralaJ DevikaThe raging controversy in Kerala over the “secularism” content in one chapter of a school textbook brings back memories of similar controversies from the 1950s. Caste groups are protesting in defence of upper caste interests and religious organisations are angry at what they see as the state government crossing the limits in a discussion of secularism. On the other side, the spirit of rationalism which was earlier espoused by the radical anti-caste reformers is missing; now even the left has had to accommodate the demands of the powerful community organisations.The spectre of 1958 has been haunt-ing Kerala since June. These are troubled times, even otherwise, for the left. A massive ongoing struggle involving some 7,500 landless families at Chengara in south-west Kerala, demand-ing the redistribution of productive land to the landless, is forcing the left to re-examine its self-image as the left. The happy days of the 1980s when all Mala-yalees, especially those of us on the left, basked in the credit for social develop-ment, seem so far away. There was once a time, in the mid-20th century, when Kerala suffered the dubious fame of being “the problem state”. However, in the 1970s, the state was lifted up, almost Cinderella-like, from the sooty and dingy confines of “economic backward-ness” and “political instability” into the shining heavens of international develop-ment discourse. The glass slipper of social development fitted Kerala very well indeed; it became the desirable model, in politics and development, for the third world.But now we have been rudely awak-ened: historical memory may be short, but we have been forced to remember. Most recently because a tiresome controversy over a lesson in the seventh-standard text-book for government schools brings back memories of similar controversies and coalitions from the 1950s.Textbook ControversyThe “textbook controversy” erupted in mid-June this year, over the lesson titled ‘Jeevan Who Has No Religion’, designed as a conversation between the father of Jeevan, the child of a Muslim father and a Hindu mother and the headmaster of a school. Jeevan is to be admitted to the school, but the headmaster finds that no religion has been mentioned in his application. Father answers the headmas-ter’s query, saying that Jeevan has no reli-gion as of then. He reminds the anxious headmaster that his son is free to choose his religion later, when he grows up. The lesson also includes excerpts from Jawaha-rlal Nehru’s will, which reveals his distance from religious ritual – and quotes from the teachings of Guru Nanak and the prophet. The present public outrage over this short lesson has been led by the cream of the political opposition in the state – the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the powerful caste-community organi-sations – the organised Catholic church, the Nair Service Society (NSS) and the Muslim organisations. Since mid-June, these J Devika (devika@cds.ac.in) is at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.

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