Mayhem in Malegaon
A fact-finding team of human rights activists and lawyers that visited riot-hit Malegaon returns with disturbing evidence of a "complete communal-isation of the police and paramilitary forces"
(The fact–finding team visited the riot-affected areas of Malegaon, the relief camps in Satana town, the affected nearby villages of Patne, Ajang, Wadner (Khakhurdi), Nampur, Talavde and Antapur. The team members met the victims of police firing and of attacks by communal organisations, the additional superintendent of police (Rajvardhan), local journalists, politicians and social workers. It also visited the Farhan Hospital.
The members of the team were Vijay Hiremath (advocate); Kannan Srinivasan, (researcher); Sakharam Sathe and Jennifer Coutinho (members, Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, CPDR); Sanober Keshwaar and Angel Mary (members, Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana).
Excerpts from the report:
Malegaon, in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, is one of the three main powerloom towns in the state. It has a population of over 6.5 lakhs of which over 70% are Muslims. The Union home ministry has since long described Malegaon as an "ultra–sensitive" spot…
On October 19, Nihal Ahmed, a
former Janata Dal MLA, led a morcha in the town to protest against
American bombing of Afghanistan. The processionists were arrested but
later released by the police. This sparked rumours all over the city that
all Muslims were supporters of Osama bin Laden and, therefore, of
terrorism. On the one hand, these incidents reinforced the stereotyped
image of Muslims as terrorists and anti–nationals in the minds of common
Hindus. And, on the other hand, in the minds of common Muslims it created
a sense of being wronged and persecuted unfairly.
Hearing the commotion, the imam of the Jama Masjid, Mufti Mohammed Ismael, rushed out of the Masjid and tried to disperse the crowd around the SRP van. He was soon joined by Suresh Ahire, the superintendent of police, RK Rathod, the deputy superintendent of police and Sheikh Rashid, the Congress MLA of Malegaon. The moment Sheikh Rashid arrived on the spot, however, a section of the crowd started shouting and clamouring for him to go back and became restive. They managed to get the pamphleteer released from the clutches of the police. In the melee, this section also damaged part of a Navratri pandal which had been put up near the masjid.
The police then lathi-charged the crowd and chased them out of the Jama Masjid area. The crowd responded to this attack by pelting stones at the police and the police kept lathi–charging and pushing them back.
It is reported that no sooner had the crowd been chased out of the Jama Masjid area by the police than a huge group of Hindus led by Dada Bhuse (the chief of the Shiv Sena-spawned outfit called Janata Raja) arrived on the scene and held a demonstration to protest the damaging of the Navratri pandal by the Muslims. Soon thereafter, this crowd moved towards the Sangameshwar masjid, destroying Muslim shops in front of it. Their numbers swelled as they went along leaving a trail of selective destruction in their path.
In the meanwhile, the police continued the lathi–charge on the gathering and drove them towards the Kidwai Road and Mohammed Ali Road area — which is the main Bazaar area of Malegaon city and is about half a kilometre away from the Jama Masjid. As Friday was bazaar day in Malegaon, the gathering from the mosque was joined here by many people who had come to shop in the bazaar.
According to the findings of the team, the stone throwing by certain elements in reaction to the persistent and brutal lathi charge provided an excuse for the police to open fire at this point. They fired a total of 35 rounds, leaving three dead and 10 injured. One bullet pierced Bilkees Bano (52) in the chest while she was hanging out her washing on the first floor balcony of her house on Mohammed Ali Road. She died in hospital soon thereafter.
Ijaz Baig Aziz Baig, the president of the Malegaon Municipality, was witness to the police firing. He saw a young man on the street, later identified as Ibrahim, get shot in the head and immediately slump to the ground. Whilst people were running helter–skelter, another young man came to pick up the bleeding Ibrahim but he, too, was shot down. This young man was identified later as Shafique Azizullah, a vendor of readymade garments. The police did not bother to pick up the dead and injured and take them to hospital. It was the people who did this.
According to Baig, the tehsildar, Sapkale, and the SP, Suresh Ahire, were present on the spot at the time of the firing. According to the police, a section of the crowd torched the Gupta Dairy on Mohammed Ali Road after bringing out all the property from inside the shop and burning it on the street. This action of certain elements in the crowd is cited as the justification for police firing.
The news that three people had been killed in police firing and several others wounded spread like wildfire and the Muslim populace got incensed. Consequent to this, the imams of all the masjids in Malegaon began to call the azaan, beginning that evening and right through the night. This is a practice in times of emergency to give succour to the people, as in time of floods, earthquakes, etc.
The police opened fire yet again on Friday night in the Azad Nagar area. They claim they were challenged by a stone–throwing mob of Muslims. Thirty–two rounds were fired here, leaving two young men killed—Mohammed Salim Shahadat Hussain and Rafique Shah Hamid Shah, both loom workers. Three more youth were hit by bullets but they survived. Two more Muslim youth, Ahmed Khan Murad Khan and Sheikh Riyaz Sheikh Safiuddin were killed on Sunday, October 28, when the police opened fire once more, near the Mira Datar Dargah and a nearby masjid.
Murders during the riots:
Apart from the twelve people killed in the police firings, two people, one Hindu and one Muslim, were murdered in the midst of the riots. On the night of Friday, October 26, the mob that destroyed the houses and the powerloom units in Diamond Mill compound, stabbed to death a former municipal councillor named Khalil Ahmed Haji Mohammed Saeed. His murder was witnessed by his brother, Jalil, who himself too was attacked but survived. Jalil, in his statement to the police, implicated Dada Bhuse and a former Shiv Sena councillor, Suresh Gawli, in the murder of his brother.
The second victim of the riots, Bapu Bacchav, a middle–aged Hindu rickshaw driver and a former vice-president of the Shiv Sena in Malegaon town, was murdered at Kalikutti sometime in the night. The identity of his assailants is not known.
Systematic and selective destruction of property:
The police estimate that in Malegaon town, the total property losses amounted to well over Rs 13 crore. The police and everyone the team spoke to admitted that most of the property destroyed and looted belonged to Muslims.
The role of the police
That the prejudice of the police against Muslims in general can take a very dangerous and destructive turn was evidenced in the Bombay riots of 1992–93 and is well documented in the reports by independent bodies as well as the Srikrishna Commission. That public condemnation and criminal prosecution (albeit delayed and half–hearted) have not dimmed the police’s hatred of Muslims can be seen in their behaviour in Malegaon.
a. Most people of Malegaon whom we interviewed feel that had the SRP not suppressed the distribution of the pamphlet, and had the police not resorted to a brutal lathi charge so insensitively in response to the demand of the crowd to release the arrested pamphleteer, events would not have taken an ugly turn.
b. There were numerous incidents of arson and looting of shops and houses over the three days of rioting. However, visits to the affected areas revealed the fact that most of the property destroyed was that of Muslims. This fact was also corroborated by the police. But all those who died in police firing are Muslims, without a single exception. When the team asked Rajvardhan to explain why the police did not stop the rioters under the banner of Janata Raja, a Shiv Sena front, he could not offer any explanation.
c. Many Muslims we met said that when they rang up the police station for help when their property was being destroyed, the policeman would ask them their names and, on hearing that they were Muslims, promptly put the phone down. If at all they answered, they replied that they could not help due to lack of forces.
d. Several shops of Muslims right outside and next to the Chawni Police Station have been completely gutted. This is a strange sight as one expects that the police should normally take prompt action against any arson, at least in their own backyard. Here is an evident case for disciplinary action against the concerned policemen.
e. Some Muslims who had lost their shops in the arson and looting complained that even though policemen were present on the scene, they did not lift a finger to stop the destruction from taking place.
f. None of the bodies of the
people who died in the police firing were picked up by the police. It was
left to the public to do so.
The attacks in the villages have been solely on the Muslim community. Muslims are a minority in the villages of Malegaon taluka and the other nearby talukas such as Satana, Kalvan and Deola. There are, on an average, about 25 families of Muslims in each village. From October 27 onwards, mobs of around 500 Hindu youth led by the Shiv Sena and Janata Raja (a Sena front) leaders went on a looting and burning spree from village to village. People were mobilized by the spread of vicious rumours that Muslims had molested, raped and disfigured Hindu women in Malegaon and had destroyed mandirs and killed a pujari.
These rumours, spread by some people who travelled from village to village in a vehicle, were totally false and fabricated and no evidence was found in their support. Rajvardhan categorically stated that no such incidents of rape or molestation or disfigurement had taken place, nor had any pujari been killed.
People also told the team that one Dr. Surana, the president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of Deola Taluka, addressed a public meeting in Deola on October 29 where he described how Muslims had mutilated Hindu women in the name of bin Laden.
The mob would descend on the village shouting slogans like ‘Jai Bhavani’ and ‘Jai Shivaji’ armed with petrol cans, swords and lathis. Local recruits would identify houses of Muslims which would then be surrounded and threatened. The Muslims inside would be permitted to slip away to safety from the door and after that, the mob would loot the house, smash the TV if there was one, take away all the grain, and then burn any vehicle the family owned. Furniture and other possessions were either brought out into the street and burnt or were destroyed in the house itself.
In the villages where the attacks have taken place, the local masjid has been damaged in almost all cases we investigated. In Nampur village (Indira Nagar), a madrassa where 150 Muslim youth were studying has been damaged.
There are some cases of beating up some Muslim women by the Janata Raja troopers in some villages. In Nampur village, two women named Sabiha Moosa Saeed (who is six months’ pregnant) and Shugrahi Raj Saeed were chased out of their home by the attackers and beaten with big sticks. When the team met these women, their bodies bore marks of the beating.
But by and large, the attackers concentrated on first scaring the Muslims so that they would flee their homes; and then looting and burning their property. Local journalists and social workers in Malegaon told us that the policy of the Janata Raja is not to kill Muslims, but to finish them off economically and frighten them into submission as second–class citizens.
Most Muslims have not yet returned to their villages since they fled after the attacks. Those whom we met in the refugee camps in Satana were feeling very insecure and were not confident of going back to live in their villages. They have lost everything in the attacks and the subsequent looting and burning. Some of them are seriously contemplating shifting to the city where they will be comparatively safer in Muslim localities. Those who have land in the villages will most probably sell it off at throwaway prices and then shift to the city.
— November 9, 2001.
There have been many instances of communal amity in the midst of this communal madness. In most villages, Hindu neighbours gave shelter to Muslim families on the run from the looters and then escorted them to safety. For example, Anjana and Suresh Nikam of Ajang village gave shelter to ten Muslim neighbours during the attack on October 27. When they intervened to stop the attacks on the Muslims, they were threatened with death by the marauders. In Wadner village, some Hindu families gave shelter to their Muslim neighbours and then escorted them to their relatives’ houses in Malegaon.
In Malegaon Camp area, Dr. Yeshwant Deore risked his life to escort young Muslim children home and young men of a Muslim family that resides in his area, which is predominantly Hindu. Because of this, he was accosted in the street and asked whether he was a Hindu or not and told if he were a Hindu, then he should not be helping Muslims.
In the village of Ajmer Soundana in Satana taluka, no attacks took place because the police patil and sarpanch of the village took prompt action by telling each and every family not to believe rumours which were floating about and not to harm their Muslim brethren in any way.