Settling old scores

Print edition : July 22, 2000

Malpura town in Rajasthan, where 12 persons were killed in communal violence, has had a record of tensions over the years.

ON the communal front, the going was good for the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress(I) government in Rajasthan until the 20th month of its assuming office. The joy at the advent of the monsoon at the end of a long and harsh summer was washed away by the sudden s purt of communal violence in Malpura town, 90 km south of the State capital Jaipur last fortnight.

Zahida, the daughter of Bhuri, a woman who was killed in the riots, in a hospital in Malpura.-GOPAL SUNGER

In three days, starting from July 10, as many as 12 persons, both Hindus and Muslims, were done to death. Barring the first casualty, Kailash Mali, the rest of the victims had nothing to do with the madness that occurred in the name of religion. They jus t happened to be at the site of the violence.

Malpura is stained with the blood of innocent people. The town was under curfew for five days since the murder of Kailash Mali at the marketplace. The subsequent murders were not, in a strict sense, the result of communal riots. Moreover, there was no di rect confrontation between Hindus and Muslims.

Malpura has a history of communal discord. Located on the fringes of the former Muslim kingdom of Tonk, it witnesses communal flare-ups in 1951 and 1992. Malpura was part of the former Jaipur state, but it is currently in Tonk district.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot told Frontline after visiting the area: "There has been an undercurrent of mutual distrust between Hindus and Muslims in the area since the carnage of 1992. Unfortunately, nobody did anything to restore harmony between the communities."

Founded in 1818 by Nawab Mir Khan, the head of a marauding Pathan tribe, the former Tonk state comprised Tonk, Aligarh (a place near Uniara in the district), Chaabra (now in Jhalawar district), Nimbhakhera (now in Chittorgarh district) and the Sirong reg ion (now in Madhya Pradesh).

The proximity to a Muslim-ruled state gave the Syeds, the dominant sect in Malpura area, a rare self-confidence bordering on aggressiveness - which is perhaps not found among the members of the minority community in other parts of Rajasthan. The Syeds cl aim that they are the direct descendants of the Prophet. There are people - including Surendra Vyas, the local independent Member of the Legislative Assembly - who claim that the aggressiveness of the Syeds is the main reason for the Hindu-Muslim riots i n the area.

The present flare-up in Malpura, however, was linked to the 1992 riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. At that time as many as 26 persons, including children and women, were killed in Malpura and its neighbouring areas. After eight years of uneasy peace, violence broke out again with the murder of Kailash Mali - the main accused in the 1992 killings.

At the time of his death, Kailash Mali had 11 cases of murder, attempted murder, molestation, extortion and other offences pending against him. Mali was the prime accused in the case relating to the killing of 14 persons belonging to the minority communi ty in 1992. Soon after the 1992 riots, the Bharatiya Janata Party disowned Kailash Mali. However, it was well-known that he remained in touch with the party high-ups.

Over a period of time Kailash Mali, who was associated with Hindu fundamentalist groups such as Bajrang Dal, became a sort of cult figure for the fanatic fringe of the Hindu Right. His widow, elected on the BJP ticket, is the vice-chairperson of the Malp ura municipality. She claims that her husband was not responsible for the 1992 murders.

On July 10, nemesis caught up with Kailash Mali at the marketplace when a small group of men accosted him and stabbed him. Although he was soon taken to the Sawai Man Singh Hospital in Jaipur by the Station House Officer (SHO), he died before he reached there.

The Collector and the Superintendent of Police trying to pacify an agitated crowd at Malpura.-GOPAL SUNGER

There are different versions about the sequence of killings that followed Mali's murder. The State administration says that four Muslims were killed in retaliation to Mali's murder. Another version is that the same group of people who killed Mali took ad vantage of the fact that SHO had left the place with the first victim. It is claimed that they stopped a jeep coming from Jhalrapatan town in Jhalawar district and killed some of the passengers. The jeep was stopped on the Toda road, which has houses of Muslims on both sides for a stretch of about 1 km. The jeep had "Kumawat" written on it, indicating that it belonged to members of the backward Kumawat community. Four persons travelling in the vehicle were killed. Around the same time, Hari Ram, an eld erly Brahmin belonging to nearby Bara Gaon, was stabbed to death.

In a slum cluster about 7 km away from Malpura town, two men, Saleem and Imdad, were found dead the same day. On July 11, bodies of two young boys, Rustom and Yusuf, were found in the fields near the town. The 'score' was now even.

Perhaps under these circumstances, peace had little chance in Malpura. On July 12, the BJP called a bandh in Tonk and Jhalawar districts. A hapless woman, Bhuri, fell victim to mob fury in Tordi Sagar, about 10 km from Malpura. A mob of about 70 persons , while forcing people to close shops, broke into the house of Bhuri, set her on fire after attacking her with sharp weapons and badly injuring her children Laly, Jahida, Begum and Kayoom. The four children are undergoing treatment in two hospitals in Ma lpura. Bhuri's husband Babu Khan, who was returning from Jaipur, was detained by the police on the outskirts of Malpura as the town was under curfew.

The body of the 12th victim was found in a field not far away from Tordi Sagar. He was identified as the person who was missing since the first day of trouble.

The State government placed the entire State under alert and asked the Army to stand by in case of any further escalation of violence. July 14 was a Friday, when usually trouble erupts in communally sensitive situations. However, the day passed off peace fully. Both Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president Dr. Girija Vyas visited Malpura and Tordi that day along with Ministers and party leaders from the area. Girija Vyas and former Chief Minister Jagannath Pahadia, w ho visited the areas together, said that the BJP's partisan handling the 1992 riots had led to the recurrence of violence.

While communal trouble spots such as Jaipur and Kota remained free of tension, places such as Sunel in Jhalawar district, Atru in Baran district and Kekri in Ajmer district have been tense ever since the outbreak of violence in Malpura. Damage caused to places of worship led to tension in Bhansu village in Tonk district's Toda Raisingh tehsil and in Diggi, near Malpura.

There are several mysterious aspects to the Malpura developments, especially those pertaining to the murder of Kailash Mali. Surendra Vyas claims that Kailash Mali used to extort money from Hindus also and nobody, except the fundamentalists who deified h im, would shed any tears for him. But the timing of Kailash Mali's killing, after an eight-year wait, perplexes many people.

It is pointed out that Kailash Mali surrendered to the police only after the BJP lost power in the State in the elections held in 1998. Soon after the surrender, he was released on bail. Of late, there was a feeling among a section of the people affected by the 1992 carnage that he might escape punishment. This could have been the immediate provocation for his murder.

There are also reports that a rapprochement was being worked out between Kailash Mali and the families of the victims of the 1992 riots so that there would be peace in Malpura. Perhaps this was not liked by the fundamentalist elements in the minority com munity. Or else something might have gone wrong in the negotiations between the families of the victims and Kailash Mali. It is also possible that Kailash Mali was up to something when he was killed.

The State government, which announced the grant of Rs.1 lakh to the families of each of the victims, also ordered an inquiry into the incidents by the Divisional Commissioner of Ajmer, A.K. Mukhopadhyaya. Gehlot turned down the BJP's demand for an inquir y by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

After a visit to the troubled areas, the newly appointed president of the BJP's State unit, Bhanwarlal Sharma, and party spokesman Ghanshyam Tiwari, spoke of discrimination by the State administration in handling the case. They alleged that the police di d not take appropriate steps to save Kailash Mali's life even after he had complained about threats to his life. The leaders also said that there was discrimination in the matter of arresting people and in providing relief to victims.

The Chief Minister, on his part, made it clear that there would not be any "Hindu card" or "Muslim card" in this game in which nobody will win. For Gehlot, the developments were both painful and embarrassing. After 20 months of rule, which was free of an y communal violence, trouble erupted without any immediate provocation. Ironically, the violence started with the murder of a member of his own caste. Kailash Mali and Gehlot belong to the same Mali community. However, Gehlot was cautious about his react ions and responses to the issue. On the advice of his partymen, he visited the residences of both Kailash Mali and other victims of the violence. Nine first information reports have been registered and about 80 persons have been arrested.

The present developments only prove that the fire will die down in Malpura, but the embers will remain for many more years to come. Politically, the Malpura incidents have given a fresh issue to the BJP, the main Opposition party in the State.

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