Communalism

Communal violence in Ujjain, Indore, Mandsaur following rallies to collect funds for Ram temple

Print edition : February 12, 2021

One of the houses destroyed in communal clashes in Indore. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Advocate Ehtesham Hashmi (left) of the APCR fact-finding team with one of the residents who suffered losses in the communal violence. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Rallies to collect funds for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya have resulted in Hindutva warriors instigating communal violence in different parts of Madhya Pradesh.

The fund collection drive in Madhya Pradesh for the upcoming Ram mandir in Ayodhya has left a trail of violence and unrest. First reported from Ujjain on Christmas day following the Ram Mandir Nirman Nidhi Sangrah Abhiyan’s bike rallies, processions and door-to-door campaigns, such incidents have since taken place in Indore and Mandsaur.

According to eyewitnesses, the template for violence is identical in all these places. A bike rally or a procession led by young men wearing saffron scarves would converge outside a mosque, chant Hindu hymns, shout inflammatory slogans and attack the place of worship, and this would be followed by stone-pelting from both sides. The residents of the villages which bore the brunt of the attacks claimed that the local administration abetted the violence; at some places, they said, policemen either remained mute witnesses to the slogan shouting or moved away from the scene. Significantly, these areas have not reported any incidents of communal disturbance in the past.

Eyewitnesses claimed that the violence was started by outsiders. This was corroborated by the social activist Medha Patkar who led a seven-member fact-finding team of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) to Indore. In a telephonic conversation with Frontline, she said: “In Chandan Khedi, there was no conflict, no rioting. There was total communal harmony before the fund collection rally. Suddenly, this rally was planned and they came with saffron flags from five villages. It was organised by some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters. Five members of one family, that of Kader bhai, were injured, including a son who suffered a serious bullet injury. The rioters were carrying batons, iron rods and swords. The Muslim community in the Chandan Khedi village of Indore possessed no arms.”

The police booked 23 residents for rioting, carrying deadly weapons and hurting religious sentiments under Sections 147, 148, 298 and 323 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

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Chandan Khedi is predominantly Muslim, and has a few Dalit families. Ehtesham Hashmi, noted advocate and member of the fact-finding team, said: “There has not been a single instance of violence here in the past. There has been total communal harmony. We spoke to S.K. Dubey, a resident who has been living in the house of a leading Muslim cleric of the area for many decades. He said the violence had been instigated by outsiders and no locals were involved.”

First incident in Ujjain

The violence started in Begum Bagh colony in Ujjain. Rallies for fund collection were organised from five different places before they converged in Begum Bagh, a predominantly Muslim locality. It is alleged that the rallyists shouted provocative slogans and targeted women. When a woman hurled a stone at the rallyists, they began to attack Muslim properties. Ehtesham Hashmi said: “The whole incident happened in the presence of the local police. Instead of bringing the culprits to book, the police filed FIRs against 40 residents. Ignoring the provocation from the rallyists, the victims were harassed and accused of violence by the police in a one-sided action.”

The local residents bear out Hashmi’s claim. According to Reshma Khan, a resident, her mother, Rubina, had been out for work when the stone-pelting took place but she was charged with the crime. Rubina is the sole breadwinner of the family. Later, accusing Rubina of instigating violence, the police demolished her house under the pretext of widening the road.

Another resident, Firdaus Pathan, was arrested on charges of stone-pelting. He was later released when it was proven that he had not been in the area at the time of violence. According to the fact-finding team, many arrests of women were made at night by police teams that had no women constables. Many women complained of harassment by the police.

In Indore, a procession was taken out in the name of Ram Mandir Nirman Mahotsav. Despite COVID restrictions, its participants gathered in large numbers, with firearms and “sharp-edged deadly weapons”, and resorted to abusive sloganeering. They gathered in Chandan Khedi and targeted the Eidgah and the last house of the village which was open from all sides. Even as the mob pelted stones, the residents remained inside. The mob then attacked the house, set tractors, jeeps, bikes and furniture on fire, and mutilated goats and buffaloes. Five members of the family were injured; Hakim, 45, was assaulted with a sword. His brother, Hatim, was shot at, while Shakir, Saddam and Sadiq were hit with iron rods and swords.

There was stone-pelting by the residents as well, with some of them climbing to their rooftops to hurl stones at the sloganeering mob.

Medha Patkar said: “There are two opinions on the stone-pelting by both the communities. The police investigation is still on, so we cannot conclude who fired, who hurled the stones first. The residents said they ran towards the big drain at the periphery of the village. They faced stones from the other side of the drain.”

‘Not spontaneous rallies’

Locals claimed that Manoj Patel, a former BJP MLA, had mobilised the mob. Medha Patkar said: “The processions in Indore were supported by the former MLA. They were not spontaneous rallies. They had been planned in advance yet no permission had been sought from the authorities; even the panchayats were not informed. The administration knew about the processions and the police accompanied them.

“The processionists reportedly used abusive language all through. The community did not react at all. They passed through almost the whole village. When they came near the Eidgah, some people from the procession climbed the minaret and tried to break it with swords and iron rods. Their intention was to incite, but the people did not get provoked. Then they stopped at the house of Kader bhai, broke the irrigation pipes, and intimidated the whole community. It is here that Kader bhai’s family suffered damage, resulting in injuries to five of his sons. The administration demolished two rooms of a house and a part of another house of a small, marginal farmer in the village.” The demolition was done in the name of widening the road. The police arrested two of the three persons who had climbed atop the minaret and vandalised the Eidgah. They were, however, released on bail two days later the incident.

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The violence spread to Mandsaur the next day. The Ujjain and Indore template was followed here as well. Faqir Mohammed, a resident, said that people holding saffron flags pelted stones at the first floor of his house under construction, looted jewellery and cash, and maimed domestic animals. His neighbour, Fareed, broke down while relating how the mob attacked his shop and killed his goat. Hashmi said: “Our team reached the conclusion that the local authorities, including the police, failed to maintain law and order. Also, the mass rally violated COVID-19 guidelines.”

The APCR’s fact-finding team has demanded a judicial inquiry into the violence. The police were aware of the rioters’ plan, it said. “The administration was probably under pressure from the top. We need an impartial inquiry. The same pattern is followed everywhere. Maybe they are trying to divert attention from the farmers’ protests near Delhi. We hope the truth will come out with the inquiry.”

Meanwhile, a delegation of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind visited the affected areas, including the house of Abdul Hameed which had been demolished by the Ujjain Municipal Corporation. Maulana Mohammad Ahmad, vice-president of the Madhya Pradesh chapter of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, said: “The local administration should probe the incident properly and take action against the culprits.”

A week after the violence, the Madhya Pradesh government decided to frame a law against stone-pelting. Addressing the media, Chief Minister Shivraj Chauhan said: "Stone-pelters are enemies of society; whoever they are their properties would be auctioned to compensate losses. Stone-pelting is not a small crime. It may kill people, create an atmosphere of terror, and disrupt law and order.”

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