Communal Riots in 2002

A Survey

The year 2002 witnessed episodes of communal violence in widely dispersed parts of the country, though it was the carnage in Gujarat which shook the country and the world both because of the scale of the riots and the well established complicity of the government in them. India has not been able to free itself of the curse of communalism even more than 50 years after independence. If anything the situation has been getting worse year after year. There has not been a single year in the post-independence period which has been free of communal violence, though the number of incidents may have varied. The year 2002 has been one of the worst years, with the Gujarat carnage at the very beginning of the year.

The first reported riot in 2002 took place in Kozhikode in Kerala on January 3. In clashes between Hindus and Muslims over eveteasing five persons were killed. The whole area was gripped by violence. More than 20 persons were injured, including five women. Property worth lakhs of rupees was destroyed. Heavy police ‘bandobast’ was made to bring the situation under control. The communal carnage in Gujarat, which came next, was such as the country had not experienced except at the time of partition. The communal killings shook the whole world. More than 2,000 people were killed according to reliable sources, though the government admits only about 1,000 dead. The violence began with the burning of a coach of the Sabarmati Express coming from Ayodhya and carrying kar sevaks. Godhra is known to be communally highly sensitive and yet the Narendra Modi government had done nothing to prevent the incident. The kar sevaks, according to some reports, had provoked Muslim vendor at Godhra station. There was no police at the station despite intelligence reports warning against violence. It is alleged that a mob of 1,500 persons, mostly Ghanchi Muslims, collected and set fire to the coach. The foremsic reports says that the fire was list to the coach. It has still not been established who set fire was it from inside the coach and required at least 60 litres of an inflammable substance like petrol. The Tribunal of Concerned Citizens comprising retired Supreme Court Judges and other eminent personalities has found that nothing can be said with certainty. This happened on the morning of February 27 and all hell broke loose all over Gujarat the next day. The VHP, the Bajrang Dal and BJP gave a call for a statewide ‘bandh’ on February 28 and violent incidents started from the morning of the day, particularly in Ahmedabad where before sunset more than 100 persons had been killed. The ghastliest incidents took place in Naroda Patia where more than 80 persons, including women and children, were burnt alive and many women were raped in public. In Chamanpura about 40 persons were burnt alive including an ex-MP of the Congress, Ahsan Jafri.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi sought to justify the killings by describing them as a reaction to the violence in Godhra. All the violence and rioting happened with the complicity of the police and the bureaucracy. Honest officers who sought to stop the violence in their areas were immediately transferred by the state government. First information reports (FIRs) have named even some ministers of the state government as having led the mobs. Many mosques and mausloeums were demolished; some accounts put the number of such religious structures destroyed or severely damaged at 700. Ahmadabad, Vadodra, Mehsana and Panchmahal, covering entire north and central Gujarat, were the worst affected districts. It is generally estimated that property worth more than Rs 10,000 crore was looted or burnt. Loss of business due to closures and migration of labour is several times that figure. Hundreds of Muslim families were totally uprooted. The carnage continued for more than five months.

There have been a number of investigations into and reports on the violence in Gujarat, including one by the National Human Rights Commission. More than 30 reports are said to have been prepared by various committees. A common finding has been that it was a one-sided carnage and not a riot in the usual sense. The next riot took place in Kaithal in Haryana. Though the cause of the violence on February 28 is still not established, it seems to have been related to the Gujarat events. According to a Hindustan Times report, Shiv Sena, VHP and Bajrang Dal mobs pulled down a mosque and caused extensive damage to two others, damaged at least four mausoleums and enforced a completed bandh. Prohibitory orders were later clamped on the town. According to the newspaper’s correspondent, “the administration acted only after the damage had been done”. A mob had started out in the morning, brandishing unsheathed swords, iron rods, sticks and other weapons and forced shopkeepers to pull down shutters. When the mob reached a mosque near a school, it entered the building and climbed the dome and pulled it down, while people watched the whole operation. The police made only feeble attempts to stop the mob which later demolished the mausoleum of Pir Nurani Badshah and extensively damaged three others. A mosque near Ambedkar Chowk was damaged by the mob and another mosque was attacked and a house belonging to a During the Maharashtra bandh call given by the Shiv Sena, VHP and BJP on March 1 to protest against the setting ablaze of the Sabarmati Express coach in Godhra, a violent mob went on a rampage in Murbad about 80 km from Mumbai. Fortunately, Murbad was the only town affected during the bandh call by the Sangh Parivar. During the bandh in Murbad, a Bajrang Dal morcha began looting and burning Muslim shops. According to the report of the Mahrashtra Minorities Commission, police inspector Vijay Jagtap, the officer in charge in the tehsil town of Murbad, pleaded with the mob to spare the madrasa, but the mob was determined to attack it as well as the nearby shops. 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 bent upon attacking the families of some well-to-do Muslim shopkeepers who saved themselves by fleeing just minutes before the attack. According to the superintendent of police, Thane rural, inspector Jagtap who had just four constables with him was outnumbered by the Bajrang Dal mob. Murbad has no history of communal riots, but now Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dal and VHP activists are becoming aggressive. The police claimed that it had fired 13 rounds in the air, but the Minorities Commission said that it did not come across anyone who could corroborate the claim. The police also said that 32 persons had been arrested, including local Bajrang Dal leaders, and charged with attempted murder, arson and loot. Muslims are a microscopic minority in Murbad and were too scared to give details of the damage and the loss suffered

Loharu, Haryana

On March 17 communal incidents took place in Loharu in Bhivani district of Haryana. Loharu was once under a Muslim ruler, the Nawab of Loharu. There is thus a sizeable Muslim population in the town. A mob of three hundred persons, incited by rumours of cow slaughter, attacked tow mosques and at least 15 shops and houses belonging to Muslims. The police had to fire in the air when the mob could not be controlled by a cane-charge. According to a UNI report quoting police sources, a mob of 300 Shiv Saniniks set fire to another mosque near the railway station and many shops in Purana Bazar. The palace of the former Nawab of Loharu was also surrounded by a mob, but police reinforcements from other places saved it from damage. The next incidents of communal violence took place in three places in Rajasthan in which three persons were killed on March 25 on the occasion of Muharram. The immediate provocation was the holding of yagnas and kirtans in various temples on the route of the traditional tazia processions by Muslims. Curfew had to be clamped in Gangapur town, 80 kms from Sawai Madhopur, in central Rajasthan where three people were killed and 15 injured in police firing. According to the police, violence broke out when activities of the VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal collected at an ancient Hanumanji mandir for yagan and kirtan, defying police orders, and began to shout provocative slogans when the tazia procession came close to the temple. The police was compelled to open fire when tear-gas and cane-charge had no effect. Ganagpur city has 25 per cent Muslim population and earlier was sonsidered to be the stronghold of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India(SIMI) in Rajasthan. It had been prone to minor communal disturbances, but this was the first time that violence had erupted on a large scale. In different parts of Southern Rajasthan, where the Sangh parivar has a strong presence, communal tension was brewing but the situation was kept under control.

Gujarat was still simmering at the time of Holi in the last week of March. A home ministry official disclosed on the eve of Holi that there was tension in Anand, Vadodra and Ahmedabad and that the army had been called in again to stage flag marches to instill a sense of security. He also said that stray incidents of communal violence had occurred in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar pradesh. On the occasion of Holi on March 30 four persons were killed in Akola in Maharashtra, three of them in police firing, and 15 were injured. The provocation was the throwing of colour on a mosque in the old city area on Friday, the Muslim prayer day, according to the inspector general of police. Police claimed that its intervention prevented the situation from getting worse. Two persons were arrested for colour-throwing incidents of stabbing & stone-throwing again occurred on Saturday after Namaz when the police was making some arrests. “The chairman of the State Minorities Commission, however, said that seven persons had been killed in the Akola disturbances and he blamed the police for mishandling the situation.

In Haveri in Karnataka also the police had to open fire on the day of Holi to disperse clashing groups which had set fire to a few shops in Rattihalli. The disturbances started when some Muslims objected to the Holi procession, which was resented by the Hindu group. On April 5 there were bomb explosions outside three mosques in Hugli district in West Bangal. Eight persons were injured in these explosions after the Friday prayers. When the police reached the Chander Nagor area of Sikon Bagan, the miscreants attacked the police with stones. One of the miscreants had a hand-grenade which exploded and he was critically injured. Paramilitary forces and the Rapid Action Force were called in to control the situation. In all one person died and seven were injured in the disturbance and 30 persons were arrested. Bahraich town in UP Witnessed a communal flare up on April 1 when some temples were desecrated and in retaliation the same was done to a mausoleum. The Purana Bazar locality of Nanpara area was girpped by communal tension as a result of the desecrations. One person was arrested and security tightened.

On April 10 Kalyan, some 80 km from Mumbai, flare up resulting in the loss of three lives. This was the result of an old feud between two persons belonging to different communities. Soon it resulted in mob violence, arson and looting. Curfew was imposed. The clashes turned communal after the Shiv Sena claimed that one of those dead was a Shiv Sainik. The police fired 10 rounds when the mob attacked a police van. Fifteen houses, including a shop belonging to a Shiv Sainik, were burnt. Rohidaswada, where the incidents took place, has often witnessed communal tension.  On April 20 communal clashes started after the murder of a student allegedly by some people belonging to the minority community. Security was tightened and the Rapid Action Force was also deployed. Curfew was imposed after a bomb explosion near a police van. According to the police, there was another bomb explosion. Five persons of the minority community were arrested. After these incidents in Mahow there were communal disturbances in two more villages in the vicinity. Two Muslims were shot dead in Ashapur Gaon and Choradia.

On April 13 two persons were killed in Nandurbar in Maharashtra, one of them in police firing in which six other were injured. Nandurbar is a bribal-dominated town bordering Gujarat where communal violence had simmered since February. Trouble began in the Kali Masjid locality when two groups clashed over a game of cards. It soon turned into large-scale violence the next day in which a deputy superintendent of police was also injured . Seven houses were burnt in the town. Among the injured were two journalists. On May 13 in Saharanpur in UP there were two bomb explosions outside a mosque in the Khan Alampura locality which resulted in communal tension. One more bomb was found in a shoe. There was a chit with it on which ‘Arya Sena’ was written. The next day there were clashes between Hindus and Muslims In Badaun, also in UP, because of a personal feud at a marriage. There was firing, arson and stone-throwing and 12 persons were injured. The clashes continued for nearly three hours before the police could bring the situation under control. Sixty persons were arrested.

On June I there were communal clashes in Tilaknagar in Bangalore which started when someone took objection to the taking our of a procession in front of a mosque. The police resorted firing to disperse the mob which indulged in stone-throwing and arson. One person was stabbed and 13 others were injured.

Police Firing in Jalgaon

On June 19 three persons died in Jamner taluka of Jalgaon district in Maharashtra, two of them in police firing. A five-month old baby died of suffocation when its mother held it tight to her bosom in an attempt to protect it. Forty persons were injured. There had been tension in the town from June 7 when a dead animal was thrown outside a mosque. It was alleged that to start the riot a Hindu miscreant stole the silver eyes of an idol of Hanuman in a temple. He was arrested and the stolen eyes recovered. Later the death toll in Jamner rose to five. Disturbances started in Jalgaon and Bhusaval too on June 20. Hindu organizations called a bandh in the district and many properties, including trucks and tempos, were set on fire, One Haji Riyaz Ahmad, a driver, was burnt alive. More than 100 persons were arrested. Among the seriously injured in Jamner were Anis Ahmad and Rukhsanabi and her husband Abdul Aziz. In the Shastrinagar area, however, some Hindus saved the lives of many Muslims. In Puna there was an attempt to provoke a communal riot on July 31 by throwing eggs at three Ganesh temples. Police resorted to lathi-charge to disperse the agitated crowds. Security was tightened and three companies of the state reserve police force were brought in. Shops were forced to close and one mob consisting of about 400 persons proceeded towards a mosque and began stoning Muslims coming out of a the mosque after prayer who retaliated. Police resorted to a cane-charge and dispersed the crowd. The local BJP convenor, Khardekar, have a call for a bandh and this released the tension.

On September 21 communal violence erupted in Veejapur taluka of Aurangabad in Maharashtra on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi. There was an incident of stone-throwing on a procession connected with the festival. Mobs then set fire to 34 shops and some auto rickshaws, motor cycles and a tempo. Six persons were injured. The police use tear gas and fired two rounds to disperse the mobs and arrested 21 persons. Sholapur in Maharashtra erupted on October 11 and nine persons were killed in the violence. The riots began when some Muslim organizations led by the Muslim Vikas Parishad gave a call for a bandh to protest against a Christian Baptist priest in the US describing the Prophet as a terrorist. Muslim youth tried to force Hindus to close their shops. The protesters went in procession after prayers on Friday afternoon and threw stones at a Navratri pandal. Hindu retaliated and riots broke out. More than 115 persons were injured and the police arrested over 500 persons. Muslims suffered heavy damage estimated at Rs. 10 crore and a large number of shops belonging to them were burnt. Of the dead five died in police firing. The violence continued for two days.

Another communal incident in Maharashtra took place in Badlapur in Thane district when some Hindu youth teased a college-going Muslim girls on October 20. Five persons were injured in firing by the mobs. Tension had been brewing between youth of the two communities for more than a week. The mobs set fire to a saw mill, a rice mill, several shops and some houses. According to an estimate, 40 shops belonging to Muslims were set on fire. More than 40 persons were arrested, including two BJP corpoerators and a Muslim leader.

In Gujarat several places like Mehsana and Baroda witnessed communal tension again during and after the assembly elections. Most of the clashes took place during processions of the victorious candidates. At the very end of the year, on December 31, there was rioting in Dahor in Gujarat. The disturbances started with some Muslims allegedly teasing an adivasi girl. Three persons were seriously injured in the ensuing clashes between adivasis and Muslims. The police impose curfew and 30 persons were arrested. Two shops were also set on fire. Thus the year 2002 witnessed riots throughout India and particularly in Gujarat. The Gujarat carnage shook the whole country and created a dubious record of killing of Muslims with the state’s complicity.

By Asghar Ali Engineer
Economics and Political Weekly, Mumbai
January 25, 2003