Thursday, 2 April 2020

Further Lessons From The Recent Riots In Muzaffarnagar

Updated: January 18, 2014 10:24 am

I had visited Muzaffarnagar and some of the affected villages and towns after a communal riot between the local Jat Hindus and Muslim people of the district along with a team of Human Rights activists. I had then written a paper on the visit about the factual situation and the failure of the district police.

Recently after a gap of a few weeks our team again visited Muzaffarnagar and some of the towns and villages of the district that had been affected by communal riots. We visited some of the areas that we had been to during our earlier visit and interacted with the Muslim people who had been driven out of their villages and had sheltered in some Muslim dominated towns. We found that the camps that had been formed in Muslim majority bazaars had all been broken up and the men women and children had dispersed. There were some stragglers in the bazaars that we visited. When we talked to the few stragglers who were left, they told us that the district administration had given compensation grants to the Muslim families who had been driven out of their houses by the Jat villagers for reconstruction of the houses. When asked whether these Muslims families had gone back to their villages, the answer was that they had not gone back to their houses in the mixed Jat/Muslim villages. They had taken houses on rent in the majority Muslim bazaars. No one had gone back to their erstwhile houses in the mixed Jat Muslim villages.

This has been a major failure by the district administration. These villages are hundreds of years old and the Jat Hindu and the Muslim people have been living together in these villages since many years. The first reaction of the district police should have been to post police picquets in each of these mixed Jat Hindu and Muslim villages, with special picquets in the Muslim sections and deployed regular patrols by day and night. They should have held meetings with both the Jat Hindu and Muslims together and told them that the Muslims whom the Jat Hindus had driven them away had to come back and will continue to live in their house after repairing them. The compensation money given to the Muslims was for rebuilding their houses that the Jat Hindus had demolished.

It appears that the police and the District Magistrate and his subordinate Magistrates had not done what should have been done as narrated above. In fact, the District Magistrate with his subordinate Magistrates and the police should have gone in strength to each affected village and brought the Muslims who had fled, back to their respective villages in their presence and told the Jat Hindus at gun point that the Muslims whom they had attacked and who had fled, have come back under police protection and they will continue to live in these villages as before and if anything is done by the Jats to chase them they will face the wrath of the police. After this the District Magistrates and Police officers should have left the village after posting police picquets to ensure that the Jat villagers do not disobey their orders.

It appears that the District Magistrate has paid compensation of Rs. five lakhs for each family driven away and left the hapless Muslim families to fend for themselves. This is abject abdication of their responsibilities as magistrates and police officers. Obviously, the Jat villagers have cleansed their villages of Muslim people who had lived there for hundreds of years. By not ensuring that the Muslims of each combined Jat Hindu and Muslim village returned to their homes after repairing them for which grants were given, it will be construed that the District Magistrate and district police officers have abetted the Jat Hindus in religious cleansing. I am afraid this is abject dereliction of duty by the district administration. They must immediately take action as mentioned in the previous paragraphs by deploying picquets in each mixed village from where the Muslims have been driven out and ensure that the Muslims rebuild their houses and then bring them back and formally reinstall them in their houses and keep police picquets to guard the Muslim houses in the Muslim quarters and also deploy regular patrols in the village and on the roads and tracks leading from the village to the bazaar to ensure that the Muslim people of the village can safely move in and out of their village to go to the market or fields.

The official count of the persons killed in the riots is thirty nine of whom six were Hindus and thirty three were Muslims. The official count of those displaced is twenty five thousand, of which all except seven hundred are Muslims.

A reconstruction of the riots as it originated and developed.

As far as we can see there was an incident at Kutba village dominated by Jat Hindus that two men from their village had been killed? The district police recovered two bodies from a canal, Gang Nahar. However with the recovery of the two bodies from the canal, all the Jat Hindu members of Kutba were found to be safe and alive. For more than a month before this incident, there was some simmering tension in the area between the Hindu Jats and the Muslims with Hindu Jats disapproving of Muslims growing beards and wearing skull caps, both typical characteristic of Muslims.

From talking to the Muslim men in the refugee camps one very pertinent point emerged. This was that there was vitiation of the atmosphere for more than a month before the first communal incidents took place. The Jat Hindu members began talking to the Muslims objecting to their sporting beards and wearing skull camps and upbraiding them for exhibiting “symbols” of the Taliban. Then on August 09, one Idris was killed at the doorstep of the Idgah in Muzaffarnagar town. The deceased Idris had a few days, before slapped a Hindu boy who had harassed his daughter. In this case, the Police had quickly apprehended the perpetrator along with two accomplices.

Then on August 18, a Muslim girl was harassed by Jat Hindu boys in Shoram village. The Jat Hindu boys involved were attacked by Muslim men and an affray ensued. Regrettably, the police did not take any action on this. Tension was building up.

The next incident was the trouble at Kawal on August 27. There were reports of a youth Shahnawaz harassing a Jat Hindu girl from the neighbouring Malikpura village and being confronted by her brother Sachin and her cousin Gaurav. There are reports of Shahnawaz drawing a dagger at that point, but in the struggle that ensued, the dagger was snatched from Shahnawaz and he was stabbed with it. Shahnawaz died after he was stabbed. There is another version that stated that Shahnawaz was shot dead by irate kinsmen of the Jat girl. Sachin and Gaurav were then later set upon by Shanawaz’s kin and beaten to death in public.

It appears that the district administration did not take strong action to warn both communities and post picquets and detail patrols to deter both communities from taking the law into their hands. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) that represents the Jat community thereafter called for a Mahapanchayat. The call issued for this gathering had overtones that were menacing. It theme was about the honour of the community as represented by the slogan-“Ma Beti, Bahu, bachao.”

On August 30, the Muslim community leaders assembled in Muzaffarnagar town and went to the district magistrates office without taking permission as there were prohibitory orders promulgated for the District, to represent against the call for the Mahapanchayat alleging the dishonour of Jat mothers, sisters and daughters. The District Magistrates meeting the Muslim petitioners was read by the Hindu community as a measure of appeasement. This imparted a fresh edge of anger to the Mahapanchayat that met on August 31.

Regrettably, the District administration did not take the bold step of banning the Mahapanchayat. Considering the smouldering communal tension, a bold step was required to declare prohibition of assembly of more than five persons and thus prevent the Mahapanchayat. Lack of attention to the series of developments as narrated leading to the Mahapanchayat led to the calling of the same. The Mahapanchayat was raucous and unruly. One Sangeet Shom and a saffron robed woman Sadhvi Prachi made specially angry and accusative speeches denouncing the continuing threats to the faith from the large Muslim presence in the state. Lethal arms were unsheathed and brandished with threatening intent.

As the crowd dispersed, Israr, a freelance journalist who had been hired by the police to cover the Mahapanchayat was set upon and beaten to death. A brawl ensued and there was a clash between the Hindus and the Muslims resulting in a number of persons both Hindus and Muslims being killed.

Violence erupted in Muzaffarnagar town and one Rajesh Verma a news reporter of IBN-7 was shot in the chest and killed. Curfew was clamped in three police station jurisdictions in Muzaffarnagar town. Violence had however spread to the villages in the tehsils of Budhana and Muzaffarnagar and the neighbouring district of Shamli. One clear conclusion is that there was a definite aim to cleanse some of the mixed Hindu and Muslim villages of Muslims.

Conclusion

As a police officer who has handled communal incidents in the district, it was painful to visit the area and piece together the sequence of events. The sequence of events led to a clear build up of communal tension. If the District Special Branch had been alert, the symptoms could have indicated the danger of the successive events escalating to a communal riot. Regrettably ,the district police did not have their ears to the ground. If they had their ears to the ground they would have felt the tremors on the ground in the towns and especially the mixed villages. As can be seen, the sequence of events leading to the escalating situation took some time. It is not that the riot exploded suddenly. The district police, both the Special Branch and the uniformed police were inexcusably negligent. The Special Branch obviously did not have their fingers on the communal pulse. The uniformed police if they had been regularly visiting their area could have detected the communal escalation and nipped it in the bud. This communal riot happened because of a sad lack of professionalism by the district police.

Where do they go from here? The district police must immediately post police picquets in every village where the Muslims have been driven out. They should then meet the elders of the Jat villages guilty of this forcible evacuation and tell them firmly that every Muslim chased out will be brought back to their own houses. They should then get the Muslim families who have been given compensation for the damage done in breaking up their houses and see that they are rebuilt under their protection. After the houses are rebuilt they should reinstall all the evacuated Muslim families in their respective villages. For the next three months or till whenever the situation normalises, Police should send regular patrols to cover the common ground between the Muslim quarters and the Hindu Jat houses to prevent any aggressive action by the Hindu Jats on the Muslims. If required the police should also bound the known aggressive Hindu Jat leaders under preventive sections of the Criminal Procedure Code for a limited period till the situation normalises.

It must be clearly understood that if the sistrict administration do not reverse the situation as noted above they would have lost the fight against communal forces and such incidents will recur and spread.

By E N Rammohan

(The author was Director General of BSF)

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