Sunday, October 28, 2007

In Malegaon, 6 years after Riots: No Lessons are Learnt

In the Line of Fire: Diamond textile factory on fire during Malegaon riots of 2001

Malegaon: In Malegaon and elsewhere, riots have always followed a pattern: a minor incident, a lit matchstick, and a conflagration follows. Hooligans hold sway, rumours travel faster than truth.

The story was the same on a chilly Friday afternoon here on October 26, 2001. A few Muslims were distributing an Urdu pamphlet which was titled “Be Indian, Buy Indian” outside Malegaon’s Jama Masjid after the namaz. It listed the names of a few American and British companies and called for a boycott of their products in order to ensure a “free economic future.”

A jawan of the SRP, who was perhaps unaware about what it said, snatched some copies and tore them up. People coming out of the mosque at that point became enraged at this act of high-handedness and a fight broke out with the police. When a stone thrown accidentally hit someone involved in Dussehra preparations nearby, the clash took on a communal colour.

The 20-day madness that followed claimed 14 lives — 12 Muslims, a Hindu and one person who could not be identified. Of the 12 Muslims, nine died in police firing while the other three were stabbed to death by mobs. The lone Hindu was burnt alive by a Muslim mob.

The 2001 riots were not restricted to Malegaon alone, they spread to at least 138 villages nearby, where Muslims were targeted following the spreading of false rumours — including that Hindu women had been raped in Malegaon. A total of 135 mosques and dargahs were razed or partially demolished.

Justice K.N. Patil, a retired judge of the Bombay high court, was asked to inquire into the Malegaon riots. After a year and a half of painstaking digging, he submitted a report to the state government in June 2003, but more than four years later this report is yet to be tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly.

“It has been more than four years, but not a single word has been uttered by Vilasrao Deshmukh on the report,” Prof. Mustafa Khan, who has followed the case closely, said.

“Commissions have become our destiny. Other communities benefit from government action, while we only get commission reports,” he said.

“Our case is worse than (even) that of the 1992-93 Mumbai riot (victims) because we don’t even know what the commission’s findings are,” Prof. Khan added.

S.S. Shaikh, a lawyer, says he believes that the judge’s report has severely criticised the police and the administration, and the role played by some police stations in particular, and is almost certain that it will never see the light of day. “Forget implementation, it will not even be tabled in the Assembly — for the simple reason that it will be a major embarrassment for the Congress.”

It remains a fact that only Muslims were killed in the police firing. “Both communities indulged in arson and looting but only Muslims fell to police bullets,” said Nihal Ahmad, a former state minister and senior Janata Dal (S) leader.

The “police bias,” he says, was evident. “All Muslims were shot above the waist.”

The police has also been accused of indiscriminate firing on innocents. A 50-year-old woman who was drying clothes on her balcony was shot dead in the Mohammed Ali Road area. “A bullet pierced through Bilqees Bano’s stomach. Is drying clothes in one’s own balcony a crime?” asked Prof. Khan.

What actually caused the outbreak? Naseen Ahmed, founder of Malegaon’s first news channel, offers an explanation which finds many takers. “It was an outburst of Muslim anger against the establishment, (resulting from) everyday discrimination that Muslims face — from government offices to financial institutions,” he said.

“The Jama Masjid incident provided an outlet.”

Mr Ahmed says the Hindu reaction was the result of a collapse of leadership.

“During the riots, some Hindu leaders belonging to different political parties wanted to prove that they were the true champions of Hindus,” he says, without naming anybody.

Lawyer Shishir Hiray, who was the government’s special public prosecutor in the Malegaon riots case, terms frustration and unemployment as the root causes.

“Empty hands can only throw stones,” he says.


Samiha said...

Hi..Do you have any idea whether the findings of the KN Patil report are out now or not? Thanks.

Mubasshir said...

Hello! Justice K.N. Patil has submitted the report to CM but he is yet to make it public even after 5 years! What's the use of setting up an inquiry commission if government does not want to disclose its findings?