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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Malegaon October 2001: Revisited

The communal riots in Malegaon were the most serious in Maharashtra after the post-Babri masjid killings in the state in 1992-93. The riots have underscored once again the role of politicians in fanning communal tensions and the failure of the police and the administration to contain the violence in time and prevent it from spreading.

On October 26, 2001 serious communal riot broke out in Malegaon after Friday prayer when a cop tore a handbill with the heading. Be Indian and Buy Indian. Curfew was imposed continuously for seven days; nearly 18 Muslims and alone Hindu were killed. A Muslim woman was raped. If it had stopped at that it would have been like any other communal riots in the long history of such disturbances in the town. But the most horrific was the first-ever migration of citizens from many towns and villages paralleling the partition of the country on a minor scale. Then followed Gujarat on February 27, 2002.

With this backdrop, the President of India K.R. Narayanan said on July 24, 2002 that ‘the Hindus, who form the majority (need) to speak out in the traditional spirit of the Hindu religion.’ He also emphasized that India must deal with its Muslim minority ‘in a civilized manner, ensuring them ‘security and the rights of citizens in a democratic state.’…Mr. Narayanan quoted from Nehru’s 1947 letter to the chief ministers emphasizing that the Muslim community in India was ‘so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they want to, go anywhere else. They have got to live in India. That is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan, and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with the minority in a civilised manner.’

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Gujarat has been in the news for quite some time but Malegaon has been sidelined

It was here that one could see a kind of dry run carried out for what later transpired in Gujarat. The intense hatred created against the minority, the gas cylinders used on large scale to blow up the mosques and houses of Muslims, the orchestrated murder of municipal member Khalil Ahmed (precedent to Ahsan Jafri) and the forced migration of hundreds of refugees from more that a hundred villages and small towns, the wanton loot and destruction of their property, farm and cattle, and the unjust distribution of relief to the affected fall into a designed pattern.

What really went wrong can be logically inferred even if there are different versions. Either the police snatched the handbill or slapped the youth who refused it to him but what is conclusive is that he tore the bill. In his official duty he should not have done either. The intelligence personnel and police informers could have obtained a copy. The US companies listed for boycott were also enumerated and published for boycott by Arundhati Roy, among others. Afghanistan has always enjoyed better and friendlier relations with India than Pakistan and hence bombardment of a friendly country should not have been causa belli, cause of fight. Despite their claim to the contrary the alliance of BJP and Shiv Sena did play a remarkable role in the trouble that erupted.

The local Shiv Sena MLA Dada Bhuse is allegedly involved in the murder of Khalil and is still embroiled in a lawsuit. Gopinath Munde and Uddhav Thackeray readily and selectively breathed down the neck of the former MLA Nihal Ahmed. A senior BJP functionary quite ironically said on October 30th that “the Vilasrao Deshmukh ministry can be trusted to make matters difficult for itself by its inept handling of the law and order situation. The Sena-BJP alliance need do nothing to accentuate the trouble for the state government.” Luckily Chaggan Bhujbad was Home Minister and did not have the luxury of the opposition leaders using abuses against the Janta Dal leader as he did in the past even on the floor of the assembly hall. His unparliamentary language against Nihal had made headlines in national dailies then.

Among the first three killed on the first day was a child of three

When the figure rose to 18 there was a woman shot dead. She was in the balcony of her house away from any protest and brawl. The only woman raped was a Muslim farm hand living in a small village around the Girna dam area. It was a case of gang rape and was tried in the court of law; among the rapists one died during the trial period and others were convicted and sentenced. The only case adjudged so far. Florence Sequeira, a journalist working for Asian Age was unable to investigate any other case involving women simply because the police dismissed her saying that there were women of high birth and did not want their name to appear anywhere! What happened in the darkness and in remote places of Devla is dreadful to even think.

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The most momentous fact was the widespread hatred generated against the minority community in towns and villages of not just in Nashik district of which Malegaon is a major town but in the other neighboring districts of Maharashtra. Devla tehsil town saw rioting in which shops and vehicles of the minority community were destroyed and curfew was clamped. Soon after Kalwan, Satana, Anantapur, Ravalgaon, Andarsool, Yeola, Boris, Vinchur in Niphad taluka of Nasik, Jaikhede and Pimpalner were also seized with communal frenzy where looting and burning was followed by forced migration.

In the taluka of Malegaon itself Chichgwan saw a mosque systematically razed to the ground, a work of several days as the structure was reinforced concrete. Zhodge and other towns and villages saw similar destruction. The entire Muslim population in most villages took shelter in farms and bushes and migrated to Malegaon. For the first time high school and primary school buildings housed the internally displaced people, the first refugees of free India as far as the state is concerned.

State home minister Manikrao Thakare, patron minister of Nashik Swaroop Singh Naik, Home Minister and deputy CM Chaggan Bhujbad, Chief Minister Deshmuck visited the town. Congress President Sonia Gandhi wanted to visit the affected areas but former home minister SB Chavan advised her not to visit. People alleged that relief was distributed to people who had their houses and shops in their own safe and secure areas and yet got the state bounty. The Right to Information Act can help anyone to easily trace which revenue department official distributed relief to whom and for what loss. This would go a long way to dispel suspicion from the mind of the people and also establish the truth.

Communal riots have been a scourge periodically visiting the town. No citizen of the town would like that people to suffer and hence ubiquitous feeling to rid the town of the menace of communalism. Occasions like the 9/11 attack on America and miscreants taking the name of Osama cannot be allowed to play against the well being of the town. People from outside want to fish in troubled water. The arrest of Praveen Tagodia and the banning of VHP meetings in Jalgaon also marked the week that saw the rioting and hence the focus on Malegaon was sharpened. Defunct MLA Nihal Ahmed, also arrested but released on bail was dug out for contrast with treatment to VHP fire-eater.



Mustafa Khan holds a Ph.D. on Mark Twain. He lives in Malegaon Maharashtra, India. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.