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Ascent Of Communalism In Malegaon

By Mustafa Khan

08 January, 2009

Malegaon was wonderfully free from communalism and its tension in the halcyon days after the Independence. Bigotry against the minority Muslim community appeared on the scene thanks to the growth of aggressive Hindutva. In later times this would become the defining characteristic of communalism in and around the city. The eighties was the turbulent decade of Indian social life. BJP was the new avatar of the communalist party Jan Sangh. While there was some degree of communalism intermittently, it was during this era that Congress leaders left their secular commitment in a brazen manner. Indira Gandhi started visiting temples from January 1, 1984. Later her son opened the doors of the historic Babri mosque for Hindus to pray. Thus the Pandora's Box lay opened. Unfortunately for the country these were also the years of Sikh militancy and the backlash against the Sikh community all over the land.

A local event symbolizing the national chaos was how on September 10, 1984 GM Puntambekar and five of his close associates had halted the Ganesh procession at the central mosque in the bazaar at 11 and dancing to the tune of the drum beat went on when the midday prayer inside the mosque began. Vermillion powder was thrown on the walls. The police took two more days to file a case against the six on September 23 for creating enmity between the two communities. In the first place they had not taken any precaution although Puntamberkar was indicted by Justice Madan Commission inquiring into the Bhiwandi riots of 1980. He was blamed by the Commission for making inflammatory speeches against the Muslims in Bhiwandi prior to the riots. In the second place nothing came out of the police action.

Aggressive insistent Hindutva communalism had manifested first in the late sixties when RSS leader GM Puntamberkar took out a protest march to the lane in a Muslim locality where a butcher had slaughtered a cow. Marching into the Muslim area produced tension, something new to the people. It was the police who would enforce ban on cow slaughter during festival or other days. Now it was RSS and its cadres who had taken the law in their hands in such a daring manner in a thickly populated area. The butcher claimed that he was sold the cow in order to be trapped.

This was the precursor of what was to come with greater force. One such was creating different identities for the natives who were quite harmoniously one till then dealing with each other in daily life. If there was beating of drum before the main mosque and red powder thrown on the walls of it, it was construed to be the work of stray miscreants. Determined and deliberate attempts surface in the eighties to chalk out a new identity chipping off the national unified existence. Thus the Hindu Ekta Sammetar [sammelan?] made a loud appearance on January 26, 1986 on the road leading to the public/college ground where Independence Day and Republic Day are celebrated. Loudspeakers blared how there would be a separate celebration in which Hindus would be invited. The camp/ MG road was ringing with this discordant sound as students, police, and government servants and the public were hurrying through to reach the public ground. Unknown till then, there splashed in the consciousness the phenomenon of separate identity. In the second week of the next month many towns were marred by communal tension, there was firing at Jama masjid in Delhi, Calcutta, Jammu, Sehoro near Bhopal, etc. This continued in the third week. And what was novel, Hindus started beating Kashmiri Muslims passing through Jammu on February 22. Much like what happened in 2008 agitation over the allotment of land to Amarnath pilgrimage. In a way communalism in Malegaon was microcosmic manifestation of the macrocosmic upheaval.

Meerut riots erupted on March 7. Next day Jammu Kashmir Chief Minister GM Shaw had to leave office for not controlling communal violence in the state. Writing in the Onlooker March 16-31, 1986 Maneka Gandhi said that never before did the Muslims feel so much besieged as now. RSS functionary Mr Mate was in Malegaon during this period. He trained Hindus how to defend their culture. In the district town of Nasik on April 21 Hindu leaders wanted to take out victory procession through Muslim areas on the occasion of the opening of Babri mosque door. They were detained and later released. They blamed the police for being impartial here while in Punjab the police colluded with the Sikh militants in attacks on Hindus.

On May 15th in Umapur, Beed district, Hindus killed several Muslims. Reports of such incidents naturally made Muslims apprehensive as would the Jagannath yatra . subsequently many fell victim to the communal violence in Ahmedabad and in one gory incident Muslim patients were thrown down from the fourth floor of a hospital to be killed by the mob waiting on the ground.

On May 6th the parliament passed Muslim women (protection of rights in divorce) bill by 372 to 54 in favour. This was as disastrous as opening of the doors of Babri mosque as it was an ill conceived way of playing with communal politics for electoral gains. The Hindutva groups used the opening of the door for making even more strident demand for rebuilding a Ram temple on the site of the mosque. Parallel to this they also took the parliament bill as a stick to beat the ruling party and also launch anti Muslim movement in the name of so called "appeasement" of the minority.

1986 would be remembered for a very histrionic brinkmanship as much condemnable as that of the RSS leader of what he did in 1967. The local 'Janta' leader Nihal Ahmad stomped the Ganesh mandal decorative structure in order to clear the way for the procession of tazia. On the occasion of Moharram Muslims had always taken out procession and it went through the fixed government approved routes which included the Parsi sodawalla dooryard where some Hindus lived. But on this occasion the Ganesh festival coincided with the Moharram. The Hindus raised structures made of clay and grass for ten day festivity. The police did not act in time and solve the complex situation. Taking advantage of it Ahmad stepped in and did what was caught on camera and Xerox copies of the photo were pasted all over the town and the newspapers carried the same. An intense communal ill feeling against the leader led almost to a riot. For a whole week Hindutva leaders would address mammoth gathering of Hindus in Tilak square in protest. Thankfully the town was sparred a real riot.

But the harm was already done. The present home minister of Maharashtra was then leader of Shiv Sena. Chaggan Bhujbal used most abusive language against Ahmad in the assembly and outside he was even more vitriolic. He squarely blamed him and so did Anna Patil of Maratha Mahasangh. The latter targeted him for the recent parliament bill and ridiculed his community which enjoyed the provision of four wives. Bhujbal held out a threat that Muslims would be taught a lesson at the appropriate time. All this kept the communal tension palpable. These demarcated the Muslim with an identity that made them look as 'the other.'

However the terms on which Hindus agreed to call off their boycott and immerse Ganesh idols would create more hurdles in the future. The government conceded to the demands and allowed 93 groups of people from the town and nearby villages to immerse the idols in Malegaon taking their own time during the procession. There was the caveat: that would happen only when the idols from Dattnager would be taken through Muslim areas and would reach the remaining. Such an arrangement would enable them to stop at mosque fronts and dance and play loud music for hours together. Many people saw this as scoring off points over not Ahmad but the Muslim community and the minority people also felt that imitation reservoir which Ahmad had kicked was a ploy to gain ultimately these terms of agreement. Later years would see tension generated on account of the passing of the Dattnager procession though the thickly populated lanes of Muslim locality. The clear beneficiaries were the Hindutva groups. But on September 23 1986 when Duttnager procession passed through Muslim areas the tension rose in a crescendo as vermillion powder was thrown on mosques. It is reported that the cost of the powder alone was fifteen thousand rupees. A look back in the history as here may help us to evolve better mechanism to achieve lasting peace and maintain communal harmony.

One of the most problematic objectives of the Ganesh committees was their desire for untrammeled right to have as much time as they liked and no interference of the administration and the police so far as their conduct on the road during the procession was concerned. This is true as of 2008. On September 8, the chairperson of the central committee of the Ganesh festivity, Sandeep Abhonkar had threatened to halt immersion unless the police cancelled the extradition notice against his committee members. The police had acted on the past conduct of the members ho had created law and order problem. He asserted that Hindus were capable of defending themselves and did not want the police; they were powerful enough to handle any eventuality. This was an insinuation.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attack of 26/11 the public anger against the police and the administration must also make us know the past and prepare for a better future where there is no riot. In Shashi Tharoor's novel "Riot" the parents of the American girl come to India to understand what led to her death in the riots of the eighties. That is how one comes to terms with the past to live a better life hereafter. But with a proviso in the pithy words from EM Forster's novel "Howard's End": only connect.

Mustafa Khan
Malegaon, Maharashtra

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