By Zafarul-Islam Khan, The Milli Gazette Online
Aligarh: This town is famous for its Muslim university (AMU) and locks industry but we may justifiably add communal riots too to the characteristics of this north Indian town.
Since it first experienced a communal, i.e., Hindu-Muslim, flare-up in 1971, it has witnessed 22 riots so far, and was placed under curfew 16 times since.
People who instigate the riots are well-known and those who condone and allow the riots to happen are known too. But they have powerful political backers and, therefore, nothing ever happens to them. In the event of an outcry, condoning police and administration officers are simply "transferred" to some other areas while the known political criminals roam around untouched.
The problem this time round started in the night of 5 April as a result of Muslim complaints against the temporary enlargement of a temple during a festival. The temple stands on the adjacent mosque’s land which was originally given years ago to Hindus to build a water outlet for passersby. Soon a small temple emerged on the site situated in the town’s Dahiwali lane.
This illegal temple is further routinely enlarged during festivals leading to complaints and friction between Hindus and Muslims, especially due to the use of blaring loudspeakers. Communal leaders further fuel the fire with militant behaviour and insulting slogans. A case is pending in courts for the last three decades against this encroachment.
As in the past, this time too it was a one-sided affair. The actual violence started in the noon of 6 April with stone throwing at the town’s Subzimandi intersection, looting on Abdul Kareem intersection and arson in the Upperkote area. All this took place almost simultaneously. Soon the police and PAC started firing indiscriminately, hitting at least 50 in one go – all Muslim.
The police fired at point blank killing seven that fateful day. Aligarh Muslim University’s Medical College where the victims were taken is a mute witness to the one-sided police terror. Five bodies were brought dead, according to a doctor. Two died later.
Like the injured, the dead were all Muslims. One Hindu, a milkman, was stabbed in the town during curfew while we were there. One of the dead was later claimed by a local Hindu leader as his "son". His body was exhumed and given to the claimant for last rites as a Hindu. Local Muslims are skeptical as the boy was circumcised which is unusual for a Hindu. Moreover, the local Hindu leader’s son called Vikki was a known drug addict and was missing for the last two months. Muslims say that the Hindu leader did this in order to claim the compensation of 0.750 million rupees (US$ 17050) being paid by the government to the family of each dead.
As we went round the hospital wards, only young Muslim victims were seen on beds, some unable even to move due to multiple injuries. Each one of them told us that the police shot them at point blank for no reason. They are all simple, young labourers who survive on meagre daily wages. One was going to the shop where he worked, another was on his way to his home for lunch, a third was fetching lunch for his father. They were all shot point blank.
People told us that the police were seen firing at Muslims from the rooftops of Hindu houses. Victims Zakir, Faizan, Dilshad and Qadeer, all told us that the police shot them from close range for no reason and without warning. It was one-way, heinous crime by the police and the PAC, said Dr Sajid Matloob of the AMU hospital.
What made Aligarh riot worse was the use of a criminal branch of the police force called Provincial Armed Constabulary or PAC for short. This is supposed to be a riot-fighting force but over the years it has earned so much infamy that it has been a consistent Muslim demand that this force must not be deployed in any riot situation due to its open anti-Muslim bias which has been demonstrated in umpteen riots during the 1980s and 1990s. Its crimes include the cold-blooded murder of at least 40 Muslim youth in Hashimpura and Maliana in May 1987, for which its members are being tried ever since. The central government accepted the Muslim demand in principle and formed a new force to quell riots. This new force is called Rapid Deployment Force (RAF). But in Aligarh this time round the PAC was deployed. And it lost no time to kill Muslims to its hearts content.
AMU student leader Abdul Hafeez Gandhi says that the riot is a result of the rath yatra (chariot voyage) currently being taken out by the Hindu nationalist leader Advani. They are trying to revive the dead horse of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) by burning Aligarh, he added.
We meet in the AMU Hospital two youths, Shakir and Guddoo, with burnt faces. They tell us that both of them were sleeping under a tree when someone hurled a bomb at them from a fast moving vehicle. It exploded and burnt them badly. But the police claims that the duo were in fact fabricating a bomb to use in the riots and that their injuries are due to the premature explosion of the bomb.
Looking at the appearance of these simple and illiterate youths, the police claim seemed far-fetched. One of them, with tears in his eyes, clutched my hand, asking me what to do when the police will take him back once he is discharged by the hospital. Stick to the truth and never be misled by their promises to confess as they want, I tell them.
The state government of Uttar Pradesh (UP), wherein Aligarh is located, has transferred some top administration and police officials and ordered a low level enquiry.
As we left Aligarh, parts of the town were still under curfew one week after the start of the violence. Aligarh Muslim University and other schools and colleges in the town remain closed until further notice. A total of 275 persons have been arrested so far in connection with the riots.
UP state governor TV Rajeshwar is expected in Aligarh on 15 April to take stock of the situation just as India’s National Commission for Minorities (NCM), an official watchdog, has accused the UP state government of "criminal negligence" resulting in the riots.
NCM said in its enquiry report that all the dead and injured belonged to the "minority community" (i.e., Muslims) and were all shot above the waist. The NCM report added that the police, instead of deploying their usual practices to disperse mobs like using rubber bullets and batons, resorted to open fire in the first instance.
The NCM report, which has been presented to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has demanded the deployment of a paramilitary force with adequate minority representation and judicial probe into the riots.
Meanwhile, similar riots have erupted in other Indian states too. Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa and Rajasthan’s Pali towns have been placed under curfew after similar violence during the last few days. Both these states are ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP. Muslims and Christians are particularly targetted in all states ruled by the BJP which includes Gujarat where Muslims are still actively persecuted. (April, 16)