When the year 2008 began it appeared it might be riot-free year for the first time in 60 years after independence. However, soon this hope was belied and riots began to take place as every year. Though again most of the riots were not major towards the end of the year even that hope was belied. Also as usual police behaviour was totally partial though with few exceptions and minorities received drubbing.
Another peculiarity of 2008 was major communal violence against Christians for the first time in post-independence India. Though Christians have been under attack for several years but it was dubious distinction of 2008 that it saw major communal violence against Christian minority in Kandhmal district of Orissa. The Sangh Parivar was never in such foul mood against this tiny minority which has rendered great services in the field of education and health.
In fact the first riot occurred against Christians in Kandhmal district on 1st January 2008. In fact riots against Christians had erupted on 25th December 2007 and situation was already simmering. Several houses belonging to Christians were burnt in the villages of Sripala, Rebingia, Nuapadar and Kasinapadar in Kandhmal district. Some 10 houses were set ablaze in these villages. During these incidents several people fled to jungles or to other villages.
It would be interesting to mention here that former chief Justice of India Justice V N Khare on 19th January called for setting up of an autonomous body to deal with communal riots cases stating that it is the state's rajdharma (duty) to protect the minorities, Justice Khare said that communal riots should not be treated merely as a law and order problem. He said that such "riots are a serious problem" and a serious view of the matter should be taken. Justice Khare also demanded that a special law be enacted to promote. He also observed "Where is the right to life if minorities are victimized and those who victimize are not persecuted and instead go scot –free"?
But who would listen to this voice of sanity and year after year minorities suffer in these riots and rioters indeed go scot-free. The UPA Government could not even enact the Communal Riots Bill for which it had given solemn promise. It is still gathering dust and now there will be hardly any Parliament session to take it up before next elections take pl ace and the Bill will naturally expire. So much for Secular Government. Its priorities are hardly to seriously prevent communal violence.
Riots regularly breakout on the occasion of certain religious festivals, especially Holi. On March 23rd rioting broke out in Chittorgarh and Tonk, both in Rajasthan in which several people were injured and, 12 shops were burnt and vehicles burnt. About 30 people were arrested. Jamshedpur in Jharkand also witnessed minor communal violence on the day of Holi. One person was injured. It was result of eve teasing by members of one community whereas woman belonged to another community.
On 4th April Jalna in Marathwada witnessed communal rioting when some Hindutvadis began to sing songs about constructing Ram Mandir in Ayodhya after noon prayers outside a mosque. Eight persons were injured including a police inspector. Three persons were critically injured. Though some people brokered peace but at night again people belonging to Bajrang Dal attacked a Muslim Mohalla and trouble erupted. After Jalna Jalgaon also witnessed outbreak of communal violence in which 4 persons were injured and 21 were arrested. This too was result of dispute between youth of two communities.
Baroda in Gujarat is another extremely communally sensitive place where of and on riots break out between Hindus and Muslims every year. This time again Baroda witnessed communal violence on 10th April. Five were injured and 4 cars were set ablaze and 25 persons were arrested.
Kerala is normally a peaceful state and except on certain rare occasions no communal violence is witnessed. After 15 April four communal murders were reported in Kasargod, a Kerala district bordering Karnataka. The spate of murders took place after some people belonging to BJP supporters got down from a car to urinate near a bus stand from where a mosque is not far off. When someone objected crowds gathered and violence erupted. People shut their shops after series of murders were reported though there was no call for hartal (strike).
On 18th April there violence erupted in Bhirari village when some people tried to set two Muslim families on fire. Again trouble began when some members of Bajrang Dal began to sing "mandir wahin banaenge" (we will construct temple at that place only). When some Muslims offering prayer at the time objected, trouble began. One hotel and 4 Muslim shops were set ablaze in addition to several two wheelers. Several people were seen coming from other villages raising the slogan "Jai Shri Ram". Subsequently violence spread to other nearby places like Rawer and Chopra also.
In Chopra police resorted to firing in which 2 persons died. Here too the eruption of violence was result of singing Qasam Ram ki khate hain, Mandir wahin banaenge (We take vow in the name of Ram that we will construct temple there only). Chopra witnessed communal violence for the first time. 32 persons were arrested. It is also said that violence was result of money matter between a Hindu and a Muslim.
On 13th June for no reason it seems, some people began stoning Muslims coming out of a mosque after Friday prayer. Police dispersed the mob and yet again they gathered and set fire to 6 motor cycles and few autorickshaws. Police resorted to firing in the air. Some eye witnesses said that a dalit boy was hit by a motor cyclist and that became the cause of rioting.
On 28th June Jabalpur saw communal violence on the question of land near a Jama Masjid in which 35 persons were injured and curfew had to be clamped. Police also resorted to lathi charge and police force had to be increased in view of communal tension.
Indore in MP has emerged as another communally sensitive city under the BJP regime. Indore was known for communal harmony but since BJP came to power in MP, VHP and Bajrang Dal have become much stronger and of and on attack Muslims and Christians. When Amarnath issue in Kashmir erupted the Bajrang Dal and VHP along with BJP tried to enforce Bandh and began enforcing it in Muslim dominated areas and violence erupted. Four persons were killed on 3rd July and 20 persons were injured. Curfew had to be imposed in several police station areas.
Police was seen openly siding with Hindutva organizations Many social activists pointed this out. A delegation of national Minorities Commission also visited Indore and said in its report that riots were pre-planned. Several NGO representatives came for investigation. On 4th July again trouble erupted in new areas and three more people were killed. Thus in all 7 people died on 3rd and 4th July communal violence. In all 200 persons have been arrested which includes 3 policemen who participated in communal violence.
On July 6 in Govandi area of Eastern suburbs of Mumbai a small incident of urinating assumed serious proportions as the boy urinating belonged to another community and those playing cricket nearby belonged to another community. 15 persons were injured in these clashes and there was rioting for almost three hours. According to the police Hindu and Muslim boys were playing cricket and fight broke out between them. In all 12 persons were arrested from both sides.
On 27th July Digras and Pusad in Vidarbh region of Maharashtra came under the spell of horrible communal violence apparently due to incident of insulting Holy Qur'an. However, police maintained there was no such incident. As usual Bajrang Dal, VHP and BJP supporters took out a morcha which turned violent and rioting broke out. Here two persons were killed in police firing.
It must be said that police role was extremely partisan and the SP of the region was heard saying I have taught lesson to these Muslims and they will not be able to raise their head for next 10 years. These words were uttered before our investigator (convener of All India Secular Forum, Maharashtra unit) Suresh Khairnar. According to him police entered Muslim houses and destroyed everything they could lay their hands on. Later on many Muslim activists from Digras corroborated this account.
Muslims of the area were terrified and all this happened in the state ruled by Congress and Nationalist Congress, not by BJP. There is no doubt that police has been greatly communalized over the years and no steps are being taken to improve police functioning. Delegation of Muslims from Digras met Home Minister R.R.Patil and the then Chief Minister V.N.Deshmukh and showed video clippings of 'police action' in Digras but no action was taken against the guilty policemen. The SP was not even transferred, let alone be suspended. The Chief Minister visited Nagpur but did not go to Digras though it was just about 100 kms from there.
On August 14 six persons were killed in Tenkasi town of South Tamil Nadu when a group attacked them in "retaliation" for the murder of a local Hindu outfit leader last December, the police said. Five persons were seriously injured in Trinulveli district. Though the police maintained it was merely retaliatory action the fact the Hindu leader murdered last December was Hindu Munnani leader, it couldn't be non-communal action, police made it out to be. However district collector G.Prakash cited religious ideologies behind the clash.
Tamil Nadu too, like Kerala was communally peaceful until late eighties but Hindu Munnani, a VHP outfit communalized parts of the state in late eighties and Hindu Munnani along with RSS became very active there. RSS has by now successfully spread its tentacles in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and since then these two states have also experienced communal violence.
Orissa which had witnessed communal violence in Kandhmal district right in the beginning of the year came under intensified communal violence after the death of Laxmananda Saraswati, a VHP activist who was busy converting tribals and dalits to Hinduism. Four others were also killed with him. It is still a great mystry as to who killed him and 4 others. The naxalites claimed they killed them and a Naxal leader, hiding his face, spoke on a TV Channel and said we have killed Laxamananda Sarasvat.
The VHP, disbelieving Naxal claim went on killing spree in the last week of August and news became to pour in from Kandhmal and Phoolpur districts of killing of Christians. Even Pastors had to run away into woods to escape the wrath of VHP marauders. More than 40 persons were killed in violence spread over three months. A nun was raped just a stone's throw from the police station. The police became a mute spectator and took no action against VHP killers.
Never in last 60 years of India's independence such communal fury was witnessed against Christians. It is important to note that BJP is the part of ruling alliance in Orrisa and hence even Chief Minister Navin Patnaik found himself helpless to take any effective action. The Central Government provided Rapid Action Force in adequate numbers and even then communal fury could not be controlled as there was no effective cooperation by the local police.
BJP is determined to widen its political base in Orrisa and as in other states, it does so by targeting minorities. Today it is junior partner with BJD of Navin Patnaik but it is struggling to emerge as a major force in Orrisa in future. Those who are in know of the BJP politics know very well how it expanded its political base in Gujarat by repeatedly organizing communal carnage in Gujarat from 1969 onwards and finally succeeded in thoroughly communalize Gujarat and come to power there with thumping majority. It seems to have similar plans in Orrisa. Unfortunately Navin Patnaik has given opportunity to BJP to do so in Orrisa.
The Orissa communal violence assumed such proportions that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described it a national shame. The Central Government even threatened to move if the State Government does not take effective steps to stop riots. Yet, riots continued and many Christians even converted to Hinduism to save their life.
According to The Indian Express report, dated 31 August, 2008 "After days of violence, Kandhmal continues to be battle ground of conversions. In last two days, reportedly over a hundred Christians have been converted to Hinduism.", said Satyabarat Sahoo, Revenue Divisional Commissioner of the area.
Similarly Sajan K George, national president of the Global Council of the Indian Christians said at Bhubaneshwar, "We have proof that Christians are being forcibly converted to Hinduism in Kandhmal. We have brought to the notice of the authorities.. the police and the state government are not doing anything to protect them. According to our estimates, 50 Christians died in the recent violence.."
On September 8 Azamgarh in UP witnessed communal violence in which 2 persons were killed. This happened when BJP MP and Hindu extremist leader Aditya Nath Yogi's rally was passing through Muslim dominated area and provocative slogans regarding Ram temple were being raised. 5 Vehicles were set afire and several people were injured. The Yogi who heads Hindu Yuva Vahini (The Hindu Youth Organization) threatened to burn entire Azamgarh. The rally being taken out by Adityanath was called 'anti-terrorist Hindu Awareness Rally'. The riot started after some people threw stones at the rally when highly provocative slogans were raised.
On September 9 communal confrontation took place in Agra between Hindus and Muslims when a woman was injured by a motorcyclist. Two groups threw stones at each other and two shops were set afire. A house belonging to Muslims was also burnt down. One Siraj Qureshi noticed it and brought inmates out safely otherwise a major incident would have taken place.
Also on 10th September communal clashes broke out in Gonda, UP, Bundi, Rajasthan. In Gonda VHP gave call for Bandh in protest against attack on the rally of Adityanath Yogi and Hindus and Muslims fought. VHP activists attacked many Muslim houses and beat up many Muslims. In case of Bundi, in Talera town 12 persons were injured when some dispute between children took communal turn.
On 14th September and following days number of Christian churches came under attack by Bajrang Dal activists in places like Mangalore, Bangalore and several other places. In Karnataka BJP is in power and police dare not take any action against VHP and Bajrang Dal activists. These attacks also continued for several days.
On September 15 Baroda in Gujarat again saw communal violence erupt on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi in which one person was killed as police opened fire. As usual Ganesh procession became the cause of violence. Three shops below a mosque were burnt down. One Rajesh Pawar was arrested by the police for not obeying its orders to wind up procession in time. Similarly three shops below a mandir was also burnt down by the rioters.
Thane near Mumbai erupted on 1st October on the question of installing a gate for Ganesh mandap in the Rabodi area of Thane. One person was killed and 65 injured of which 39 were policemen. Property worth lakhs of rupees were destroyed. DCP Sahebrao Patil was suspended for failing to control the situation by Home Minister R R Patil of Maharashtra. Police fired 80 rounds to control rampaging mobs in which one Mohsin Khan (25) was killed. There was widespread destruction of properties and Muslims suffered much more comparatively.
Dhule in Marashtra went up in flames on 5th October. It all started when the VHP put up anti-terrorist posters which were highly provocative with anti-Muslim slant. Some Muslim Youth allegedly tore off some posters and it sparked trouble. It was also very major communal riot though human lives lost were comparatively few i.e. 9 people died and 70 persons injured but more than 230 houses were set on fire. Most of the houses belonging to Muslims were blasted with gas cylinders.
The police as usual either remained mere spectators or helped rioters. The maximum economic losses were suffered by Bohra businessmen who are mostly businessmen. There shops were looted and goods carted away allegedly right under the eyes of policemen. One Bohra businessman alone suffered loss of more than a crore (ten million rupees).
The then Home Minister R R Patil visited Dhulia but did not visit Muslim areas which had suffered major losses. Several Muslim families were completely ruined. Whereas they lost properties and houses worth lakhs of rupees compensation given to them was ridiculous seven and half thousand.
Assam though faced with terrorist problem at the hands of ULFA was free of communal violence except terrible riots in Neili district in 1983 when 4000 Bengali Muslims were killed. On October 9 however, some districts in Assam went up in flames 100 persons were reported to be dead. It was between Bodos and Muslims. The Sangh Parivar has made deep inroads into these districts and is trying to capture North East also and its pet project is to communalise the region to create its base.
According to official sources 47 people were killed but non-official sources maintain it has exceeded 100. though it is said the rioting spark came through some misunderstanding between Bodos and Muslims when reportedly a Bodo on security duty was killed in a Muslim village while on night watch but in fact it was a well planned riot. A green flag hoisting from a mosque was described as Pakistani flag and it was maintained that Assamese Muslims are pro-Pakistan.
This was obviously BJP planted stories to spark off trouble. Like in Gujarat in 2002 a pregnant woman was killed during the riots. More than one and half lakh people had to take refuge in refugee camps. In refugee camps also there was constant fear that miscreants might set them to fire. There were no policemen around and hence this fear. Since most of he Assamese Muslims wear lungi and sport beard and cap, they are dubbed as Bangla Deshis and attacked. Before the riot skirmishes were going on between Muslims and Bodos.
Burhanpur in MP was affected by communal flare up on 10th October in which 10 persons died of which 3 died in police firing. Rioting started on Friday after noon prayer near Jama Masjid when provocative slogans were raised. About 18 shops and 15 houses were burnt by the miscreants.
On 12th October Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh witnessed communal violence in which 6 persons in a house were burnt alive which included 3 children. Communal violence broke out in Bhensa town also which is in Adilabad district. CPM accused RSS and its front organizations for Bhensa and Adilabad riots. Even Christians were attacked in Bhainsa town by RSS activists.
Latur in Mahrashtra witnessed communal violence on 29th December resulting in death of 2 persons in Pangaon of Latur district. Several Muslims fled from Pangaon and took refuge in nearby villages.
This is brief account of riots that took place in India during unfortunate year of 2008. It proved to be worse than 2007. It is unfortunate and shameful that so many riots take place every year in our country and hundreds loose their lives. Neither government is serious about checkmating these riots nor, we have strong secular institutions in our country. Our whole polity has been communalized and communal parties, along with secular parties are responsible for these riots. All our institutions have been affected by communal outlook. Police and administration has been deeply affected. RSS infiltration has taken place in all our institutions.
Let us hope 2009 proves little better. (Courtesy: Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. E-mail: email@example.com)