Last fortnight, the communal riots that flared up in nine out of the 38 districts in the state of Bihar kept making headlines. The violence is viewed as a conscious attempt at strengthening the communal divide between the two religions. An incident of Hindu-Muslim animosity is hardly a shocking news, but to analyse the intensity of this enmity is a challenging task. A Newsclick team went to the ground zero, to assess the situation in these districts. Here is what we found.
Densely populated locality of Nawadahi comprises narrow roads that are dotted with dilapidated buildings on both the sides. It’s a part of Aurangabad – one of the districts that witnessed the spate of communal riots. This locality has a sizeable population of people from both the communities: Hindu and Muslim. One could easily find burqa-clad women roaming around, even as the news of the clashes has not entirely faded yet. There are no cops deployed, and the section 144 (pertaining to unlawful assembly) has also been removed. The yackety-yak of a busting market is audible even from a distance. As we make our way through the locality, we can notice houses demarcated by orange and green flags – revealing the identity of the people living inside.
As we moved past these houses, we chanced upon a group of middle-aged men and a woman, who had gathered, as they received the news of the arrival of “media”. A petite, old man with slightly disheveled, long beard looked at us with gleaming eyes. As we introduced ourselves, the man took us aside to describe the incident, which according to him, has happened for the very first time in the area. It had been a very peaceful locality until then, he informs. Rubbishing the alleged rumors of animosity with their Hindu neighbours, the crowd squarely alleged the involvement of outsiders. They claimed that these outsiders were trying to rupture the social fabric of the locality. They brandished swords, shouted Islamophobic slogans, while holding saffron flags in their hands. Shops were vandalised and set ablaze. Some of these shops were owned by Hindus. The mob that went on a rampage, was supposedly leading a Ram Navami procession in the locality, which had never seen the cavalcade before. According to the witnesses’ account, random arrests from both the community have been made.
What’s interesting is, that like Aurangabad, other districts too had similar stories to tell. However, a few additional elements played a role in case of some of these districts. In Nawada, clashes had erupted over the destruction of an idol, allegedly, by members of the Muslim community. The idol of Hindu deity Hanuman – which was vandalised – stood on a cemented pedestal on an open swath of land. It was situated at a distance of almost five kilometer from the residential area, near a wedding hall. Interestingly, the procession in Nawada took place on March 30 – four days after the Ram Navami. The destruction followed along with the disruptive rabble of angry men. An FIR was filed against 200 unknown and 20 known persons, which mostly included Yadavas and Muslims.
The FIR against the unknown persons has reportedly been used to drag people out of their house on a mere suspicion or at times, randomly to create some fear. The pattern of using such FIRs against the people reveals the scope of law and order in small localities. While heading towards Nalanda – the home district of JD (U) leader (an ally of the BJP) and the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the unusual captured our attention. Saffron flags, in a series, were hoisted on the wall of the police station. One them had writing on it: ‘Jai Shree Ram – Bajrang Dal’. Interestingly, this flag was situated in front of Nitish Kumar’s hoarding, which carried a message on the issue of dowry. After a kilometer or so from here, the CM’s district looked all saffron. Finding our way to the place where the clashes took place, we reached Haiderganj Kara.
Haiderganj is a Muslim-populated area with select few Hindu houses. The narrow lanes with worn-out doors and one-room settlements was a common site in this locality. The news of the planned procession had spread across the village in advance. It was confirmed when Sandeep, a local Hindu guy, gave an invitation card for the event to Mohd Safdar Imam, the ex-ward commissioner. After numerous peace meetings, which included participation of the police administration as well, a decision was made that five people from each community will join the procession. In this case also, the unruly mob intervened – comprising angry young men, who pelted stones, brandished swords while raising Islamophobic slogans.
Inside Haiderganj, there is a small open kisok of a cobbler called Baliram, who was an eyewitness to the event. Calling it an unusual incident, Baliram said, “This is the first time when this procession has taken place in our locality.” He corroborated that the mob included outsiders. At a little distance from the kiosk, stood an old man in his 70’s, wearing a torn-out t-shirt. His family was among the few Hindu families living in Haiderganj. His son was arrested on the night of procession. "My son (Sanjay) was took part in the procession. We are a poor family," he said. He further accused some of the Muslims of attacking his family after the procession.
According to Sanjay's wife, Renuka, the police dragged her husband out of the house. Renuka has not filed any complaint regarding this, as she fears hostile repercussions.
People from both the communities in Haiderganj have been facing a turmoil since the day of the procession. Moving around are the frowning faces and deep-seated eyes. "Yes, there was a clash. After the procession got over. Few mischievous Muslim boys tried to attack Hindus in the locality," said a 34-year-old named Ghajni. Ghajni was the one who reportedly saved Renuka’s family, when some people tried to pelt stones at their house.
While we were making an exit from Haiderganj, Baliram called us to share some information. "The Ram Navami procession was organised by the outsiders. The government is trying to create communal divide. I am uneducated, but we do understand this. The event was unprecedented," he said, as he tried to fix a shoe. He added, "It was handiwork of outsiders. Outsiders from the same district, but from distant locations."
Since the rule of the Modi government at the centre, the polarisation has taken a step forward to turn into lynching and violence. Even in the Nitish Kumar’s district, who was supposed to stop communalism, the story on the ground shows a different reality. Society’s communal fabric has been ruptured, but fortunately, it is not as bad as Muzzafarnagar or Kasganj. People are still managing to coexist. There was a synergy all across the places. Templates were visibly drawn to create communal violence. The experience was not miserably felt but visibly felt, and people knew that Loksabha elections are just around the corner.