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Madhya Pradesh Ram Navami Violence: Only 1 FIR Registered by Muslims

Muslims in Khargone, the epicentre of the clashes, have alleged that the police are discouraging them from registering FIRs.
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Khargone (Madhya Pradesh): During the Raghuvanshi community-led Ram Navami procession in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone district on April 10, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) officer-bearer had an altercation with the police for partially barricading the Muslim-dominated Talab Chowk area.

The heated argument ended after BJP district vice-president Shyam Mahajan threatened additional superintendent of police (Town) Neeraj Chourasia: “I will ensure that you are transferred.” Subsequently, the procession moved ahead and culminated peacefully at Ram Temple around 12 pm.

The Raghuvanshis, who claim to be descendants of Ram and are a sizable part of the population in Khargone, have been taking out the procession on the same route for decades. “Neither we have a problem with them [Muslims] nor they have problems with us. We have been taking the route beside the Talab Chowk mosque but no untoward incident has occurred,” Manoj Raghuvanshi, one of the organisers of the procession, told Newsclick.

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Raghuvanshi said, “However, the police’s action and the subsequent heated argument this time fanned the rumour of a communal clash,” adding that the last communal incident reported in the area was on Dussehra on October 22, 2015. After the heated argument, the rumour that “the police had stopped the Ram Navami procession in the Muslim-dominated Talab Chowk locality” spread and a call was allegedly given to assemble there at 3 pm to save Hindus. 

Four government officials, including three contractual employees, were sacked for fanning the rumour, Indore police commissioner Pawan Kumar Sharma informed the media a day after Ram Navami.

Video and CCTV footage, however, showed a different picture on that particular day.

Displaying posters of the recently released The Kashmir Files with the slogan ‘Jago Hinduo Jago’, more than 15 tableaux under the banner of Gauraksha Samiti—a joint banner of right-wing groups that carried out the procession for the second time—assembled at Talab Chowk. As speakers blared out music, the procession stood in front of the mosque and waved saffron flags. The frenzy continued till 5 pm when stones-pelting started.

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The district administration has failed to explain the reason for the incident but locals and eyewitnesses alleged that provocative songs and police inaction triggered the violence. “They were wielding swords and sticks, waving saffron flags and playing provocative songs,” an eyewitness told Newsclick.

This was not the first time that Muslims were provoked. On March 10, when the BJP won four out of five states in the Assembly elections, firecrackers were lit and thrown inside the mosque during the party’s Vijay Rally. Members of the mosque committee had even complained to the Kotwali Police Station.

Mosques and Muslims have been targeted more than six times during festivals in the last one year. Last year, the funeral procession of an imam was pelted with stones but no action was taken despite several complaints,” Hidayatullah Mansuri, chief of the committee, told Newsclick.
 

BL Mandloi, inspector (Town), Kotwali Police Station,

who was severely injured on the head during the clash near Talab Chowk, explained to Newsclick, “The procession was asked to leave between 2-3 pm but it got delayed till 5 pm and clashed with the evening prayers at the mosque. Subsequently, a crowd of more than 1,000 people assembled outside the mosque and the situation turned tense, triggering stone-pelting.”

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The news of stone-pelting and riot spread like wildfire and within a couple of minutes, communal violence engulfed half of the city. Reports of arson and stone-pelting started pouring in from colonies within three kilometres of Talab Chowk—Qazipura, Sanjay Nagar, Tavdi Mohalla, Anand Nagar, Bhausar Mohalla, Khaskhaswadi and others.
 

Superintendent of police Siddharth Choudhary, who was present at Talab Chowk, reportedly ordered a lathi charge to disperse the mob when stone-pelting started. However, the mob unleashed mayhem in the adjoining colonies despite the use of teargas by the police.

According to official sources, Choudhary and eight armed cops rushed to Sanjay Nagar, a kilometre away from Talab Chowk, around 7 pm following reports of arson and stone-pelting. “He was shot in the leg. No one knows who fired the shot amid the chaos,” an officer who accompanied Choudhary told Newsclick.

Within hours after the violence, district collector Anugrah P imposed a curfew in some pockets of Khargone. More than three dozen people, including seven cops, were injured in the violence, Tilak Singh, deputy inspector general of police (DIG), Indore division, informed the media. “More than 26 houses, 12 vehicles, five shops, a godown and several religious places were either vandalised or set on fire,” he said.

Recalling the horror, Nawab Khan (65), who stays at Sanjay Nagar, told Newsclick that he, his wife and son were in their house when he heard his “neighbours slamming their doors”. “As I rushed outside, a stone hit the front wall of my house. I immediately went inside, locked the door and informed the police.”
 

When more than six men failed to “barge in my home, they set my grocery store on fire. We managed to escape from the back door,” Khan, who had expected the police to protect him, alleged.

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A few metres away from Khan’s home, the home and vehicle of Manju Bai were set on fire hours later. Amit Bhandole (30) lost his auto as well. 

The following morning, state home minister Narottam Mishra told the media in Bhopal that “the houses of those who are pelting stones will now be turned into a pile of stones”. Hours later, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said that an unfortunate incident had occurred in Khargone. “Stringent action will be taken against the rioters and they will be made to pay for the loss of public and private property,” he said adding that the Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property and Recovery of Damages Bill, 2021, was passed by the state government in December and a claim’s tribunal is being formed to recover the losses.

A day after Chouhan’s statement, the government issued a notification to form a ‘claims tribunal’ in Khargone which will be headed by a retired Judge.

Within two days of the violence, more than 32 shops and 16 houses of Muslims which were served notice for illegal construction were razed. “The illegally constructed structures served notice by the municipal corporation were razed and it will continue,” Anugrah said.

However, many of the shopkeepers alleged that their shops were arbitrarily razed. “Six months ago, the municipal corporation had measured the area but didn’t issue any notice. But a day after the incident, when the city was under strict curfew, more than eight shops which were part of the mosque were razed,” Mansuri, whose shop was razed as well, alleged.

Among the other 12 shops that were demolished, one was a two-decade-old grocery shop of Narendra Sureshchand Gupta. “Without any notice or prior verbal communication, our shops were demolished. I somehow managed to empty the shop but many of my fellow shopkeepers were unlucky,” he told Newsclick. “Is there any law or does the government want to bulldoze everything for its gain?”

Even legally constructed houses of Muslims weren’t spared. The house of Hasina Fakhroo and her son Amjad Khan, which was constructed under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana recently, was razed. She is among the 12 people whose houses were demolished in Khaskhaswadi locality.
 

Interestingly, the district administration says that the demolition drive is not related to the communal clashes. But a tweet from the Khargone Jansampark office claimed that the houses belonged to the rioters.    

In the last two days, 26 (first information reports) FIRs, including one by Muslims, have been registered and 104 people arrested with 70 of them sent to jails, DIG Singh informed Newsclick.

According to the police, no Muslim is willing to register an FIR. However, Amjaz Azad, a Khargone-based social activist, alleged that the police are suppressing the minority. Making a startling allegation, he said, “All the shops, eateries and homes demolished in the last two days belong to the minority community. More than 104 people who have been arrested are Muslims. Around 25 FIRs were registered by the majority community but we are struggling to register a single FIR. Muslims who want to register FIRs are being stopped.”

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