Shahina’s only source of earning was destroyed when a rally organised by one Saheb Singh Gujjar in Rajasthan’s Karauli district on the Hindu New Year on April 2 attacked it. “They would have killed us if we didn’t run for our lives,” said Shahina, one of the several Muslims whose shops were demolished.
The rally, accompanied by blaring music, was organised without the district administration or the police’s permission. Soon, the rally was pelted with stones after which, at least, 40 shops and 10 carts of street vendors were destroyed.
According to locals of Budhara Bazaar, a few people ran towards the market around 5 pm shouting that “a fight had erupted” in the area. The shops were immediately shut with their frightened owners running for their lives.
Describing the fear and the unanticipated attack, Amina Begum, a bangle seller, said, “My elder son, who runs the shop, is handicapped. When I heard that a fight had started, I ran barefoot with my son, who was not even able to walk properly.”
Too scared to come out, the owners found out the next day that their shops had been reduced to ashes or looted.
Budhara Bazaar has a mixed population of Hindus and Muslims who have been doing business in harmony for several years. It is the largest bangle selling market in the area with mainly Muslim sellers.
On April 2, six bangle shops were either burnt down or looted. Wasim Khan, who belongs to the third generation of bangle sellers, said, “It was peaceful like any other day. Suddenly, there was chaos with people shouting that a fight had broken out. I shut the shop and ran away. The next day, we found that the shop was smashed and looted.”
Wasim Khan and his parents.
Displaying the big stones used to smash his shop, Khan said, “Look at these big stones. Is it possible to get them from anywhere around? They had come prepared.”
Around 500 metres down the lane from Budhara Bazaar, five shops at Sadar Bazaar were either burnt or looted. Nazmuddin (70) had recently spent a huge amount on renovating his grocery store, which sold rice, dal and several other essential items of daily use. “The shutter was the strongest in the area and could not have been broken with any stone,” he said adding that he paid a monthly rent of Rs 1,400 for the shop. “That was all I had. Everything is finished now.”
Both the communities agreed that the violence would not have occurred had the police been more active. Shockingly, despite 30 out of 40 shops that were burnt belonging to Muslims, only 7-8 people out of the 23 arrested are Hindus.
According to the locals, seven shops belonging to Hindus were burnt in retaliation to the destruction of Muslim shops. Though the Muslims claimed to have been living with Hindus in harmony, the latter used the term ‘Kattar (hardcore) Muslims’ for their neighbours and even blamed them for attacking their shops.
Narendra Sharma, whose shop was burnt, said, “Stock worth Rs 6 lakh was lost. After shops of Muslims in other areas were burnt, they brought everything down to ashes in our area. The people who attacked our shops were from the Muslim community.” Lamenting the loss of income, Sharma said, “I am the sole earning member of my family of five.”
When asked about the Muslim shops that were destroyed, Sharma said, “Every businessman is the same—be it Hindu or Muslim. All of us should be compensated. The police should immediately arrest the rioters because if they become complacent, such incidents would be repeated and someone else would bear the loss.”
A few Muslim families alleged police harassment. Danish (18) was asleep when the police, according to his mother, barged into the house. “They said he would be released after a general inquiry. However, they beat my kid up, asked him if he was lying about his age and even pulled his beard alleging that he looked more than 18.”
Sobbing inconsolably, she alleged that Danish is unable to talk due to the severe injuries sustained at the police station. “I am so scared that I have sent him to a relative’s place.”
The superintendent of police and the district magistrate refused to meet this writer.
Hrishi Raj Anand is an independent journalist based out of Delhi. His views are personal.