The politicisation of religious festivals such as Rama Navami due to heavy participation by saffron outfits’ activists lies at the core of communal conflagration in Bihar. These groups forced their entry into minority community concentrated areas and were shouting provocative slogans and brandishing swords.
Tension triggered by violence during the festive procession in Bhagalpur on March 17 has now engulfed seven districts of the state, with hundreds of shops owned by a particular community being turned to ashes and over 100 people – including policemen – suffering injuries over the past 10 days.
Struggling to restore peace in Bhagalpur, Munger, Samastipur, Siwan, Gaya, Aurangabad and Nalanda districts, the state government has imposed prohibitory orders in some areas and deployed paramilitary forces, including Rapid Action Force (RAF), to tackle the unrest. More than 200 people have been arrested so far across the seven districts.
After talking to police officials and locals, it was established that minority concentrated areas were intentionally selected as the route of the procession and objectionable slogans were raised so that the social fabric could be disturbed and society could be polarised in a manner similar to how it was when riots broke out in Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh, in January this year.
Below are the details of what led to the clashes in the seven district:
Clashes broke out between two communities on March 17 in Bhagalpur – the Silk City on the southern banks of the river Ganges – after workers from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal took out an unauthorised procession led by Union Minister Ashwini Choubey’s son Arijit Shashwat to mark ‘Vikram Samvat’ – a Hindu new year.
The procession, organised by the Bharatiya Navvarsh Jagran Samiti, passed through a 15-km route, which included at least half-a-dozen Muslim-majority areas. The clashes occurred in Medini Chowk – a Muslim concentrated area – under Nathnagar police station.
The violence occurred between members of two communities over playing loud music and raising provocative slogans.
“The procession began from the Budhanath temple and reached Nathnagar after criss-crossing the town. Some of the locals objected to the playing of music, which led to some tension, but the police intervened after which the procession moved ahead. However, a quarrel began soon after among local residents belonging to both communities with firing of gunshots, hurling of stones and setting fire to shops and vehicles,” Bhagalpur Senior Superintendent of Police, Manoj Kumar told Newsclick.
As many as 50 rounds – according to reports – were reportedly fired between the two groups.
Over 35 people, including two policemen, suffered injuries. “The two policemen received bullets on their arms but are out of danger,” he said.
“The situation is completely under control and heavy deployment of police has been made in the locality where the situation was tense,” Kumar concluded, adding that “two separate cases have been registered and investigations are on to identify trouble-makers”.
No arrest has been made so far despite the fact that a Bhagalpur court has issued an arrest warrant on March 24 against Shashwat after an FIR was lodged against him and eight others for leading the armed procession without permission and for allegedly inciting people with communal comments.
Administrative authorities in the state apparently failed to take any lesson from what had happened in Bhagalpur, allowing the ghost of communal riots to spread tentacles to Siwan, which is situated in the western part of the state.
Communal clashes took place here on the night of March 24 when a group of people allegedly stopped a Ram Navami procession at Nizampur village under Mazharulhaq Nagar police station.
The procession had permission of the district administration and was passing through a pre-determined route when it was allegedly stopped because of the raising of provocative slogans and open display of weapons.
“While we were holding negotiations, trouble-makers attacked a school building and its vehicles owned by person from the minority community in the neighbouring Rampur village,” said an eye-witness requesting anonymity.
Siwan ASP Kartikeya Sharma said that “a couple of shops and a vehicle were damaged in the arsoning. “Central forces have been deployed in the area, where the situation is completely under control,” he added.
The home department and special branch of the State Police had separately published advertisements in newspapers, especially for Ram Navami, urging people not to share objectionable posts on social media and not to raise slogans and display pictures which would hurt religious sentiments.
Minor incidents of violence also took place in Gaya and Kaimur because of the objectionable slogans during Rama Navami processions.
Some bike borne youths raised provocative slogans in front of a mosque at Mughalpura under Chainpur police station on March 25 when they were going to attend a Ram Navami procession. This led to clashes between the two communities.
“Two persons suffered minor injuries but the situation was immidiately brought under control with heavy deployment of security forces,” said Patna zonal IG, Nayyar Hasnain Khan.
In Gaya, miscreants pelted stones on a Ram Navami procession under Kothi police station area while it was retreating on March 25. Stone pelting took place between two communities after which a huge number of police personnel were deployed.
No arrest has been made so far in the two incidents that took place in Kaimur and Gaya, added Khan.
Aurangabd was the worst affected among the three district, including Kaimur and Gaya, where communal violence broke out on March 25. Rioters set ablaze 31 shops, suggest official figures, but locals say over 50 shops were turned to ashes. More than 25 people were injured.
The violence began after someone allegedly threw stones at a Ram Navami procession, which was being taken out by Hindu Akhadas, at Muslim-majority Qazi Muhalla in Nawadih area. Sources in the police said objectionable slogans provoked people of the locality. The clashes ensued when members of the Muslim community objected to the slogans.
A video shot by one of the Hindu mobsters accessed by this reporter shows hundreds of men raging havoc at a Muslim burial ground and proclaiming victory with loud chants of 'Jai Shri Ram', after having pitched a saffron flag there.
“A mosque was destroyed, a Karbala was damaged and havoc was raged at a graveyard by the rioters with saffron headbands who were proclaiming victory with loud chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’,” said locals asking for justification to raise slogans that hurt sentiments.
The violent mob also resorted to firing and allegedly used hand-made bombs.
“We have clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC. The situation in the town is tense but under control. There is massive deployment of security forces. The district is limping back to normalcy. We are in talks with both communities to ensure no untoward incident takes place,” said Aurangabad District Magistrate Rahul Ranjan Mahiwal.
As many as 150 people were arrested in connection with the communal clashes witnessed in the town for two days in Aurangabad and Internet services have been suspended for an indefinite period.
“No fresh trouble has been witnessed. Three FIRs have been registered for Monday (March 26) and Tuesday’s (March 27) violence, and nearly 500 people are accused. They are being identified with the help of CCTV footage and being arrested,” Aurangabad SP Satya Prakash told Newsclick.
Trouble started at Rosera in Samastipur district on March 27 as hundreds of people gathered around a mosque at local Gudri Bazar demanding instant punishment for an unknown man who had allegedly thrown a flip-flop at a procession on March 26. The mob entered the mosque and set parts of it on fire.
The unruly mob ransacked the mosque and waved tricolour along with saffron flags at the religious place. The rioters also torched a nearby madrasa and destroyed the religious scriptures.
A local said, “A mob of hundreds of people with saffron headbands and swords were passing through the Gudri Bazaar area, chanting provocative slogans. A sleeper fell from rooftop and hit one of them. I don’t know whether it was thrown intentionally. Following the incident, violence erupted between the two communities in the presence of the police who acted as mute spectators. Somehow, both the groups were pacified and the procession moved away. Fearing a backlash, shutters were brought down in the entire market. The mob returned and looted the shops owned by Muslims before setting them on fire.”
The mob, he said, did not stop here. “They torched a part of the mosque in the market and tied tricolour along with the saffron flag with one of the minarets. Muslims were terrified and did not retaliate,” he added.
Samastipur SP, Deepak Ranjan, said the situation is under control and the police have been deployed in large numbers. “The situation is under control and being closely monitored. We are probing the allegations levelled by both sides and identifying trouble-makers. Several magistrates have been deployed along with security forces. Patrolling has been intensified. Senior officials are camping in the area. Around 10 people, including policemen, have suffered injuries. So far, 11-12 people have been taken into custody,” he told Newsclick.
Internet services have been temporarily suspended to stop rumour mongering and prohibitory orders have been imposed, he added.
After Samastipur, the fire of communalism engulfed Munger on the night of March 27 as some people protested against a controversial song being played and inflammatory slogans being chanted in an immersion procession of Chaiti Durga.
Stones were pelted by both sides and shots were also fired at the Neelam Chowk thoroughfare. Violence was witnessed in several parts of the town and property and vehicles were set ablaze, said sources.
“The situation is well under control now. Shops remained closed in some areas, but schools and banks remained working,” said Munger Range DIG, Vikas Vaibhav.
Opposition attacks CM Nitish Kumar
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been receiving flak on remaining a “mute spectator” while the state burns and of losing grip on the state.
The Congress alleged that “growing dominance of the BJP-RSS combine” was the reason behind a rise in the incidents of communal violence in the state and took a jibe at Nitish Kumar saying the chief minister seemed “helpless”.
“We have a strong feeling that the recent vitiation of the atmosphere in Bihar is a result of the growing dominance of the BJP-RSS combine which is trying to use the state as a laboratory for its own brand of politics. The communal violence there was preplanned and the reported shouting of provocative slogans followed by arson was part of a well thought out strategy,” alleged Minnat Rahmani, chairman, Bihar Congress Minority Department, while talking to Newsclick.
Asked about the basis of his allegation, he said no communal violence, barring a few incidents, took place during the same Nitish Kumar’s rule for two consecutive terms (2005 to 2014 and from 2015 to 2017) despite the fact that the BJP was his government’s coalition partner. “Since he walked out of the Grand Alliance (an alliance between the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal-United and the Congress that was truck ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls in the state) and went ahead with his old political partners, he lost control over the government in the state. Now, the Bihar government is run by Amit Shah (BJP’s national president) and Modi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi). Nitish is just a puppet,” he said.
Legislators of Bihar’s main Opposition party, the RJD, too accused CM Kumar of explaining away the clashes under the influence of his ally – the BJP.
“Shocking! Communal clashes broke out in Aurangabad. 50 shops torched by rioters and more than 60 persons injured in stone pelting. Nitish Kumar must be relaxed and enlightened after bringing BJP in power from back door,” RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav wrote on microblogging website Twitter.
Appealing for peace, he tweeted, “My humble request to the peace loving people of Bihar that they should maintain peace and harmony in the state. People should remain on alert against BJP’s rioters and goons and their venomous design. BJP wants to divide backward and Dalit-Hindus into Hindu-Muslim and remain in power. People must be careful against such evil designs.”
The JD(U) desisted from making any counter allegation and commenting on the government. “Conspiracy is being hatched to disrupt peace in Bihar. It is certain that no worshiper of Ram can be behind this conspiracy because his followers will always respect humanity. It is our responsibility to avoid getting divided on communal lines,” he wrote in a lengthy Facebook post.