Bihar: Rioters Ransacked our Properties for Hours, no Help From Administration, Allege Victims of Communal Violence
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Patna: Communal disturbances were reported in five districts of Rohtas, Nalanda, Bhagalpur, Gaya and Muzaffarpur on Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1, after clashes between two communities over a dispute during the Ram Navami processions.
At least one person (a 16-year-old boy) died on the way to the hospital after being hit by a bullet, and over three dozen people were injured in communal clashes.
The state government has imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Sasaram and Biharsharif. The administration has suspended internet services in both towns until Tuesday, and security forces have been heavily deployed.
On Sunday, Bihar DGP RS Bhatti said that 109 people were arrested in connection with communal disturbances. Bhatti said police have been investigating the incidents following FIRs lodged at different places.
"TARGETED BECAUSE WE ARE MUSLIMS"
Sultan Ansari, whose marriage hall in Biharsharif town of the Nalanda district was severely damaged and set ablaze, told NewsClick about how the rioters ransacked his property for hours.
"We were helpless and trying to save our lives," Ansari said, alleging that saffron-clad rioters burnt his property. He is the state vice president of the minority wing of the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U). He described the day of the incident as a typical Ramzan day. The rioting happened in the evening as Ansari prepared to break his fast. He was informed that a mob was moving towards his hall, allegedly shouting Jai Shri Ram and abusing Muslims.
"When I rushed towards them to request not to damage my marriage hall, they attacked me and asked me to leave the place and set it ablaze. My marriage hall burnt before my eyes; I couldn't do anything to disperse the mob because my life was at risk. A few locals asked me to leave the place, or I would have risked being killed," Ansari said.
Ansari estimated his loss at around Rs 70 lakh and alleged that he was targeted because he is an influential Muslim in the region.
"It was part of a well-planned conspiracy to damage Muslim business establishments economically. Rioters burnt everything, including air-conditioners, carpets, doors, windows, and floor tiles. They targeted me but did not touch four Hindu-owned marriage halls nearby. Is it not a selective targeting of Muslims?" Ansari asked.
He is worried that he will have to cancel advance bookings for marriages after Eid.
Ironically, there is a local police station around 100 metres from Ansari's marriage hall. Ansari said he approached the Nalanda district administration and top government officials in Patna for help, but no help arrived.
"I got no response from the administration despite repeated calls for help. You can imagine how things are for a common Muslim because I am a leader of ruling Mahagathbandhan," Ansari said.
Mohd. Murtaza Rayeen, another victim of rioting in Biharsharif, shares a similar story.
"When I approached a police team standing nearby for help against the rampaging mob, the cops, instead of helping me, abused and pointed a pistol towards me, and I felt I would be killed if I did not leave the place. My cry for help was not an issue for police because I was a Muslim," Rayeen alleged. The rioters burnt three of his buses, a pick-up van, a transport godown and an office.
"Rioters selectively targeted us for being Muslim," Rayeen said. As Ansari, Rayeen also pointed out how the rioters did not touch the businesses owned by Hindus in the area. He recalled that he was in his office last Friday evening when a mob of around 200-250 riots entered his office and started attacking him.
"For a few minutes, I thought they would kill me. I tried to stand from my chair and escape their clutch because most turned to loot different items from my big transport godown. I was concerned for my life."
After that, the mob set ablaze his transport godown.
"They used petrol to burn my godown. The administration was nowhere despite rampaging continuing for over two hours."
Rayeen said that he was helped by some older Muslim women who made him take shelter in their houses.
"I strongly believe that if administration acted then on time, rioters could have dispersed easily, and his property would have been saved," Rayeen said. He demanded that chief minister Nitish Kumar visit Biharsharif to examine the extent of damage caused by communal riots.
"I appeal to the state government to ensure a fair probe into it for exposing those behind it and to punish them."
The rioters looted several properties owned by Mumbai-based Haider Alam, a leader of the minority wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Mumbai. Alam's electronic showroom, Digital Duniya, was inaugurated by senior BJP leader and former Union minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain.
100-YEAR-OLD MADRASA BURNT
A historical Azizya madrasa in Biharsharif was also set ablaze; hundreds of books and old documents were burnt to ashes.
"A mob of saffron-clad rioters with saffron flags entered this over 100-year-old madrasa; they first ransacked it and later set ablaze in which its library was destroyed. I was taking a rest when rioters attacked the madrasa. They pelted stones, damaged the mosque's minaret, abused us for not chanting Jai Shri Ram, and lastly used petrol bombs to set fire," Mohd. Tanveer, one of the Madrasa staff, alleged.
Victims of communal violence in Biharsharif and Sasaram include Ansaris, Rayeens, Iraqis, and Mansuris; these groups are the marginalised sections of Muslims. These attacks came when the Central government had been trying to woo Pasmanada (marginalised) Muslims for electoral gain.
"Contrary to the propaganda of BJP working wonders for Pasmanda Muslims, they were primarily targeted during latest communal violence in Bihar and are regularly becoming victims of lynching in the name of beef or other controversies," Soroor Ahmad, a social commentator, said.
Ahmad said that incidentally, in Biharsharif, those Muslims who faced the brunt of mob fury were either related to JD-U or BJP.
On the condition of anonymity, a government school teacher told NewsClick that communal violence in Biharsharif resulted from the administration's failure.
"Rioters were free and selectively targeted Muslim business establishments, madrasas, mosques and houses. Police did not even use tear gas to disperse the mob. If the police had acted timely against rioters, this would not have happened on such a large scale. It seems the administration was sleeping or unaware of the alert during the Ram Navami procession in communally-sensitive Biharsharif."
However, the opposition BJP blamed the Mahagathbandhan government for communal disturbances and staged a protest in Bihar Assembly on Monday.
At the same time, ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), JD-U, Congress, and Left parties' leaders blamed BJP and right-wing organisations for rising communal incidents in Bihar ahead of the 2024 General elections.
Nearly three days after communal violence, the situation is under control in Biharsharif and Sasaram. There are no reports of fresh violence on Monday. Police officials said tension is still in the air, but the situation is under control and will return to normal in a day or two.
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