The Communal violence in Bihar – which began from Bhagalpur on March 17 and spread like wildfire to eight other districts of the state in the past fourteen days – has seemingly failed to achieve its objective of polarisation of the society on religious lines. Newsclick spoke to the people living in the strife-torn areas and a majority of them said that 'it was politics, not religion' and they will not allow this 'divisive politics' to succeed.
Barring burnt shops, there is a little trace of the violence of communal conundrum and tension, among people across the nine affected districts of Bhagalpur, Munger, Samastipur, Siwan, Gaya, Aurangabad, Kaimur, Nawada and Nalanda. Life has returned back to normal, markets are open and crowded, members of both communities can be seen buying necessities from shops belonging to the two religious communities. People irrespective of their faith are talking to each other and having friendly chats at tea shops. Women (few of them veil-clad) are busy in shopping.
The only deployment of policemen (that too in little number), that the Newsclick team spotted, was at Nawadi Road in the worst-affected Aurangabad, Gudri Bazaar at Rosera in Samastipur district where a madrasa was vandalised and burnt. It was the same place where a portion of the mosque was set on fire and a saffron flag, along with the tricolour, was hoisted. A Lord Hanuman’s idol was also damaged at a disputed land near Baba Ka Dhaba at bypass road in Nawada district.
A locality called Haiderganj Kada at Silao in the district of Nalanda, that is close to the city, stands an example of very strong social fabric and communal bonding. area inhabited by around 10,000 people (of them at least 2,000 are Hindus) has a mixed population, with houses of both communities side-by-side and in front of each other. A narrow lane of around seven-feet seperates the settlement in two halves. Opposite to his home at the roadside, Safdar Imam – an ex-ward counsellor – has his Hindu neighbour who is a blacksmith. Similarly, Baliram Yaduvanshi, a cobbler by profession, has his Muslim neighbour in front of his house opposite to the narrow lane. This arrangement of-of Hindu-Muslim houses side-by-side and opposite to each other is a common sight there and presents a unique example of peaceful co-existence.
“Whatever happened here was pre-meditated and it is quite evident,” said Imam, describing how the peaceful atmosphere in his area has now suddenly turned volatile. He got an invitation letter on March 26 from Bajrang Dal, asking him to join a Rama Navami procession that would pass through the narrow lane of his village on March 28 (mind you the Rama Navami was on March 25). Suddenly, it started doing rounds that a large number of people from distant places and other districts will take part in the procession.
“This had never happened here and we were sceptical. A similar procession was organised last Ramadan when were set to break day-long fast and attempts were made to vitiate the communal atmosphere,” he said.
A huge chariot of Lord Rama was made and after making all necessary arrangements, the organisers approached the local police station for permission. Sensing troubles, the administration strictly denied permission and called a peace committee meeting comprising members from both communities. Meeting was inconclusive, the organisers were adamant to take out the procession from the same route and the police kept maintaining their firm position that they won’t allow it.
Another meeting was called the next day (March 27), under the headship of district magistrate and superintendent of police. After long arguments, it was proposed from one side that five members each from both communities will take part in the procession and ensure peaceful passage of the chariot to which the other community also agreed, despite the administration still being reluctant on giving permission. Finally, the permission was granted with strict terms and conditions on the number of participants and songs to be played.
On the contrary, as witnessed in all other districts as well, the conditions were violated and around 4,000-5,000 people gathered at a nearby place from where the procession originated. It prompted the administration to make huge deployment and repeatedly urged people to go back.
“The first batch of 10 people (five each from both communities) passed through the lane and locals ensured it passes peacefully. Now, another demand was placed that around 50 women be also allowed to pass. We also agreed to this. When they went as well, the rest thousands of people clashed with the police demanding that they should also be allowed to pass through the area. The administration denied and the violent mob armed with swords and other weapons resorted to violence in which several policemen suffered injuries. We are thankful to the police who dealt with the rioters, suggesting to remain in our houses and not to get provoked. When the security forces dispersed the mob, the rioters resorted to stone pelting but were finally controlled,” said Imam.
His description of the turns of events was corroborated by the elderly Baliram Yaduvanshi who said he “never saw such a procession in his 67 years of life in the village”. “It was done on the behest of politicians to instigate Muslims against their fellow Hindu brethren who have been living here peacefully for several decades,” he said while repairing a shoe in his kiosk in the narrow lane.
Asked if it was religion or politics, he irritatingly replied, “Of course, it was politics. Better not talk to us about religion, which has kept us at the lowest pedestal of the society divided into castes.”
The Hindu blacksmith opposite to Imam’s house said, “The mob had mostly outsiders whose sole aim was to create tensions. They managed to do it with the support of few misguided fellow villagers. But he said we were united earlier and now as well. It’s true that Hindus here have left their homes following the incident, fearing a backlash. But we returned a day after and found no change in the mood of people. We all met as if nothing has happened and now, as you can see, there is no trace of violence. Life is completely normal.”
He said selecting a new route and gathering in thousands brandishing swords, holding saffron flags while sloganeering was not only new but extremely uncalled for.
After the procession, some lumpen Muslim youth indulged in a street fight. Renuka Devi, whose husband – the one who had insisted that the procession be allowed to pass and had proposed participation of five people each from both communities – was later arrested by the police, said few mischevious men had pelted stones on their house but it was Atiqur Rahman alias Ghazni, her neighbour, who pacified the angry boys and saved them.
Separated by religion, united by humanity
There are plenty of such stories of harmony and humanity in all districts that show the social fabric is still intact, though a very thin layer of it has got ruptured.
Hindus in Nawada – just 40 km away from Silao in Nalanda district – risked their lives to protect the shrine of a Muslim Sufi saint, which was set ablaze by rioters on March 30. Nawada was the ninth district in the state where communal riots broke out in succession. Members of both communities stepped out of their houses to save the shrine of Baba Sufidullah Shah – their “shared cultural heritage”.
Mohammed Dawood – a 34-year-old renowned businessman of the district – had bolted all three entries to his palatial house from within because of the fact that the eye of the communal storm in Nawada — a vandalised statue of Lord Hanuman near Baba ka Dhaba at bypass road — lay very close to his house. He was glued to television set when he got a call from one of his Hindu friends who informed him that the shrine has been set on fire. Before doing anything, he cross-checked the piece of information with a bureaucrat known to him.
Following the confirmation, he somehow managed to reach the mazaar. He was surprised to see the number of Hindu residents of the town, who at the peak of communal tensions had risked their lives and left their houses to put out the fire at the shrine.
Though the fire had subsided, there was still a lot to be done. Sight of the burnt shrine and the thick coat of black soot could have become an excuse for another round of communal clashes.
As one climbed up the stairs of the shrine, one could see holy tapestry in the shrine, including the cloth used to cover the grave, reduced to ashes. Some of the tiles on the mazaar had been vandalised with hammers.
District Magistrate Kaushal Kumar – in the meantime – reached the spot. He had a group of junior police officials along to guard the shrine and helped the men clean it.
It took several hours to put out the fire that took just moments for some anti-social elements to ignite. Moments after the fire had been extinguished, one Krishna found a copy of a torn Holy Quran thrown behind the grave.
“When we reached, the fire had almost subsided due to the efforts of the villagers there. But when I saw the Quran torn off and thrown off here and there, I got really scared. One careless mention about the desecrated Quran and there would have been no stopping another round of riots,” News18 has quoted Krishna as saying.
It was not only Dawood, who had shut himself in his house, closely tracking the communal violence as it unfolded. In the closely-knit community of Nawada, almost everyone, irrespective of their faith, was fervently making calls enquiring about each other’s safety.
The fire of communal violence engulfed Rosera in Samastipur on March 27 where a mosque was damaged in the famous Gudri Bazaar after slippers were allegedly thrown on Chaiti Durga’s idol immersion procession. After heavy deployment, the situation was controlled. A Muslim boy called Sajjad was arrested by the police in this connection.
On March 28, rioters vandalised a nearby residential madrasa (an Islamic seminary) where 40-50 students along with six staff members were staying. As Newsclick visited the madrasa, the unity between Hindus and Muslims were clearly visible. A cleric, along with two Hindu residents of the same locality, was sipping tea and discussing politics.
It is said that a strong mob of hundreds of people barged into the seminary and damaged everything they found in front of them. Meanwhile, the staff members of the madrasa pushed children upstairs keeping the safety and security in mind. The children took refuge in the next door house of Dr Ashok Mishra.
The people on the ground said the mob had very little presence of locals. Majority of the rioters were strangers for them if their versions are something to go by. “I have never seen such a hostile situation in 28 years of my life. We have always lived with love and affection. We have a strong social and personal dependence on each other. Every year, a Rama Navami procession is organised but nothing like this happened before. There was a mob of around 4,000-5,000 people – mostly young boys – who barged into the madrasa and vandalised everything, which is still visible. They even set ablaze vehicles parked inside the religious seminary,” said Manish – who runs a stationery shop in the market.
He further said no one from the locality took part in the violence. “It was the handiwork of outsiders,” he added.
Residents there were apparently unhappy with the turn of events and doing their bit to maintain the Hindu-Muslim unity.
Similarly, Ramji Kumar Singh and Narendra Ram also bear the brunt of the riots in Aurangabad along with Kalamuddin and Sartaj – whose shops were turned into ashes on March 26. Singh had a shop of competitive book beside Kalamuddin’s bookshop. rioters – who were part of the violent Rama Navami procession – set both shops ablaze. Close to Singh’s shop, Sartaj had a furniture store at famous Mahesh chowk. It was also set on fire and burnt chairs and pieces of furniture bear testimony to what happened that fateful day.
Opposite to their shops on the other side of the road devastated Narendra Ram – the owner of Samrat Band – had the only worry of how he will send his musicians to his clients’ places who had booked dates for a music band to be played on the wedding ceremonies.
All his music instruments were burnt along with the order book, which had contacts of his clients.
All four equivocally asked the self-claimed custodians of Rama, in whose name the destruction took place, who will feed the children and extended family. “We had been living in peaceful co-existence for several decades. Despite the difference of faith, we had no enmity ever. We are human beings and poor people. Let us live in peace. We don’t want riots and hatred in the name of religion,” they said.
Aurangabad too presented an example of how strong Bihar’s social and communal fabric is! When the rioters attempted to set on fire the district’s one of the famous showrooms of shoes owned a Muslim, his Hindu landlord confronted the troublemakers and fired in the air to chase away the goons.