12 days of curfew, a 149-year-old tradition and some “unruly elements”
*** CAUTION: Long Post ***
Most of you reading this may not have visited Bareilly. And if you are not a particularly avid follower of twitter or any of the “newfangled-tech-stuff”, you may be wondering why on earth am I talking about Bareilly on a lazy weekend morning. I don’t blame you – especially if you rely primarily on the English mainstream media for your dose of news.
Bareilly is a small city in Uttar Pradesh in a region called Rohilkhand. It is one of the hundreds of sleepy cities in “Bharat”. But since the last two weeks, it has been reeling under violence, terror and curfew. Imagine living under the looming shadow of uncertainty, danger and the threat of violence…that is how Bareilly feels this weekend.
The story I am about to tell you is a lethal combination of religion, politics, violence and media..It starts around the afternoon of March 2nd. Here is the sequence of events, pieced from a number of different sources:
2nd March: The Indian Express reports that
Members of two communities clashed in Bareilly city on Tuesday evening when some youths leading a Barawafat procession tried to change the route that was earlier scheduled to pass through Prem Nagar area. Instead, it chose to enter Kohada Peer locality thereby inviting ire of locals belonging to another community.
It helpfully mentions that
…A similar clash had taken place four years ago in the area and the administration had then strictly banned the Barawafat procession from entering Kohada Peer locality.
Please note the last point about the Kohada Peer locality. It almost feels that someone was looking for trouble.
Bareilly Inspector General (IG) B P Singh said…the people leading the Barawafat procession tried to move towards Kohada Peer locality, defying the route planned by the administration. The residents of the area objected to it. Subsequently, a few members of the procession manhandled the locals, following which they were pelted at with stones.
…More people joined on either side as the agitated mob engaged in brick-batting. They set fire to vehicles. A police outpost and some shops in the locality were also set on fire.
If this sounds too tame, it is. Here is a somewhat different version, courtesy “Bareilly Jagran” (a city edition of Dainik Jagran; emphasis added). This version suggests a clue to the puzzling silence of the mainstream media and channels – otherwise ever-ready and omnipresent with their OB vans and shrill microphones.
बरेली शहर में जुलूस-ए-मुहम्मदी मंगलवार को कोहाड़ापीर से निकलना था। जुलूस को कुतुबखाना, नावल्टी, इस्लामिया मार्केट और बिहारीपुर होते हुए दरगाह आला हजरत पहुंचना था। दोपहर तीन बजे के करीब जुलूस में शामिल होने के लिए अंजुमन मुहल्ला चाहबाई होकर निकल रही थी। क्षेत्र के लोगों ने इसका विरोध किया। उनका कहना था कि जब जुलूस कोहाड़ापीर से निकलना है, तो मुहल्ले से होकर क्यों निकाला जा रहा है? इसी बात पर दोनों पक्षों में झड़प शुरू हो गई। असामाजिक तत्वों ने अचानक पथराव शुरू कर दिया। इसी बीच फायरिंग भी शुरू हो गई। दो-तीन बच्चों को छर्रे लगे, जिससे हालात बिगड़ गए।
जुलूस में शामिल लोग बेकाबू हो गए और घरों में घुसकर तोड़फोड़ शुरू हो दी। गैस सिलेंडरों में आग लगा दी गई। गुद्दड़बाग में करीब दर्जन भर घरों में आग लगा दी गई। घरों में रखे सिलेंडरों में आग पकड़ जाने से जोरदार धमाके होने लगे। कोहाड़ापीर पर जुलूस ने पुलिस चौकी पर हमला बोल दिया और उसे आग के हवाले कर दिया। पुलिसकर्मियों को जान बचाने के लिए यहां से भागना पड़ा। दुकानों को भी आग के हवाले कर दिया गया।
कटरा और चाहबाई में धार्मिक स्थलों को भी नुकसान पहुंचाया गया।
…इसके बाद प्रशासन ने कोतवाली, प्रेमनगर, किला और बारादरी थाना क्षेत्र में कर्फ्यू की घोषणा कर दी। देर रात तक उपद्रवियों की ओर से छिटपुट फायरिंग और पथराव जारी रहा।
A loose translation below:
The Juloos-e-Muhammadi (procession) was planned to move through the Kohada Peer area on Tuesday. Around 3pm in the afternoon, the gathering tried to pass through Chahbai Mohalla. This was opposed by the locals (in Chahbai area) who said that if the procession was planned from Kohada Peer, why is it passing through Chahbai. Anti-social elements than started stone-pelting. Firing also started..Some children got hurt.
The people in the Juloos got our of control and started entering houses and destroying property. Some gas cylinders were put on fire. This led to massive blasts. At Kohada Peer, the procession attacked a police chowki and burnt it. Several shops were burnt too. Some religious places in Katra and Chahbai were also damaged.
After this, the administration imposed curfew in certain localities. Intermittent firing and stone-pelting continued through the night.
If this sounds too dramatic, have a look at this YouTube video.
4th March: Suneet posts this brief, first-hand account of what happened on the Orkut message boards (emphasis added):
The Psedo-seculars cry so foul when Gujarati(esp. bajarang dal) celebrate Vijay Dashmi with swords… another classic example of such show of strength and weaponary is the “Barawafat procession” (or the jaloos- e -muhammadi) organized in many parts of Uttar Pradesh…
In this procession lakhs (and yea its like 4- 5 kilometer in length) of people of certain community come out and raise real steel swords, “Ballams”, axes, everything….
An incidence of such a procession turning violent happened on 2, March, 2010 where a Police station was set on fire and many Hindu Shops looted and then set to fire… The police was, obviously, not able to do anything as they were encountering a mob with weapons. To add fuel to fire, there was stone pelting on temples from the aggressive mobilized minority which lead to retaliations from the majority community… The Curfew is on and rumours rampant….
i literally saw Bareilly turning into a Pakistan that day…. there were just green Flags and people swinging Swords everywhere on the street… when the Police tried to stop the crowd and fired in air, the mob went on rampage…. set a prominent police station on fire, and looted and razed shops of a certain community….
The scene i saw was sad for me… smoke was rising everywhere in my peace loving city… Many of the noble minority community people too were just saying ” these guys have done their act and left and its we who will have to suffer...”
y allow such procession which tend to make situation so volatile….
do u think there won’t be any retaliation… i saw the emotions in the eyes of the spectators when the curfew was lift in the morning yesterday (for 3 hrs)….
Please note the indirect reference to certain “outsiders”. More on this later.
While all this was happening, the mainstream media largely kept mum…This would have been end of the matter but for the twist to come.
8th March: This PTI report mentions fresh trouble over the arrest of Tauqeer Raza Khan:
Curfew has been reimposed in four localities of the town in the wake of fresh tension following arrest of a prominent Sunni cleric in connection with communal clashes, official sources said here today.
…Fresh tension erupted in the city after leader of Ittehad-e-Millat Conference Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan was arrested by the police on charges of inciting communal feelings, attempt to murder and treason last evening, sources said.
9th March: After the arrest, votebank politics:
Lucknow: With an eye on muslim votebank the Samajwadi Party (SP) on Tuesday raked up issue of Maulana Tauqir Raza’s arresting in Bareilly. Capitalising on it the party directed its muslim MLAs and leaders to raise the issue among their community.
…SP MLA Abbas Ali Zaidi stated…that the issue will be taken to roads and muslim clerics across the state will be roped in against this arresting. “…Muslims will take to roads if Maulana Raza is not released by the police within 24 hours. We are contacting the ulemas (clerics) for their support in our protest,” said Zaidi.
10th March: The Ulema Council threatens to launch a state-wide agitation against his arrest:
“If the police fail to release Maulana Tauquir Raza Khan in the next one-two days, we will hit the streets along with thousands of Muslim residents of the state,” national general secretary of the Ulema Council (a body of clerics) Mohammad Tahir Madni told reporters in Azamgarh, about 300 km from here.
Maulana Tauquir Raza Khan, president of the Ittehad-e-Millat Council, was arrested late Monday from Bareilly, about 250 km from here. It was his “rabble rousing speech” that had led to communal tension in the district last week, officials said.
12th March: Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan is released but violence flares up again. The media is – as ever – delightfully vague.
Lucknow, Mar 12 (PTI) Fresh tension erupted in Bareilly after members of a community indulged in brick batting and arson following the release of Sunni cleric Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, who was arrested in connection with communal clashes, officials said here today.
…Soon after Khan’s release, members of a community defied curfew and went on a rampage indulging in heavy brick batting and arson in nearly one dozen localities of the old city area.
and ToI adds:
…As reported by Times of India earlier in the evening, the UP government was under immense pressure from members of his community to release Tauqir Raza Khan. He was arrested on March 8 as he was accused of fomenting trouble, engineering riots and inciting people by police.
…Completely defying the curfew, mobs running into thousands, had fanned out in the streets on Wednesday in his support. They had gathered in a large, open stadium of a local school – Islamia Inter College – to listen to impassioned speeches made by Subhani Miyan, Khan’s father-in-law and head cleric of a well-known mosque.
The crowd shouted slogans pleading Khan’s innocence and demanded his immediate, unconditional release, leading to heightened tension in the city.
Why was the Maulana released so abruptly? Might it have something to do with what happened on 10th March (Wednesday)?
The arrest had added to the tension in the city, with a mob of about 3,000 locals gathering on Wednesday night in Baradari area raising anti-government slogans.
…or might his release be linked to Hon Mayawati-ji’s mega rally planned for 15th March?
…जब उन्हें यह पता चला कि अंदरखाने बरेलवी मरकज की ओर से यह तैयारी की जा रही है कि मुस्लिम बसपा रैली का बायकाट करें तब सरकार की पेशानी पर बल पड़ गए। 15 मार्च को लखनऊ में बसपा की ऐतिहासिक रैली होनी है। बताते हैं कि बसपा के रणनीतिकार इस वक्त कोई जोखिम उठाने को तैयार नहीं थे। मुख्यमंत्री मायावती ने नसीमुद्दीन से 24 घंटे में इस मसले को हल करने के लिए कहा। सिद्दीकी को पता था कि इस मसले का हल सीपीसी की धारा 169 में छिपा हुआ है। इसके बाद उन्होंने आयुक्त माजिद अली से धारा 169 के तहत कार्रवाई कराकर मौलाना तौकीर रजा खां की रिहाई का रास्ता साफ करने के लिए कहा। फिर जिला पन्शासन को हिदायत दी गई कि वह मौलाना तौकीर रजा खां की रिहाई का रास्ता तुरंत साफ करे।
A loose translation:
When BSP/Naseemuddin Siddiqui realised that Muslims may boycott the BSP rally, CM Mayawati asked Naseemuddin to resolve the situation in 24 hours. Naseemuddin then used Sec 169 and got the Commission Majid Ali to release Tauqeer.
Tauqeer Raza Khan
…Defying curfew, irate mobs today torched vehicles and road kiosks and clashed with police, leaving a Superintendent of Police and five other personnel injured, in Bareilly which has been hit by communal violence since March 2.
Additional Director General of Police, law and order, Brij Lal, said in Lucknow that unruly elements indulged in heavy brickbatting and arson in Sanjay Nagar and Subhash nagar localities, forcing the police to use tear gas shells and fire rubber bullets, even as curfew continued in four police station areas.
I wonder about these “irate mobs” and “unruly elements”
But it was not just property that was damaged in the last two weeks. In the last 12 days, the residents of Bareilly also lost trust in each other, their sense of security and faith in the “system”.
And there was one casualty that is likely to go un-noticed. This was the tradition of “Ram Barat” – a procession by Hindus that has been taken out every year for the past 149 years (Bareilly is home to Tulsi Math where Goswami Tulsidas is said to have lived). The “Barat” is precursor to the “Ram Navami” celebrations. It was due to be taken out yesterday (March 12th).
It was cancelled. The “why” is unclear:
…members of the Hindu organization said the district administration did not give permission for taking out procession.
The ADG (Law and Order) said the organizers decided to withdraw the programme in view of communal tension.
The former might be closer to the truth (as the report below indicates). Please note the added emphasis (once again)…The first bit holds another clue to why this may not have been covered by mainstream media; the second bit suggests that this may have been pre-planned/ pre-meditated:
Permission for a high-profile Ram Barat on Friday, which had been taken out across city’s main streets as a precursor to Ram Navmi celebrations for past 149 years, was cancelled in view of the prevailing conditions.
Several thousand people from the arrested leaders’ community had been out on the street since Wednesday evening, leading to a dangerous situation in the city. They were demanding an unconditional and immediate release of their leader Maulana Tauqir Raza Khan, national president of the powerful Itihad-e-Millat Council (IMC) that holds considerable clout in the community.
Meanwhile, local police and intelligence units are investigating if any group linked with the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India played a role in the riots, leading to such flare-up in a city not known for communal violence.
The Indian Express has a more explicit mention of plans for creating deliberate trouble:
The Bareilly police and state intelligence wing officials are probing if any group linked with the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India played a role in the communal violence.
According to sources, in his narco test, SIMI chief Safdar Nagori had stated that the outfit has raised groups of young activists who would rush to a place within hours of a communal clash, exploiting the situation to target the rival community
Finally, here is another clip of the violence. It makes for depressing viewing.
To close off, a few pictures (via Vishal on Orkut; Courtesy & Copyright: “Dainik Jagran“)
As I write these words, I already feel exhausted and drained…It has taken me a few hours to collate the material and compose this post…I started the post thinking that I will close with some questions…But after going through all the reports and other material, my mind is numb with fury, anger, frustration and helplessness…It is very late into the night and I am unable to think straight…The questions will have to wait a few hours. Over to you.
P.S. Almost missed this…It is all Bajrang Dal’s fault!
…On Thursday, Chief Minister Mayawati saw to it that Maulana Tauqir Raza Khan, an accused in the riot, was released.
It served two purposes: The Maulana’s angry supporters did not resort to more violence and the Muslim vote was pacified.
But it gave Bajrang Dal arsenal. Partymen set shops and vehicles on fire pushing an already tense town to the edge.
“Ten people have been arrested for arson and stone-pelting,” said Brijlal Mohan, Additional Director General, Law & Order, Uttar Pradesh. Add to this chaos, the BJP rushed in to consolidate the Hindu vote.