Mayhem in Malegaon

Published on: November 10, 2001
A fact-finding team of human rights activists and lawyers that visited riot-hit Malegaon returns with disturbing evidence of a "complete communal-isation of the police and paramilitary forces"

(The fact–finding team visited the riot-affected areas of Malegaon, the relief camps in Satana town, the affected nearby villages of Patne, Ajang, Wadner (Khakhurdi), Nampur, Talavde and Antapur. The team members met the victims of police firing and of attacks by communal organisations, the additional superintendent of police (Rajvardhan), local journalists, politicians and social workers. It also visited the Farhan Hospital.

The members of the team were Vijay Hiremath (advocate); Kannan Srinivasan, (researcher); Sakharam Sathe and Jennifer Coutinho (members, Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, CPDR); Sanober Keshwaar and Angel Mary (members, Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana).

Excerpts from the report:

Malegaon, in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, is one of the three main powerloom towns in the state. It has a population of over 6.5 lakhs of which over 70% are Muslims. The Union home ministry has since long described Malegaon as an "ultra–sensitive" spot…

On October 19, Nihal Ahmed, a former Janata Dal MLA, led a morcha in the town to protest against American bombing of Afghanistan. The processionists were arrested but later released by the police. This sparked rumours all over the city that all Muslims were supporters of Osama bin Laden and, therefore, of terrorism. On the one hand, these incidents reinforced the stereotyped image of Muslims as terrorists and anti–nationals in the minds of common Hindus. And, on the other hand, in the minds of common Muslims it created a sense of being wronged and persecuted unfairly.

After Nihal Ahmed’s morcha, an SRP van was stationed outside the Jama Masjid in Malegaon for the Friday prayers on October 26. As people were coming out of the mosque after the Juma prayers, a young man started distributing pamphlets in Urdu. Entitled "Be Indian, Buy Indian", it exhorted Indians to boycott American and British products in protest against the bombing of Afghanistan. (Rajvardhan, the additional superintendent of police, told the fact–finding team that he found nothing objectionable in the pamphlet). An SRP constable grabbed a pamphlet from the distributor, tore it up and assaulted the man. The SRP then arrested the pamphleteer and dragged him towards the van. This angered the crowd who immediately rushed to get him released.

Hearing the commotion, the imam of the Jama Masjid, Mufti Mohammed Ismael, rushed out of the Masjid and tried to disperse the crowd around the SRP van. He was soon joined by Suresh Ahire, the superintendent of police, RK Rathod, the deputy superintendent of police and Sheikh Rashid, the Congress MLA of Malegaon. The moment Sheikh Rashid arrived on the spot, however, a section of the crowd started shouting and clamouring for him to go back and became restive. They managed to get the pamphleteer released from the clutches of the police. In the melee, this section also damaged part of a Navratri pandal which had been put up near the masjid.

The police then lathi-charged the crowd and chased them out of the Jama Masjid area. The crowd responded to this attack by pelting stones at the police and the police kept lathi–charging and pushing them back.

It is reported that no sooner had the crowd been chased out of the Jama Masjid area by the police than a huge group of Hindus led by Dada Bhuse (the chief of the Shiv Sena-spawned outfit called Janata Raja) arrived on the scene and held a demonstration to protest the damaging of the Navratri pandal by the Muslims. Soon thereafter, this crowd moved towards the Sangameshwar masjid, destroying Muslim shops in front of it. Their numbers swelled as they went along leaving a trail of selective destruction in their path.

In the meanwhile, the police continued the lathi–charge on the gathering and drove them towards the Kidwai Road and Mohammed Ali Road area — which is the main Bazaar area of Malegaon city and is about half a kilometre away from the Jama Masjid. As Friday was bazaar day in Malegaon, the gathering from the mosque was joined here by many people who had come to shop in the bazaar.

Police Firings:

According to the findings of the team,