Myth of the Hindu Backlash: When Bombay Burned

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: January 7, 2016
in which frenzied mobs of Hindus and Muslims attacked each other.   Which incident among the list of horrors listed above was worse than the other? Should the Radhabai Chawl incident be elevated to a special category? The only thing that can be said for such selective projections that elevate one tragedy above others and relegate others to mere statistic is that it is poor comment indeed on the times that we live in. When the injury to a victim is measured by whether he/she is Hindu or Muslim and the veracities of testimonies are similarly upheld or dismissed.

Commenting on Bapat’s affidavit and testimony, the Judge remarks: “Even the state government and the police were sold on the theory that the Hindu backlash came on account of the said gruesome incidents. Though Bapat has been quick to point out these incidents in his affidavit, he claimed total ignorance with regard to several equally gruesome incidents in which Muslims were victims, which were put to him in his cross–examination.” (Pg. 197, Para 2.14).

“For example, he seemed either not to recollect, or be unaware, of the arson of a timber mart in Ghatkopar jurisdiction on December 15, 1992 resulting in four Muslims being burnt alive, an arson in Goregaon jurisdiction on December 20, 1992 in which one of the Muslims was burnt and killed, of the attack on Muslim hutments in M.P. Mill compound on January 2,1993 and large–scale arson of Muslim hutments on January  4, 1993 in Mahim jurisdiction and the morcha led by Shiv Sena leaders Shri Ramesh More and Shri Gajanan Kirtikar to Jogeshwari police station, en route causing havoc in Chacha Nagar and damaging the Chacha Nagar Masjid, of the arson of a taxi carrying two Muslims which was burnt causing their death on January  7,1993 in Antop Hill jurisdiction and the Devipada incident of January 12, 1994 in which two Muslim ladies were stripped naked and attacked by a mob and one lady and her uncle were murdered and burnt.” (Pg. 197, para 2.14).

This theory of  “Hindu retaliation”, led by “Hinduhriday-samrat” Bal Thackeray, that gained wide sway and currency during and after the violence in Mumbai is rooted in Hindu communal discourse of yore. An examination of all judicial Commission reports in post–Independence India since the first major riot in Jabalpur in 1961, shows that the perverted discourse around “Who cast the first stone?” has been maliciously used by Hindu communal organisations — be it the RSS, Jana Sangh, the Sena or the BJP — to justify their blatantly aggressive acts.

The Judge further observes: “There is legitimate grievance made by the Muslims that the memory and information of Shri Bapat is either selective or that he had been selectively fed with only such material to be placed before the Commission as would suit a particular theory being advanced by the State Government and the police. Bapat also claimed not to know that Shiv Sainiks under the leadership of local Shiv Sena leaders Baburao Mane and Ramkrishna Keni had taken out a celebration cycle rally in Dharavi jurisdictional area (on December 6, 1992)  which went around the Muslim areas shouting abusive and provoking slogans during which a stone was thrown at a local Mosque, though he claimed that, if such an incident had happened and reported to him, he would have certainly shown it as the first in the series of incidents referred to in paragraph 42 of his affidavit. Despite the material on record in the concerned case (C.R.No.718 of 1992) showing clearly that the celebration rally/procession had been organised by Shiv Sena, to deny, as Bapat did, the role of Shiv Sena in the riots, is ignoring the obvious.” (Pg. 197, para 2.15).

Shiv Sena MP, Madhukar Sarpotdar had in his deposition before the Commission defended his party’s philosophy of retaliation even saying that “when incidents against Hindus took place in one part of Mumbai, acts of retaliation against innocent Muslims in other parts was justified.” Sarpotdar had also said that as a senior leader of the Shiv Sena he could say that this was the philosophy of his party as well.

A significant section of the ATR is devoted to the murder of the Mathadi workers and the Radhabai Chawl incident. The ATR reiterates the retaliation theory: “when action and reaction are taking place rapidly, it is difficult to investigate as to where they started.” The ATR also supports Bal Thackeray’s rejection of the interview given to Time magazine but makes no attempt to deal with the provocative and incendiary writings of Thackeray in his mouthpiece, the Saamna, that have been relied upon by the Judge in his indictment of the Sena chief.

No attention has been paid to the incidents listed by the Judge (mentioned above) that prove that right from December 20, 1992 till January 5, 1993, stray but gruesome incidents of violence continued unabated where members of both communities were victims. The government is utterly silent on specific instances of brutality that by their very chronology explode the theory that it was the selective targeting of Hindus on January 5–6 and on January 8, 1993 that were responsible for the Hindu backlash. The attitude of the government as reflected in the ATR is uncaring of the enormous loss of life and property that took place during the riots since it merely limits itself to justifying the Shiv Sena’s own role in the violence.

(Excerpted from the Introduction – Myths shattered --to “Damning Verdict”, Report of the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission appointed for inquiry into the riots at Mumbai during December 1992-January 1993 and the March 12, 1993 bomb blasts)