Malegaon targeted by arrows of hate has seen a rich and varied past

Malegaon, a city in the Nashik district of north-western Maharashtra state is the latest target of Hindutva’s hate and vitriol with highly charged hate speeches being delivered here on July 3, organized by the notorious Sakal Hindu Samaj; with a chequered communal history of clashes, the city witnessed the bomb blasts of September 2008

Malegaon ka Superman, a spoof that popularised Mollywood, this unique town’s popular “film industry.”

That the film had no Bollywood trappings of special sets, superstars, or publicity, yet at a special screening of the film made on a shoe-string budget by Nasir Shaikh, directors like Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap were spotted in a front row screening way pack in 2011. It depicted a desi version of Hollywood’s Superman whose mission is to save the textile hub, Malegaon from a tobacco-addicted villain. In a cruel twist of fate, Shafique Shaikh, who played the lead, was addicted to tobacco, and succumbed to mouth cancer six hours after the film screening. He was merely 25-years-old and is survived by his wife and two young daughters.

Several visits to the town, that has now a chequered communal history, reveals scars of a people that have been plagued by intra-community clashes since 1984 with the growth of aggressive Hindutva and response from a reactionary minority politics, community elders speak with nostalgia (and anger) of the contribution to the resistance against colonial rule. In fact, a monument in the town is testimony to this.

With a significant Muslim population, Malegaon that is today an important market for agricultural produce houses a historic 18th century fort and was centre of the vicious bomb blasts in 2008 that has simultaneously exploded here and in Modasa, Gujarat

City Forgotten, is a 15-minute film of an entirely different genre: this film made through the eyes of residents, local activists, and citizens. It tells the rather sorry story of Malegaon’s fall from what was its stature as ‘the Manchester of India’ to a town in decline, blighted by sharp communal polarisations.

Located in north-western Maharashtra, Malegaon is part of the Nasik urban agglomeration and is located on the Girna River and on the highway between Mumbai (Bombay) and Agra (in Uttar Pradesh state). While Malegaon is situated on the bank of the Girna river with Mosam River flowing through middle of the city dividing it in two parts

Malegaon was an early centre of the hand-loom industry. It rapidly industrialised and has recorded remarkable growth since the 1940s. It is now an important market for agricultural produce. Cotton and silk goods are exported to Mumbai, Pune, and Satara. The city has several colleges affiliated with the University of Pune.

June 2023

A controversy had erupted about a month ago with wild allegations of students being influenced to convert to Islam being made by some outfits. Following protests, an FIR was filed by the police against the principal. A politician of the ruling coalition of Eknath Shinde SS-BJP, Maharashtra’s Ports Development and Mining Department Minister, Dada Bhuse, also demanded action against those responsible for the seminar.

The principal has been accused of trying to attract students towards Islam under the guise of a career guidance seminar in the college. According to reports the programme had begun with the recitation of a small Islamic prayer. Towards the end of the event, many people entered the hall claiming that the event was an attempt to propagate Islam.” Dr Subhash Nikam is the principl with the FIR against him.

2008 Malegaon

In 2008, on the significantly day of Shab-e-Barat, September 29. 2008 blasts had shaken the town killing 7 people in the city of Malegaon. The blasts took place near Bhikku Chowk in Malegaon, Maharashtra. Almost simultaneously, another blast occurred in Modasa, Gujarat. The blasts were also timed for the eve of Navaratri. A total of 80 people were also injured in Malegaon and on the same day a 15-year-old boy lost his life in simultaneous blasts in Gujarat’s Modasa town. The blasts appeared like a blast that occurred in the New Delhi just three days before this.

In the Malegaon blasts of 2008, two low intensity bombs were fitted on a Hero Honda motorcycle and rigged to detonate in Malegaon. The motorcycle used later led the police to the accused. Initially, the blasts were suspected to be a work of Muslim extremists. The Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad was deployed to help the Malegaon police in investigation. The ATS team was led by ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who was later killed in the 26/11 attack by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists in Mumbai.

Through the motor cycle used, the ATS collected evidence which pointed to the involvement of Hindu extremist groups behind the attack. On October 24, 2008, the police arrested 3 people in connection with the blast- Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu. The investigations have reached a dead end now in 2023 with much of the evidence collected lost.

2002 Malegaon

In June-July 2003, Communalism Combat carried a special edition of its magazine devoted to the peacemakers of Malegaon city and its environs. The extract from the introduction to a book by a local journalist originally in the Urdu and Hindi language, Abdul Halim Siddiqui, ‘Aman ke Farishte’, i were translated into English by Javed Anand, co-editor of the magazine:

“I feel proud of the peacemakers of Malegaon, and of fellow journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai, Nalin Mehta, Prabal Pratap Singh, Sanjay Bargata and Teesta Setalvad who reported on the Gujarat carnage (2002) impartially and fearlessly, free of communal bias. Rising above the confines of religion, they served the cause of humanity well and set new standards for others to emulate. I hold them as my ideals and salute them for their work.

“Had the peacemakers not gathered and come forward in Malegaon and the villages, the casualties would have amounted to hundreds. That’s when I resolved that the inspiring deeds of these people must be placed before the public and began work in earnest.

“While placing these accounts before readers, I hope to have fulfilled the social responsibility of a journalist and a writer, to provide oxygen to the flames that symbolise hope for humanity flickering in the storm of hatred and rage, to dispel the prevalent atmosphere of fear and insecurity and instead inspire trust and create a sense of security. I hope, too, that the accounts of these messengers of peace from my native place, who no doubt are inspired by the message of universal brotherhood given to us by our sants and sufis, become an inspiration to people from the rest of India.

“I toured some 25-30 villages, met hundreds of people – Hindus and Muslims, men, women, and children – and listened to what they had to say. Having spoken to so many of them, I feel more convinced than ever before that the common man, whether Hindu or Muslim, is peace loving and desires to co-exist with others in amity and harmony. But people from both communities are terrified of the mob. They are scared of the communal forces who could create problems for them in future. It is for this reason that a lot of the Muslims and Hindus I spoke to, and who had stood by their neighbours, sheltered, and fed them at the risk of being themselves targeted by the frenzied mobs, requested that I do not mention their accounts in my report.

“This untold story of the Malegaon riots uncovers the other side of violence. For me, this is not the culmination but merely the beginning of a new effort. I am sure that after going through these accounts, my readers will draw my attention to other positive accounts which I will publicise through Fateh-e-Alam, the monthly magazine that I edit.”

Stories of #Everyday Harmony and #Peacemakers are what is needed to revive memories of goodwill and understanding and focus on the reality of inter-dependence in everyday life.


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