A tribute to those countless Indians, men and women, who have
put up heroic resistance to the politics of venom and violence
Mohd Omar Malik
All hell broke loose in Kanpur after the murder of ADM (city), CP Pathak on the evening of March 16, 2001. Riots erupted and seven police station precincts remained under curfew for several days. About 15 people lost their lives, mostly in police firing. The Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), notorious for its anti-Muslim bias, was accused of fomenting violence, aiding and abetting loot and arson.
It may be recalled that Muslim youth under the aegis of the Student’s Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had taken out a procession after Friday prayers, to protest the alleged burning of the Holy Quran in New Delhi, in retaliation for the carnage unleashed by the Taliban in Bamiyan. And so the tale of mindless violence, revenge and one-upmanship would have continued unabated. Can anybody cap a volcano in full flow and fury?
In this desert of violence, animosity, suspicion and hatred, there are oases of peace, where the milk of human kindness continues to flow. Meet Mohd Omar Malik (63), resident of 44/4 Chaubey Gola, Kanpur. Malik’s house is scarcely 100 yards from where the ADM was shot. It is also adjacent to the spot where 70 years ago, during the worst Hindu–Muslim riots in 1931, Ganesh Shankar Vidhyarthi was martyred when trying to restore communal amity.
Outside Malik’s door there are four temples, one of which has an image of Vidhyarthi. Though these are four old temples, there are hardly any Hindus in this Muslim dominated enclave. It bore the brunt of mob fury on the 16th. The temple with Vidhyarthi’s icon was almost destroyed. Behind the temple was the tenement of a vegetable vendor, Rakesh Sahu (50), his wife Shaila (45), and their five daughters. Their hutment was torched to the ground.
That is when the human compassion doused the flames of hatred. Malik and his family immediately brought the Sahu family into their home, and sheltered and fed them throughout the curfew. Though five months have passed, the Sahu family still spend the night in Malik’s home, as their house is still in the process of being reconstructed.
Malik who owns a shop selling rexine, is unfazed about what he has done. He says it is his duty. Somebody proposed a reward of rupees one lakh for his actions, but Malik scoffed at it, saying that he was not working for any reward. Monica (20) is the eldest of the Sahu girls. The second is Sarika (18). Their eyes grow wide with wonder and gratitude when they talk of Malik, whom they affectionately refer to as “Abbu”.
Even though other Hindu houses in the area were looted, Monica and Sarika, both of whom are in college, say that they are not afraid to live where they are and have no intention of moving out. They said that even from evil there comes forth good. They were living adjacent to the Maliks for years, but it was only in the hour of crisis that they discovered who their true neighbour was. “Love thy neighbour” in action.
Helping those in need, even perceived enemies, is nothing new for Malik. During the post Babri Masjid demolition riots in 1992, a posse of PAC was posted at the temple in front of their house. Being stationed at the temple the PAC jawans were hungry. Nobody was prepared to open their doors for them. But Malik did, and gave them food and water. “After all, they are human too”, says Malik.
Razia Naqvi, wife of advocate Saeed Naqvi, related the story of Anees Khatoon, (55), a resident of Yatimkhana, where the riot first turned violent on 16th March. One of the targets was a paint shop owned by Ganesh Dube. There are just a handful of Hindus in that hata. Anees Khatoon sheltered the Dubes, and several other Hindu families.
In contrast, Shastrinagar is a Hindu dominated area, with just a sprinkling of Muslims. Here it was the turn of the good samaritans from among the Hindus, who protected the Muslims. At 9 pm on March 18 there were some bomb blasts. Urmila Srivastava (52), a social worker, rushed out of her home and arranged with other Hindu families to shelter Fareeda Bano, Shanaz, Shamim Begum and their families. Smt Srivastava said there were many young girls among them, and they would have been ravished if they had not taken immediate steps to protect them.
Other than individuals, people’s power and unity was also manifest in Kanpur’s hour of darkness. There was light at both ends of the tunnel. Laxmidevi Sonkar (40) is the municipal corporator of ward No 10 (Colonelganj reserved constituency). When trouble started brewing on the March 16, she, her husband Om Prakash Sonkar (48) and advocate Saeed Naqvi called a mohalla meeting. They had earlier formed such committees in different areas. They requested the people to be calm and not get provoked. They exchanged phone numbers in order to keep in touch, and informed the police officials that they would guard and protect their own area.
Laxmidevi’s ward adjoins Sisamau ward, where the family of slain ADM Pathak resided. Some fanatical elements in Sisamau instigated a mob to advance towards Bashirganj, a Muslim enclave in Colonelganj ward. They were armed with country made pistols, bombs and sticks. However, Laxmidevi, her husband, and several other fellow-Khatiks from the area made a human wall to prevent the mob from entering in. The Khatiks were unarmed, but seeing their solidarity and resolve, the threatening mob retreated, and no untoward incident took place. It was a powerful manifestation of human solidarity.
Later during the curfew, the administration sought to post the PAC in the area. This time another group of Hindus, the Lodhis, resisted the move. They said that the entry of the PAC would vitiate the atmosphere, and prevailed upon the administration to reverse their decision. Hemraj Lodhi, Baba Lodhi and others were instrumental in this.
We need many more Abbu Maliks, Anees Khatoons, Urmila Srivastavas and Laxmidevi Sonkars, if we are to change the brown sands of hatred into green oases, flowing with the milk of human kindness.
Archived from Communalism Combat, September 2001, Anniversary Issue (8th) Year 8 No. 71, Cover Story 1