A Preliminary Report on Bhadrak Riot
Image: Indian Express
Fresh violence broke out in the coastal town of Bhadark in Odisha on April 7, after a deceptive calm in the aftermath of April 6. In the bouts of fresh violence mobs set ablaze shops and attacked police vehicles, forcing the authorities to impose curfew. The riot was triggered after a Muslim youth had allegedly posted vulgar remarks on goddess Sita on facebook on April 5. On the following day, political activists led by the Bajrang Dal , Vishwa Hindu Parishad,Hindu Surakhya Samiti and ABVP gheraoed the town police station demanding the immediate arrest of the person around 10 am. Despite efforts by the police to call a peace committee meeting and insist that action could be taken only after investigations since this was a cyber crime, the agitators were bent upon taking law into their own hands.
Mobs led by these organizations came out on the road strongly protesting the inaction of administration and blocked the National highway No 16. During these violent protests they even set fire to some shops owned by Muslims; to bring the situation under control, the administration imposed curfew under section 144 of the CRPC all over Bhadrak town.
The meeting of the peace committee called to broker dialogue between communities was called but ended in failure. Even as prohibitory orders were in force, more than 50 bike-borne Muslim youth allegedly went on a rampage rally giving slogans “Islam zindabad” and targeting shops owned by Marwari and Hindu traders. This led to a further retaliation by mobs burning down of shops owned by Muslim traders.
By the night of April 7, many shops in the main market area including vegetable shops, furniture shops, cloth houses, restaurants and roadside slaughter houses had been burned. With the situation deteriorating, the state government imposed curfew in the town and rushed the home secretary, the director general of police and RDC to the spot to control the situation.
In March 1991, after celebration of Ramnavami, the shops, godowns and houses of Marwari businessmen were attacked along the main roads. The riots soon spread to Soro, another small town located nearby, where 17 persons had then, died. Since then, regular peacemaking efforts between the two committees had restored communal harmony to a large extent. However, over last few years the peace committee has been rendered defunct with the administration and local political leadership making little effort to rein in the hotheads from both communities.
On April 6, when the matter came to our knowledge, we feared that a communal conflagration like that in 1991 may erupt. Hence we activated our sources to gather information and after getting information we organised a team of peace soldiers under the leadership of eminent Gandhian Leader Mrs. Krishna Mohanty came to Bhadrak for peace restoration on the morning of April 8. MLA Bhandaripokhri Sri Prafulla Samal also invited Mrs. Mohanty to intervene in the matter. Along with Mrs. Mohanty, eminent poet and Sarvodaya leader Sailaj Ravi, Pratinidhi of Kasturba Gandhi National memorial trust Sandhyarani Mallick, joint Secretary of Utkal Gandhi Smarak Nidhi Ambika Prasad Pati, State Convener of Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan Ranjit Dehury, Angul District Convener Surya Narayan Nath and National Convener of Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan and trustee of Central Gandhi Smarak Nidhi Dr. Biswajit also formed part of the team. Presently, we are staying at Gandhi Odisha Balashram, Garad Pur, Bhadrak to speed up peace process.
Our Interim Findings
We met many intellectuals, leaders of both communities, Political leaders, Gandhians, general public including district and state administration who are staying at Bhadrak.
There was an element of pre planning in the raising the communal temperature by the Hindutvawadi organisations. This year during the ‘grand’ Ramnavami celebrations that lasted for eight days, several aggressive, anti-national slogans like “Hinduon ka hai Hindustan” (India for Hindus) “Bharat main Rahna hai to Ram Ram Kahna hai” (To Live in India, Say Ram Ram) were shouted.
After the peace committee meeting a bike rally was organised by the Muslim youth, when 144 were in force. Members of the public opined that due to pressure from the local MLA, the administration remained salient. This bike rally was also another provocation that contributed to the deterioration of the situation. Hindutvwadi organisations told the peace committee that during this bike rally, Muslims shouted, “Hindustan Murdabaad and Pakistan Zindabaad”. No independent onlooker however corroborated this and the fact finding committee believes this is just a rumour.
Like during the Kandhmal violence, huge numbers of saffron flags had been planted on many of the homes belonging to Hindus and shops owned by Hindus to discriminate between Hindus and Muslims.In some area Muslim people saved the houses and shops of Hindus and vice versa.
Now the both communities are in a state of panic.
Liberal Hindus and Muslims intellectuals and even the district administration have suggested to us that we develop a permanent peace process in the town. In this context on 10 am of April 16, the first peace committee meeting is being held at Bhadrak Gandhi Odisha Balashram premesises. A detailed report will send after completing the programme.
(The author is National Convener, Rashtriya Yuva Sanghatan)