Image Courtesy: thewire.in
After allegations of ‘bulldozer discrimination and injustice,’ Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district administration goes further: another set of demolition orders have been reportedly been served on five houses belonging to Muslim families of Surjani village in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district on Friday evening.
These orders came 48 hours after the homes of three other Muslim families of the village had been peremptorily razed to the ground, reportedly without following any due process. The demolitions took place over allegations of stone pelting at a Garba pandal during a tiff that broke out over rash driving by a 14-year-old boy. On October 4, the homes of three Muslims were razed to the ground by the Mandsaur district administration for not having “building permission”.
This action by the district administration followed the names of their family members surfaced amongst the 19 people who were named for allegedly instigating an attack on 32-year-old Shivlal Patidar and his friend outside the Garba pandal and also pelting stones on the pandal. Their homes were demolished within 24 hours of serving notice.
In this latest case, the ‘Bedakhli’ (eviction) order was passed on the evening of October 7 and was pasted outside the homes of Abdul Gaffar Pathan, Abdul Rasheed, Amjad Pathan, Faiz Mohammad Pathan and Riyaz Pathan, residents of Surjani village. In addition to the ‘Bedakhli’ order, the Sitamau Naib Tehsildar court also imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on each family for allegedly building a pakka house encroaching government lands. “…you were informed to remove the encroachment today from the government land and inform the court. And also submit the penalty in the court,” the order reads.
“If you didn’t comply with the court order, the court will take action under Section 248 (2-A) of the MP Land Revenue Code 1959. The expense of removing encroachment by the district administration will be charged to you,” the order reads.
Gulshana Bi, wife of Amjad Pathan, who has been served a notice by the court, told the media, “With an intention to stop us from going to higher courts or appeal to senior officials, the administration served notices on Friday evening. We can only reach out to the court on Monday, but by then the administration may demolish our homes.” She further said, “We have nothing to do with the October 2 brawl and none of our family members are named in the FIR. Yet, we have been targeted.”
She also alleged that dozens of members of the Patidar community had encroached government lands in the village. “Many have encroached the prime lands alongside the road but they were never served notices,” she said. “Since the members of the majority community want us to leave the village, the district administration is deliberately targeting us. In the recently concluded panchayat polls, we didn’t vote for the sitting sarpanch [village head]. He threatened us with action against us. Therefore, the first demolition notice was issued by the panchayat and signed by the sarpanch and not the revenue department.”
Brushing aside the allegations of targeting, sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Sandeep Shiv told The Wire, “The Tehsildar court passed an order in July 2021 to remove encroachment from government land. But they did not comply with it even after a year. Therefore, ‘Bedakhli’ orders have passed.” The SDM Shiv emphasised that the residents had been informed to produce a stay order in the next couple of days to prevent eviction.
Surjani village of Sitamau tehsil has over 100 homes with over 450 voters. There are 29 Muslim families in the village who are facing demolition threats.
The villagers allege that police and revenue officials are threatening to demolish the homes of the remaining 13 accused. “If the government demolishes the remaining 16 homes of the accused, and five homes of other residents claiming encroachment, only five Muslim homes will remain in the village,” said a local requesting anonymity.
“Owing to fear of home demolition, the villagers are moving out with their belongings. The three families whose homes were demolished on October 4 are living in tents,” he added. When contacted, Mahipal Singh, the sarpanch of the village, refused any comments on the incident. Villagers claim that they are trying to reach out to the collector Gautam Singh urging him to stop the demolition.
The communal flashpoint
According to the villagers, 32-year-old Shivlal Patidar objected to 14-year-old Salman Khan driving his bike rashly on the evening of October 2, which ended in a squabble between the two. Some hours later, Shivlal complained to Salman’s grandfather Hafiz Khan (62) who was seated meters away from the Garba pandal erected alongside the Ambe Mata temple of the village. Salman, who was standing meters away with his teenage friends Sohail and Rais, joined the conversation and objected to Shivlal. “I slapped him thrice for misbehaving with Shivlal in front of villagers. But it did not prevent the incident,” said Hafiz Khan over a call.
Reportedly in retaliation, Salman allegedly misbehaved with Shivlal. Seeing this, Shivlal’s friend Mahesh and others who were standing near the Garba pandal rushed to him armed with sticks and rods sensing a brawl. After a heated argument between the two, the busiest part of the village turned into a battlefield.A clash broke out and both the groups pelted stones at each other, with Shivlal’s friend, Mahesh, suffering injuries. Around 8 pm, residents alerted the police control room about the incident.
Many people, including Salman, fled the spot after hearing police sirens. Dinesh Parajapti, the town inspector of the Sitamau police station, arrived at the scene and discovered Shivlal and his injured friends. Three Muslims from the village were taken into custody by police. During a late-night search, four people were detained. To prevent further clashes, the district administration deployed a team of over 200 cops in the village.
“When we arrived at the spot, we found only members of the Patidar community there. The opposing side had left the area. Three people were detained right away, and four more – including two minors –were detained the following day,” said Parajapti.
Acting on a complaint of Shivlal, the police have booked Salman, his father and 17 others under eight sections of the Indian Penal Code, including attempt to murder, and arrested eight accused so far. In the FIR, which was filed at 2 am on October 3, Shivlal claimed that Salman crossed him while driving too fast on October 1 while he was watching Garba at the pandal. He allegedly then complained to Salman’s father, Aklu Khan (38), about the incident.
A day later, on October 2, at around 9 pm, while he and his friends were standing close to the Garba pandal, Salman and his father Aklu Khan, grandfather Hafiz Khan, Sohail Khan and his father Jafar Khan, Raes Khan, and 13 other people arrived at the scene armed with sticks and stones and started hurling insults at him and his group, according to the FIR.
In his FIR, Shivlal also claimed that Aklu Khan attacked him with a stone and then picked up an iron bar that was nearby and beat Mahesh in the head as they were trying to stop them. The gang started pelting stones at the Garba pandal as a commotion erupted, injuring two other people, including a villager Mangubai.
Interestingly however, The Wire reports that the chain of events described by Shivlal in the FIR is different from the accounts shared by the eyewitnesses and Salman’s grandfather. Countering Shivlal’s allegation in the FIR, Salman’s 62-year-old grandfather, Hafiz Khan, claimed that it was on October 2 around 6:30 pm, while he was seated a few feet away from the Garba pandal, when Shivlal complained to him about Salman. The brawl occurred subsequently.
“The FIR said that my son and grandson attacked the pandal, which is not true. A rift between Salman and Shivlal for rash driving is being given a communal colour. We have been living here peacefully for generations but have never seen such a communal outbreak,” said Hafiz Khan.
“When the SP visited the site, he observed the stones were planted not pelted,” claimed a local who was accompanying the SP.
Rumours and reports of the conflict spread like wildfire. According to a local, a WhatsApp message, which was forwarded widely to several groups, claimed Muslims allegedly stormed the Garba pandal in Surjani village, assaulting ladies and destroying the deity idol. This did its job and soon, a mob of around 2,000 men arrived in the village within an hour, but authorities prevented them from going into the Muslim neighbourhood known as Pathan Mohalla.
According to Salman’s grandfather Hafiz Khan, a truck belonging to his relative Ansar Khan that was parked on the village’s main road and near a petrol pump was set on fire at about 11 pm. The truck was set ablaze by several miscreants, according to the CCTV footage of the incident.
The mob attempted to incite Muslims by torching the vehicle and throwing things into Muslim neighbourhoods, which were under police protection, but Muslims did not respond, according to a resident who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The resident said that the police officers threatened to add names to Salman’s FIR, if anyone ventured to file a complaint when they attempted to file an FIR of arson and stone pelting. “It has been six days since the truck was set on fire but the police did not lodge an FIR,” he said.
#Mandsaur: What happened 12 hrs before homes of 3 Muslims razed:
– After a WhatsApp forward, over 1000+ ppl gathered in village.
– Under police nose, stones pelted on Muslim locality, a truck of Ansar khan set on fire.
– “Police refused to lodge FIR, threatened on contrary.”
— काश/if Kakvi (@KashifKakvi) October 6, 2022
When asked, Dinesh Parajapti, town inspector of Sitamau police station, replied, “We have received the complaint but FIR has not been registered.”
The houses of the three accused demolished
What appears to be a partisan approach and action of the administration, within 12 hours after the FIR, demolition notices were pasted outside the houses of the three accused. And within 24 hours, all the three houses were razed to the ground. Shama Bi Rahman, the mother of Raes Khan, said that her home was demolished rather than that of her son, Raes Khan, while Aklu and Jafar’s homes were torn down. Money, jewellery, and other expensive items were either destroyed or discarded with the rubble.
“My house shares an entry gate with two other residences that my two sons built separately. They posted a notice on the main gate in the evening stating that they would be destroying Raes’s two-room home, but the next day they came and destroyed our home instead. About 20 years ago, my son left the house,” said Shama Bi.
When asked about the same, SDM Sandeep Shiv said, “The demolition was carried out as per the findings of the panchayat department as they are the authorities to give permissions. They had been given enough time to present their side.” Shama Bi claimed that they weren’t given any time to vacate the houses. Left on the streets with her house demolished and her husband Aklu Khan and 14-year-old son Salman in jail since October 2, Channo Bi (38) was left with no option but to take shelter under a temporary tent erected next to the rubble of her home.
Just like Channo Bi, the home of Sabzo Bi (40) also razed on October 4. Her husband, accused in the case, is on the run while her two sons, one of them being a minor, were arrested by the police for alleged stone pelting.
Tragically, left without a roof, they have been on the streets since October 4 with their children including two toddlers. And other villagers refused to come to her aid fearing demolition and police action.
In order to take shelter from the continuous rains in the region, they put together a makeshift shelter by tying a plastic sheet to a pole, however, on the night of October 8, Sitamau police took it down, Channo Bi alleged.
Fearing demolition, none of the villagers offered shelter as police personnel are continuously threatening them with similar action, especially the remaining Muslim families in the village. It was out of necessity that we had to put up the tent, but now I’m homeless again. We don’t know what to do,” said Channo Bi over the call.
Anurag Sujaniya, Mandaur SP, said in a video clip, “The illegal construction of more than 4,500 sq. ft worth more than Rs 4 crore, belonging to three of the accused, was demolished on Tuesday with the help of the revenue department.”The Wire tried to reach out to Mandsaur district collector Gautam Singh multiple times, but there wasn’t any response. This story will be updated if the official responds.