The Role of Police in Dhule Riots.

On January 6 this month fight broke out between a Muslim youth and a Hindu hotelier over payment of bill. The amount involved was meagre. Yet, soon the minor issue escalated into a full blown riot between Hindu and Muslim communities in an area where a road separates the two localities dominated by each. The police resorted to firing killing 6 people, surprisingly all of them Muslims. Indian Express of 26 January has carried a disturbing report about the role played by Maharashtra police: ^^Dhule video unmasks rioters in uniform^^–“Police in the northern Maharashtra town of Dhule destroyed private property and looted shops earlier this month after violence broke out following a tiff over payment of a hotel bill. About a dozen video clips available with The Indian Express, each running into a few minutes, show the police breaking open a stall, pulling down a pandal meant for hawkers, smashing water drums and pounding two-wheelers parked along the street on January 6. One two-minute clip shows a group of policemen breaking open a small stall in the Machhi Bazaar area. Accompanied by people in civilian clothes, some policemen are seen taking out goods from the stall. A policeman also stuffs his khaki trousers with some of the looted items“. IE claims that it has over a dozen such clips in its possession showing the police in the role of rioters and partisan actors. Here are two of them on You-tube.

The police mindset looks clearly biased. The communal virus has distorted its working is revealed in a way no words can. I am giving below an account of what happened on the ground that January day in Dhule as discovered by one fact fining mission.
By Feroze Mithiborwala

This was the first time that we would have come across this term – ‘Kargilli Firing’. It was in a meeting in Dhule where activists from both the communities were present that a young Muslim mentioned this term & most of us were shocked beyond words. What he was basically stating was that the police opened fire with an agenda to kill as if they were at war with Pakistani troops over the Line of Control.
Thus the deep seated anti-Muslim bias amongst vast sections of the police is indeed evidently true, frightening as it sadly is.
There was also another first. We have come across many reasons for riots that break out spontaneously & they range from arguments over a scooter accident, to kite flying, to a love affair, to a little incident outside a Temple or a Masjid being the norm.
But the recent one riot in Dhule on the 6thof January certainly tops the bill, as it was precisely a petty frivolous squabble over a food bill at a food-stall that set this riot off that finally led to the deaths of 6 youngsters, namely Imran Ali Qamar Ali (25), Aasim Shaikh Naseer (21), Saud Ahmed Raees Patel (18), Hafiz Mohd Aasif Abdul Haleem (22), Rizwan Hasan Shah (24) and Yunus Abbas Shah (20), with 3 others who had their legs amputated.
Needless to say that the police firing was only directed towards the Muslim rioters, whilst the Hindu rioters were provided cover to loot, pillage & burn properties in Macchi Bazar. The evidence has all been captured on mobile-video recordings & the police are clearly seen to be participating in the general looting & mayhem. You can access this by mere Googling ‘Dhule Riots YouTube’ & the evidence is there for all to see.
This was a riot that should never have been & once it started, it could & rather should, have been easily contained by the police within a matter of two hours or less.
Macchi Bazar is a Muslim populated mohalla (locality) which serves the best non-vegetarian food in all of Dhule & thus in the evenings there are droves of Hindus who come there to eat. Then right across the local chowk is Madhavpura a Hindu majority locality.
The incident sparked off from a heated argument between a Muslim youth & the food-stall owner (a Hindu), over a bill. It took a violent turn, with an exchange of blows & then the Muslim youth went over to the Police Chowki, right opposite the stall barely 20 feet across the street. The policemen advised the boy to go file the complaint at Azad Nagar Police station, as it could not be registered at the chowki. The point to be noted here is that, this is the most communally sensitive spot in all of Dhule & the policemen stationed there should have known better.
Here itself the feud could have been nipped in the bud, if the constable would have just walked 20 feet across & sternly warned the two erring parties to settle the petty matter.
The Muslim boy on seeing the inaction went & called for his friends to support him & so did the hotel owner & then the situation just deteriorated into a stone & bottle throwing melee from both quarters.
Here too there was a failure of the youth from both communities who live just right across, but do not have friends that they can reach out to & appeal for an end to the mindless stone throwing. Even the social leadership on either side was absent & so were their elected representatives. All it would have taken were for a few community leaders to have stepped in the midst of the violence & controlled the mobs, with a certain degree of physical threat to their own lives. Or maybe that is why they were all away, hiding in the safety of their own homes. It’s a shame, truly a matter if utmost shame.
The police later intervened, but sided entirely with the Hindu community, as has been the case with many riots across the country. Prior to the firing, water-cannons were not resorted to, nor was there a lathi-charge to disperse the crowds, or tear-gas shells fired. The police firing could have also been in the air & that would have been sufficient to disperse the rioting mobs. But the police chose to open fire right into the Muslim locality & they fired above the waist, with an agenda to kill. As of yet, it is still not clear as to which police official gave the powers to shoot & they are still passing the buck.
We were also informed that in the recent violence at the Bhim Nagar locality of Dhule (2011), where many policemen were injured grievously during a riot in which also two police vans were burnt, the police dealt with the situation without firing a shot & brought it under control within a matter of hours without any loss of life. Also recently in the Azad Maidan riots (Mumbai, 11/8/2012), the police performed their task admirably & did not fire on the Muslim lumpens who had gone on the rampage. Thus successful precedents of the police having controlled riots, without resorting to bullets, within the matter of a few hours are there for all to see & learn from.
Mind you, it was just a matter of containing the violence between four lanes at a chowk, which is a meeting point for Machhi Bazaar, Pala Bazaar, Tasha Galli, Maulvi Ganj and Madhavpura. The riots which continued to rage for over three hours did not spread to any other localities in Dhule & this is a positive point. Even as the rumours of a riot swirled across the town, people in other localities gathered at their chowks to guard their areas & were clearly not going to either participate or start attacking the minorities in their areas.
Also, another important point is that, neither did this riot spread to the rural outskirts of Dhule or North Maharashtra, as has been the case in the recent past, were the embers could have fanned the flames in Malegaon, Nasik, Raver, Chopda & Nandurbar. But this time, it just did not happen.
The other positive element has been the role of the doctors & the nurses, due to whom many innocent lives were saved. Here it must be stated that the doctors were all Hindus from the Lokmanya, Astha & Suhas Hospitals. If it were not for doctors like Dr. Sanjay Khopde, the death toll would have been far higher.
The negative element has been the statement from 41 lawyers who have stated that they will oppose any prosecution of the police & defending any of the Muslim rioters. The lawyers have turned judges. This has also been the case after terror attacks in Varanasi & Pune, where a section of the lawyers had deemed the suspected Muslim youth to be terrorists & guilty, prior to a trial. The Indian Bar Council needs to take action against these lawyers, who are undermining the judiciary & the Indian Constitution itself.
The media has played a mixed role & in the first phase lacked in portraying the prejudiced role of the police. The local channels were taken of the air & this too contained the fear & rumour mongering.
Also a lot of misinformation was planted into the media by the police themselves, so as to build a case for the indefensible police action. But this story is certainly collapsing like a wall of cards.
Even on our visit to Dhule, we found that the secular activists from across communities were discussing the matter without any tension amongst them. Normally after a riot, there is an uneasiness that creeps into the atmosphere, but here in Dhule this was not the case. It was Rahul Wagh (BAMCEF-Borkar) & his friends Narendra Khairnar, Ravi More, Jay Wagh amongst others who invited us to Dhule. They mobilized their Muslim activist friends like Abdul Sattar, Adv. Salahuddin, Ashfaque, Habib, Babu Sheikh, Farouque Sheikh, Liaqat Pathan, Majid Khan, Muhammad Zaid, Zainulabedin, Munir, Nafees & many more, who were all active in the post-riot situation. Be it at the hospitals where they carried the dead & the injured, or in terms of organizing food & relief for those who had lost their properties & businesses, to working to maintain calm in the town, all of them played a key role in ensuring peace.
Whilst hearing the Muslim activists, it was clear that they felt entirely orphaned. None of them denied or defended the fact that the Muslim youth were involved in the rioting & stone throwing. All they said was so were youth from the Hindu community. But the entire police action & arbitrary & lethal firing was directed solely at the Muslim community & that is where the term ‘Kargilli Firing’ was mentioned. Abdul Sattar, both a businessmen & a political leader, (from the Shah-Fakir, Muslim OBC community) broke down whilst speaking & stated that the entire Muslim community found itself very “helpless & orphaned”. All they said was that they wanted justice from the government.
Thus the recent timely visit by the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chawan & his sensible observations, as well as a financial package for compensation & rehabilitation has done much to heal the wounds. More important he has announced that the policemen who participated in the riots are suspended & a trial be conducted against the police as well. The Judicial Commission of inquiry will go a long way in recording the facts & ascertaining the truth.
We held many discussions with both the young Hindu & Muslim activists & this was the general understanding. Dhule, though a city with a good infrastructure, is wracked by high unemployment & the entire region of North Maharashtra is devoid of industry.
The degree of criminalization is very high, with many involved in the illicit Kerosene, Gas, Liquor & Satta-gambling rackets. All of these are controlled by the political leaders, mainly belonging to the NCP led by Sharad Pawar, whose bonhomie with the Shiv Sena nowadays is reaching new heights. Thus the Nationalist Congress Party should be rechristened as the National Criminal Party, a title that is certainly more apt going by the very standards of corruption that Pawarji has set.
The youth with a petty criminal record are then forced by the politician-police nexus to work for these parties as brainless storm-troopers & then deployed at times such as these.
Within the Muslim community, there also lies another serious problem whereby youth cannot find organizations & platforms that are secular.
This again is also the abject failure of the Communist & Socialists movements, as well as the liberal secular Muslim activists of Dhule. Here in fact the Phule-Amedkarites-Bahujan movements have a more humane approach of reaching out to the Muslim community, who they essentially & rightly see as from their own Shudra-Ati-Shudra social structure, though now belonging to a different, though egalitarian religion.
With the approaching local elections later this year & again the national general elections in 2014, it was felt that more riots would be engineered, as political parties had no other way to face the electorate, save the agenda of communal polarization, hate & fear mongering. Thus it was for the secular activists & the masses to build the unity of the people so that they can unitedly combat this challenge.
Thus we are also working towards a conference for all of the secular organizations & activists of North Maharashtra.

Feroze above describes Islam as egalitarian, but alas it is so only in “theory”, in practice it remains hierarchical and discriminatory. 
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