Dhule: A week after violence broke out in Dhule – the North Maharashtra city some 350 kms from Mumbai, the victims are without any relief and aid from the government, and are living under constant fear and anguish with the trauma of about two hours of horror still haunting most of them. The two hours of horror unleashed on them in broad daylight by the aggressive police whom the victims found not as their saviours and rescuers but as assailants, killers and looters.
“Is this how police treat fellow citizens? I admit that our boys were pelting stones and strongly condemn what they did. But was it the first time such a thing had happened? Then why the police was so brutal and fired as if they were fighting a war and in front of them were their enemies”, Abdus Sattar Shah said.
“I want the government to answer these questions. If the government thinks that the police aggression was justified, it should announce that whenever and wherever in the country such a thing would happen, the police would act with the same aggression and in the same manner as it did in Dhule”, he added in a choked voice with tears rolling down his eyes.
Abdus Sattar Shah is the person who worked day in and day out for communal harmony after the 2008 communal violence that kept the city paralysed for 12 days. But now he said that whatever happened on the ‘Black Sunday’ was beyond his imagination. “The material damages and the loss of life that we saw in 12 days of the 2008 riot is nothing in comparison with what we saw in just two hours on Sunday”, he said.
Abdus Sattar is not alone in criticising the police. Arif Naseem Khan, Minister of Minority Development Department too expressed displeasure over the police action and said that he was not happy with the way police handled the entire incident. Mufti Mohammad Ismael, a legislator in the Maharashtra assembly, in his first comment made after visiting the riot affected areas and meeting the victims, refused to accept it was a riot. “Whatever happened in Dhule on Sunday was not a communal riot. It was a police action”, Mufti Ismael said.
Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly Eknath Khadse of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) too said there was no communal angle or any political agenda behind the incident. He said that police should have special mechanism to handle trivial issues breaking out of minor disputes between traders of two different communities.
President of Dhule Shiv-Sena unit Bhopendra Lhamge also echoed similar feelings. Expressing concern over the casualties to such a large scale in the police firing, he said, “It was a minor issue and could have been successfully handled had the police were properly trained.”
He also said that the police in India were still to be trained in mob handling especially in the areas concentrated by the minorities. He also suggested using water cannons and other non-lethal weapons to control the mob. “If water cannons are used in Delhi and other places in the world, why not here in Dhule”, he said.
What happened on Sunday?
Officials said violence broke out in Dhule on Sunday June 06, 2013 at around 02:30 p.m., after a small dispute arising out of non-payment of food bill turned into a big row and soon clashes started between members of two communities. They said there was a fracas at a food-stall in the Macchi Bazaar area when a youth argued with the owner and refused to pay the bill. Enraged, the owner of the food-stall assaulted the youth, who ran away only to return with some friends shortly.
The ensuing arguments and fisticuffs led to widespread rumours and within minutes, there was full-scale rioting in the vicinity having a mixed community population, and surrounding areas of Machhi Bazaar, Pala Bazaar, Tasha Galli, Maulvi Ganj and Madhavpura. When police rushed to the spot, they were unprepared to handle the situation and remained busy protecting themselves from stones, bricks, acid and soda water bottles being flung around liberally.
Besides, rioters indulged in arson, stoning of vehicles and attacks on homes and shops. After reinforcements were rushed to the scene, police first resorted to baton charge, followed by tear gas shells, firing plastic bullets. They finally opened fire at the rioters.
However, Abdul Moeed Qasmi, president of Dhule Jamiatul Ulema, while talking to Minister of Minority Development Department Arif Naseem Khan said the person from the minority community after being assaulted by the owner of the food-stall went to the nearby police chowky to register a compliant but the police refused to do it.
He said that if the police had registered the complaint and had rushed to the spot immediately, the situation would have been controlled without causing the damages. He alleged that the police not only came to the spot very late but they fired without following the norms and before first resorting to baton charge and tear gas shells.
The Macchi Bazaar area where the violence first broke out is described by the Guardian Minister of Dhule, Suresh Shetty, as the “trouble spot”. Umesh Chuadhary, who runs a gymkhana in the same area, said that hundreds of people come and passed by the area everyday as it being in the middle of the main market. He said small disputes between traders and passer-bys were regular in the area. “Despite this, just two police constables are always posted at the police chowky. In the last two years, we have sent many representations - in writing as well as in person, to the local administration requesting them to deploy more police force in the area to tackle such disputes. Had they accepted our requests, situation would have been controlled within minutes”, he said.
Besides the alleged failure by the police and local administration in understanding and controlling the situation before it turned ugly, there were more serious accusations against them by the local residents especially by the Muslims and those becoming victims of what they termed as the blatant police excesses and brutality. They blamed the police of not only acting in a biased manner but they also accused the police of firing without warnings and using excessive force against them.
Six people had been killed allegedly in the police firing and more than 200 others were injured in the violence that continued for about two hours. Official figures put the total of injured as11 police officers, 102 policemen and 100 civilians. Guardian Minister Suresh Shetty however on Monday said that only 16 policemen had serious injuries and they were admitted in local hospitals.
The dead were identified as 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).
Of those injured were 41 from the Muslim minority community who received either bullet injuries or were injured in police baton charge. Hospital records showed that most of the victims had injuries above waist, some in chest, on shoulders and on faces, and some in arms and in legs. One person from the Hindu community had also been injured in the firing.
Besides the casualties, properties worth millions of rupees had been destroyed in arson and looting that followed the violence. A majority of homes burnt or destroyed, and shops looted in the violence belonged to people from the Muslim community. There were also allegations that some policemen were also involved in looting.
A majority of the victims and relatives of those killed allegedly in the police firing accused the police of being brutal and using excessive forces against the Muslims. It is also alleged that the police was not only bias, but it quietly watched as the unruly mob was engaged in burning and looting the properties belonging to the Muslims. At one place, they alleged, the policemen broke into a shop and looted whatever was inside.
Arif Pathan, a Municipal Councillor, said that the situation was such that people from both the communities were pelting stones at each other and the police was in the middle. “However, police shot only at the Muslims instead of taking action against both the groups. It was a clear one sided action by the police force”, he alleged.
“It was really shocking. The constitution has granted everyone an equal status and equal punishment. For how long, police bullets would be reserved only for Muslims?” he asked.
“It is to get the answer of this question that we are demanding a high level enquiry by a High Court sitting judge” he said.
Responding to the claims that police had to open fire as there were attacks on police and the violent mob was out of control, he said, “We condemn the attacks on police and do not justify the violence. But, was this an isolated incident?” he asked.
“Attacks on the police are routinely taking place in other parts of the country. But, we do not see the kind of police action at other places”, he said citing the example of Bhimnagar area of Dhule when 35 policemen were injured and two police vans were burnt after a clash between two groups of same community in 2011. “No such action was then taken by the police at that time”, he said.
There were also allegations that police fired indiscriminately and with an intention to kill. Local residents claimed that most of the victims, who died or were injured allegedly in the police firing, were passer-by and they were either going home from work or going back to work after lunch.
Abdul Haleem Ansari, a Deputy Tahsildar who was posted in the same area when the violence broke out, claimed that his son Hafiz Mohd Aasif, who was killed in the firing, was not part of the violent mob. “Even then he became the victim of police brutality”, he said.
He said that he was in a hospital to see someone when he learnt that his son was hit by bullets. "I rushed to the hospital only to find that my son is no more", he said.
Shocked by the untimely death of his young son, Abdul Haleem Ansari now said he would not be reporting to his duties any more. "This is a shock of life for me. I am no longer be joining duties and will be resigning from my post", Ansari who has about six months to retire said in a choked voice.
Saira Bano (35), a labourer, who had bullet injuries in her left arm said, “I came outside of my house to see my children after learning about the riots. Suddenly, something struck my left arm. I was profusely bleeding. It was only in the hospital that I learnt what struck my arm was a bullet.”
Shamsunnisa Mohammad Shaban (65) alleged that the policemen were involved in looting and accused the police of mercilessly beating her. “When we saw the policemen involved in the looting, some of us came on the streets and tried to stop them. However, the policemen called women police personnel and ordered them to beat us”, Shamsunnisa, who got her right arm fractured said.
Forced by the widespread allegations of police brutality and aggression, the government on January 07 ordered a probe by Metropolitan Magistrate and departmental enquiry by Director General of Police (Law & Order) Javed Ahmed.
Local residents however are not satisfied and are demanding a high level probe of the entire incident by a High Court sitting judge. Their demand is also supported by Minister of Minority Development Arif Naseem Khan. But, the government on January 11 handed over the investigation to the CID.
“A special CID team will probe the incident. There will be local officers from Dhule and the team will be decided by the CID headquarters in Pune,” Dhule Superintendent of Police (SP) Pradeep Deshpande said on Friday. According to official sources, cases of inciting violence and creating damage to property have also been registered against more than 800 unknown persons.
Earlier, Director General of Police (Law & Order) Javed Ahmed in his first meeting with the press after taking charge over the enquiry said that he would be covering all angles that led to the violence including the allegations of police excesses and mistreatment.
Responding to a query about private firing, he said that he had also received a lot of complaints regarding this and had sought more details on the matter. “So far I have no evidence of private firing. People are complaining about this and say they have evidence, video clips and photos. I have advised them to submit these evidences to me.”
In reply to a question that police were bias and fired with an intention to kill and without following the rules, he said, “It would be wrong to come to jump to such conclusion just looking at the casualties. There are procedures and protocols to follow. But situation on the ground could not be ignored while following these norms.”
PM 15 point program in dustbin
Interestingly, Minority Development Department of Maharashtra had organised a workshop for the local administrative and police staff at Dhule Collector office a month before the violence broke out in Dhule to explain the schemes announced for the welfare of the minorities and give them an idea of minority issues. Among the agenda was also a one and half hour detailed briefing on the Prime Minister’s 15 point program.
Besides the other things included in the Prime Minister’s 15 point program, the officials were thoroughly briefed on prevention and control of communal violence. They were also briefed about their duties in case of communal violence including providing relief to the victims and their rehabilitation. However, a week after the violence in Dhule, no official or government aid has been announced or reached to the victims. Whatever relief work in the affected areas is being done is done by few private organisations.
The Muslim members in the Dhule Municipal Corporation are so disappointed by the government’s apathy that they threatened to resign. "We have decided to resign from our posts if our demands - that include compensation to the victims and a high level enquiry into the incident, are not met within one month. Our resignation letters have already been submitted to Jamiatul Ulema with a request to forward them to our party heads", Haji Shawwal Seth said.
Dhule Municipal Corporation (DMC) has a total of 15 Muslim councillors. They include 04 from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), 02 from the Congress and others including Haji Sahawwal are independents. The decision is also supported by 03 members of Dhule School board.
Rays of hope
The pain of the violence would take some time before it gets healed completely. However, there is some remarkable show of harmony, sense of responsibility and human gestures by few individuals that clearly stand out as a glimmer of hope in the violence hit city.
It was revealed while talking to some local residents that at the time when members of two communities bayed for each others blood on Sunday afternoon in strife torn city, the medicos at three local hospitals lived up to their Hippocratic Oath and worked tirelessly in treating the injured irrespective of their religious affiliations.
Israr Ahmed (40) said that he took the injured to a nearby hospital managed by a Muslim Trust. But it did not have the needed facilities to handle them. “Very close to this hospital was Lokmanya Hospital and I reluctantly took the patients there. To my surprise, hospital in-charge Dr Sanjay Khopade was on the lawns and he immediately rushed towards me and took the patient in”, he said. The same sense of responsibility was demonstrated by Astha Hospital and Suhas Hospital. “Had it not been for these three hospitals, the death toll would have been very high”, Israr said.
Abdus Sattar, who was very emotional and vocal while recalling the two hours of horror inflicted on the Muslims, too exhibited confidence and expressed hope that the things would come to normal sooner than later. At one point, he was so upset by the entire incident that he said they were subjected to such atrocities by the police since they were Muslims and bcause: Hai jurm bus itna ke Musalman hain hum.
At another point, he vowed to work for communal harmony as he did after the 2008 riots. “I tirelessly worked for the communal harmony after the 2008 riots. My message then and now is the same: Sare jahan se accha Hindustan hamara and Hindustan mein accha Dhulia shaher hamara”, he said.