Latest violence seen as a continuation of last month's clashes at Arahlatnagar Bagah village

A semblance of quiet has returned to Moradabad but only just so. Though curfew has been relaxed, the riots of the past week have left their imprint on the town and its residents. Violence is all-present – not just in the physical shape of looted and burnt houses and establishments but in the bristling anger that erupts only too easily when Hindus and Muslims come face to face.

There are only two Muslim houses on the inside lane leading out from the Asha Masjid on Jayantipur Road. On the night of August 9, mobs carrying firearms vandalised one and set it aflame. They then smashed the glass front of the second house, leaving Nazia, its owner and only occupant at the time, cowering in fright all night.

The mob attack followed two days of violent Hindu-Muslim clashes over attempts by the Kawariya pilgrims to take their procession through the Muslim neighbourhood of Rahmat Nagar. On August 7, the Kawariyas were lathicharged and beaten back by the police. However, the commotion brought the Muslims out of their homes and a fierce fight broke out between the two communities, resulting in a night-long exchange of fire, arson and looting. The rioters hurled brickbats at the police and damaged their vehicles. It did not help that the Kawariyas had the backing of the Shiv Sena-led Sarvadaliya Hindu Mahasabha (SHM).

On the morning of August 9, the SHM and its supporters held a meeting at the Dus Saraiya Shiv Mandir where they urged the Kawariyas to resume their procession through the prohibited route. The participants congregated at the spot carrying saffron flags and shouting provocative slogans. As the local daily Amar Ujala reported, “It was like a shakti pradarshan [show of strength] and yet the police did not take it seriously…They were all there under the SHM banner — the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Yuva Manch. The question arises: why did the police allow the meeting in the first place knowing how volatile the situation was?”

The war-like slogans and the aggressive speeches inevitably set the stage for a fresh and more severe spell of rioting. As Muslims broke their Ramzan fast and began to gather for namaaz, a swirl of rumours hit the community, among them that a mosque had been set afire. Muslims led by community hotheads poured into the streets. The Hindu mobs followed. The police account of what happened after this is that the two sides fought pitched battles through the night with the darkness making it difficult to differentiate between the aggressor and the victim. District Magistrate Sameer Verma was non-committal about the role of the Shiv Sena. Nor would he say if any Shiv Sainiks had been arrested.

The violence left a trail of destruction: houses and property were burnt, a police chowkie was destroyed and over a dozen policemen and civilians were seriously injured.

The buildings on Jayantipur Road seemed to have taken the brunt of the violence — especially the two Muslim homes The Hindu team visited. Yet barely did we emerge from the burnt and looted home of corporator Zulfikar when the Hindu residents started complaining of attacks by Muslims. “They opened fire on us and lobbed bricks into our houses,” the Hindus said, showing us roof tops and terraces strewn with stones and bricks. A handful of Muslim boys, who had followed us into the terraces, strongly contested this only to have their Hindu neighbours screaming at them: “How dare you come into our houses?”

This spell of communal madness will most likely pass and Moradabad will emerge from it all, as so often it did in the past. And yet it is as if the town is perched on a barrel of gun powder with the next riot seemingly never too far away. Moradabad locals as well as the police see the latest violence, not as an isolated chapter, but as a continuation of last month's riots at Arahlatnagar Bagah village on the outskirts of the town. The trigger for that was the alleged desecration of the Holy Koran by the police that went into a Muslim household to investigate a complaint of eve-teasing. Enraged Muslims laid siege to the nearby police station, burnt police jeeps and bashed up a senior police officer who had to be hospitalised with serious head injuries.

Moradabad resident Murtaza Iqbal describes the July 6 Arahlatnagar violence by Muslims as unprecedented: “Muslim fundamentalists went around making Talibani speeches.” But he also attributes the “extreme, unacceptable and condemnable” Muslim reaction to long-standing grievances over discrimination by the police and biases against the community. “The Shiv Sainiks were waiting to get back at the Muslims,” he says.