Even as the police on Thursday arrested one person in connection with the communal violence that broke out here on January 6 following an altercation, the curfew, which was imposed following the violence and the ensuing police firing that claimed six lives, was extended.
Dhule Superintendent of Police Pradeep Deshpande said that Kishore Wagh, the owner of the Maratha Mutton shop — the eatery where the scuffle broke out — was arrested for inciting violence and causing damage to property and remanded in police custody till January 13.
Meanwhile, at the Macchi Bazaar chowk, where the eatery is located, people on both sides of the ‘border’ — as the intersection is known here — fear that peace will be difficult to come by in the town. According to the people of Dhule, who are not unknown to communal violence, the feeling of frustration, fear and loss that they witnessed in riots that paralysed the city in 2008 has returned.
“We don’t know whom to trust. We live right on the border with Hindu and Muslim families. Everything was fine between us, and suddenly this happened. We fled our house and ran to save our lives,” Gita Prajapati, a resident told The Hindu. Ms. Prajapati said her brother was badly hurt in the riot. “We don’t know who hit him. He has injuries on his face and hands.”
While more than 200 people, including policemen and members of the two communities were injured in the violence, six Muslim people died in the police firing, prompting Muslim leaders to allege that the police was prejudiced. As The Hindu reported earlier, houses of both Hindus and Muslims were gutted, and property was damaged. Members of the Muslim community have alleged that that the rioters indulged in arson and loot with the police support.
This prompted thirteen Muslim corporators on Thursday to threaten to resign if the government failed to institute a judicial inquiry into the incident. “We have demanded an independent judicial inquiry into the incident. The families of those who were killed also need to be given appropriate compensation. If the government fails to do so within a month, we will all resign,” said Feroze Lala of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
The riot was sparked off by a brawl that started over the issue of paying a restaurant bill of Rs. 30. According to the police, two Muslim youths got into a fight with a Hindu restaurant owner over the issue. The owner hit the two, who went out and returned with a mob of over 50 people. The restaurant owner, too, had called people by then.
According to an eye witnesses who did not wish to be named, both the parties went to the Machhi Bazaar police chowk, but the police refused to register a complaint and asked them to resolve the matter by themselves. It was then that both sides started pelting stones at each other. The police arrived on the scene soon after, and was caught in the violence.
However, the account of what happened after this has contradictory versions. According to the police, the Hindus were largely quiet and the Muslim side of the mob was throwing huge stones and acid-filled glass bottles. PSI Bhaskarrao Pagar, who was at the scene when the incident happened, told The Hindu that policemen were getting injured in large numbers and it became difficult to control the mob. “That was the last option left with us at that time. If we had not taken the decision to start firing, the violence would have grown beyond limits. It is the best that we could do.”
Asked if the Dhule police acted in a biased-manner, DGP (Law and Order) Javed Ahmed said: “The use of force by the police will be looked into on a case to case basis. It is not right to jump to this conclusion only on the basis of causalities. If there is a need to increase sensitivity of the police over this issue, it will be done.” He added that he would probe the police’s role in damaging property and submit a report to the Home Ministry.
Social activist Avinash Patil however blamed fundamentalists in both the communities, as well as the failure of the administration, for the situation. “It was a minor incident. But there are have undercurrents of tension in the town for a long time. The police administration has failed to recognise that and keep it under control with preventive action,” he said, adding that there was a need to sensitise members of both the communities. “Young people of both the religious groups need to come together. There were some efforts made by NGOs after the 2008 riots, but they didn’t sustain. It is clearly not a priority for political parties.”
Dr. Arif Patel, lost his 17-year-old nephew Raees Patel in the riot on January 6, said the fact that the violence did not spread to other areas of the town was the only difference between this riot and the one in 2008 that claimed 11 lives. “People have understood the value of restraint. But have the police changed? Innocent people were attacked brutally,” he said.
In 2008, the riots spread to nearby villages, leaving the entire district burning. A total of 383 persons people were injured back then. One person out of the four injured in police firing had died.
“While the violence on Sunday was contained to the two kilometre area of Machhi Bazaar and Madhavpura, four hours of violence claimed six lives. The police could have definitely controlled the mob if they had arrived in time,” Dr. Patel said. “The perpetrators of 2008 have not yet been punished. How can we expect anything different now?” he asked.
The distrust in the police and the administrative machinery in general has increased, riot-victims say. “I was just coming from my work at a garage, when the police caught hold of me and started hitting me on the head with sticks,” Mohammad Mudassir, who is admitted in hospital with six stitches on his head, said. “We feel like the police is not with us. It was a minor scuffle after all. Did my son, who was going about his daily work as an egg vendor, have to die for this? Who will provide for the family now,” Abida Bi, mother of 23-year-old Ashim Shaik, who was killed on Sunday, said.
Dr. Patel reiterated that none of the victims of the riot were the residents of the Macchi Bazaar area . “They were all going about their daily lives,” he said.
Raaes Patel had gone to the Bazaar to get chicken for his family. Ashim Shaikh was doing his daily work of delivering eggs to some shops in the area. Asif Ansari, 30, also went out for the weekly vegetable shopping. Imran Ali, 24, was a wireman who probably went to the chowk in search of work. Rizwan Shah, 21, went to buy plastic bags for his shop. Yunus Shah, 23, a daily wage labourer, was simply passing by the bazaar on the way back home.
“People who died were not connected to the incident at all. We will be happy if the police nab the actual criminals who started the riot. But what can we do if they kill innocent people in the name of justice?” Dr. Patel asked.