The fact-finding team report broadly corroborates media reportage

A fact-finding team of civil society activists that visited Dhule to enquire into the January 6 communal violence in the Maharashtra town has alleged deliberate targeting of Muslims by the police. Six persons, all Muslims, died in the police firing that followed the violence which has been a recurring phenomenon in the town.

This time trouble appears to have started in a small way in the form of an altercation between a food stall owner and a rickshaw-puller. It spiralled out of control after Muslim and Hindu mobs joined the quarrel and began hurling stones at each other. According to the fact-finding report released in Delhi on Friday by Shabnam Hashmi, Prof. Ram Puniyani, Prof. Apoorvanand and others, the police made no effort to contain the tension and instead “started firing indiscriminately at Muslims.” The team alleged that the police stood by while Hindu mobs looted and torched Muslim homes. “This is evident from the fact that 35 Muslim homes were completely destroyed in the fire while the corresponding figure for Hindu homes was four.”

The report said: “They [police] did not use the public address system to alert the crowd, nor did they use lathi or teargas shells before going for firing… The police firing was not intended to disperse the mob. All the bullet injuries are above the knee, in the abdomen, chest, neck, back and face.”

Ms. Hashmi and Prof. Apporvanad, who were accompanied by family members of those killed in the firing, said the plight of the affected Muslims was doubly worse because they were listed as “accused” and not allowed to lodge FIRs. The team disputed the version of the Collector that the police firing was in self-defence as the mobs had attacked the police with lethal chemicals, resulting in grievous injuries to many policemen. Quoting from the records of the Civil Hospital, the team said that of 159 police personnel taken to the hospital, only 18 were admitted and the records showed that all of them suffered simple injuries.

The fact-finding report broadly corroborates the reportage in The Hindu of police excesses against Dhule Muslims, including their failure to follow the standard operating procedure of using firing as the last resort. The report demanded, among other things, suspension of the Dhule Collector and the Superintendent of Police, prosecution of all policemen involved in killing people and destroying property, immediate lodging of FIRs in all cases of deaths, injuries and loss of property and announcement of a relief and rehabilitation package, including the opening of a relief camp for those who have been uprooted following the violence.