Meena Menon

DHULE: For a city once held up as an example of communal harmony, Dhule’s reputation lies in tatters. The riots that broke out on October 5 have virtually disrupted the place. Ten people died and over 200 were injured in the clashes that broke out, ostensibly over an offensive poster. There is curfew for the seventh day running, though it has been relaxed for three hours since a couple of days.

About 4,000 people continue to live in five relief camps. Initially, there were eight camps with about 6,300 people. The signs of rioting are everywhere, right from the octroi check post, which has a huge burnt truck lying in front of it, to the small colonies. The city is deserted, except for the police, and tension has not abated in the affected areas.

In Gajanan Colony, 82-year-old Manik Choudhary and his wife Padmabai are checking out the remains of their charred house. “They pulled us out at noon and burnt the place down,” says Padmabai. “We just managed to leave with the clothes on our back. I did not dream of taking anything with me,” she says. Now, like the others from Gajanan colony, they live in a camp at Arihant Mangal Karyalay, run by a Jain businessman. “We were staying on rent for Rs. 1000, what will happen to us now, we don’t even have children to support us,” Padmabai adds.

Residents are still trying to find out what happened in Gajanan colony. At least 50 homes have been burnt and there are piles of charred vehicles everywhere. People say they were attacked at around noon and they only had enough time to flee. Padma Patil says she held back the mob with the help of cement sacks brought for repairs. “Those sacks saved my family’s life otherwise we would have been burnt to death,” she says.

The police came five or six hours late, allege the residents. Once the people left, the mob looted and burnt the houses.

Inside the homes, cupboards are bare and many television sets have been smashed. Muslims have been living alongside this colony for years and there has never been any trouble.

Yuvraj Choudhary, a daily wage worker in the cotton market, weeps as he points to his house. The door was burnt down with petrol and they were saved by local boys who held back the mob. His house is completely burnt.

Local people say the attack was planned. “Otherwise how can so many people come together and attack a large colony like this,” asks Choudhary. “Now there is an atmosphere of fear and terror, my children want to leave here,” he says. Some Muslim houses too have been burnt here.

Manjula Mistry had saved enough for her daughter Komal’s wedding during Diwali. Her husband had done up the place using expensive materials. “Now there is nothing, we were looted and chased out of the house,” she says. “We had such good relations with the Muslims, we helped them so much. Why did they do this,” she asks.

Most people here are daily wagers or small traders and are trying to work out their losses. Many have lost documents and valuables apart from cash. At the nearby Arihant Mangal Karyalay, Hukumchand Jain is their benefactor. The wedding hall is buzzing with cooking in the evening. At least 1,000 people live here, he says and the Jains and traders are helping out.Both communities have ben deeply scarred by the events of the past week. At Vitha Bhati, an entire Muslim colony has been burnt. There are similarities in the stories of the two places. Both have working class communities and both have suffered. Unlike Jain, there is no one to set up a camp for these residents. The trouble started last Sunday night when the riots spread like wildfire through the city.

On Tuesday, mobs attacked the place. Shabana’s house is completely wrecked and charred from within. Their year’s storage of grain has been charred too and spread all over the floor. Her son weeps loudly by her side watching the wreckage. “We don’t have anything to eat now and we really don’t know what to do now. We are helpless,” she says.

Across, Arastuli Pathan sits outside and wails about her house. “I only have the clothes on my back,” she says. Eighty-five year-old Shamsuddhin Khatik was beaten to death in Vita Bhati. His grandson, Mukhtar, says that they left the old man behind and ran away. “We did not think an old man would be attacked,” he says.

When he returned on Tuesday, they found the old man on the floor bleeding. He is one of the 10 who died in the riots.

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