Meena Menon

The government is yet to announce any rehabilitation measure for the riot-hit

Victims recount how mobs looted and burnt shops, houses

Local traders put the losses at Rs.100 crore

DHULE (MAHARASHTRA): Shabbir Merchant Burhani is a broken man today. He can’t hold back his tears as he talks about the loss of his shops at Datta Chowk in Dhule. He owned Burhani Complex and a mall on the ground floor which was gutted in the communal riots which broke out on October 5. “I have lost Rs.1.35 crore totally,” he said. Five shops of the 40 in the complex were looted by the mob.

Mr. Burhani’s shops were being targeted for the third time. First, in the 1992 riots after the Babri Masjid demolition and then in 2000. But the damage then was not so extensive. “They could have looted the mall. Why did they have to burn it down and destroy it? Twelve years ago, it cost me Rs.72 lakh to build it,” he said.

The Dawoodi Bohra community to which he belongs lost 28 shops in the city. Only four shops remain. “We don’t even have insurance as we are not permitted to take risk cover. The mall was a very posh building and an easy target. What is our fault? We are businessmen, we pay tax to the government and we are Hindustanis. What is our crime?” he asked.

The eldest of six brothers, Mr. Burhani said he and the others had called the police many times but no help was forthcoming. “We know the people who did this as my brothers can identify them,” he added.

Another businessman, Lateef Anwar, a partner in Mega Enterprises, which is a government-approved octroi and toll tax collection agency, has been losing Rs.9.13 lakh a day since October 5. Mr. Anwar’s company has a contract with the Dhule Municipal Corporation to collect the tax and has to deposit Rs.9.13 lakh daily as per the terms. He has deposited a bank guarantee of Rs.5.85 crore in case he defaults.

“I cannot even start the toll centres as my workers are terrified. The collection centres were attacked by mobs of 200 to 300 people and all 24 centres at various points in the district were burnt down on Sunday [October 5]. My workers ran away in fear and are unwilling to return,” he said.

Mr. Anwar, a Malegaon-based businessman, finally had to seek police protection and will restart the collection centres once the security is in place. “The mobs came with petrol and started burning down the centres. There was no one to stop them,” he pointed out. Being a Shiv Sena corporator did not help Kalpana Mane in the riots. Her house in Madhavpura was targeted and mobs looted the place. Her godown was completely burnt.

“I was inside my house with my children for three hours before I managed to escape. The mob destroyed my furniture and television set and other items,” she said. “I don’t know why this has happened. We had so many peace meetings but it did not work. My workers are trying to salvage what is left in the godown but there is not much,” she pointed out.

She said most of the Hindu houses in the lane were targeted and burnt down. “I am not living here without protection,” she said. The lane in Madhavpura is piled high with stones used in the riots and truckloads of debris were being cleared when curfew was relaxed last Saturday.

Next to Mane’s house, a tearful Narayan Choudhary and his wife Shobha recount the events of that fateful day. “We had a cycle mart in front of the house with 40 to 50 bicycles. All of it was burnt,” Narayan said. The roof of their house was burnt fully and their whole life’s earnings were wiped out in a single afternoon.

The Choudharys have six children and now stay with friends. “We don’t even have clothes of our own now,” said Shobha. The house is worth more than Rs.2 lakh but no compensation has been announced for the homeless as yet. While the losses are yet to be calculated by the district administration, local traders estimate that it could be as high as Rs.100 crore. The government is yet to announce any rehabilitation measure.