A deep divide vulnerable even to rumour

How a gang fight and rumours about a girl being harassed led to violence in Jamshedpur.

Written by Subrata Nagchowdhury | Jamshedpur | Updated: July 29, 2015 3:33 am
jamshedpur communal clashes, communal clashes Jamshedpur, Jamshedpur communal tension, Jamshedpur curfew,  jamshedpur, clashes in jharkhand, jamshedpur news, jharkhand news, latest news, india news Vigil at Mango, Jamshedpur; night curfew was lifted on Tuesday. (Source: Express photo by Partha Paul)

To Many in Jamshedpur, the Sankat Mochan temple at Mango, where recent communal riots began, marks the point where “Hindustan” ends. “What you see beyond this mandir and this road in front is the territory of Pakistan,” said Goraknath Tiwari, pujari at the temple, as he points at a couple of broken panes at the main gate.

Mango beyond this point is dominated by Muslims with small populations of Hindus an Sikhs. It is not the pujari who gave it the name “Pakistan”. From the taxi driver and the auto driver to the police constable on the road and the worker in TISCO, many others use this description.

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It is a pointer to how deep the divide runs and to how a small rumour could trigger such violence.

Various narratives qualify this “Hindustan-Pakistan” divide in various ways. For one, said Bhalla, an old resident who admits having been booked for taking part in the vicious communal violence of 1979, “at Hindu homes in Jamshedpur, you will find swords, lathis or, at the most, choppers for self-defence. But at homes in Mango,” he guessed, “you will find revolvers, rifles, firearms, bombs.”

The divide appears to have become starker of late. Arun Singh, the VHP convener for Jamshedpur city, accused Muslims of being involved in eve-teasing, snatching and eloping with Hindu girls. He said it is these incidents that have led to rising anger among Hindus. Singh has been booked in four FIRs for instigating violence, though he has not yet been arrested.

On the other hand, Sheikh Badruddin, a central committee member and a general secretary of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s minority wing, accused Hindutva groups of recent whisper campaigns about growing “encroachment” of Jamshedpur city. “One need not take the name of the community that is supposedly encroaching. Muslims and encroachment are synonymous here,” said Badruddin.

Police investigations have concluded that there was no incident of any “eve-teasing of a Hindu girl”. It was purely a rumour, its origin uncertain, police say.

Senior superintendent of police Anoop T Matthews, the area of whose jurisdiction, East Singbhum, includes Jamshedpur city, said the trouble actually began with a fight between two groups of antisocials, one led by a certain Waris and the other by Shibu alias Asif Akhtar. They clashed at Azadnagar on July 19 and at Mango on July 20. Both groups are wanted for extortion, snatching, arson, assault and other such crimes. And both have Hindu and Muslim members.

Matthews said the July 20 clash took place at Mango’s Gandhi Maidan, where a fair was being held for Eid. The Waris group was raising money from stall operators and suddenly found a Hindu member of the other gang also raising money, he said. They chased him and the two groups clashed near the Sankat Mochan temple, where Chunnu Pandey and Manu Pandey of the Asif gang suffered knife injuries.

Police said Chunnu and Manu approached Hindu community leaders, who rushed to the mandir site. The incident began to take a communal turn as the rumour about the “Hindu girl” having been teased spread.

A large number of Muslim women had reportedly gone to watch the night show of Bajrangi Bhaijaan at a theatre in an area that is dominated by Hindus. As panic set in, members of their families went out to bring them back home.

By then a crowd from both sides had swelled on the streets and stone pelting went on till late in the night. Someone spread rumours that the Sankat Mochan temple was attacked. The rumours multiplied largely through social media, said SSP Matthews.

The VHP gave a call for a bandh on July 21. It was from that morning that the violence bagan to escalate, with bandh supporters setting fire to shops in Dimna, Munshi Mohalla and also on NH 33, police said. This is also the area from where a Hindu woman had married a Muslim youth, resisting stiff opposition from community leaders.

The area is politically important. Mango is part of Jamshedpur West assembly seat, represented by Sarayu Roy, a powerful minister in the Jharkhand cabinet. Talking to The Indian Express, he estimated that Mango has about 90,000 Muslim voters. This is a sizeable number who, if their vote is consolidated, can swing the balance in an election. A section of the Muslims did vote for the BJP in the last elections but the majority of them are said to be supporting the JMM.

Jamshedpur East, on the other hand, is represented by Chief Minister Rahgubar Das himself. Sitaram Dera, Sitagodi and Dimna areas, where the violence spread on July 21 and 22, lie within his constituency. The area saw a massive deployment of paramilitary forces —including CRPF, RAF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and state armed forces — and prohibitory orders were imposed on areas covered by 19 police stations. The huge mobilisation and administrative clampdown prevented the violence from spreading beyond these areas.

The administrative commission of inquiry set up by the government and headed by the commissioner of Kalhon region has begun its probe. It is looking at the causes as well as the role of the police. Many feel that the branding of a communal strife could have been prevented if the police administration had acted promptly in the initial stages.

Meanwhile, night curfew in force in four police stations of Mango, MGM, Azadnagar and Ulidih was withdrawn from Tuesday.

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