Changing the name of a WhatsApp group, posting of objectionable messages and then circulation of pamphlets calling for a social and economic boycott of Muslims in Narkhed, about 70 km from here, led to communal tension in the town last week. Police have arrested 16 people and registered three cases.
Trouble began in July last week when Pramod Shendre, an army technician posted in Bhatinda, allegedly changed the name of the WhatsApp group from ‘Narkhed Ghadamodi (Narkhed News)’ to ‘Vande Mataram Narkhed’. Some Muslims in the group objected to this, leading to objectionable posts being exchanged by both sides.
Police said a group of Muslims then allegedly attacked a member of the group, Subhash Waghe, a doctor, in his clinic for an alleged offensive post. Later, these men allegedly beat up Waghe in the streets and took him to Shendre’s brother Rameshwar’s residence. Police as well as Rameshwar’s friends intervened and brought the situation under control.
Police arrested 16 people from the Muslim community for the assault, and booked Waghe and others for posting “provocative” messages on the WhatsApp group. But angered by the attack on Waghe, unknown members of a rival group printed and circulated pamphlets calling upon Narkhed residents to boycott Muslims and stop business with them. Police have registered a case against unknown persons.
Over the past week, the police and district administration have reached out to both communities to maintain peace. “It’s now business as usual in the town and we are maintaining strict vigil. The pamphlets have had no effect,” said SP (Nagpur Rural) Shailesh Balkawde.
“Shendre allegedly changed the name of the group… This wasn’t liked by some Muslim members… There were calls to utter Vande Mataram… Some Muslim youths also posted objectionable messages. Waghe too posted objectionable messages…,” he said.
Asked if Shendre had been booked, he said, “Yes… We have seized several mobile phones and sent the message trail for forensic investigation.”
Waghe said, “What’s wrong in saying Vande Mataram? But some youths from the Muslim community started posting abuses in the group. We said if you don’t like it, you have the option to leave the group. But they came to my clinic on August 3, beat me up and abused me. They then took me to Rameshwar’s residence, beating me up along the way.”
Javed Pathan, a local Congress leader who was the party choice for Narkhed civic chief’s post in the recent elections, said, “Narkhed, with a population of about 30,000, has nearly 3,000 Muslims. There was never any enmity between the two communities. The latest episode resulted from exchange of messages in the group over the past six months. But the police and district collector did a great job in not allowing the situation to go out of control. Community leaders, too, met BJP leaders. The social boycott appeal did affect the community initially but it is petering out now.”