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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Flags, loudspeakers and a rope on freedom fighter’s bust: How Jodhpur lost its peace

Two days later, at Ground Zero in Jodhpur’s Jalori Gate, sugarcane juice machines lay abandoned on the street dotted with police barricades. There were police teams keeping curfew watch and there was only one flag fluttering above the bust of Balmukund Bissa — the Tricolour.

Written by Deep Mukherjee | Jodhpur |
Updated: May 5, 2022 7:41:28 pm
jodhpur violence newsPolice personnel during curfew in Jodhpur, Wednesday. (PTI)

Religious flags were hoisted. A few loudspeakers were taken down. A flag rope was allegedly tied on the bust of a revered freedom fighter. Tempers rose, angry words were exchanged, mobs gathered. And communal clashes broke out.

Two days later, at Ground Zero in Jodhpur’s Jalori Gate, sugarcane juice machines lay abandoned on the street dotted with police barricades. There were police teams keeping curfew watch and there was only one flag fluttering above the bust of Balmukund Bissa — the Tricolour.

The Indian Express spoke to several local residents, peace committee members and the police to piece together the events that led to the clashes that broke out on Monday night and spilled over to Tuesday in Jodhpur, the hometown of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

They said that a peace committee meeting was held on Monday afternoon. “But still, hours later, the clash happened,” said Javed Hussain, a member of the peace committee who is a former block general secretary of the ruling Congress.

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On Wednesday, the state government sent senior Congress leader and Education Minister B D Kalla, who belongs to Bissa’s Pushkarna Brahmin community, to tackle the situation. “Twelve FIRs have been lodged so far and eight people have been arrested in these cases. A total of 133 people have been arrested under CrPC section 151,” Kalla said.

Another peace committee meeting was held on Wednesday, at the Jodhpur circuit house, where religious leaders Mufti Sher Muhammed and Mahant Ramprasad appealed for peace. But the meeting ended without a solution after the Opposition BJP walked out. “We decided to boycott the meeting because the government has not arrested the miscreants who hoisted the Eid flag on the statue of Bissa-ji and instead arrested innocent people,” said BJP MLA Suryakanta Vyas.

At Jalori Gate, Hussain said that while the area was on edge with Eid and Parashuram Jayanti celebrations happening together, the clashes on Monday night were triggered by the hoisting of a flag.

“Whenever there is a festival, different communities decorate Jalori Gate. And it is a normal custom to hoist flags on occasions such as Ambedkar Jayanti, Parashuram Jayanti and Ram Navami. But when on Monday night some youths hoisted an Eid flag over the statue of Bissa, some people objected. It resulted in a confrontation, which ultimately spiralled into a clash,” said Hussain.
“After the clash, people from both communities started gathering at the Jalori gate. There was also an instance when a few loudspeakers put up for Eid were brought down,” he said.

Hussain’s version of events is corroborated by several purported videos from the site, which show the flag being hoisted by one side, and then the loudspeakers being brought down by the other amid religious chants.

About 100m from Jalori Gate in Jodhpur is the Mahatma Gandhi Hospital (MGH), where 19-year-old Mukul Bohra is undergoing treatment after suffering multiple fractures in the violence that spilled over to Tuesday morning. Bohra “works as a DJ, and “is part of J Boys”, a group of youths linked to local Hindu outfits.

“A member of J Boys saw them putting up their religious flag on the bust. When he tried to stop them, he was surrounded by a mob. Thereafter, a clash took place. There was a saffron flag near the circle that was put up for the shobha yatra of Parashuram Jayanti on May 1. It was thrown away. Around 5 am on Tuesday, I was returning from an event where I was the DJ, when a mob pushed me off my bike and beat me with iron rods,” Bohra said.

Just over a kilometre away, inside the narrow alleyways of Kabutaron ka chowk in old Jodhpur, 25-year-old MBA student Shoaib Arshad showed the injury marks on his back.

“On the day of Eid, I was returning from an office where I am interning, when a group of 10-15 people attacked me and my friends. My friend Sakhawat Ansari was wearing a kurta pajama and they identified our religion. They beat us with sticks and later our bike was burnt,” Arshad said, adding that he has lodged an FIR over the incident.

Rajasthan DGP M L Lathar said three people are still undergoing treatment in hospital after being injured during the clashes. “Nine policemen were also injured,” Lathar said.

A local BJP leader acknowledged that after Monday night’s clash, loudspeakers put up for Eid were brought down.

“The main reason for the clash was that the rope for the Eid flag was tied around the neck on the bust of Balmukund Bissa, and his mouth was closed with tape. This led to the dispute. After that, there was stone-pelting, people assembled and the loudspeakers were brought down,” said Kamlesh Purohit, a former BJP councillor from the area.

“A rally was held on May 1 and an evening of devotional songs was organised on May 2. Both Congress and BJP leaders had come for the programme,” said Purohit, adding that he helped organise programmes in the area for Parashuram Jayanti.

According to DCP (Jodhpur West) Vandita Rana, the violence on Monday night was followed by a second clash early on Tuesday morning when people returning from namaz “started sloganeering and forcefully tried to go near the statue and remove a saffron flag”.

“The police used lathi charge and tear gas shells to disperse the crowd. Later, the police brought down the saffron flag and replaced it with the Tricolour,” a senior officer said.


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