Hazaribagh became the second district after Bokaro in Jharkhand to see curfew on Sunday as violence in the state over Ram Navami processions spread further.
Curfew was imposed in the municipal area and surrounding police station areas of Hazaribagh district after over a dozen shops and more than half-a-dozen vehicles were set afire. While three deaths in all were reported on Sunday, district administration claimed two of the persons had died before the violence began and could have been killed due to personal enmity.
Officials are still trying to determine the cause of the third death.
A company of the Rapid Action Force has been deployed in the district to maintain calm. The administration has appealed to people to help restore normalcy.
The curfew in four police station areas of Bokaro, which saw violence between two communities on April 15, was lifted on Sunday evening at 8 pm.
On Saturday night, members of the two communities also clashed in Jugasalai police station area of Jamshedpur district. Members of a community objected to the route taken by a Ram Navami procession, leading to scuffles. The situation in the town remains tense, but under control.
Earlier, violence was reported between the two communities in Chatra, Dhanbad and Giridih, though police were able to quickly bring the situation under control there.
Hazaribagh had seen violence on Friday too, leading to one death in Pandu village under Keredari police station area, about 50 km from the town. Nearly a dozen houses were set on fire in arson that day.
As per tradition, processions are taken out across Jharkhand to mark Ram Navami, which fell this year on April 15. In Hazaribagh district, the processions start a day later. Over 100 such processions were planned in the district between Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
Deputy Inspector General (Hazaribagh) Upendra Prasad said the trigger for Sunday’s violence was an “objectionable” audio recording played on loudspeakers by a Ram Navami procession passing through Kheergaon area of the town around 11 am. He said members of the minority community admitted that they had objected to the recording, which talked about this being a country of Hindus. “The recording was apparently in the form of a song and not a recorded speech of anybody. We are examining the issue,” Prasad said.
Angered by the recording, minority community members allegedly pelted stones at the procession. A huge mob soon gathered, and started attacking and burning shops and vehicles.
More than a dozen small shops along the roadside and a few near a mosque were targeted. “Also, the mob set afire two-wheelers and some four-wheelers. Besides, they also burnt vehicles lying for repair outside a couple of garages,” said Prasad.
The DIG said the processions are not banned from playing any recording or music but have to play the same at low volume.
The police officer added that while his men had “contained the situation in a short span of time”, “the reactionary crowd by then had set afire whatever came in their way”. He said the situation was tense but under control.
Police identified the three found dead on Sunday, after the violence subsided, as Bhairo Gop, Pradip Singh alias Saurav Singh and Anuj Srivastava. Officials believe Singh and Srivastava’s deaths are not related to Sunday’s violence. Gop’s death is being investigated. “Gop had a sharp-edged weapon injury between his shoulder and neck. It will take some time before we can verify who attacked him and when. Police are busy ensuring that the processions pass off peacefully,” said Prasad.
While admitting that “objectionable audio” had been cited as the provocation for Sunday’s incidents, Hazaribagh Deputy Commissioner Mukesh Kumar said, “There is more than one version as to how the violence started.”
He also played down the incidents of arson, saying these had lasted only about an hour. “As far as confrontation between the two communities is concerned, there was only stone-pelting,” Kumar said, adding that this meant Gop’s death probably wasn’t linked to the violence either.