The embers had been burning for sometime at Kosi Kalan. Then on Friday,water turned into fuel for the fire that would burn the town.
The day-long communal riot at Kosi Kalan town in Mathura district,which began as an argument between youths over the use of water intended for the faithful on Friday afternoon,has left four dead.
Police,however,refused to rule out a larger conspiracy. Additional Director General of Police (Law & Order) Jagmohan Yadav said they would investigate whether the riot was engineered to influence an upcoming election to the municipality.
No violence has been reported since midnight. Curfew is still in place,but no one has been arrested.
On Friday,Mohammad Kamil Qureshi was about to enter the Sarai Masjid for the Jumah in the bazaar when a scuffle broke out. A barrel of fresh water was kept outside the masjid to prepare sherbet for those exiting after the Friday prayers. A Hindu youth scooped up a palmful and washed his face, said Qureshi who would go on to spend the whole night in the masjid.
There was an argument. Someone slapped him. When we came out at 2.30 pm,there was a huge crowd waiting outside the masjid, said Qureshi. The youth had contacted his friends in the villages around town.
Pitched battles were fought around the masjids in the bazaar with temporary victories going to a group of young men who conquered higher ground.
We went to the balcony on the first floor. Then they scaled the walls of the masjid. We got to the terrace after that, said Deepak Jaiswal,a student who introduced himself as the media coordinator for the local unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Standing on the terrace of a house adjoining a masjid,Deepak pointed to bricks on either side.
Members of both communities,to whom this reporter spoke to,acknowledged that at this point it was merely a manageable scuffle. There have been sparks of late,minor tu-tu-mein-mein which never escalated. We have rarely had people of two different religions going against each other, said one of the residents.
Batches and shades of law enforcement agencies police,Provincial Armed Constabulary and Rapid Action Force arrived,but late. Police arrived after six in the evening and then merely watched, complained Deepak. The police did not even come here till early this morning, said Mohammad Aslam,who lives in Muslim-majority Nikasa.
Not a tear gas shell was used,not a rubber bullet was fired. As is with every case of this nature,we will conduct a postmortem of what happened. It was not possible to fire into the crowd. However,it has to be probed why tear gas shells and rubber bullets were not used, said ADGP Yadav.
Bricks were not doing enough damage,and at some point,the guns and matchboxes came out. The police have identified Salauddin,son of Mohammad Islam,and Sonu,son of Mangalram Saini,as the first casualties. They have so far failed to confirm the identities of two charred bodies recovered from a burnt shop near the highway this morning.
We have seen some riots,but I am seeing a whole locality rioting for the first time. This is why we think that someone was instigating them. We cannot rule out that this communal tension was created keeping in view the local body elections, said ADGP Yadav.
He said phone calls of a number of people are being monitored. We will also cancel arms licences of the people of the area. This process has already been started, he said.
As the riot spread out,the neutral zones bore its brunt. The no-mans-land between Guruganj,largely populated by affluent Hindus,and Nikasa,a Muslim-majority locality,is lined with skeletons of cars.
Most of us were not home. Those who were in,ran, said Kishan Pandit,whose family in Guruganj lost two cars and a motorcycle to the mob. Hukum Pandit claims the mob threw a petrol bomb into his house. Its roof has come down entirely.
Ask them to show the RCs (registration certificate of vehicles), countered Aslam claiming that some of the cars belong to Muslims. He pointed out a row of burnt-down kabaadiwala shops near the Muslim locality.
Idgah,a relatively new colony of about 15 Muslim houses that has come up near National Highway-2,where the town begins,is emptying. I am leaving for my relatives house in Haryana with whatever I could salvage, said Imamuddin,tugging at the ropes tied to his three goats. His parents were with him. His house was the burnt-down one under the blackened tree.
At the vegetable market,the fire brigade had to be called back to extinguish a fire that had found its way back from among half-burnt watermelons and potatoes. The firemen rescued two pictures from the row of shops,one a picture of an infant Krishna,and the other,with the words Bismillah al rahman al rahim inscribed across it.