Just 300 metres separate the Mahavir temple, the biggest in Rosera town, and the Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque. Between them is a narrow lane, one shop after the other, most selling jewellery, some clothes, others daily supplies. For the residents of the town, they have never known those 300 metres to fall silent. Day after day, the distance was a symbol of a thriving market and a bustling harmonious town with over 32,000 people.
Until March 27, 2018. That one day, the street saw more people than ever before, over two thousand. But they were far from peaceful, stoning the mosque, injuring twelve people including an ASP and even climbing atop the masjid to plant a saffron flag. And then Gudri bazaar fell quiet. For one week until April 3, nothing was sold, and only security personnel roamed the streets. What started it all was a slipper.
On March 26, at around 8:00 pm, a Chaiti Durga Puja procession that carried the idol of the goddess was passing through Gudri Bazaar, on its way to the river nearby to be immersed. As the devotees passed by the Jama Masjid, one slipper landed in their midst. Eyewitnesses said it came from a house next to the mosque.
PC Thakur, a local Rosera resident said, “There are only a few Muslim families in Gudri Bazaar, and it was from one of their homes. The Hindus felt this was an affront. The Muslims feigned ignorance and said it had not been done on purpose. There was a heated conversation, but everybody there was a local and so we did not want trouble. There were other murtis behind as well, and there was no electricity so it was dark. Everybody calmed down and the procession went on. Nothing happened that night.”
The local anger did not subside the next morning. Vinod Dev, a member of the Rosera Traders Association said, “We did not want trouble. We wanted police to take some action. What would have happened if the slipper fell on the pratima? So a few of us collected at the spot, and some local residents had identified two Muslim men as the troublemakers. We only wanted them to be arrested because they had done something wrong. There should have been no trouble. Our communities have lived together for generations.”
Nawaz Khan, who lives 1 km away and runs a grocery shop said, “In the morning, I went and mingled with those demanding arrests. I have known them for decades, and even agreed that if a slipper was thrown, action should be taken. Lots of us did. But soon we realised that the atmosphere was getting dangerous. The crowd kept increasing, and most were people we had never seen before.”
“They were the loudest, abusing the most. Even after the police arrested Mohammad Shahzad, they didn’t quieten down and wanted another person identified as Arman to be arrested. I left, but some remained in the masjid.”
By 2 pm, an irate crowd surrounded the mosque, and despite being pushed back by the police, threw stones at the mosque and police. Some broke open the gates, climbed the minaret and planted the saffron flag. One group broke off, went to a madrasa nearby and set motorcycles ablaze.
Successive police lathi charges finally dispersed the crowds at Gudri Bazaar, and ten people have been arrested since, including a local BJP leader, Mohan Patwa. Yet, many questions remain in Rosera, even among those that first collected on the morning of March 27.
As Vishnu Dev stood and watched, he too was struck by the number of faces he didn’t recognise. “It was clear that someone wanted to take advantage of the situation,” he said.
Through the night, people in Rosera, Samastipur, Begusarai and Muzaffarpur saw social media abuzz with messages. One WhatsApp message at the time, that was also reproduced on the pages of members of groups such as the Hindu Putra Sangathan, said, “I am going to the Mahavir Mandir in Rosera, there have been a lot of religious insults, not anymore.”
Raju Gupta, a local Rosera based journalist said, “Through the night and in the morning, there were messages that said that the slipper had hit the idol when it had actually missed and that people should collect. Some shouted that the accused were hiding in the mosque when the stoning began. Eventually, in the crowd, the outsiders far exceeded those from here, and most were teenagers.”
Dev pointed to a wound on his hand. “We even tried to protect the mosque and shouted for calm. I got hit with a stone that just missed my head and hit my hand. I even slapped one man throwing stones and shouted at him. But there were just too many,” he said.
Gupta said that sensing the danger, local Hindu families sheltered those who fled the madrasa, so when a section of the mob arrived there, they found only motorcycles and no people.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Samastipur Superintendent of Police, Dipak Ranjan said, “I cannot reveal any aspects of the investigation, but can assure you that it is being done thoroughly and all the evidence is being gone through. Ten people have been arrested so far.”
Almost inevitably, distrust has entered most conversations in Rosera, particularly about the arrests.
“There have been several peace meetings and the police assured us of fair action. But one night, ten people were rounded up. Rumours began to fly that a hundred people have been arrested. Others said that those detained were being beaten. There was an atmosphere of fear so shops remained shut. Some argued that the main accused from the “doosra paksh” was still on the run,” Dev said. Breaking out into a wry chuckle, he said, “Doosra paksh. I have never used that word before in my life.”
30 km away, at the district headquarters, JD(U) leader Banarasi Lal Thakur echoes the feeling. “This is Samastipur, where no incident like this ever takes place, even when the rest of the country is burning. This is the land of Karpoori Thakur, who is an icon of secular harmony and justice. And do you know where, in the most communally charged of times in 1990, Lal Krishna Advani was arrested during his rath yatra, and even then nothing happened?”, he said, pointing to a room on the first floor of the Samastipur Circuit House.
At Gudri Bazaar, in the peace meetings and conversations in every shop and home, there is apprehension and a plan. One grocery shop owner said, “This was the Chaiti Durga Puja. The main Puja will happen in October, and there will be Muslim festivals too. We will have to be careful of people who want to reopen our wounds. We will ensure one thing this time. We will be wary of outsiders.