Discrimination and Terror in Malegaon and Mumbai

- Akhilendra Pratap Singh

The blasts in Mumbai were followed by a communal combing operation, where Muslim people were picked up indiscriminately, and subjected to torture and humiliation. There were widespread instances of people being stripped and paraded naked in front of their family, and being beaten up in police thanas. The blasts in Malegaon raised even more disturbing questions about the biases in our investigating and other institutions. In a sense, events at Mumbai and Malegaon pose a serious challenge for Indian secularism and democracy. A five member fact-finding team of CPI (ML) led by Politbureau member Comrade Akhilendra Pratap Singh, visited Malegaon , Bhiwandi and Mumbai from 18-20 September. Comrade Ibnul Hasan Basru, CC member of CPI (ML), Munaf Alam, MLA from Barsoi, Katihar, Anwar Hussein from Aurangabad and Comrade Javed Beg from Siwan were the other members of the team. We carry a brief report -Ed.

On 8 September 2006 four serial bomb blasts ripped Malegaon , in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra — 31 lives, including that of children killed in the stampede and one medical student, were lost; the blasts occurred in Kabristan Vaali Masjid on a Friday during Shab-e-Baraat, a very important Muslim festival, after Friday prayers when lakhs of Muslims assemble at mosques.

The nation was watching to what would be the reaction of those forces — otherwise very quick to blame bomb blasts on ‘Islamic terrorism' and even ‘Islamic Fascism'. Saamna , the Shiv Sena mouthpiece came out with the declaration - ‘you will reap what you sow '.

Malegaon is a subdivision of Nasik district, in the backward Marathwada region of Maharashtra . Here, out of a total population of 7.5 lakhs, Muslims constitute around 70%. Muslims in Malegaon are mostly immigrants from eastern UP and Hyderabad, having come here during the past two hundred years, especially following the destruction of Indian handicrafts and the repression let loose by the British in 1857 in UP. Till recently Malegaon , like Bhiwandi, was a major center of power loom textile production. Hit badly by the textile industry recession, it is now a decaying town full of sick small scale units and unemployed youth.

The town played a historic role in the Indian Freedom Struggle, participating actively in the Khilafat Movement, in which seven people were hanged by the British. In 2001, Malegaon residents participated in the general boycott of American goods—a move opposed by the authorities; people faced severe police repression. Involving Shiv Sainiks, the police gave a communal turn to the anti-American initiative of Malegaon citizens. More than a dozen people were killed, violence spread to 150 villages, 300 houses burnt and 27 mosques were demolished. Muslim passengers were taken out from buses and killed—one Namaazi was burnt to death inside a mosque.

At that time too a Congress/NCP Government was in power. Sonia Gandhi visited the place and assured protection; she also promised to set up an inquiry commission. She also promised to provide basic amenities and the building of a hospital, since there was none in the town.

By 2006, even the ATR report of the Patil Commission set up by the State Government has not been submitted. When Sonia Gandhi visited Malegaon again after the 8 th September 2006 serial blasts, she faced the wrath of the people. Instead of expressing sympathy and grief, she was distributing cheques—people took this as an insensitive, humiliating gesture on her part, and the money was rejected.

People felt that had there been a hospital, the casualties would have been minimized. As it is, blast victims were taken to Dhule district which is more than 60 km from Malegaon . At Dhule, there was no proper arrangement for the victims; NGOs desiring to help were not allowed. Eventually several private hospitals took the initiative and treated patients of their own accord.

16 September onwards, even the nominal medical help given to victims has been stopped. The official victim toll has risen to 250, as reported to the CPI(ML) delegation by the district administration.

On 8 September, after the blasts, people expectedly came out on the road. There was no violence, but the police opened fire in which many people, including Islam Muhammad Ayub (who is still in the hospital) were injured. The police at first denied the entire incident and then claimed that shots were only fired in the air.

In Malegaon , police, arrangements were always heavy during Friday prayers. On 7 September the RSS-BJP had celebrated the Vande Mataram , and Ganesh Chaturthi was also being observed. On 8 September, however, at the time of the blasts there was no security around the mosques. That is why people are demanding a CBI inquiry — they sense a deeper conspiracy. They have no faith in the ATS and police investigation. Adding to the misgivings is the fact that the current Malegaon SP was acting in the position of the DSP in 2001, and he took an active part in the anti-Muslim campaign.

While visiting Bhiwandi, the delegation realized that the police firing on Bhiwandi residents on 5 July 2006 was totally unprovoked. The dispute regarding the location of a police station besides a mosque could have been settled amicably.

In Mumbai, the delegation discovered widespread harassment of Muslims after the 11 July 2006 blasts. The entire community was blamed for the act as part of a well-orchestrated campaign unleashed by Shiv Sena and BJP with police and the State Home Ministry's connivance.

Questioning the line taken by investigative agencies on the 11 July blasts, several Muslim and civil rights organizations demanded that investigations should also take the Nagpur and Nanded incidents into account. At Nagpur the alleged attack on RSS Headquarters was found to be a set-up; then at Nanded Bajrang Dal activists were found making bombs; fake beards and Pathan suits were discovered from their premises. People in Mumbai suspect that there might wel have been a conspiracy to conduct blasts in a Muslim guise.

Beginning with the Babri Masjid demolition and the 1992-1993 riots (in which the Shiv Sena-police combine butchered 1500 Muslims), Mumbai has seen systematic persecution of Muslims. Investigations into the 12 March 1993 serial blasts too unleashed a virtual terror reign, where innocent Muslim women and children were tortured. While the main perpetrators absconded, innocent Muslim citizens in Mumbai socio-economic life were implicated and destroyed.

Muslims and civil rights activists also raise the issue that while civil rights of the '93 blasts accused were violated, the perpetrators of Mumbai riots are roaming free. The Srikrishna Report, which detailed the police-Shiv Sena nexus during the Mumbai riots was put in cold storage. The trend of arresting and torturing innocent continued throughout the 1990s and the 2000s, culminating in the Khwaja Yunus case where the Mumbai Police ‘encounter specialist' was found to have murdered a 2002 Ghatkopar blast suspect in cold blood.

People of Maharashtra are of the view that the entire post Babri-Masjid demolition phase in Mumbai— including riots, bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, and communal violence—should be thoroughly investigated. A high powered judicial enquiry should be instituted to bring out the real truth before the nation. At the very least the Government should issue a White Paper and initiate a CBI inquiry.

Politically, the delegation felt that Maharashtra is passing through a transitional phase —BJP-Siv Sena are facing a decline and there is stiff competition between the Congress and the NCP for the Hindu vote bank; Muslims are caught in the cross fire.