Maharashtra – Fact Finding Report on Police Firing and Reaction at Dhulia

June 8, 2010

Fact finding team (All India Secular Forum) :
Dr Suresh Khairnar (Nagpur),
Mayatai Choure (Kamptee),
Ranjit Pardeshi (Dhulia),
Adv. Karim Salar (Jalgaon),
Rahul Wagh (Dhulia),
Asif (Malegaon)

The Team visited Dhulia city on 12th May, 2010 for fact finding an incident of police firing and the following community reaction on 6th May and its aftermath.

Dhulia city is located 300 km north-east of Mumbai, has a population of about five lakhs, out of which 40% are Muslims mostly engaged in power loom industry, known as Ansaris. The rest of the population is engaged in agriculture and allied industries. Sugarcane, banana, groundnut, botton and, of late, grapes are the major crops of the region. Quite a few ginning as well as sugar mills are located in the region.

Though only 50 km from Malegaon, Dhulia is historically a peaceful city from the communal point of view. However, people started feeling communal tensions since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement launched by the Sangh Parivar in the early 90s. A number of smaller skirmishes were reported in recent years from Nandurbar, Sakri, Navapur, Pimpalner which are on the borders of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Prior to the recent incident, the last big Hindu-Muslim riot in the city of Dhulia took place in October 2008 over the controversial Afzal Khan-Shivaji poster, in which about ten people lost their lives. A separate enquiry report on this riot was released by AISF then.

On the day of unrest, May 06, 2010, when the administration was busy conducting MHT-CET exam, someone pasted a computer generated cartoon of Prophet Mohammed on the district Collectorate notice board. Creating images of Prophet Mohammed is considered a blasphemy by Muslims. One Bilal Ahmed who happened to visit the Collectorate, on seeing the poster, rang up NCP Corporator Mr. Sawaal Ansari and informed him of the mischief. Sawaal Ansari, in turn informed one Mr. Harshawardhan Kadam Bande, Ex MLA and NCP leader. A delegation led by these two leaders called upon the District Collector who in the presence of the Superintendent of Police, assured the delegation that that the culprit(s) would be arrested within one hour. However, hours passed without the police arresting anyone.

Meanwhile, a crowd of Muslims numbering a few thousands had gathered at Assi Footi (80 foot) Road, Tiranga Chowk. The crowd demonstrated against the blasphemy and demanded immediate arrest of the culprits. It is reported that the crowd had turned violent and pelted stones on ST Buses. According to the media 14 buses were damaged which the Muslim representatives refuted saying only two buses were damaged. Police force was then deployed on the scene. The SP, Mr. Himmatrao Deshbhratar, appealed to the crowd to disperse peacefully assuring them that the culprits would be arrested soon. He even requested Mufti Mazood Ahmed (35 years old) to appeal the crowd. Standing on top of the Police Vehicle, Mufti appealed to the Crowd to disperse.

When the Fact Finding Team asked about this incident some Muslims reported that the crowd dispersed peacefully heeding the appeal of the Police officer and the Mufti and as it was time for Namaz they went to Namaz Subhani Masjid. However, when the Namazies came out of the Masjid after offering Namaz they found themselves surrounded by RAF Commandos and local police who started firing indiscriminately on the crowd without warning, and unleashed a frightening attack on people and property. As a result three persons were grievously shot.

The names of the injured persons are:
1. Shiraj Ahmad, age 35, works at Seva Automobile, hit on the back and paralyzed, being treated at a private hospital
2. Adil Ahmad, age 17, 12th pass student returning from CET exam, hit on the hip from the back, being treated at a private hospital.
3. Shoeb Ahmad Hussain, age 25, hit on the back, now in police custody.

Mufti Mazood Ahmed who was requested by the Police to appeal to the masses to maintain peace, was also brutally attacked by the Commandos, his two fingers are fractured and is now in bandage.

Some eye witnesses told the fact finding team that immediately after this firing without warning, the police launched an offensive in the Muslim basti forcefully entering into houses, hurling abuses at women, beating whoever was found including women and children, breaking furniture and throwing utensils in the kitchen, and arresting about 40 Muslims from their homes.

The fact finding team visited Taj Transport Garage which according to the eyewitnesses was ransacked by 15-20 Commandos who also beat up the owner Mohd Alim and picked up six employees of the garage. The six persons arrested are: Basheer Bhai, Basheer Pathan, Mustaq, Wasim, Aslam and Riffique Sheikh. The Commandos broke open another shop, Maharashtra Battery Works, which was closed then and razed the shop to the ground. The batteries were also smashed beyond repair. An engineering worshop run by Haji Mohammed Shafi Ramzan Shah was also raided and his servant Shafique was brutally attacked and taken to custody.

S.P Mr. Himmatrao Deshbhratar, when contacted, stated that he was planning to arrest 5000 Muslims. When asked how he could maintain law and order with the arrest of so many people, he replied that the Guardian Minister Mr. Abdul Sattar had told him that these people (referring to Muslims) understand only the language of sticks.

Habib Kha, a senior citizen told the fact finding team that his grand son Naseem Kha S/O Yusuf Kha was beaten up by the police and arrested when he went to a pan shop at Assi Footi road. There are over 25 youngsters, all under the age of 25, still in custody. Yusuf Kha managed to get his son released in two days, but Naseem Kha was taken to custody once again.

Incidentally, the sitting independent MLA of Dhulia, Mr Anil Gote had called for a Dhulia Bandh on 5th May, a day before the incident, in protest against the physical attack waged by his political rival Mr. Harshwardhan Kadambande. Mr. Gote was away from the constituency on the day of the incident, and Mr. Kadambande states that local political rivalry is the root cause of the trouble in Dhulia. (Mr. Anil Gote is the second accused in the Telgi Stamp Paper Scam)

Muslims in Dhulia claimed that the police seemed to have come with the plan of damaging their properties. More than 20 cars and 100 houses were damaged. The police, on the other hand, say that the Muslims themselves damaged the property and put the blame on the police.

The arrested people have not been released till today.

The Hindus say that it is a clash between the police and the Muslims, and that there is no communal bad blood in it.

Observations:

1. More than 25 Muslim youth under the age of 25 are still in police custody under criminal charges.
2. Property, particularly vehicles, were vandalized during the police assault. The fact finding team could see over 15 vehicles — some of them costly ones — still in a damaged condition in the Muslim Mohalla.
3. Three Muslims are grievously injured in police firing.
4. The Superintendent claims that ‘Muslims understand only the language of the canes, and the attack on them had contained the unruly masses and averted a possible communal riot.’

Comments:

1. The indiscriminate attack on Muslim masses suggest that the police came with the intent to ‘teach a lesson’ to Muslims.
2. Communal prejudice among the police is very strong.
3. Many Muslims abstained from responding to queries by the fact finding team as they feared it might invite the vindictive attention of the police.
4. Even those who responded requested anonymity.
5. Police has created a fear psychosis among the people for no obvious fault of them.

Report by:
Suresh Khairnar
Convener, All India Secular Forum