Fact Finding to Dhule: A Preliminary Report

January 27, 2013

Not a ‘riot’ but another brutal massacre of Muslims by the state!

by Democratic Students Union

The name of Dhule flashed in the media on 7th and 8th January speaking of a communal violence after an altercation between the Hindus and Muslims over the payment of a hotel bill. Following the quarrel, the police “had to resort to firing to restore order” since the situation was getting ‘out of hand’. However, as more reports trickled out the picture that emerged was very different. To further investigate into the incident and what transpired before and after the police firing, a 6 member DSU fact-finding team comprising students from JNU and DU visited Dhule on 19th & 20th January 2013. After speaking to the locals, it became clear that the incident cannot be called a “communal riot”. Our interviews with the locals clearly exemplified how this was another massacre of the Muslims by the Indian state, closely following similar other massacres in the recent past from Rajasthan to UP. The incident demonstrates the complete communalisation of the state machinery which has simultaneously propped up a parasitical class that sustains itself through the systemic oppression of the Muslim community. In Dhule, the locals told us how a mafia class has emerged over the past few years mostly holding monopolies over essentials such as kerosene or running alcohol or drug shops. They have close connections with the police and the administration and have played a frontal role in attacks on Muslims. There is a sense amongst these influential sections that control most of the resources and also constitutes the so called civil society, that the police action was “admirable”. Apart from reconstructing the sequence of events that took place on the 6th of January, we also tried to contextualise it within the process that has led to the overall marginalization of the Muslims.

Indiscriminate firing or targeted killings? The police justification for the firing, as parroted in the corporate media, has been the altercation that broke out over the payment of a restaurant bill. But over the course of our conversations with the locals, it became clear that in no way can the police firing be connected to the quarrel. The locals said the quarrel was so minor that it could have been easily controlled within 10 minutes. But the police which proudly claims itself first as Hindu, and only then as police was waiting for an opportunity for the past few years, especially after the 2008 riots in the area, to target the Muslims. The locals also pointed out how after 2008 riots, Maharasthra Home Minister R.R. Patil had publicly declared in Dhule that Hindus should respond with bullets if the Muslims throw stones at them. Locals also pointed out that police would openly warn them of an impending revenge since 2008. Resultantly, on the 6th January, using the altercation as an excuse, the police opened fire within less than 10 minutes of the altercation. More than 200 rounds of bullets were fired by the police! All the locals we spoke to corroborated the one-sided nature of the police firing. As for the stone throwing by the Muslims of which much has been made out of by the police and certain sections of the media, the locals told us that the stone throwing only started after the Hindu mob, aided and abetted by the police, started burning houses. A certain preparedness for the incident was also evident in the amount of acid bombs and dasti bombs (a kind of a grenade not regularly used by the police) that was at hand.

Most of the firing was above the waist, so the police shot to kill. Being the main market of the town, the Macchi Bazar and Madhavpura area is frequented by large number of people. All the 6 Muslims killed were either daily wage labourers or small businessmen who had gone to the market in connection to their work or to buy grocery. 22 year old Rizwan, whose father had sent him to the market to buy carry bags for his garment shop was shot on his back and leg and succumbed to the injuries on the 8th January. Rizwan spoke to his family on the 7th January and told them that the police shot him when he was trying to hide in a house. 24 year old Imran Ali who worked at a local garage was shot on his chest when he had gone to the market to buy grocery. 22 year old Asim whose family runs a small egg business was ferrying eggs when he was shot twice –on the chest and stomach. 22 year old Yunus was shot on the neck and died on the 9th January. 30 year old Asif used to run a small shop and had gone to the area regarding his business when he was shot below the under-arm. The youngest person to die in the police firing was 17 year old Saud who was a class 12th student. He was shot near the heart.

Complete license to loot and burn –The police also facilitated the loot and arson of the Muslim properties. Locals pointed out how a section of the Hindu mob climbed on police jeeps to enter the area. After many Muslims fled from their homes, the police kept firing in their direction, while the lumpens of the communal fascists were given complete license to loot and burn. Sheikh Azad, a small businessman in the Machi Bazar area told us how the rioters were waving a saffron flag and dancing while the police was shooting at the Muslims. His 2-storey house, with a chicken shop on the ground floor was completely gutted down after being looted. Jameel, a local meat seller sustained losses worth approximately 10 lakhs. Cylinders were blasted (much like in Gujarat 2002) in the houses, resulting in the collapse of entire ceilings. Another resident of the area, Yusuf who had been reduced from owning a small leather business to a hawker after the 2008 riots suffered losses worth approximately 20 lakhs this time. Mashqoor Khan, sustained losses worth 4.50 lakhs as both his house and shop was burnt. A total of 14 Muslim houses were burnt down by the mob and the police. The police also did not allow the local fire brigade to reach the area. The fire brigade of the town was stopped mid-way by the police and the lumpens. It was only late at night that the first attempts to douse the fire started when the fire brigades from Malegaon (55 kms away), Jalgaon (90 kms) and Sherpur (50 kms) arrived. Madina bi, a local resident who also sustained losses worth lakhs pointed out how the fire was only slightly doused by 3 am in the morning and smoke could be seen coming out of many houses till the next day. Not just this, the police even made sure that locals could not douse the burning houses. Ansari Mussadiq, pointed out how a volley of stones and bullets came his way through the window when he was pouring water on to the adjacent house which was set on fire. He showed us bullet marks on the wall opposite his window.

The large number of injured also brings out the police brutality. Over 90% per cent of the injured sustained bullet injuries above the waist. When we spoke to the injured, it came out how most of them were running for their lives, trying to hide, or had just stepped out to bring their children inside when they were shot at. 16 year old Abul Qasim, a daily wage labourer whose right arm was bruised by a bullet, was parking his cycle after coming back from work when a group of policemen came out of a house they had vandalised and shot at him. 23 year old Arshad received three bullets – one on the ribs, another under the arm pit and one more on the hand, but miraculously survived. He said that he was shot from behind. The team also spoke to two women who received bullet injuries. Saira Bano received a bullet on her left arm when she just stepped out of the house to bring in her children. The police terror was so immense that despite being in immense pain she did not step out of the house to go to the hospital till the next day. Even in the adjoining colonies which had no connection with any quarrel, police fired bullets. At Ramzanbaba Nagar, where not even curfew was imposed since the area was not at all affected, Sairabi, a housemaid was shot from behind. Many women were also beaten up by the police during the curfew. An aged woman Shamsunnisa who runs a small shop outside her house on the second day came out of the house to stop the policemen from destroying her shop when she was brutally beaten up. Her right hand was fractured and she also sustained injuries on the thighs and the hips. Another woman, Tabrunnissa went out to douse the fire when the police beat her up. Both these incidents happened on the 7th of January when the area had already been placed under curfew. The curfew was made complete use of by the police to unleash further terror on the people. They would barge into houses, beat up people, break vehicles, smash windows, steal goats, cash and jewellery belonging to the Muslims. The locals have extensive evidences, including video clips of the police carnage which they have also given to the DSU team. The fact finding team also spoke to one of the two persons whose leg had to be amputated. 20 year old Khalid Ansari was coming back from work when he started running for his life after hearing the police firing. A bullet passed through his right leg and even hit the left leg. His right leg had to be amputated, while the other leg sustained a major fracture. The 3 lakh compensation to him announced by the government seems like a cruel joke. But even that he is unlikely to receive as there is already a police case against him along with all others who were shot at – whether dead or injured. He will first have to prove his innocence before he can be eligible for the compensation!

The state machinery and the ‘civil’ society very promptly got into action to shield the policemen and cover up the incident. The police cunningly filed cases against people who were themselves victims of their barbarity. As a result, people who tried to file cases against the police were returned saying that they cannot file a case as there is already a case against them. Some others were made to go from station to station and all kinds of excuses were given not to let them lodge an FIR. Many were simply scared to walk up to the police station to file a complaint, lest the police pick them up. Some others had lost hope on the system to even bother about filing a complaint. For example, the father of the 17 year old Saud told us that nothing was going to come out of this system. He gave the example of the treatment meted out to his family when they merely tried to procure the death certificate of his son from the nagarpalika. The Dhule Mahanagar Palika Corporation asked his brother who went there for 2 days to first get a report from the civil hospital to confirm that Saud was actually dead! They were unwilling to categorise him as dead because of the police firing, despite the fact that his post-mortem was done at the Civil Hospital and even the graveyard records showed that he died of bullet injuries. The police as well as the local administration also made all attempts to minimise the financial losses suffered by the people. While filling up the panchnama the police would record the loss of a fridge at Rs. 700, that of a TV at Rs. 100 and so on! In some cases after the preparation of the panchnama, the police did not even take the signature of the people who had suffered the losses. Another example which brought out the complete communalisation of the state machinery was the fear that the people entertained of the civil hospital. Despite being from struggling backgrounds, the Muslims preferred going to the private hospitals citing the harassment they faced at the hands of the hospital staff and the Shiv Sena goons. People also pointed out how a social worker Muzaffar who was taking the injured to the hospital was brutally beaten up by the Shiv Sena goons in 2008. The fear is so immense that some said that they would prefer to die rather than be taken to the government hospital. Another person said that he fears that he might not return if he goes to the civil hospital. It was largely the financial help from various community organisations that helped the locals in treatment.

The brutal massacre of Muslims at Dhule adds another dark chapter to the persecution of Muslims bringing to fore yet again the Hindu majoritarian character of the Indian state. Maharashtra is ruled by the Congress-NCP combine, a supposedly “secular” formation with the BJP-Shiv Sena being the main opposition. But as pointed out by the people, the goons of Shiv Sena-RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal are given complete protection and patronage by whosoever is in power. These mercenaries play out the much needed systemic role of the communal-lumpen section carefully nurtured by the ruling classes. The locals also pointed out how all the parties actively protect the different mafias who along with the propertied Marwari and Gujarati businessmen have emerged as an extremely oppressive section. And this is only made possible through the simultaneous and systemic marginalisation of the Muslims. The Muslims are largely either daily wage labourers or small businessmen, and they are the ones targeted in such massacres and assaults. The contrast between the Muslim parts of the town to that of the Hindu town is glaringly visible to anyone who visits the town. While the Muslims live clustered in ghettos suffering from electricity and water shortages, the other part of the town has become relatively prosperous. The very fact that no official has yet taken the responsibility for the carnage till now exemplifies this complicity and the impunity that the entire state machinery grants to maintain this systemic oppression. The Collector, Deputy Collector and the SP were all mysteriously ‘absent’ from duty on 6th January, while the DySP reached the area half an hour after the police firing had started, and has officially denied ordering the firing. But as is clear from the heavy firing, that it could not have been possible without permission from some senior official.

On the evening of the last day, the DSU fact finding team addressed an extremely hostile press conference largely attended by the local media with strong leanings towards the Shiv Sena. After the press conference, a journalist from the Dainik Bhaskar, unconsciously made a very insightful comment. According to him, our taking these facts to the people outside Dhule will tarnish the image of Dhule, which in turn will affect the development prospects of the town. Perhaps no other comment brings out how an economy based on the marginalisation the oppressed people, of which Muslims constitute a large section, perpetuates and reproduces itself on silencing it. What has to be silenced is not just the long process of marginalisation, but also its most ugly manifestations. And for this process, as is revealed in the events subsequent to the 6th January police carnage, all organs of the state come together to cover it up. And therefore, nothing less than a complete overhauling of this communal fascist state would suffice to put an end to this systemic oppression.

The fact finding team comprised Azram, Prateek, Rubeena, Shriya, Umar (all DSU, JNU); and Kundan (DSU, DU). A detailed report of the incident along with the footages of the carnage will be released within a fortnight.