Madhya Pradesh : Fact-finding report on communal violence at Chippawad town of Harda district

November 4, 2013

Brief report on communal violence at Chippawad town of Harda district in Madhya Pradesh on September 19, 2013

(Source : Countercurrents)

In Madhya Pradesh state of India , hardly a month passes without one or the other incident of communal violence not being reported from some or the other part of the state. Indore , Ratlam, Dewas, Khandwa, Harda, Betul, Sagar and Neemuch districts have become hotbed of communal violence. From the year 2005 up to the first quarter of 2013, as many as 945 communal incidents have taken place in the state. In 2012 alone, 89 communal incidents took place and on 92 occasions, there was a build-up of communal tension. Nine persons were killed and 241 sustained injuries in communal incidents in 2012. The state tops in the country as far as the number of communal incidents is concerned.

According to the information furnished in Indian parliament by the Central government, between 2009 and 2013, 432 communal incidents took place in the state and it was among the top three states in the country in this respect.

The communal violence in Khirkiya Nagar Panchayat area of Harda district on September 19, 2013 is only yet another incident in this series.

Khirkiya (Harda)

Khirkiya is a Nagar Panchayat in Harda district of Madhya Pradesh, with a population of around 25,000. One-third of the residents are Muslims. The Nagar Panchayat is divided into 15 Wards and it was in one of the wards – Ward No 14 – which forms part of Chhipawad town, that the communal violence took place. Chhipawad is located about 30 km from Harda district headquarters and 5 km from Khirkiya block HQ. More than 90 per cent residents of Ward no 14 are Muslims. Other wards too have a mixed population. All the residents of ward numbers 12, 13, 14 settled here after they were displaced from Harsud town, which got submerged due to the construction of the Indira Sagar dam on river Narmada . The families are yet to get ownership rights on the land on which they have constructed their houses. Most of them are agricultural and manual laborers.

Chain of communal events

On September 19, 2013 (Thursday), at about 9 AM , Kalu, a Korku tribal, who works in the fields of a Muslim farmer Taj Khan, drove away a calf by hitting it with a stick as it was entering the field repeatedly. The animal, allegedly, died later. Within moments, a rumor was spread in the Chhipawad-Khirkiya area that Muslims had killed a cow and thrown its body. Subsequently, activists of Hindutva fundamentalist organizations like Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Gau-Raksha Commando force, loaded the dead body of a other cow in a tractor-trolley and began a blockade of the Hoshangabad-Khandwa highway at the Maharana Pratap square of Chhipawad . Soon, a crowd comprising four to five thousand persons gathered at the spot and began raising provocative anti-Muslim slogans. At around 1 PM , the violent crowd got divided into two groups. One group assaulted the Imam of the local mosque and ransacked the mosque. The other group marched towards Chhipawad Ward no 14 and set 20-25 houses afire. The rioters also set ablaze around 30 two-wheelers, one jeep and a Matador. According to some eye-witnesses, a police van was following the rioters but the policemen remained mute spectators to the violence. When the probe team asked the Harda Superintendent of Police Deepak Verma about this, he said that the strength of police force in Harda district was comparatively less than other districts. Moreover, a section of the district police force was sent to Betul on that day for security arrangement for the visit of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Meanwhile, when the Collector Rajnish Shrivastawa and SP Deepak Verma reached the spot, the rioters pelted stones at them and forced them to retreat.

Curfew was imposed in the town at around 4 pm after the visit of SP and Collector. The police also had to resort to firing in the air to control the situation. Three persons sustained pellet injuries. Around 30-35 persons were arrested. After the situation improved, curfew was lifted on September 23.

The well-planned way in which the hutments of the poor and innocent Muslims were reduced to ashes at Chhipawad, it seemed as if an organized army had attacked and wreaked destruction in an enemy area. The members of the violent mob, who were mostly outsiders, were carrying Cans and bottles full of Petrol. The rioters first ransacked and looted the homes of the poor Muslims, then sprinkled petrol on them and set them afire. The rioters were not local residents. Most of them were from neighboring districts. There were, of course, some local residents too in the crowd but their job was only to identify the homes of Muslims.

Nothing has been left in the houses that have been burnt down. Food grains, clothes, furniture – everything has been reduced to ashes. Many women have been left with just the clothes they have on their bodies.

When the mob attacked the Muslim habitation, the children had already left for their schools. A group of rioters reached the local school and asked the teachers to handover Muslim children to it. The teachers told them that the Muslim children had already left for their homes. Here we would like to praise the presence of mind of the teachers, who herded all the Muslim children in a room and locked it from the outside.

It seems a lot of thought had gone into selecting the day for the attack. On that day, a sizeable section of the police force of Harda was deployed in the neighboring Betul district for the chief minister’s programme. The number of policemen in the district was so small that what to talk of combating the rioters, they were not even in a position to challenge them. They remained mute spectators to the goings-on.

Sudeep Patel, son of local MLA Kamal Patel and another person called Surendra Purohit (Tiger) have emerged as the key conspirators and executioners of the rioting and violence. Tiger was living in the area for the past two – three months and was running a cow shelter named ‘Charua’. He described himself as the chairman of the ‘Gau Sewa Commando force’. He is absconding from the day of the incident. It was Surendra Purohit who delivered a highly inflammatory speech before the crowd.

The post-riot situation is a matter of deep concern. The families which have become victims of arson and violence are ousters of Harsud. The administration has given Cheques of Rs 5 to 50 thousand each to the families in the name of compensation for their loss. The amount is too small. With this amount, it is impossible for the victims to rebuild their houses, buy household goods, clothes, food grains and copies and books for the children. The children are in a state of shock. They look terrified and traumatized. Many children get up in the middle of the night and start shrieking. Whenever they seen an outsider, they get apprehensive. “Will he burn our houses again?”, they ask.

Conclusions of probe team, based on a visit of the area and conversation with the local residents:

• It is clear that the communal violence at Chhipawad on September 19, 2013 was well-orchestrated and aimed at terrorizing the minority community. The incident was a part of the Fascist political agenda of the BJP and RSS, which want to polarize the society on communal lines to garner votes.

• Besides local MLA’s son Sudeep Patel, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Gau Sewa Commando force and RSS played an active role in the violence. Due to the pressure of the government, the police are not acting independently and objectively.

• The assistance given to the victims (from Rs. 5,000 to Rs 50,000) is grossly insufficient. Nothing has been done for their rehabilitation till date.

• Around 20-25 houses in Chhipawad have been reduced to ashes.

• Most of the riot affected People have nothing to eat. They are living on the generosity of their relatives.

• Since the rioters had reached the local school, the terrified children have stopped going to school. The families are also very worried and concerned about the safety of the children and they also do not want to send them to schools.

• The children who have seen violence unfolding before their own eyes are in a state of shock and trauma. They are not even ready to go out of their homes. They get up in the middle of the night and start talking incoherently. Even the sight of an outsider is enough to terrify them.

• Many women and children who have fallen ill after the riots are too afraid to visit hospitals for treatment. Many pregnant women are unwilling to visit clinics for tests and examination.

A four-member team from Bhopal again visited the riot-affected area on October 16, 2013 . On the basis of conversation with the victim families, the following issues / problems emerged:

• After the incident, the Tehsildar and Patwari had made an assessment of the loss sustained by the victims but it is beyond comprehension as to why the compensation paid to the victims was not in proportion to their loss.

• Very insignificant amounts have been given to the victims in the name of compensation. It is not even a fraction of the quantum of their loss. For instance, Aziz Khan, whose house was burnt down along with food grains and two motor-cycles, has received Rs. 50,000. There are at least 10 other families who have lost everything they owned but they have been paid paltry compensation.

• Most of the victim families do not even have a BPL(Below poverty level ) card. They have been settled here after being uprooted from Harsud. They had BPL cards at their original place of residence but they were cancelled after their rehabilitation.

• Some of the victims said that they don’t have bank accounts and so are finding it difficult to encash the compensation cheques.

• The violence has had a very negative psychological impact on the children. Most of the children are in a state of shock. They run inside their homes the moment they see a stranger. They are also not going to their schools.

Recommendations / demands on the basis of the above facts and evidences:

• The local administration has extended aid to those who houses have been burnt down. Some have been given Rs. 5,000 while others have got Rs. 10,000. The amount of compensation is grossly inadequate. We demand that a government agency should be asked to build houses free of cost for the victims.

• All the victims have been displaced from their homes for the second time. They were earlier displaced due to the construction of dam on river Narmada and they were settled here. But are yet to get ownership rights on the land. We demand that ownership titles should be given immediately to them.

• Those who have lost their every single possession should be provided food grains, edible oil, sugar, kerosene, fuel, utensils and clothes for at least next four months.

• The children of the village are traumatized after the incident. They need Psychiatric help. They are not going to their schools. We demand that a school be opened in the village itself on a temporary basis for such children. Later, the school can be made permanent.

• Many families have lost the things they had collected for the marriage of their daughters. The marriage of such girls should be solemnized under the Kanyadaan / Nikah scheme and the government should bear the entire expense of the marriages.

• The victims told us that the rioters were carrying petrol in cans and bottles and were sprinkling petrol on houses before setting them afire. We were told that they were visiting nearby petrol pumps to get their cans and bottles re-filled. How this became possible, should be inquired into. The owners and staff of petrol pumps should be questioned in this regard.

• The victims also said that Sudeep Patel, son of local MLA Kamal Patel was leading the rioters. This should be inquired into and if the allegation is found to be true, tough legal action should be taken against the son of the MLA.

• We were also told that a person called Surendra Raj Purohit alias Tiger delivered a highly inflammatory speech before the crowd. He describes himself as the chairman of the Gau Sewa Commando Force. He is absconding since the day of the incident. He should be arrested as soon as possible.

• Fire engines took a long time in reaching the place of the incident and a fire engine that reached there was rendered useless by puncturing its tyres. Who did this criminal act should be identified and punished.

• Some victims said that the mob comprised 3-4 thousand persons. Others said the assailants numbered six to seven thousand. It is intriguing that how such a large number of people can gather at a place in such a short time. It seems that the incident was pre-planned. The fact that a big crowd assembled at the place within a short time of the discovery of the carcass of a cow in itself raises suspicion. We were told that a tractor-trolley laden with stones was following the crowd. This should be inquired into

• The victims told us that a large number of members of Bajrang dal were in the mob. This allegation should be probed. If the allegation is found true, the office-bearers of the said organization should be questioned and action should be taken against them.

• The local administration has paid compensation amount to the victims through cheques. But many of the victims do not have bank accounts and since their houses have been burnt down, they have no document to prove their identity – a necessary formality for opening a bank account. The administration should ensure that they are allowed to open their bank accounts on the basis of their own affidavits.

The investigation team: Lajjashankar Hardenia (All India secular forum ), Yogesh Diwan ( People’s research society ) Javed Anis (New Socialist initiative Bhopal), Vijal Kumar ( CPI, ML) Deepak Vidrohi ( Krantikari Naujawan Bharat Sabha), Upasana Behar( Nagrik Adhikar Manch), Azam Khan(Advocate).

For details contact: Lajjashankar Hardenia (Ph.9425301582), Javed Anis ( Ph. 9424401459), Upasana Beher ( Ph. 9424401469), Vijay Kumar ( Ph. 9981773205).

Translated in English by AMRISH HERDENIA