Nawada (Bihar), August 13;Armed security forces have fanned themselves out in the entire town of Nawada. Yet, safety is the last thing to be found. An indefinite curfew and continuing tension even after five days of a communal clash have put people’s patience and survival to test. Many see the curfew as the State’s failure to contain the violence that rocked the already volatile town on Monday.
“The government has imposed this curfew to hide its failure in controlling the festering situation. The matter was settled on day one itself. But the police and the administration with its inability to act against the perpetrators has stoked the situation further,” Rashiduddin, a resident of the Darji Tola (Tailors’ Quarters) told The Hindu.
A petty fight that began at a roadside dhaba last Saturday, escalated into a violent communal confrontation between two communities. Large scale arson, vandalism, firing and local skirmishes marked the incident as rumours of people from the two communities getting killed began to get circulated.
A 24-year-old youth Mohammad Iqbal was killed in the crossfire on Monday, while a teen Kundan Rajak died in the police firing on Saturday.
“The police watched as perpetrators set fire to shops and ransacked them. Most of the damage has been done to shops in the main Vijay Bazar area. You have the office of the superintendent of police and district magistrate in the bazaar. How did so much vandalism take place in such a key area where there was already a lot of police deployment?” asked Mohammad Ashraf, a tailor.
Mohammad Sharfuddin’s cotton emporium was ransacked on the hospital road, another key location in the town. Residents of Darji Tola said the marauding mob raised slogans supporting Narendra Modi and decrying Nitish Kumar.
Many questioned the nature of the communal clash in which one particular community was seemingly targeted.
“All the shops near the collectorate were of the minority community. So where was the administration? Even Iqbals’ murder took place in the presence of the police. The property of the other community that is in this area is safe,” said Mohammad Rizvi, a masjid secretary in Par Nawada area.
According to the administration, the fight at the dhaba started when a group of youth demanded non-vegetarian fare. The owner declined citing religious reasons resulting in a clash.
The dhaba owner Pankaj Yadav alias Duldul told The Hindu, that five boys had come to his dhaba on Saturday night. “This is the month of Shravan and there was a death in my family. So I was not serving non-vegetarian food. The group started abusing us. They also asked us for Rs. 5,000. We made them beat a retreat. Perhaps smarting under the insult a mob returned the next morning to attack us. My eatery and nearby flat were vandalised and ransacked,” he said.
A reported attack on a group of kanwarias (pilgrims) also added fuel to the fire.
In Par Nawada area, at a stone’s throw away from the Bundelkhand police station, where a pitched fight took place on Monday, and residents debunked the official extortion story. They alleged that the group of boys was with a woman and a tiff over a personal matter was given a communal colour.
Some pointed to the glaring incongruity of minority persons preferring to eat at a non-minority outlet on the occasion of Eid. They questioned the role of the Bundelkhand police station and the media in misrepresenting the events.
“The police station operates from a rented place and operates as per the wishes if the private landlord. We have been demanding for long that he police station should have an official building. The media only reported the death and loss to property of one community, but blotted out the loss to minority community. How do people claim their losses?” Mr. Rizvi said.
“Anytime you go to that police station, they just open fire on you and then shift the blame saying the station was under attack,” Kalimuddin, a tea vendor pointed out.
Nawada town comprises of a community ghettoes divided on religious and caste lines and topographically by the Khuri river. One side of the river is minority dominated, while the other has the majority population. The town comprises clusters of colonies like Darji Tola (tailors), Dhobi Tola (washerfolk), minority, upper caste and Yadav-caste pockets.
For the last two years, the town has been on the boil, with communal tension marking every festival. Last Holi and last two Ram Navmis saw minor sectarian conflicts. In 1986, there was a major riot, after which a peace committee meeting ruled that either the SP or the DM should be from the minority community. However, in recent transfer of officials, this ruling was ignored.
Asked if the media had played a partisan role, a local media associate said, “These clashes have been so frequent and the minority is always on the offensive. So this time the media decided to take one-sided view.”
For instance, as per some media reports, the Bundelkhand police station was set on fire and the deceased Iqbal had come to attack the police station. When The Hindu visited the place, the police station showed no sign of damage and the personnel sitting their denied that it was attacked.
On Monday, Iqbal’s old parents were preparing for their son’s funeral.
“Some boys came and told me he had been shot. He had gone to the police station to complain to the police of misbehaviour with our relatives who were coming home that day,” Iqbal’s father Mohammad Shamsul Haq, a well-known resident in the locality said.
The Hindu could not get in touch with Kundan’s family. Some local sources said the family had been warned against speaking to the media.
The people of Nawada have literally been trapped inside their homes with no way to get any provisions.
Tea-vendor Kalimuddin wondered how to get the next meal. Without any means to procure milk, six-month-old Tuba has been surviving on sugar water and biscuits.
“We cannot go out to get milk. So all we are giving her is sugar water and biscuits,” Tuba’s grandmother Jaibunissa said.
The town wore a deserted look with fear stalking the empty streets. Companies of armed personnel and riot control police with tear gas shells were ubiquitous, warning popping heads to keep indoors. A couple of shots were also fired in the air when two youths were seen to come out of their lanes.
The night before, tear gas was shells were fired at many colonies. The government has invoked the National Security Act and indefinite curfew is underway in Nawada.