June 29, 2014

Communal Provocation and Violence in Pune: A Brief Report by AIDWA

The following is a report based on discussions with the All India Democratic Women’s Association activists and youth from different areas of Pune city. They were coordinated by the AIDWA state secretary Sonya Gill, vice presidents Kiran Moghe, Saraswati Bhandirge and Subhadra Khilare, state committee member Jaya Ghadge and photo-journalist Vidya Kulkarni. THIS is a brief account of the communal tension and violence witnessed from May 31 to June 2 in Pune city. The immediate provocation was the circulation of distorted and derogatory pictures of Chatrapati Shivaji, Bal Thackray and some Hindu deities on internet based social networking sites, particularly Facebook and the mobile message service WhatsApp. While media attention has understandably focused on the brutal killing of Mohsin Sheikh at the hands of a mob of Hindutva activists belonging to the Hindu Rashtra Sena, it should be pointed out that the tension had quickly spread to almost every part of the Pune metropolitan area. Most parts of Pune witnessed a closure of shops and public transport virtually came to a standstill on June 1, as mobs of mostly young men roamed the streets, forcing people to down shutters and stoning buses and autorickshaws. There are reports of mosques and shops (particularly bakeries) belonging to Muslims being vandalised and stoned in different parts of the city, for example, the industrial area of Bhosari (PCMC) and Kalepadal (Hadapsar). In Dattawadi (off Sinhagad Road) the house of AIDWA lawyer-activist Adv. Shanur Shaikh, was stoned at 1.30 am in the early morning on May 31, after the derogatory images first appeared in the social media on the previous evening. In the night on June 1, four youth appeared and again started stoning her house and the (Muslim) bakery next door. The barking of stray dogs alerted some members of the local Yuvak Mandal (youth group) who accosted them. When they asked them who they were (since they were obviously from outside the area) they replied saying “Don’t worry we are ‘Hindus’ and won’t harm you!” The Yuvak Mandal members slapped them and the miscreants ran away, after which they reassured Shanur and her family that there was no need to worry, and if they needed help, could call them immediately. On June 2 (third day), however, some unknown persons came on a two wheeler around 3.30pm and stoned the bakery, as a result of which the showcase was severely damaged. The bakery owner then made a police complaint, after which some policemen were posted in the area. It should be noted that the bakery and her house are the only two Muslim establishments in that particular lane, although there is a large Muslim dominated settlement nearby. According to Shanur, there are reports of the neighbouring mosque and some bakeries in the area also being under siege from mobs during this period. She strongly feels that had it not been for the intervention by the Yuvak Mandal members, the situation could have been worse. The bakery owner reports that his bakeries as far off as Talegaon and Karvenagar were targeted. Kashiwadi, the area in which the AIDWA district committee office is located remained largely peaceful. It has a sizeable population of Muslim households, but is essentially a mixed settlement that includes Dalits. According to many youth from the area, although there was tension, it did not translate into physical attacks largely because of an alert leadership from different political parties who exerted pressure, especially on the young people to maintain peace. In Mangalwar Peth (Juna Bazar), AIDWA district Committee member Khatun Sayyad reports that there was an atmosphere of fear in the Muslim locality, and people remained indoors. She had heard that in Kagadipura, some Muslim boys were beaten up, and one of them was admitted to the Sassoon hospital in a serious condition but later recovered. However, no case was registered and community leaders exerted pressure to “settle” the matter. She commented that although the situation had remained by and large peaceful there was no guarantee that it would be so in the future. In Hadapsar, however, the situation was quite different, and there was night curfew imposed in the area from May 31 night which continued for several days. AIDWA district Committee member Zakia Tattapure lives in Sayyad Nagar, a large Muslim dominated locality which is surrounded by other colonies such as Sasane Nagar, Mohammedwadi, Tarodewadi, etc. She said that they were largely unaware of the happenings of the 31st night, except that she noticed that her son had been out most of the night. She is also a member of the Pune Zilla Gharkamgar Sanghatana, the CITU-affiliated Domestic Workers Union, and around 50 of them had made arrangements to attend the state level Convention organized by CITU the next day (June 1). As they gathered near the tempo which they had hired to take them to the Convention, they were turned back by men from the community who were standing outside along the approach road and lanes to their colony, who told them it was not safe to leave the area. After some futile arguments, and a refusal by the tempo driver to take them to the venue, they eventually gave up and returned to their homes. Apparently, many attacks took place during this period, but have gone unreported because the victims are either too scared to expose themselves, or feel that nothing much will come of it. Not just shops but individuals were also targeted. For example, an auto driver identified by his beard as a Muslim was attacked by a mob with a sharp weapon. As he tried to shield his head, his hand was slashed. However, no FIR had been registered although in the beginning he did try to make a police complaint, but was kept waiting for half a day in the police station. Subsequently, the local people have collected money to support his medical treatment. It was also reported that one provocateur on a two-wheeler was caught and beaten up but managed to escape. His two-wheeler has been seized by the police. This has been converted into a rumour that a Hindu male returning from work was attacked by Muslims. According to Shamim, another AIDWA member residing in the area, stones were also thrown at a mosque in Sayyad Nagar around 1.00 to 2.00 a.m. on the 31st night. This may have been captured by the CCTVs installed in a workshop situated on the opposite side. On June 1, news reached Sayyad Nagar that a mosque in the adjoining Navlevasti had been attacked and the Koransharief burnt. There were reports that the Maulana and some children studying in the Madrasa had been attacked and some vehicles of Muslims parked outside had been damaged. On hearing this news, several agitated men and youth decided to go to Hadapsar Police Station to ask for police action. The community leaders were part of this group. Apparently it was a large group (“500 men”) with many joining in spontaneously on hearing the news about the burning of the Holy Book, which moved towards the police station. However, this was interpreted by people from the neighbouring areas as “Muslims coming to attack” them. While the Muslim group was at the Police Station, stone-throwing from the majority community started, leading to a clash between them and the assembled Muslims. According to Zakia, the youth were so angry on hearing about the burning of the Koransharief that they began to challenge her role as a social activist, taunting her by saying “What is the use of your organisation” and “What are you women doing”? She realised that it was extremely necessary for her to intervene and defuse the situation, which would otherwise develop into a full-fledged confrontation. She therefore called out to several other AIDWA members in her lane. They all wore their AIDWA badges and around 15 of them walked to Navle vasti, on the outskirts of which a large mob had already assembled. There was a large police contingent that was preventing the men from entering the basti. Zakia and her group of AIDWA members demanded that they be allowed to go into the mosque to ascertain for themselves what damage had been done. Initially the police were reluctant, but Zakia was insistent and mentioned that they were members of ‘Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana.’ The DCP who was informed of this then responded and allowed a three member team led by Zakia, to go in and meet the Maulana. The latter showed them that the Koran was intact. He and the children had prevented the miscreants from getting hold of the Koran, for which they had been beaten up. However, they had set the chatais on fire as they were leaving and damaged parked vehicles outside before escaping. Zakia then took a photo of the Koran on the mobile and went and showed it to all the men waiting at a distance to reassure them that no sacrilege had been committed. She appealed to all to return to their homes, and it was only then that the tension subsided. The DCP assured Zakia and the Muslims of police protection and 3 police vans were deployed, one in front of the first mosque that was attacked. This entire intervention is noteworthy because it helped to defuse the tensions in the area. It is also remarkable because of the manner in which the women rose to the occasion, including the fact that they actually transgressed community norms and entered the mosque, but as Zakia put it, she felt that “Allah will understand that it was for the larger good”! We must also note the incidents that took place on June 7, the day some derogatory images of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar appeared in the social media. Two of the affected areas were Dandekar Pul and Rajendranagar. AIDWA state committee members Jaya Ghadge and Rekha Kamble reported that there was heavy stoning of buses in the area. Young men were out on the streets, but the police were constraining them. In Vadgaon Dhayri, district vice president Savitibai Kamble reported that a procession was taken out by local Ambedkarite youth, with blue flags, and shops were closed down. Yerawada remained peaceful, but in Vishrantwadi there was a rumour of the Shivaji statue in the area being desecrated. However, the Vishrantwadi police station moved swiftly and no violence was reported. In Tadiwala Road, mobs of Ambedkarite youth had already taken to the streets, but here too the police were quick to react. An all Party meeting was immediately convened in the local Buddha Vihar, our district joint secretary Maya Chavhan was invited and also spoke; she felt that the political will displayed by all the political forces in the area enabled peace to be maintained.