Irfan Engineer

The Ram Navmi procession passed of peacefully through the road on which Mosque is situated with minor some minor hiccups on 10th April, 2022, however, Muslim shops were attacked on next day morning. The Muslim community remained peaceful and did not do anything, afraid that doing so was in the interest of peace.

There was breach of peace nevertheless, and they are also being arrested and implicated in cases lodged. Many years ago, CPI (M) leader Com. Asim Sarkar had dared to intervene in a situation of communal violence and stopped it. This time he did not dare as the youth involved this time would not listen to him. This, in brief is the story of communal violence in Koderma (Jharkhand) that followed Ram Navmi procession. Hindus and Muslims have lived peacefully in Koderma town with population of about 25000. There are some mixed as well as segregated colonies. Muslims are about 24% of the Town’s population, most of them poor labourers, while there are some Muslim traders as well. There are about 15% Muslims in Koderma district. Scheduled Castes constitute more than 13% of the population.

The Yadavs have been politically quite influential caste in Koderma. They constitute 24 to 26% of the population in Koderma. Since Laloo Prasad Yadav cobbled the M-Y alliance, Koderma has always been peaceful. Koderma always returned RJD candidates until 2014 in Assembly constituency. Annapurna Devi Yadav was elected as RJD candidate in 2005 and 2009. However, the Yadavs are slowly shifting their political loyalty to the BJP. Laloo Prasad brought them to power, but they are shrewd enough to know in which party their future political interests lie. Annapurna Devi Yadav was in RJD till 2019. Sometime in that year she joined the BJP and was elected as an MP from Koderma Lok Sabha Constituency. The BJP has won both – the Koderma Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 2014 as well as 2019. Eager to mobilize the Yadavs into the BJP, Annapurna Devi is now a minister of state for Education in the Central Government. Dr. Neera Yadav is the MLA from the Koderma Assembly Constituency also belongs to the BJP. With growing influence of BJP in Koderma, the extremist elements in the town are becoming more assertive.

Testimonies of the Survivors:

According to Maqsood Alam and his nephew Shahnawaz Raza, Ram Navmi procession every year passes through the road on which mosque is situated. Other Muslim informants also agreed that it has been a very old tradition. In fact, every year about 100 persons participate in the procession and as there was never any trouble, it is accompanied by only two constables. Muslims welcome the procession offering them cold drinks, and the procession mutes its DJ and musical instruments as a mark of respect to the place of worship of Muslims. The procession usually passes through before namaz time, i.e., 4.30 pm. This year, the settled practices were violated from both sides. There were more about 300-400 persons this year, and most of them were outsiders. The procession arrived near the mosque while prayers were going on. The DJ van stopped just outside the mosque and the loudspeaker was turned in the direction of the mosque and volume increased. Two Muslim youth climbed on the DJ van, however, Sajid Hussain, a respected community leader immediately pulled them back and even slapped them to ensure there was peace. Sajid Hussain informed us that he had to face criticism from some quarters for what he did. Mr. Husain told us that in the melee, he saw a stone landing from somewhere, but it hit no one and just fell on ground unnoticed by most in the procession. SDPO was also accompanying the procession. The DJ was played for about 10 minutes near the mosques before it proceeded. Sajid Hussain and some elders accompanied the procession till the end to ensure that no untoward incident happens. This year, the Muslims did not offer cold drinks. They explained this saying that it was Ramzan and all Muslims were fasting. According to our informants, Sanjay Balgovind Paswan and Sunny Sahu were particularly aggressive during the procession. Sanjay Paswan is a history sheeter with previous criminal cases pending against him of kidnapping Kamal Kedia, owner of stone crushing unit.

On 10th April, two Hindu youths were arrested in the night. However, the leaders of Hindu community managed to get them released. After the release of those arrested, there were all kind of rumours within both communities of a mob having gathered near mosque or temple and impending attack being worked out. People from both communities were tensed. As he was getting phone calls to that effect, Com. Asim called the DC as well as SP to ensure peace and take all precautionary measures.

On 11th April, soon after the shops opened up, Sanjay Paswan led a mob of more than 50 youth, some from outside the town, to attack the Muslim shops and their owners. They were carrying rods to beat up Muslim shop owners. Among the shops and shop owners beaten up were 1) Rais Ahmed, a motorcycle mechanic was beaten up and his shop attacked; 2) Imtiyaz who sells steel trunks and vessels. He sells wipers and was beaten up with the wiper handles, besides taking away the wipers. He suffered a loss of about 40,000/- 3) Javed @ Babu sells Bags. He was beaten up with rods on his back and spine and was hospitalized. With rods they broke up his showcases. 4) Amir’s shoe shop show cases were broken causing damage of upto 30.000/-. 5) Aiyar Alam was beaten up and the goods in his furniture shop – SKP Furniture worth Rupees 50,000 to 60,000 were destroyed. In all, 6 to 7 shops were damaged and shop owners beaten up. Informants blamed Sanjay Paswan, Vicky Sahu and Sunny Sahu for the attacks. The DC and SP came and immediately dispersed the mob without making any arrests. This is when the Muslim shop owners gave complaints to police for damage to their shops.

Traditionally, a day after Ram Navmi, and after worshipping Goddess Durga for nine days, on 11th day the idol is submerged (called visarjan) in the river. The whole event is run under the leadership of two brothers – Krishna and Vijay Sahi. They collect donations for the whole event from the public. One Hindu informant said that they do not institutionalize and involve others in the event as they want to keep the surplus of the donations to themselves without rendering any accounts to anyone. Both the brothers take charge alternatively and they obtain the permission to organize the worship and visarjan in their individual name. The visarjan was on 12th April. Already there were rumors regarding impending attack on temple. Perhaps that may have been a ruse to mobilize more youth for the visarjan procession. A lot of youth joined the visarjan, although with or without the knowledge and intent of the license holders of the procession. However, in the procession, youth were dancing joyously and chanting slogans abusing Muslims in derogatorily in worst expletives known to Hindi language and insulting Muslim women. They cannot be reproduced here. They made a video of their slogans, uploaded it and made it viral on social media. No one can see the video even for a few seconds. Ravish Kumar showed the video in his Primetime show on NDTV after muting the slogans. The state had to take cognizance of the video. State registered an FIR under section 66 of the Information Technology Act and arrested 28 youth. There are reports that they were beaten up in custody. Manoj Kumar Jhunnu, General Secretary of the Ram Navmi Nagar Thara Akhada and associated with the RSS did not dispute while talking to us that such abusive slogans were given during the visarjan procession nor did he dispute the authenticity of the video. He merely distanced himself from the procession and disapproved such slogans. Jhunnu also did not have any grievances with the Muslim community regarding their role during the Ram Nami procession.

One Sonu Vishkarma has lodged a complaint against Muslims for objecting to the DJ and obstructing the procession and throwing stones at the procession. Among the accused named in the complaint includes Sajid Hussain, who in fact restrained the Muslim youth. The SDPO was personally present during the procession and claimed that he did not see any stone being thrown at the procession. Muslims did not lodge any complaint, according to them, in the interest of peace, against the orgainzers of the Ram Navmi procession for using DJ which is against the guidelines and carrying swords and canes with them.

On 13th April, the SDO called for a peace committee meeting with members of both the communities attending. In the meeting it was decided to bury the hatchet, let bygones be bygones and make a fresh beginning. They also decided to reopen the shops and take a joint peace procession through the town. The SDPO personally praised the patience of the Muslim community and the role of Sajid Hussain in controlling the Muslim youth. 20-25 persons gathered at Gandhi Chowk from both the communities and moved through the main road and market, hailing peace and unity. This initiative greatly reduced the tension between both the communities. Members of both the community were to gather once again near Jama Masjid as peace building measure. According to the Muslim informants, members of Hindu community did not come. However, on 13th April night, the police started arresting the Hindu boys who were involved in the visarjan procession and, on the other hand, to ‘balance’ and appear impartial, they began arresting people from the Muslim community as well, and according to the community members, arrested innocent people. Bad enough, but so far so good. However, the manner in which Muslims are being arrested becomes the main trouble from now onwards.

According to the Muslim community members, the police from reserved forces come drunk after midnight from about 1.00 am to 2.00 am, bang their doors loudly, as if to damage or break, enter their homes with their shoes on using abusive language and take youth away with them. They damage the electrical fittings in one case, perhaps to give a message and demonstrate their contempt for the community. There are women at home and male police enter terrorizing the women in the home. Every night they arrest 4-5 people from the Muslim community. From 13th April onwards, this midnight knock has been terrorizing the Muslim community which goes about its daily chores in addition to fasting during the day and tries to catch up some sleep before they wake up for sehri early morning to being their fasting. Every night they sleep worried about the midnight knock and whether it will be their turn to be arrested that night. They are spending sleepless nights. They broke the locks on Rais Ahmed’s collapsible gates and entered his home. They arrest and start beating them inside the van that carries them to lock-up.

Among those arrested was a handicapped youth. Another person arrested was one Aamil Ayyub, a 12th standard student studying in Mumbai in Acharya College who had come for vacation and to see his ailing grandfather. His mother was very worried about his future. They actually came to arrest Aamil’s uncle – Hoda. However, as Hoda was not at home, they arrested Aamil and younger brother of Hoda – Afridi. Our informants asked, “what “did we do to deserve this midnight knocks?” “We did not shout any abusive slogans, nor did we make video of such abusive slogan shouting, nor did we upload the video on social media nor made it viral, why are we being targeted?” “Why are we being targeted?”, they ask. If the police wanted to arrest Muslim youth, they could do it during the day time as well. If the police gave a list of person they want, the Muslim community would ensure that they submit themselves to the police and fight their cases legally. While middle class Muslim youth are being arrested, they are particularly targeting the working-class Muslim colony – Maruawari. The residents are petty daily wage earners. Fearing midnight knocks on their doors, most of them have left the colony and migrated outside the town.

Administration’s version

We spoke to the Superintendent of Police of Koderma District Mr. Kumar Gaurav and found him to be extremely polite and forthcoming with all the information that he could share with us. According to him, the police teams need to arrest the culprits swiftly and made accountable to the law. Therefore, the police teams are arresting people as and when they can, during the day and during the night if required. Further, he said that the list of wanted people have already been furnished to the leaders of both the communities so that they can ensure surrender of wanted people to the police. The list of wanted people is also available from the court records and those wanted can surrender in court as well with all their legal rights being protected by the court. Further, according to him, the police teams have women personnel as well and are accompanied by a leader of the community as witness to the arrest.

In all 8 cases have been registered, 6 of them by the police and the rest by members of the community. Arrests are being effected in all the 8 cases. The four cases filed by the police are: 1) by the magistrate against the organizers of the Ram Navmi procession for violating the guidelines and using the DJ in procession. 2) Against the Muslim community members who obstructed the Ram Navmi procession and objected to the DJ. 3) against the people who were shouting vulgar slogans on 12th of April against the Muslim community. 4) Against those who made the video viral an uploaded the video. 5) A case against people of both the communities who spread hatred against the other communities during the procession on 10th April. 6) case against those who disobeyed and obstructed the government servants in executing their duties while patrolling and arresting. Amongst the cases filed by individuals is that of the Hindu protagonist against the Muslims for obstructing the rally; one case is of the Muslim shop keepers and according to the SP, the accused kicked the goods kept outside their shops.

The SP was polite and forthcoming with all the information as he and the administration did all that was necessary to prevent the minor scuffle from escalating into a full-fledged riot. The attack on shops by a mob was also handled well by intervening quickly and dispersing the mob. The police also acted against the abusive video and took it down from the websites. It is possible that some lower-level police officials might have misbehaved.

Hope of Peace

Amidst all this, there are signs of hope. Mr. Jhunnu whom we talked to wanted peace in the town. He told us that in his childhood they did not know a Muslim from a Hindu nor were aware of Hindu-Muslim identities. He further told us that there was never any communal trouble in the town. According to him, trouble was caused by a few extremist youth within Hindu community, but there are such elements within Muslim community as well. That appeared to us as unwarranted equation as in this particular incident, no such action or behaviour was visible on the part of any section of Muslim community. Mr. Jhunnu admitted to the shops had been attacked, however, according to him, just some goods kept outside the shop were kicked around with minor damages. The differences was about the extent of damage. The shop keepers showed us videos of Hindu youth assembling on the road. They also have photographed all their goods thrown on the streets and damage to their shops. From the photographs it does not appear that the damage was minor or mere kicking around goods kept outside the shop.

Mr. Jhunnu was willing to take initiative for peace. Hindus and Muslims, according to him could sit across and talk to remove any misunderstanding. The only obstruction to such an initiative at that moment was arrest of the 28 Hindu youth charged under the IT Act for chanting abusive slogans. The parents of the arrested youth would not let any peace process unless their wards were released.  If that case had been filed by Muslims, he could have appealed to withdraw the cases (read: they would be amenable to the pressure from Hindu community to withdraw the cases). However, in the case registered under the IT Act, the complainant is the State. Otherwise, it was possible to restore peace if both sides withdrew the cases they filed and forget everything. There is inequity in this proposition.

Muslim shop keepers have been beaten up and their shops and property destroyed. Whereas the case filed by Hindus has not caused any damage to their property nor any injury. We found it difficult to understand what the complaint could be about and what legal offense has been committed. Two Muslim youth just climbed on their DJ van but pulled back by their elders. Mere withdrawal of cases from both sides would not restore real sustainable peace. It would be merely buying time before another such attack was mounted on another occasion after the attack, once again Muslims would be called upon ‘in the interest of peace’ to forget and not pursue any legal cases. In fact, the Muslims were not interested (read: afraid) in filing complaints naming the disrupters in the first place. The peace that Muslims hoped for was that no violence be inflicted upon them and that they should be left alone to observe and follow their religion and do their work. They were ready accept the hegemony and domination of the violent extremists and therefore they did not file any complaint in the first instance. Peace is their urgent need and they are willing to dispense with justice. Mr. Jhunnu was therefore confident the he would be able to work out peace wherein if the Muslims did not insist upon justice for the damages done to them and violence inflicted upon them, he would propose end to violence for now. Muslims of Koderma were also expected to forgive and forget the choicest abuses heaped upon the women of the community, video graphed those abuses and the video made viral so that the whole world watches Muslims being abused publicly. The problem was that the case was registered by the state. Also, Muslims as a community “miyas” of the whole world were abused in Koderma, and not just Koderma Muslims.

There is often tension between those who desire peace and those who want to pursue justice. In the 2002 riots in Gujarat, the displaced Muslims were told that in the interest of peace, and if they desired to return and stay in their villages, they will have to withdraw the cases that were filed against the rioters who killed them and raped Muslim women. After the  Kandhamal riots too, those who pursued peace, they often desired that in the interest of peace all the cases filed against rioters be withdrawn. While those who desired to pursue just for violence against them were perceived as standing against the interest of peace. Seeds of same tensions were visible in Koderma riots too.

We were informed that Sajid Hussain, the leader of Muslim community, was hobnobbing with the BJP. His opinion that no complaint be filed for the violations of the guidelines and the conditions under which the Ram Navmi procession was allowed must have weighed on the community. Sajid Hussain ensured peace and event free Ram Navmi procession by controlling the Muslim youth who got provoked by the gross violations on the part of Ram Navmi procession and even slapped one of them. Controlling any violent reaction from any Muslim youth was the right thing to do at that moment. However, it had to be backed up with non-seeking of justice and not filing any complaint against those violations. However, that didn’t prevent the Hindu protagonists from filing their complaint against the Muslim community members and against Sajid Hussain himself, inviting the midnight knocks on their doors. He was further satisfied with the peace committee meeting and joint march. He did not propose any action even against the abusive video that was made viral. Can there be sustainable peace, and peace in real sense that guarantees non-occurrence of communal violence and non-violation of Constitutional rights without justice?

However, we do realize that it is too much to expect from the Muslims or their leaders to stand up for justice in this intimidating environment wherein attacks on them are coming fast and from all directions. Sajid Hussain’s claims may be to at least ensure or to minimize the physical violence on the members of the community from the extremist and violent section of the Hindu youth by negotiating with Mr. Jhunnu and other such leaders of the Hindu community. For justice and rule of law and Constitutional order to prevail, liberal elements from within the Hindu community will have to take initiative to defend the rights of all citizens, including the Muslim community. For, today it is the Muslim community’s rights that are under threat, in future, rights of Dalits, Adivasis, women and liberals like themselves would also be at stake. A section of Dalits (Sanjay Paswan) already seems to have traded their Constitutional right to equality with feeling of superiority and power over the Muslims, but subject themselves to the traditional authority of those above them in the Hindu caste hierarchy. They control no resources save the feeling of authority over the Muslims. 

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