Chaibasa: Anatomy of a Riot

A scene from Dharm, a movie on communal riots
A scene from Dharm, a movie on communal riots
NK SINGH

CHAIBASA – the headquarter of the adivasi district of Singhbhum – has about 30,000, people of whom eight thousand are Muslims. A considerable number of East Pakistan refugees too live in this clumsy town.

Since it is not an industrial area, Chaibasa has not got many working class people.

In the last mid-term elections, the Jharkhand Party had won the seat of Chaibasa, which is a reserved constituency. No municipal elections have been held here for 12 years.

Mr Sita Ram Rungta, a local bigwig, is the city father. The Jana Sangh and RSS are quite active here and Shakhas, rallies are organised by them regularly.

There had never been any communal riot at Chaibasa. It remained unaffected even during the widespread riots in 1964 which enveloped the district including the steel city of Jamshedpur.

Background

The Chaibasa riots started in the wake of Ram Navami procession on April 15. According to the official version, the trouble exploded and assumed such formidable dimension because officialdom was supposedly caught unaware. Such, however, is not the exact truth.

There was some tension in the air over an old dispute as to whether the Ram Navami procession should skirt off near the Urdu Library into a lane and pass in front of a mosque in the interior of Bari Bazar.

The dispute rose this year when a Muharram procession allegedly stopped in front of a temple in which a day-long Kirtan was going on and allegedly caused a lot of annoyance by beating the drums.

This foolish act, said to be initiated by some militant members of Jamaat-e-Islami, had caused a lot of resentment and also provoked a counter-challenge.

Actually, the procession had to stray from the scheduled route and pass by the temple because on the normal route some construction was going on it.

RSS Versus Jamaat-e-Islami

Since then, some youths of both the communities had talked about of a “trial of strength”. Particularly, the workers of the RSS and Jamaat-e-Islami were very militant about it and were found challenging each other openly.

This correspondent has come to know from reliable sources that a top RSS leader, whose actual identity was not given but who was introduced as Bhaujee (must be one of the Maharashtrian lieutenant of Guru Golwalkar – as the name suggests) had attended and addressed a specially organised RSS rally at the local Gandhi Maidan on April 7 – barely one week before the trouble.

It is also reported that two of the notorious fire-eaters of the Jana Sangh – one from Ranchi and the other from Chakardharpur – were mysteriously lurking at Chaibasa on the eve of the havoc.

Tension

So, a thick air of tension was hanging over Chaibasa. For days together rumours were around that there would be serious trouble during Ram Navami. Many Muslim families had moved to “safer zones”.

Another thing which gives clear indication of tension, is the hurriedly called meeting of the Peace Committee on April 13. No meeting of the Committee had taken place since its formation in 1964. 

Due to the tension in April it was decided that the peace Committee members would lead the Ram Navami procession.

One must taken note of an intriguing incident in this connection. The printed question paper for the examination of non-gazetted officers of Chota Nagpur, which includes Chaibasa, contained an item which said that the Government has received reports that the political parties were planning large scale communal riots on Ram Navami day in the State.

The examinees were asked to draft a note to district officials on the Chief Secretary’s behalf suggesting effective steps to maintain peace!

The Procession

This year, the organisers of the procession had originally applied for the passage through the Muslim inhabited locality of Barkandaztoli but later withdrew it under official pressure. 

The original application gave some indication of the intention: if the Muslims had passed by a temple, the Hindus too must pass by a mosque.

However, the number of militants was small. But more enthusiasm was found this year  among a considerable section of the procession organisers.

As scheduled the procession of about 10,000 people, which included many children, started from Baba Mandir, Crackers were burst at the mandir and again in the Sadar Bazar to mark the occasion.

The organisers of the procession, from all available evidence, had gone about the town and advised the Hindu shopkeepers to pull down their shutters after 2 pm, which they did. The Muslim shopkeepers followed suit. One could not get tea in the town after 3 pm.

Sanghi Active

Several known Jana Sangh-RSS fellows and mine-owners were active in organising the procession. One jeep bearing number BRS 2903 moved all over asking the shopkeepers to pull their shutters down — something never done before. The jeep is owned by a Sanghi and was driven by him.

A Muslim said that slogans such as “Maro Musalman Ko” (Kill the Muslims) were being shouted in the procession. Volunteers with yellow badges (influence of the Sangh) were controlling the procession which was armed with lethal weapons.

Though the police were kept in reserve, only six or seven constables were actually sent along with the procession. No magistrate, no police high-ranker accompanied it, while in previous years all of them used to turn up in strength.

The Incident

When about half the procession had passed the “point of danger’, i.e.’ Barkandaztoli, some of the participants tried to divert the procession through Masjid. A ‘war of words’ started between the mischief-makers from both sides. At that moment some crackers were thrown.

Police claims these came from the predominantly Muslim residential area. Another version is that crackers had been used by the processionists themselves quite frequently since the very beginning of the procession. However, seven or eight persons were injured.

A general melee followed and within a short time the police arrived in force, the police station being just 200 meters off, and shooting began, followed by looting and arson.

Police Juloom

In the first two hours, the riot was an affair between Muslims and Hindus in which some 45 persons were injured and some were killed. But after that the majority receded into the background with the town put under curfew.

It is alleged that policemen of lower ranks took the field and resumed the riot on their own account – a riot more ferocious, devastating and brutal. Innocent people were killed and thrown into the burning houses, thus removing all chances of a post-mortem.

The cause of this allegedly abrupt change of policemen into a squad of rioters was a rumour, which spread like wild fire, that a constable had been slain by the Muslims. The constable was only injured but policemen, it is said, went on a rampage.

It is reported that at one place the SP found three constables chasing two helpless women with loaded guns during the curfew. The SP and the DC saved them and took away the rifles of the constables and suspended them immediately.

Curious Feature

All the burning, looting and assaults took place just near two police stations. Petrol was used in plenty and it is alleged that a petrol pump owned by a local big mineowner supplied all of it. Most shops affected were not looted in the usual manner but just destroyed and set on fire.

Another curious feature was that electricity suddenly went off at the precise moment of the melee, plunging the whole area into darkness. The supply was not resumed for the next four hours while the rampage was on.

Electricity supply in Chaibasa is maintained by a local business magnate. The telephone line too went dead suddenly.

Casualties

No one is taken in by the official figure of 23 killed at Chaibasa and two at Chakardharpur except of course the officials who gave it to the Press. The non-official figure is 32. 

Data personally collected by this correspondent indicate that only two Hindus were killed one Mungi Oraon, a Rickshaw puller who had a dagger wound died in the hospital before he could give his statement.

Another Hindu, Mr. R.S. Joshi, an employee of the ACC (Chaibasa) who was beaten to death by a violent gang, which would not hear his plea that he was Hindu too! The scooter-rickshaw by which the deceased was travelling was burnt along with the Muslim driver.

Unwarranted Firing

As it always happens, most of the victims were lower class people. The most important thing is, except for the general melee, direct confrontation and clashes between the two communities were absent.

The deaths were mainly the result of wanton, unwarranted police firing concentrated in one particular Muslim residential area. Except one identified and four unidentified charred bodies, all other deaths are claimed to be from bullet injuries, though the police are disputing this.

The assassination of Mr. J. Rahman, the Assistant Superintendent of the ITI (Chaibasa), is evidence that only a handful vested-interest elements were plunged into the affair. The ITI enrols 200 students of whom 20 are Muslims. 

Owing to the prevailing tension in the town, Muslim students and instructors had  shifted to “safer zones” by 11 am on 15th April. But Mr. Rahman did not. He said: “I would not move. I have faith in my comrades.”

But in the evening, as reported by the co-workers of Mr. Rahman, brick-batting started all of a sudden on his quarters. No body went to that side, being afraid of the consequences.

The spot of murder makes it clear that Mr. Rahman was not killed by a mob but rather by a small but determined gang.

In this background, there is the story that Mr. Rahman was charged by the local Hindu communalist group with having kept his only son and two daughters in Pakistan.

Atrocities

Mr. Indra Bhushan Singh, Joint-Secretary of the Chaibasa town committee of the CPI reported that two Muslims were trapped inside a jute sack and burnt alive near the local Kalika Art Press. 

On receiving the information, Mr. Singh hurried to the spot but the victims were already half roasted and could not be saved.

In the evening of 16 April, two dead bodies were found lying barely 150 yards from the Sadar Police station. They were salesmen in a nearby ganja shop.

Two Muslims coming from Orissa in their car No ORJ 2151 were burnt alive along with the vehicle. 

One Md. Mustafa, who was coming from Rourkela and had boarded ‘Lal bus’ at Chakardharpur, was dragged down at Chaibasa and reportedly beaten to death.

Police firing

As for the deaths caused by alleged police firing, many names were reported to this correspondent while he was roaming in the minority community areas of Chaibasa.

Two boys including one student from Ranchi named Manzoor lost their lives when the bullet-sprawing police van appeared. 

Rickshaw-puller Dil Mohammad was shot point blank. A barber, who himself had a bayonet wound, claimed that police forced open his saloon and dragged him and his brother to the police van. When his brother showed reluctance, the police, the barber said, shot him point blank.

Md. Hanif, grand old man of Chaibasa who every year used to offer pan and cold drinks to all who take part in the Ram Navami procession, was shot dead in front of his garage and his body reportedly burnt with petrol.

Residents reported that following persons were killed by police bullets: Jalil, a petty hotel owner; M. Alam, owner of the  Naj Hotel; son of a tyre dealer Md. Yusuf; Rahman, father of a radio dealer Mumtaj.

This correspondent saw many bullet marks on the inside door of a house near the local Public Relations Office.

The scene at another residence was more ghastly and shocking, patches of blood here and there and everywhere on roof. Many bullet marks too were there to tell the pathetic story.

This correspondent counted at least 85 bullet marks on the walls, roofs, inside doors and windows of many residential houses in the disturbed area.

As for the injured, officials gave their number, on 16 April, as 32, but as expected, by 20th it swelled to 52, of whom 34 were described seriously injured.

Unofficial sources put the figure at 100. As usual most of them belong to the lower class of the minority community.

Loss of Property

All the ninety shops and houses looted or gutted (mostly belonging to minority community), particularly or wholly, were within the yards of the town’s two principal police stations. Unofficial estimates put the damage to property at several lakhs of rupees. (Grand total Rs 17,300,000.)

In Sadar Bazar area, which is dominated by  the majority community, no damage has been reported to Hindu property. Some Muslim shops of the Muslims were not gutted but looted. The reason was perhaps they were in the same line with Hindu shops. 

All the properties gutted in that particular area are in the premises of Choti Masjid — just in the front of the police station. As there was no fear of any loss to Hindu’s properties, they were set on fire.

Great damage was done in the Bari Bazar area where the trouble started. Here too all the damaged shops were just in front of the police station. 

This correspondent has found only one instance (residence of Mr. M.C. Biswas) where the property belonging to a Hindu, though separate from the property of the minority community, was set on fire.

As it usually happens on such occasions, there was no dearth of wild rumours. A rumour was spread that the Mahavir Murti, which was taken out in the Ram Navami procession, had been bombed and seriously damaged and that it fell off the van and broke into pieces. It was later confirmed that the image was not affected by any explosion.

The Blame

Mr. Daroga Rai, Chief Minister of Bihar, blameed the riots on Naxalites and Pakistan agents. When this correspondent asked Karpoori Thakur, SSP leader, to comment on this, he said that it was most “irresponsible” for the Chief Minister to say that Naxalites had any hand in Chaibasa riots.

In a special interview, Mr. S.N. Singh, Secretary of the Bihar State CPI (ML) said: “The whole world knows that Marxists-Leninist consider communalism, casteism, provincialism and national chauvinism as opium for the people. The CPI(ML) stands for the politics of class, not of religion.”

“Mr. Daroga Rai is talking threw his hat. It is nothing less than political dishonesty to mix up communism with communalism. It is, indeed, unfortunate that  in his concoction Mr. Rai would not go beyond the mental horizon of a mufassil police Daroga.”

Failure of Administration

Talking to people of both communities in the riot affected towns of Chaibasa and Chakardharpur helped to restore the faith of this correspondent in the sanity of people and in the future of this country. 

But it also shattered whatever faith he had in the administrative machinery, particularly

its law and order arm.

It is understandable when a Hindu goes for a Muslim and vice versa, when communal frenzy grips a place. At Chaibasa this was not so and Muslims openly alleged that the assaults on them was led by the lower ranks of the police. Even if a part of the allegations is true, it is a fearful state of affairs.

The police not only failed to protect the minority community, they also did not take any steps to prevent violence. No police force was posted at any sensitive spot and most of the acts took place near police stations, indicating police inaction, to say the least.

As Mr. Karpoori Thakur too told this correspondent that it may be stated without any fear that the administration failed miserably not only in the intelligence but also in dealing with the hooligans.

Till April 17 as many as 143 arrests were made. But among the arrested there were only two from the majority community – a fantastic situation in which the overwhelming majority of the killed belonged to the minority community.

Owing to the presence of senior central Government officials in the town, arrests from majority community too started later. Even then none of the ringleaders of the RSS or Jana Sangh were affected. Reportedly, all of them were absconding.

Pakistani Nationals

It is said that 24 Muslims were arrested who do not belong to Bihar and two of the arrested are probably Pakistani nationals.

The wonder of wonders is the question that who ordered the police to fire. None including the officials of Chaibasa could answer the query . The local DDO who was present in the procession was named in this connection.

Police, at first, declared that they had fired only 20 rounds. Later the figure went up to 40 rounds. Perhaps no less than 100 rounds were fired. 

What impressed this correspondent most was that not one person of the minority community, among the many he met, complained against the majority community; their only complaint was against the police.

The darkness at Chaibasa was has been somewhat relieved by examples of secularism by member of both communities. A five-year-old Hindu boy, Lakshman, was handed back after four days of tender care by Muslims of Barkandaztoli. Three Madrasis – belonging to majority community – were given shelter by a Muslim family of the same locality for days.

Frontier 27 June 1970

Frontier 27 June 1970 P1
Frontier 27 June 1970 P2
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Frontier 27 June 1970 P4

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