Chaibasa Riots: An On The Spot Study

 

A painting by MF Husain
NK SINGH

CHAIBASA – district headquarter of the adivasi district of Singhbhum – is being inhabited by about 30 thousand people, of which 8 thousand are Muslims. Besides, a considerable number of East Pakistan refugees too live in this clumsy town.

Being not an industrial area, Chaibasa has not got many working class people.

In the last mid-term elections, the Jharkhand Party had captured the seat of Chaibasa, which is a reserved constituency. No municipal elections have been held here for twelve 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 being 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 of Trouble

The Chaibasa communal riots which started in the wake of Ram Navami procession on April 15 seems to be a repetition of an old nightmare.

According to the official version, the trouble exploded and assumed such formidable dimension because officialdom was supposedly caught unaware. Such, however, is not exact truth.

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

The dispute had originated only this year when a Muharram procession had allegedly stopped in front of a Mandir in which a day-long Kirtan was being held and had allegedly also caused a lot of annoyance by beating on the drums at the spot. 

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

Actually, the procession had to stray from the scheduled route and pass through the temple because the route through which they should have passed, had some construction going on it.

RSS Versus Jamaat-E-Islami

Since then, there was talk in the air between some youths of both the communities about “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 explicates) 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.

Thick Air of Tension

So, a thick air of tension was hanging over Chaibasa from a long time. For days together rumours were afloat that serious trouble would take place during Ram Navami. Many Muslim families had moved to a “safer zones”.

Another thing which gives clear indication of tension, is the much hurriedly called meeting of the Peace Committee on April 13. It should be noted that no meeting of the Committee was convened since its formation in 1964. 

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

In this connection an intriguing incident occurred. The printed question paper for the examination of non-gazetted officers of Chota Nagpur which includes Chaibasa, contained a question which stated that the Government has received reports that the political parties are planning large scale communal riots on Ram Navami day in the State.

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

The Procession

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

The original application gave a word of indication of their intention. If the Muslims had passed by the side of temple, the Hindus too must pass by the side of the mosque.

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

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

The organisers of the Ram Navami procession, from all available evidences, had gone about the town and advised the Hindu shop –keepers to pull down their shutters after 2 pm which they did. The Muslim shop-keepers followed suit.

One could not get tea in the town after 3 pm. If these were not evidences of tension, one would like to know what these could be!

Sanghis 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 shop-keepers to pull their shutters down, something never done before. The jeep is owned by a Sanghi viz. Gopal Sharma, who was himself driving it.

A Muslim blamed that slogans, such as “Maro Musalman Ko (Kill the Muslims); Jai Bajrangbali”- 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 swarm it.

Now, here it will be idle to deny that Muslims-particularly communal organisation like Jamaat-E-Islami-were unprepared to face a hostile Hindu Communalist’s mob if it bursts into their Barkandaztoli preserve leading to the Bari Masjid!

The Incident

When the one-half portion of the procession had passed the “point of danger’, i.e.’ Barkandaztoli, some of the processionists 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 burst.

Police claims these crackers came from the Muslim-populated residential area. Another version is that crackers were being used by the processionists themselves, which they were using quite frequently since the very beginning of the procession. However, seven or eight persons received injuries owing to it.

A general melee followed and within seven minutes the police arrived in force, the station being just 200 meters off, and shooting began, followed by loot and arson.

Police Juloom

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

Presently the policemen of lower ranks took the field and resumed the riot on their own account – a riot more ferocious, devastating and brutal. Policemen actually killed innocent, pierced living bodies and threw them in the burning houses, washing all chances of post-mortem. It was communal riot turned into a war waged by police against the minorities.

The cause of this abrupt change of policemen into a squad of rioters was a rumour which stirred and gripped the policemen. This rumour, which spread like wild-fire, was the falsehood that a constable had been slain by the Muslims.

The constable was only injured but this cruel rumour destroyed everything in Chaibasa. Policemen went up and down like mad man shouting at people as though they were plague rats.

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 the lives of the women and snatched away the rifles of constable and suspended them immediately.

Curious Features

All the burning, looting and assaults took place just near two police stations. Petrol has been used plenty and it is alleged that a petrol pump owned by a local big mine owner 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 precious 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 the local business magnate, Sita Ram Rungta. 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. There were more than 4 bodies ‘burnt beyond identification’ as a top Home Ministry chap is reported to his boss in New Delhi.

The official casualty figure released to press by time to time is suspicious in itself. On 15th a source put the casualty figure to merely two while others went as up as to 16. On 17th the toll mounted to 19 and on 18th to 20. By 22nd April (one week after the riots) it swelled up to 23.

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

Wanton, 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. 

Killings 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 is disputing this.

Residents reported that the police kept up continuous firing for several hours directed towards living quarters. One police van had even moved into the inner street shooting indiscriminately.

The assassination of Mr. Rahman, the Assistant Superintendent of the ITI (Chaibasa) throws light upon the fact that only a handful vested-interest elements were plunged into the affair. The ITI enrols 200 students of which 20 are Muslims. 

Due to the prevailing tension in the town, students and instructors belonging to minority community shifted to “safer zones” by 11 am on 15th April. But Mr. Rahman said instead “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 the quarter of the deceased. No body went to that side being afraid of the consequences. 

The spot of murder explicates that Mr. Rahman was not killed by a “mob” but rather by a “small but determined gang”.

In the background of this, there is the story that Mr. Rahman was charged by the local Hindu communalist’s group to have kept his one son and two daughters in Pakistan!

Unspeakable Atrocities

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

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

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

In Bori Bazar a servant of Habibia Hotel was claimed to have been killed during the riots.

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

Two men were hiding inside a tailoring shop of Majruh. The shop, after being carefully locked from outside, was set on fire.

Two Muslims who used to live in the rented rooms behind the Urdu Library were reported to be killed.

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

Point Blank Shooting

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

Two boys including one student from Ranchi named Manzoor lost their lives when the bullet spraying police van appeared. Manzoor’s brain was blown off and the nearby wall were spattered with blood and brain matter.

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 and when his brother hesitated, shot him point blank.

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

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

The police also fired from roof of the local public relation office injuring two persons inside a nearby house. This correspondent saw many bullet marks on the inside door of this house.

The scene at another residence was more ghastly and shocking. Patches of blood could be seen here and there and everywhere on roof of the building. Many bullet marks were there to tell the pathetic story.

After inspecting the whole disturbed area, this correspondent counted at least 85 bullet marks on the walls, roofs, inside doors and windows of many residential houses.

As for the injured, officially it was announced on 16th April that there were 32 injured but as expected by 20th it swelled up to 52, of which 34 were described seriously injured.

Unofficial sources put the data up to 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.

Approximate loss of Properties

Place: SADAR BAZAR

Property Kinds of loss Number
Cloth Shop Looted 4 M
Shoe shop do 2 M
Tailoring shop Looted (6) gutted (3) 9 M
Residence-cum cloth shop Gutted 1 M
Residence do 1 M
Book-binding do 1 M
Optical do 1 M
Total 19 M

Place: BARI BAZAR

Property Kinds of loss Number
Pan Shop Gutted 13M, 3H
Dentist do 1 M
Saloon do 2 M
Tyre Shop do 3 M
Hotel do 4 M
Leather shop do 1M, 1H
Motor parts shop do 3 H
Medicine Shop Gutted 1 M
Etc. do 1 M
Coal Depot do 1 M
Cycle repair do 1 H
Electrical goods do 1 M
Grain shop do 1 M
Tailoring shop Gutted(5) Looted (1) 6 M
Soap factory Looted 1M
Biscuit shop do 1 M
Radio Shop Gutted 1 M, 1H
Book & Stationary do 1 M, 1H
Watch shop do 1 M
Bidi factory   do 1 M
Residence do 5 M, 1H
Cloth shop do 2 M
Aluminium shop do 1 M
Urdu Library do _
Bus do 1 M
Truck do 1 M
Taxi do 1 M
Car do 1 M
Scooter Rickshaw do 1 M
Scooter do 1 M
Total 54 M, 13 H
Grand Total 73 M, 13 H

M : Muslims: H: Hindus

Note : These figures have been collected personally by this correspondent at Chaibasa

ANALYSIS

The above drawn chart helps to some extent to reach the true nature of the Chaibasa riots. In Sadar Bazar area which is dominated by majority community no damage has been reported to Hindu’s properties. Some shops of the Muslims were not gutted but looted.

The reason was perhaps their being in the same line with Hindu’s shops. All the properties gutted in that particular area are in the premises of Choti Masjid-just in the front of police station. As there was no fear of any loss to Hindu’s properties, they were set on fire.

Great damage has been done in Bari Bazar area where the trouble started. Here too all the damaged shops were just in front of the police station. Of the 13 damaged properties belonging to majority community, barring 2 or 3 all were pocketed between Muslim’s shops. 

The conclusion, which may be easily drawn, is that as it was necessary to destroy the properties there, the whole line was set afire and subsequently a few Hindus became victims too.

This correspondent has found only one instance (residence of Mr. M.C. Bishwas) where the property belonging to majority community was aloof from the properties of minority community and even then set on fire.

Mr. Bishwas, a very old man, narrated with tears in his eyes that how suddenly petrol bottles followed by a fire sparks began to fall on his house.

Wild Rumours

As it usually happens on such occasions, wild rumours which tell of unspeakable atrocities and put the number of deaths at a hundred and even a couple of hundreds were (and are) in wide circulation.

A rumour was spread that the Mahavir Murti, which was taken out in the Ram Navami procession, has been bombed and seriously damaged and that it fell off the van and broke into pieces. It was later confirmed that the murti was not affected by any explosion.

Mr. Daroga Rai, Chief Minister of Bihar, has put the blame on Naxalites and Pak agents. But it has been strongly opposed among other by SSP leader Ramanand Tiwari and Karpoori Thakur.

According to Mr. Tiwari, the State Jana Sangh Secretary, Mr. Kailashpati Mishra “harped on the same tune”. 

At Chaibasa when this correspondent asked Karpoori Thakur of comment on the matter, the later replied that it was most “irresponsible” on the part of the Chief Minister to say that Naxalites had any hand in Chaibasa riots.

Naxalite hand Denied

In a special interview to this correspondent, Mr. S.N. Singh, Secretary of the Bihar State CPI (M-L) protested in strong words against the statement of Daroga Rai. Mr. Singh said: “He is certainly misleading the people. The whole world knows that Marxists-Leninist consider communalism, casteism, provincialism and national chauvinism as opium for the people. The CPI(M_L) stands for the politics of class and not of religion.”

He further stated that “Communities do not exist for Marxist-Leninist, only classes exist. It was Mr. Daroga Rai who had gone to infiltrate into the ranks of minority community at the ID congregation of Gandhi Maidan (Patna)….Again it is not Marxist-Leninists but Mr. Rai who participated in the Yadav Mahasabha. Does it need any argument to prove that line of demarcation between casteism and communalism is very thin?”

“Mr. Daroga Rai”, said the Naxalite leader “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.”

Political observers indicate that the forthcoming bye-election from Khunti (Ranchi) is behind this riot. The election-to be held within one month- is being contested among others by the Jana Sangh Party too.

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 the remnants of his faith in the administrative machinery, particularly in 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 the case. Muslims openly alleged that the assaults on them was led by the lower ranks of the police.

Even if a part of the Muslim allegation of gun-attacks, shooting and pouring of petrol on the bodies of the victims and setting fire to them are true, it is a fearful state of affairs.

The police not only failed to protect the minority community but did not take any steps to prevent violence. No police posse was posted at any sensitive spots and most of the acts took place near police stations indicating police inaction.

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 who resorted to killing, arson and looting-all within on night.

Till April 19 as many as 143 arrests were made. But among the arrested there were only two from the majority – a fantastic situation in a communal trouble in which the over-whelming 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 have been pulled in. Reportedly, all of the RSS leaders are absconding.

It is said that 24 such Muslims have been arrested who do not belong to this State and two of the arrested are probably Pak 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 is being named in this connection.

Police, at first, declared that it had fired only 20 rounds. Later the figure went up to 40 rounds. But the 85 bullet marks on the walls, windows and doors of the houses in affected areas are proofs clear enough to say that no less than 100 rounds had been fired. 

Inadequate Relief

7,500 persons belonging to both communities have been housed in relief camps opened by the Government and private agencies at Chaibasa. Free ration and cash of Rs. 25 par family is being distributed.

While visiting the relief camps, many women complained to this correspondent that they were not receiving adequate amount of ration.

When asked , a top bureaucrat posted at the camp replied: “Order (from higher officials) forms requirement”!

“No, Sir,” this correspondent quipped, “necessity forms requirement.”

Bugling in the distribution of relief was reported too .

It was alleged that those, who want to visit their arrested near and dear ones, have to deposit a “fee of Rs. 2/- per visitor at gate of the jail.

Among private agencies, Shanti Sena of Jaya Prakash Narain is doing good work. It’s state convenor Mr. Shayam Bahadur Singh, told this correspondent that the Shanti Sainiks go in affected areas. By moving freely and unarmed, a very good psychological effect is being created by them.

What impressed this correspondent most was the patent fact 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 deepened by contrast of such radiant examples of secularism by member of both communities as handing over of 5-year-old Hindu boy, viz, Lakshman, 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.

Chakardharpur

Chakardharpur-inhabited by 30 thousand people – is 25 km from Chaibasa. The Jana Sangh has a good hold over this industrial town. A Janasanghi who formally used to be a Swatantrite – Mr. Rudra Pratap Sarangi – had won from here in 1962 and again in 1967. However, in the mid-term poll he was defeated by a Jharkhand leader.

Two incidents (officially) were noted here. One Hindu Rickshaw-puller was stabbed to death and hut was set on fire another Muslim viz. Naiem, who is said to be a ‘bad character’ was killed too.

85 arrests have been made here and no further incident occurred due to the timely intervention of administration. One Gurudwara was unsuccessfully tried to be burnt.

As usual, the Jana Sangh and other communal parties are gaining grounds in the riot affected area. Crocodile’s tears are working ! 

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