3 incidents, 1 pattern — what’s behind the violence during Ram Mandir rallies in MP

3 incidents, 1 pattern — what’s behind the violence during Ram Mandir rallies in MP

Villagers claim there was anti-Muslim sloganeering by Hindu rally participants, who carried weapons. Administration has demolished Muslim homes in 2 areas.

Abdul Hamid with his children in front of their demolished home in Begum Bagh, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Abdul Hamid with his children in front of their demolished home in Begum Bagh, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Ujjain/Indore/Mandsaur: In the last week of December, three areas of Madhya Pradesh witnessed widespread violence — Ujjain’s Begum Bagh, Indore’s Chandan Khedi village, and Mandsaur’s Dorana village.

The three areas are not contiguous, though they all lie in the Malwa region — Ujjain and Indore stand about 60 km apart, with Mandsaur over 200 km to the north-west.

But what was common to all three incidents of violence were ‘awareness rallies’ organised by Hindu groups, like the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal among others, to promote the upcoming fundraising drive for the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, which is set to begin on 15 January. And in all three cases, local residents have questioned the role of the administration.

ThePrint travelled to Madhya Pradesh between 6 and 9 January to probe the sequence of events, and found a pattern to all three incidents — Muslim residents allege they were targeted by Right-wing groups with “objectionable sloganeering” and that they had come armed with weapons including swords. Rally participants, meanwhile, claim they came under attack from the Muslim residents, who pelted stones.

In each case, the administration is accused of either looking the other way or coming up with questionable logic. In two instances, the administration has also demolished the houses of Muslims who allegedly carried out stone-pelting.

The issue has now taken a political turn with senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Digvijaya Singh alleging Friday that Muslim localities in Madhya Pradesh were being targeted. Singh also demanded an impartial inquiry into the recent clashes.

Reacting to this, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP, in a video clip released to media outlets, said: “Every society, community and sect is safe and secure in MP.”

State Home Minister Narottam Mishra, meanwhile, issued a warning to the stone-pelters. “If you do wrong, we will stop you, but if you do not stop, we will hit… We will not allow any force that breaks the society to flourish.”

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Begum Bagh, Ujjain, 25 December

Administration and residents’ different claims

On 25 December, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP, and other Right-wing outfits passed through Muslim-dominated Begum Bagh, allegedly shouting objectionable slogans directed at the local residents, which gave way to stone-pelting.

The residents claimed the bike rally crossed peacefully twice, but the third time it came around, slogans were raised and stones were pelted.

The administration then gave orders to demolish the house of one Abdul Hamid, citing the reason that stones were hurled at the rally from his house. “We found that stones were pelted from two houses. But in one case, it was not the owner but the tenant, so we did not take any action. In the other case, the house belongs to Abdul Hamid, whose wife Yasmin was caught on camera throwing stones,” Ujjain District Magistrate Asheesh Singh told ThePrint.

However, residents claim the other house was not demolished because it belongs to a person from the Hindu community.

Singh claimed the demolition drive was an attempt to hurt “criminals” who indulge in activities like stone-pelting. “We did not take any action as the person was a tenant. The house does not belong to her. We don’t discriminate between communities,” he said.

Ujjain’s Superintendent of Police Satyendra Kumar Shukla confirmed that the organisers of the rally had not taken requisite police permission, and a case has been filed. “We have taken action against the residents as there is clear-cut evidence of stone-pelting. Twenty arrests have been made and the National Security Act has been imposed on six,” he said.

Asked why no action had been taken against those who were part of the rally, including members of the BJYM and the VHP, Shukla said a case against unknown persons had been filed. “We have identified the persons but their affiliation is yet to be ascertained,” he said.

But he denied there had been sloganeering before the stone-pelting.

Begum Bagh residents insisted that the administration demolished Abdul Hamid’s house to appease the Hindu community. “The right-wing groups who had carried out the rally were very angry and, to give them a message, the administration decided to demolish the house,” said a resident who did not wish to be identified.

Abdul Hamid, referring to a video of the events, added: “We did not carry out any stone pelting and the video clearly shows we were not part of it. The house from where stones were pelted belongs to a Hindu so the administration decided to break mine despite our pleas. My entire family has been forced on to the street. Is this law?”

Rally participants and VHP’s version

ThePrint also approached those who were part of the rally and were injured in the stone-pelting. Pranay Sharma, 21, said: “The rally passed by peacefully, and suddenly they started pelting stones. My arm got bruised and I suffered a fracture too. It is a sensitive area, and during the CAA protests too they had blocked this entire road. Humne bhagwa vastra pehne toh inhone attack kar diya (we were wearing saffron clothes, so they attacked).”

Pranay Sharma, a participant in the Ram Mandir donation drive awareness rally in Ujjain, is recovering from a broken arm | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

The VHP also hinted at a conspiracy behind the stone-pelting, with its Malwa region secretary Sohan Vishwakarma saying: “Where exactly are they getting these stones? Do they stock them up like they do in Kashmir? This is nothing but a ploy to defame the Ram Mandir donation programme and show Hindus in a bad light.” Areas like Indore, Ujjain and Mandsaur comes under him.

Vishwakarma also alleged that the locals had weapons stocked, and attacked the rally. “Is it a crime to raise slogans like ‘Jai Shri Ram’? When they chant ‘Allahu Akbar’ during Muharram processions and pass through Hindu-dominated areas, do we stop them?” he said.

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Chandan Khedi, Indore, 29 December

‘Swords and country-made pistols’

On 29 December, violence broke out during a donation drive awareness rally taken out by several Hindu outfits for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Chandan Khedi is a Muslim-dominated village with a population of around 3,500, of which there are only around 10-12 Hindu families.

The villagers claimed those who took out the rally set fire to the house of a Muslim family, after vandalising the minaret of an idgah on the outskirts of the village. A viral video on social media purportedly shows some persons trying to damage the minaret.

“Initially, the rally was being taken out smoothly, but later, they started raising slogans. One of the slogans said ‘your last day has come’ (tumhara aakhiri din aa gaya hai). This was what started the entire thing,” said 35-year-old Hanif, a resident of the village. He claimed that the men continued to raise slogans loudly and as violence erupted, “they called more people from the nearby villages”.

Hanif’s daughter Sahiba stands inside a gutted room at their house in Chandan Kheri village, Indore | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

According to Hanif, the mob was allegedly carrying weapons, including swords, country-made pistols and other sharp objects.

When the rally passed the house of 26-year-old Saddam Patel earlier in the day, his family had kept water outside for the people. But the same crowd later returned to beat them up, injure them and burn down a part of the house, Saddam said.

“We had locked ourselves inside after we saw that violence had erupted. Later, the police told us to open the door and switch on the motor. My brother’s daughter, who is around 3 months old, was lying in the other part of the house and he went out to get her. Suddenly, the mob entered and started attacking us. They set the house on fire and the baby was saved in the nick of time,” he said.

Saddam Patel (at the back) claims he and his family members, including a three-month-old child, came under attack in Chandan Kheri | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

One of Saddam’s brothers, who the family claims suffered a bullet injury, is still in the hospital.

According to the villagers, three tractors, bikes and crops were gutted in the fire.

“Eyes of goats were gouged out, many buffaloes were attacked with swords and sticks,” said a villager who didn’t want to be named.

The villagers went on to say that 10-15 Muslim families saw their homes being demolished by the administration as part of an encroachment drive begun on 30 December, apparently to widen the road.

The villagers say they had been living in harmony so far, but are shaken now. When ThePrint visited Chandan Khedi, many said they were too scared to speak to the media, fearing retaliatory action from the administration.

Several insisted that the proposed donation drive is nothing but a tactic to spread fear among the Muslim community, adding that similar to events in Ujjain, objectionable slogans were raised by rally participants here too.

Around 25-30 police officials are now stationed at Chandan Kheri to ensure that the situation remains under control.

Police’s claims

ThePrint approached Indore DM Manish Singh and ADM Ajay Dev through phone calls, WhatsApp and text messages, but did not get any response.

However, the police maintained that the clash started after persons in the rally objected to the villagers filming the procession.

According to Indore Deputy Inspector General of Police Harinarayan Chari Mishra, the organisers had taken permission for the procession. “Four FIRs have been registered in the case, including firing by the villagers, and against two men who were found trying to damage the minaret. The organisers had taken permission for the rally,” he said.

Mahesh Chandra Jain, Superintendent of Police, Indore (West), said violence broke out after the villagers pelted stones.

“We have to see who initiated it. There was stone pelting from the villagers’ side and it resulted in a clash. Our force, despite being less in number, took charge of the situation soon,” he said.

A senior police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, echoed Ujjain VHP leader Vishwakarma’s views, claiming the villagers were trying to convert it into “mini Pakistan”, and what happened on 29 December was a warning bell.

“The fundamentalist forces who believe in the philosophy of Wahhabism, Tablighi Jamaat are to be blamed. The Muslim youth are becoming hardliners. Hindu toh darr ke bhaag jaata hai, ye datey rehte hain (Hindu runs away in the face of fear, these people stay put),” the police officer said.

Asked what he had to say about the Hindu families’ claim that such communal incidents never took place earlier in this village, he used the old adage: “Taalaab mein reh kar magarmachh se bair (making enemies with a crocodile while living in the water)?”

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Imran’s ordeal

Mohammad Imran, a 27-year-old daily wager, is unable to speak — his family says he lost his voice seven years ago while suffering high fever, and is still undergoing treatment. But in the last 10 days, a lost voice has been the least of his troubles — Imran and his brother Mohammed Azruddin were arrested by the Indore Police for the violence.

Imran (left) and Azruddin with their wives | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

“My husband can’t speak. He is still undergoing treatment, and even on the day of the violence, he had fever and was resting inside,” said Imran’s wife Heena, who runs a small grocery shop.

Asked about Imran’s case SP Jain said: “Just because he can’t speak doesn’t mean he was not part of the mob. We have taken appropriate action after examining everything.”

But the ordeal doesn’t end here, said the family. The day following the rally, the local administration demolished some parts of their house. Heena, however, raised doubts over the purported reason and timing of the demolition, “They are calling it encroachment but why is action being taken just the day after the rally?” she asked

Dorana, Mandsaur, 29 December

‘Aurangzeb’s descendants, mend your ways’

Similar voices echo in Mandsaur district’s Dorana village too. “The rally members raised slogans like ‘Aurangzeb ki aulaado, sudhar jao, desh humara hai’ (Descendants of Aurangzeb, mend your ways, the country is ours),” said a villager from Dorana on the condition of anonymity.

According to Mohammed Umer Mansoori, a resident of the village, the villagers had informed the local police on 28 December that since the rally was set to be taken out from their area the next day, adequate police force should be deployed. According to the villagers, there were over 5,000 people present for the rally.

Dorana resident Mohammed Umer Mansoori displays a letter he has written to the Mandsaur SP | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Mansoori said the participants tried to damage the mosque and even read the Hanuman Chalisa outside the premises in an attempt to provoke the Muslim community. Dorana is home to over 300 families from the Hindu community and around 85 from the Muslim community.

“A WhatsApp message was being circulated by the VHP, Bajrang Dal and other outfits to be part of the rally, and when we got hold of it, we informed the police about it. Police told us they would take care of it. But apart from sloganeering, a few men tried to damage the mosque, others burnt the chaadar that was there on the Dargah, houses of people were damaged, window panes broken… They even damaged the CCTV cameras,” he said.

Now, an atmosphere of disquiet prevails.

Like in Chandan Khedi, village cattle were also targeted in the Dorana violence. Villagers also claim that as a precautionary measure, only 10-15 persons remained in the village during the day, and the rest were asked to stay in a safe place. “Fearing violence, we had asked the female members of our village to stay in the nearby areas. My goat was killed by the rally participants,” alleged Chand Mohammed, who claimed they had hit it on the head.

Anxiety and frustration over police inaction is evident among the villagers. “The police also did not do anything and remained a mute spectator. We completely blame the police as despite telling them in advance, they did not do anything,” said Mohammed Arif.

A section of the young population claimed this rally was a sign of things to come, adding that the incident was also an attempt to divert attention from the ongoing farmers’ protest outside New Delhi.

“This is nothing but an attempt to show who is powerful. This is also an attempt to divert attention from the farmers’ protest. After all, how can so many incidents take place in Madhya Pradesh one after another?” asked another resident who didn’t wish to be named.

‘Uncontrollable crowd’, ‘no sloganeering’

However, Mandsaur SP Siddharth Chaudhary said though an adequate number of police personnel were stationed at the village, the large turnout at the rally turned into an “uncontrollable” crowd.

“We ensured no damage was done to the masjid as we quickly removed the man who had got on top of it. We have arrested nine persons and six FIRs have been filed. We are collecting evidence against others whose names have been furnished by the villagers. Section 144 has been imposed and no rally can be taken out without our permission,” Chaudhary said.

A local resident recounts the day of the violence to a policeman in Dorana, Mandsaur | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

The VHP, in this case too, denied allegations that any provocative slogans were raised. “Stones were pelted by the villagers. Some even pointed weapons at the rally. This angered some of the youth and resulted in a clash,” said Deep Chaudhary, VHP’s Mandsaur district president. 

“Our workers were attacked and bikes were damaged, but the police haven’t arrested anyone yet,” he claimed.

Currently, things are calm on the surface in Dorana. But as Mohammed Arif said: “We used to hear such things happen in Uttar Pradesh. But now, they are happening in our own area.”

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