Ghost town: Telangana’s Bhainsa town wears a deserted look following imposition of Section 144 CrPc in the wake of communal clashes since January 2021 | Photo: Rishika Sadam | ThePrint
Ghost town: Telangana’s Bhainsa town wears a deserted look following imposition of Section 144 CrPc in the wake of communal clashes since January 2021 | Photo: Rishika Sadam | ThePrint
Text Size:

Bhainsa: The north Telangana town of Bhainsa, jutting into Maharashtra’s Nanded district, has never made news in the past as much as it is doing today — and for all the wrong reasons.

Bordering the former Naxal hotbed of Adilabad, this beedi-rolling town is making headlines for communal clashes, internet shutdowns and daytime curfews.

It was back in 2008 when the Hindus and Muslims in Bhainsa, who are almost evenly numbered, were last engaged in a major violent showdown. Since January 2020, however, the town has reported three communal clashes and suffered a 10-day internet shutdown at least twice in the same period.

The clashes have pitched the BJP against the Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Bhainsa’s population of 49,764, according to the 2011 Census, is 49 per cent Hindus and 47 per cent Muslim.

The present tension erupted on the night of 7 March when a petty fight between two groups snowballed into a communal face-off that resulted in 12 people, including three policemen, sustaining injuries. Angry mobs torched 13 shops, four houses, six four-wheelers, four auto rickshaws and five two-wheelers. About 40 people have been arrested and the police have identified another 70 as being connected with the incident.

Adding sparks to the communal tinderbox was the sexual assault on a four-year-old girl by a teenager from another community in Mirzapur village — about 7 km from Bhainsa — three days after the March 7 incident. Although the two incidents were not related to each another, the assault was misinterpreted on social media as retaliation to the clash. It led to the violence spreading to nearby Mirzapur and the neighbouring villages of Pardi and Mahagam, where vehicles and shops were set ablaze.

Even after a fortnight, tension is palpable everywhere. As the clock strikes 1 pm, the residents of this town get back to their homes. Within minutes, the entire town shuts down to comply with prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 of the CrPC. In no time, the area turns into a ghost town — not a single person on the streets, the main market completely shut and an eerie silence all around. And of course, an internet shutdown by the authorities has denied people an important channel of communications and entertainment.

The worst sufferers are 40 per cent of the town’s 24,711 women who roll beedis for a living. A shutdown under Section 144 means no means of livelihood for these daily wage-earning women, even as their husbands and grown-up sons are either the accused, or suspects.

About 500 policemen have been deployed in and around Bhainsa — and they constantly patrol the silent streets. For the first time in the town’s history, an IPS officer, Khare Kiran Prabhakar, has been posted as its DSP. Buffeted by the BJP, emboldened by its recent success in the Hyderabad municipal corporation elections, the Telangana government is not leaving anything to chance.

The BJP, in fact, has been unceasing in its criticism of the “unspoken friendship” between Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS and AIMIM. The two parties have never acknowledged any alliance publicly, but have never denied being “friendly parties”.

On 7 March, the provocation was the accused Thota Mahesh and Dattu Patel, who were on a two-wheeler, striking Rizwan on the head while he was walking in an area named Zulfiquar Gully.

Rizwan recovered and went to Batti Gully looking for his two assailants, but he was beaten up by the two accused and two others from the local Hindu Vahini. Dattu then went to Zulfiquar Gully to purchase some alcohol, but entered into an altercation with members of the other community, which provoked stone throwing and stabbing.

House set ablaze in the communal clash on 7 March, 2021 in Zulfiquar Gully in Bhainsa | Photo: Rishika Sadam | ThePrint
The blackened, soot-covered door of a house that was set ablaze in the communal clash on 7 March, 2021, in Zulfiquar Gully in Bhainsa | Photo: Rishika Sadam | ThePrint

“It appears that one of them threw a stone on the local masjid, provoking people in the holy place to come out with knives,” a senior police officer recounted, adding: “Members of the other community, meanwhile, called their people and the two groups attacked each other. A police constable who was nearby tried to stop them, but he was also attacked. The violence soon spread to another area, Panjeshah Gully. We controlled it in an hour or so.”


Also read: Ram Mandir fund collection drive stokes tension in MP, clashes, bid to damage mosques reported


Fragile peace makes way for a tense divide

Less than 100 metres separate the masjid and the Hanuman Mandir in Zulfiquar Gully. They have stood together in peace, but there’s now a sharp divide in the perpendicular lane, which has houses of people from both the communities.

At the beginning of the lane is a house that was set ablaze Sunday. It belonged to a 36-year-old daily wage labourer, Shaikh Ghouse. At the time of the horrific incident, his four-year-old daughter and 75-year-old mother were inside the house along with him.

“We locked our doors while the people outside were banging on them,” 75-year-old Nazima recalled with fear writ large over her eyes. “My granddaughter was screaming in fear and held me tightly. They broke open the door and took my son outside. I fell on their feet with my granddaughter and begged them to leave us. We both managed to move away from there and my son also somehow managed to escape.”

The family has since left the town and moved to a relative’s place in the next village. They do not wish to go back to Bhainsa.

“This place has always been like this,” 80-year-old Nagamma commented. “Even a small issue can lead to a communal flare-up and our children start hurting each other. Bhainsa bhagupadadhu (Bhainsa will never get better).”

Being an old-timer, Nagamma knows what she’s talking about.

In 2008, a Hindu procession was passing through a road next to the Panjeshah mosque in the town and the people inside the shrine objected to loud music being played as their prayers were on. That led to a heated argument between the two communities, which led to some trouble-makers throwing gulal on people in the mosque. What followed next was a round of stone throwing and the situation got out of control.

The police had to resort to firing, three people were killed and several injured, and about 150 shops and 20 vehicles were torched. The violence then spread to Vatoli village, 12 km from Bhainsa, where six members of the family of a Muslim grocer — including three children — were burnt alive.

Back in 1996, communal clashes flared up during the immersion of Ganesh idols. Each year since then, one or two such clashes have been taking place, but from January 2020, around the time of the municipal elections, the has been routinely seeing violent flare-ups.

“Some areas in the town have people in equal numbers from both communities,” explained Thakur Swaroop Singh, 40, a resident of the Panjeshah Masjid area. “These are the places where the violence starts and then spreads across the entire town.”

Next to his department store is a house that was gutted on 7 March. Coincidentally, the clashes on that day took place at a time when the state was set for polling in two graduate constituencies of the Legislative Council.

According to the local police, Bhainsa, which was earlier part of Maharashtra and became part of Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana) following linguistic reorganisation in 1953, saw at least 50 communal clashes since then.


Also Read: Are communal riots a new thing in India? Yes, and it started with the British


Shadow of politics on a widening divide

Of the 26 municipal wards in Bhainsa, AIMIM controls 15, leaving the rest to other parties, including the BJP that won nine wards and is now aggressively fighting to “protect Hindus” in the town.

The saffron party, emboldened by its victory in the Dubbaka byelection and the Hyderabad civic body election, has blamed the inefficiency of the police and also accused the force of working at the behest of the ruling party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), and AIMIM. It blamed AIMIM for the riots, saying the party wishes to “drive away Hindus”, with the TRS being mere mute spectators.

BJP MP Arvind Dharmapuri, alleging that the police was falsely arresting Hindu Vahini members for the riots, demanded an inquiry into the Bhainsa incident by a central agency. “I will raise this issue in Parliament,” Dharmapuri said. “We made representations to the Union Government stressing the need for an inquiry by a central agency. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has taken stock of the situation in Bhainsa,” he added. The party has also moved the state’s governor and the DGP.

Countering the BJP charge, Bhainsa Municipality Chairperson Mohammad Jabir Ahmed said: “Let the police conduct its investigation. If it finds any of us at fault, let it take action. How can someone blame us without evidence? We had demanded strict police action in previous incidents and been asking for an increased police presence here for a long time.”

For the 7 March violence, the police took an AIMIM councillor and also an independent member (formerly with the BJP) into custody. Local residents fear that BJP’s animosity for the AIMIM could only pave way for further polarisation in Bhainsa.

According to Mir Ayoob Ali Khan, expert on inter-community affairs, over the past decade the AIMIM has gained ground in the town — and it might seem to some people that one particular community will take over if the party continues to gain more strength. “Muslims are trying to rise again and that is being resisted by the BJP and the Hindu Vahini,” he points out, adding that Telangana, apart from Hyderabad, is not known to be divided on communal lines. He suspects the influence of Maharashtra on widening the present chasm.

Bhainsa violence flies into the face of CM’s assertion

One of the many achievements that the Telangana Chief Minister keeps emphasising is how he has been able to curb communal riots, especially in the older part of Hyderabad, which has had a history of being sensitive. But Bhainsa is now turning out to be the state’s Achilles’ heel.

Leaders of both communities have their own version of what’s happening in the town — and both blame the police for being in cahoots with the other community.

Local BJP leader Ramadevi alleges that the AIMIM is trying to increase its vote share by allowing settlers from bordering areas of Maharashtra and helping them acquire documents to assert their identity and resident status. The other allegation is that AIMIM is making ‘Hindu’ voters disappear from the electoral list.

AIMIM leaders, meanwhile, point out how the majority of Muslim-owned houses had been torched in the clashes that has forced families to flee from the town. The district superintendent of police, Vishnu S. Warrier, however, insists property belonging to both communities were damaged in the violence.

But the clashes over the past year and half have forced some families, who’ve been living in Bhainsa for decades, to leave the town for their safety. A majority of them include the families whose houses were set ablaze in the 7 March clashes.

Local residents point out that only a few areas in the town are home to people from both communities and these are the place where the clashes start and then spread to most parts of the town.

“We are living in the shadow of the fear that anytime our houses could be burnt down. Even a small issue could lead to violence here. We are ready to sell everything and leave the town. It is a nightmare living here,” said 47-year old Pushpamma, voicing a sentiment that cuts across community lines.

Denying the allegations made by local politicians, Warrier said the police was looking at a “long-term plan” to curtail violence in the town. The immediate focus is to strengthen the police presence to at least 150 officers and men, set up a sub-headquarters battalion, improve street lighting, and establish a CCTV-based command and control centre for round-the-clock live monitoring of the town.

The plan sounds eminently doable, but the violence-hit residents are hoping it would be implemented fast, without sinking deeper into the cesspool of politics.


Also Read: Not all communal riots are local. Social media is now making them national


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

7 COMMENTS

  1. Editor of the print should be held responsible for delivering such biased analogue. He will only care if it happens to its one of own family member. These so called other community members are cowards as this is what there religion teaches them. When they can’t fight they resort this type of acts. Telangana govt should be thrown out of the power and person who did this should be hanged. Are we hanging people only when it’s highlighted in media (nirbhaya), as culprits were Hindus in that case. It should be the order of the nation. Such crimes on children should have no tolerance.

  2. The Print ia blatantly anti Hindu. Such biased journalism is the root cause of secularism being dead and Hinduism on the ascendant in our country. Start practicing real secularism if you want to claim your self as a modern journal. Else there is no difference between you guys and the Islamic press

  3. Let BJP come to power, the cultism folks will be made quiet for good – the way they’ve been in Uttar Pradesh after Maharaj ji became CM.

  4. Be it the print or the quint, you guys are so Hinduphobix that be it in any news that the mob is a Muslim you never show the news or tell his name or his religion. But when it comes to him being Hindu, you put it on the headline and act as if Hindus are the only wrong people. Be it the Hindu festivals and stuff. I really believe you guys are a sin to our nation. Bye

  5. I just have one question. Why is name of the person who raped a minor of the other community isn’t mentioned.?. Oh yeah!. That guy was a muslim. And why is the name of the person who got thrashed in an accident mentioned. Oh yeah! He was a muslim too… How to revive secularism 101.

  6. This writer did not mention the name of the person who raped a minor. Reason is clear. That monster was a muslim. Whereas name of the person who got thrashed in an accident is mentioned. The reason is clear. He was a muslim. Over 80 housholds have been at the receiving end of this riot most of which were hindu. But the article has no mention of it. Nice. ! That’s how these people will reivive secularism.

Comments are closed.