Jodhpur: Rajveer Solanki, 43, is baffled. On 2 May, his peaceful neighbourhood in Jodhpur’s Jalori Gate exploded into violence, the scale of which the place hasn’t seen since just after the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992.
“It’s hard to imagine,” Solanki told ThePrint Wednesday. “We’ve shared space for so long with these people, and the same people are now after our lives. Did they always hate us?”
Solanki echoes the sentiment that most people around here hold. According to the 2011 Census, Jodhpur had a Muslim population of 11 per cent. And today, except for a few specifically Hindu or Muslim pockets, the area around Jalori Gate has both communities living together.
The epicentre of the violence, which began on the eve of Eid and spilled into the next day, was the Jalori Gate roundabout, where a marble bust of freedom fighter Balmukund Bissa is located. The district administration’s records show that at least 30 people were wounded in the violence on Eid, including six policemen.
A curfew was then imposed covering almost the entire city, with 1,000-odd police officers deployed to maintain law and order, Additional DGP (Law and Order) Hawa Singh Ghumaria told reporters.
Internet has since been suspended in the area.
Twelve First Information Reports (FIR) were registered across three police stations under Section 145 (rioting), Section 144 (unlawful assembly), Section 321 (causing hurt), and Section 353 (assaulting public servants), among other charges.
A senior officer at the Jodhpur Police Commissionerate told ThePrint, on the condition of anonymity that until Wednesday, 141 people had been detained, of which 60 were arrested.
The Jodhpur violence added to a series of Hindu-Muslim clashes in April — in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Maharashtra.
The violence also came less than a month after Hindu-Muslim clashes over a bike rally in Rajasthan’s Karauli left at least 35 wounded.
How it began
Residents say that the source of the dispute were flags on Jalori Gate, which they say is always decorated for festivals — whether Hindu or Islamic.
This year, Eid coincided with Parashuram Jayanti — a day Hindus celebrate to mark the birthday of Hindu god Vishnu’s sixth avatar.
An argument began between Hindus and Muslims in the area at 11 pm Monday, 2 May, some eye-witnesses told ThePrint.
One eyewitness, 52-year-old Nemichand Modi, said Hindu groups had already put up saffron flags at the roundabout and objected when Muslims began putting up their flags too.
“The roundabout is only supposed to have a saffron flag. There is no room for any other flag,” Modi said.
The situation escalated quickly, and by midnight, had turned into a full-fledged fight: A group of Hindu men went to an Idgah about 100 metres from the roundabout and tore down the loudspeaker set up for the next day’s Eid prayers, eyewitnesses said.
Police teams were quickly dispatched to the area to help de-escalate.
“Although no violence was reported after 2 am, a group of Hindu men camped at the Jalori Gate circle for a night vigil,” a police officer who was at the spot Monday night told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
How things got ugly
At 8:30 am Tuesday, a group of Hindu men objected when some Muslims prayed on the road as the Idgah was overcrowded. After this, groups of Muslim men gathered at the roundabout to protest.
This is when the stone-pelting began, although nobody knows who cast the first stone. Within the hour, the situation had deteriorated.
A police officer present in the area recalled how mobs from both groups attacked each other with batons, sticks, baseball bats, stones, rods and whatever else they could lay their hands on. The mobs turned on the police as well, he said.
“Many of them started snatching batons from police officers and beating them up with it,” said the officer.
The escalating violence forced the police to resort to lathi charge and tear gas, said a senior police officer.
Eyewitnesses said the violence soon spread to adjoining areas — Kabootaro ka Chowk, Sonaro Ka Bans, Hanuman Chowk, Gandhi Chowk, Sanischar Ji ka Than, and Gole Building.
Police claimed they received two reports of people being stabbed in these neighbourhoods.
Apoorva Parwal, the sub-divisional magistrate of Jodhpur South, told ThePrint that the “situation is under control”.
“Now our efforts are aimed at bringing back harmony in the place. That could take time. We are doing our best,” she said.
Following Tuesday’s clashes, the district administration has removed all religious flags from the roundabout, cleared the area and put up the tricolour there.
‘Create unrest, consolidate Muslim votes’
The Rajasthan government’s teams visited affected localities for damage assessment Wednesday. As ThePrint followed two such teams, this correspondent found that a sense of uncertainty had permeated the neighbourhood.
Safdar Chaudhary, 25, is still puzzled about why it happened.
“Why is it happening now, unless there is some big conspiracy to generate unrest among people?” Chaudhary asked as pulled out his phone to show us Eid greetings from his Hindu friends. “For Eid, we were trying to deliver a message of peace with white flags, people turned that into a message of violence.”
For Ilyas Mohammad, a 43-year-old resident of the neighbouring Hakambagh locality, questions about who started the violence are pointless.
“It was a fight between groups of untrained Muslim men, who lack education and jobs etc., and groups of Hindu men who are well-trained and pushing a political agenda,” Mohammad, whose wife Parweena Akhtar is a municipal councillor representing the Congress from Jodhpur’s Ward Number 57, said. “The aim was to create unrest and consolidate Hindu votes.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)