messenger of peace
BY ABDUL HALEEM SIDDIQUI
After the Friday prayers on October 26, 2001, some Muslims were distributing a pamphlet out-side the Jama Masjid in Malegaon. The pamphlet was an appeal to the public to boycott American goods in pro test against that country’s attack on Afghanistan after the bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11. The unwarranted police action against some of those distributing the pamphlet triggered a riot that spread like wildfire and could not be fully controlled for five long days. In the process, 15 lives were lost, 12 others were injured in police firing and property worth crores was looted, burnt or otherwise destroyed.
The violence not only engulfed large parts of Malegaon, but also spread to over 130 villages of Nasik district. The scale and the bestiality with which human beings targeted other human beings were unprecedented in the history of Malegaon and Nasik district. Apart from the loss of precious lives, property including trucks, tempos, cars, motor-cycles, factories, godowns, shops, mosques and temples were all reduced to ashes. The dance of death that began in Malegaon city was re-enacted in village after village.
Local newspapers in Urdu, Marathi and Hindi published reports on how Muslims burnt down temples, how Hindus burnt down Muslim homes and how both communities were caught up in the retaliatory logic. Both communities inflicted heavy losses on each other.
As part of my journalistic duty, apart from covering the incidents in Malegaon, I also travelled to the violence-hit villages and spoke to a large number of Hindus and Muslims, to put together an authentic account of all that had happened. In many cases, I was horrified as people recounted their moments of torment and terror. But I also heard sufficient accounts of human compassion and fellowship, of instances where people had risked their lives saving the life and property of the ‘other’ community, to restore my faith in humanity. If on the one hand, there were examples of Muslims giving shelter to Hindu families and keeping a 24-hour vigil on the latter’s property, on the other were examples of Hindus risking their lives to save mosques and dargahs from arson and destruction, not to mention Muslim lives.
I came across many instances of human compassion, religious amity and fellow feeling that were like rays of hope here and there, shining through the dark clouds of hatred, rage, retaliation and revenge that hung ominously over Malegaon and hundreds of villages surrounding it.
My allegiance to secular values and commitment to journalistic integrity prompted me to place before the public the shining examples of compassion and extraordinary courage that were the hidden side of the Malegaon riots. Then came the shameful Godhra tragedy on February 27, 2002, followed by the statewide carnage.
After listening to the gory account of how, in Ahmedabad, the former MP Ehsan Jafri and others seeking shelter in his house were burnt alive or first cut to pieces and then fed to the flames, I could not sleep the whole night. I kept thinking that in October 2001 there were many would-be Ehsan Jafris in Malegaon, and in the villages, who did not even own a telephone to appeal for help. But there were people who saved lives in great danger and protected property from loot and arson.
Of their own accord and often risking their own lives, some messengers of peace rushed to the rescue, took entire families out from the areas they were trapped in and escorted them to safety. Among those who came out on a peace mission in the midst of the killings were Shaikh Rasheed, Prashant Hiray, Yunus Isa, Ejaz Baig, Dr Baliram Hiray, Prasad Hiray, Ibrahim Seth, Yusuf Seth, Iqbal Peerzada, Asif Ali, Rasheed Seth, Mufti Mohd Ismail and the Jamiat-ul-ulema, Khursheed Pahelwan, Prakash Patil, Pappu Patil, Mazhar Shaikh, Haji Iftikhar Master, Asghar Ansari, Madhukar Hiray, Dashrath Nikam, Mustafa Seth Beediwale and Aziz Mukadam.
They faced the difficulties of the curfew period, risked their lives and literally pulled any number of would-be Ehsan Jafris out of the jaws of death. The fact that despite their tireless and fearless efforts at maintaining peace 69 homes in Malegaon city and 531 homes in the district were burnt down is an indication of how strong was the evil storm that had raged in Malegaon and its environs.
Two things are clear in the light of the Malegaon riots and the genocide in Gujarat. Both places were on fire, but in case of the latter the mobs were allowed free reign by the State. In Malegaon, the police worked hard to bring the situation under some control within 24 hours. Encouraged by the determination and the effectiveness of the police machinery, members of peace committees and other peace-loving social activists and citizens found it easy to come forward to help restore peace and mutual trust. In Gujarat, the situation was diametrically opposite – the bloodbath seemed to be a direct result of the state machinery being in league with the mobs. In such an atmosphere, social workers and peacemakers could not muster sufficient courage to counter the violence.
I feel proud of the peacemakers of Malegaon, and of fellow journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai, Nalin Mehta, Prabal Pratap Singh, Sanjay Bargata and Teesta Setalvad who reported on the Gujarat carnage impartially and fearlessly, free of communal bias. Rising above the confines of religion, they served the cause of humanity well and set new standards for others to emulate. I hold them as my ideals and salute them for their work.
Had the peacemakers not gathered and come forward in Malegaon and the villages, the casualties would have amounted to hundreds. That’s when I resolved that the inspiring deeds of these people must be placed before the public and began work in earnest.
While placing these accounts before readers, I hope to have fulfilled the social responsibility of a journalist and a writer, to provide oxygen to the flames that symbolise hope for humanity flickering in the storm of hatred and rage, to dispel the prevalent atmosphere of fear and insecurity and instead inspire trust and create a sense of security. I hope, too, that the accounts of these messengers of peace from my native place, who no doubt are inspired by the message of universal brotherhood given to us by our sants and sufis, become an inspiration to people from the rest of India.
I toured some 25-30 villages, met hundreds of people – Hindus and Muslims, men, women and children – and listened to what they had to say. Having spoken to so many of them, I feel more convinced than ever before that the common man, whether Hindu or Muslim, is peace loving and desires to co-exist with others in amity and harmony. But people from both communities are terrified of the mob. They are scared of the communal forces who could create problems for them in future. It is for this reason that a lot of the Muslims and Hindus I spoke to, and who had stood by their neighbours, sheltered and fed them at the risk of being themselves targeted by the frenzied mobs, requested that I do not mention their accounts in my report.
This untold story of the Malegaon riots uncovers the other side of violence. For me, this is not the culmination but merely the beginning of a new effort. I am sure that after going through these accounts, my readers will draw my attention to other positive accounts which I will publicise through Fateh-e-Alam, the monthly magazine that I edit.
(The above introduction to his book ‘Aman ke Farishte’, published in Urdu and Hindi as also the accounts that follow have been translated into English by Javed Anand).
Kind Kadam follows his dharm
On October 26, 2001, a group of eight Muslims, all members of the Tableeghi Jamaat, were travel-ling from Surat to Malegaon in a jeep, blissfully unaware of the violence raging in the textile town they were headed for. At around 9.15 in the night, their vehicle was blocked at Dabhadi village en route. That the occupants of the vehicle were Muslims was apparent from their dress and their beards. In next to no time, a mob had surrounded the vehicle. Shouting ‘Jai Bhavani! Jai Shivaji!’ ‘Bin Laden ki aulad to Maro!’ (‘Kill Bin Laden’s children!’) ‘Muslims, go to Pakistan or Kabrastan (the graveyard)!’ the murderous mob set upon the occupants of the vehicle.
All pleas for mercy from the trapped Tableeghi members were of no avail. When Shrikant Janardhan Pande, the Hindu driver of the vehicle, tried to save them, he too was thrashed by the mob. Meanwhile, preparations were in full swing to set the vehicle, along with its occupants, aflame. That’s when some villagers rushed to rescue the trapped Muslims from the clutches of the bloodthirsty mob. In the melee that ensued, the badly bruised and bloodied Muslims got out of the vehicle and fled under cover of the darkness. The vehicle, however, was set on fire.
Some employee from the government hospital, outside which the vehicle had been stopped, informed the police. But by the time they arrived, the crowd had melted away.
Two of the fleeing Muslims, who had been badly injured, collapsed at the farm of 35-year-old Rajendrabhau Kadam, a cattle trader. One of them was a 60-year-old Maulana. His beard had been so badly pulled that clumps of skin had been ripped off his chin along with the hair. The other was a 30-year-old man who was bleeding from his mouth, nose and ears. Kadam offered them a towel to help them clean the oozing blood. Afraid that the bloodthirsty mob might track their victims to the farm, he quickly led them to another farm in a remote corner of the village and hid them under stacks of hay.
For the rest of that night, the compassionate Kadam stood guard over the two Muslims. The next morning, he led them to the bus stop and saw them off in a bus headed for Surat. Kadam, who had risked his own life to save that of two others, did not bother to ask them their names or addresses. Evidently, there was no expectation of any appreciation or award; the kind Kadam had merely responded to the calling of his dharm.
Dr. Surekha: True to her oath
Even as Rajendrabhau Kadam protected the lives of two of the badly injured Tableeghi Jamaat members, four others and the Hindu taxi driver, all severely injured themselves, ran into the local hospital and collapsed on some of the empty beds in the general ward. They were Maulana Jubair (30), Iqbal Bhai Ghafoor Bhai (24), Irfan alias Allah Rakha (24), Mohd. Sikander Rasool Bhai (24) – all from Ismail Nagar, Anand, Gujarat – and the driver Shrikant Janardhan Pande (30), from Surat.
The medical officer-in-charge, Dr. Surekha Totla (32), a resident of Erandol, and her staff at the hospital had witnessed the entire gory drama — the attack on the group of Muslims, the torching of the jeep right in front of their hospital and its occupants’ fortunate escape. She had personally informed the Malegaon police who expressed inability to rush forces to Dabhadi since Malegaon itself was in flames.
On being told soon thereafter that some of the fleeing Muslims had rushed into the hospital for safety, Dr. Totla was momentarily stunned. What were she and her limited staff to do if the bloodthirsty mob also entered the hospital? However, the doctor in her soon took over. Issuing instructions that the entrance to the hospital be locked from inside and that those among the staff who were asleep be woken up immediately, she herself attended to the medical treatment of the badly injured Muslims. The good doctor and her entire staff stayed awake the whole night, keeping a close watch over the injured patients. Later in the night, two police constables arrived in Dabhadi and dispersed the mob.
In the morning, a mob gathered outside the hospital again, but Dr. Totla and her staff were determined that come what may, no miscreant would be allowed to enter the premises.
For the next three days and three nights, Dr. Totla, her assistant, JJ Doctor and the nurses and the rest of the staff were faced with a difficult choice at every moment. Keeping the patients in the hospital left open the possibility of the mobs launching an attack any time. On the other hand, discharging them and sending them out would mean inadvertently delivering them back to the assailants, who maintained a constant watch. Even escorting them to the bus stand and sending them off to their homes was risky. In an ugly incident, two Muslims had been dragged out of a bus in Sonaj village in Manmad and burnt to death.
In these circumstances, Dr. Totla decided it was best to keep the patients in the hospital itself. This obviously meant placing herself and her staff at risk, but it was the safest option as far as the five patients were concerned. For three days and three nights, the doctor, her assistant, JJ Doctor and her team of nurses — Ms. RT Mali, Ms. PM Jadhav, SL Sudhan, MA Borse and MS Kote — took care of the medical needs of the Muslims, ensured their protection and brought them food cooked in their own homes. This, despite the fact that the victims were in no position to pay anything since whatever they possessed had been left behind in the vehicle that had been burnt to ashes.
Three days later, after the situation was explained to them, the four Muslims agreed to have their beards and moustaches shaved off. They were then dressed up to look like local villagers, put into a bus that stopped right in front of the hospital through a special request and sent to Sankri. From Sankri, they caught another bus and travelled to their village in Anand, safe and sound. Once home, they phoned the hospital to convey a million thanks to Dr. Totla and the rest of her team. A little later, after peace had been restored in Malegaon and the neighbouring villages, the four Muslims returned to Dabhadi to express undying gratitude to their saviours in person.
Madhukar Hiray: Risks his life to save others
In the two days following the communal flare-up in Malegaon town on October 26, 2001, violence spread to 130 villages of Nasik district. Muslims, who constitute a minority in all these villages,were at the receiving end of this mob frenzy.
Barely 17 kms from Malegaon lies Neemgaon village, where in a population of around 10,000, the 250 strong Muslim community constitutes a tiny minority. Fortunately, despite the violence in surrounding villages, Neemgaon remained incident free, Muslim life and property was safe and the local mosque was untouched.
It is not as if no attempt was made to drag Neemgaon into the vortex of violence and target the local Muslims. If peace reigned in Neemgaon despite the efforts of communal Hindus, it is only because Madhukar Shivram Hiray, a popular local leader who is secular to the core, risked his life to ensure that the Muslims remained safe.
For four trying days, Hiray stood like an iron wall between communal Hindu mobs and the vulnerable Muslims who were in no position to defend themselves. In fact, his compassion drove him to do more. Rampaging mobs had attacked Muslims in the neighbouring villages of Panjarwadi, Nimbaiti, Ghodegaon and others. While their homes were burnt and local mosques destroyed, Muslims fleeing for their life from these villages were also sheltered by Hiray. For several days, he hosted them as guests on his farm, fed them and looked after their every need.
Recalls Hussain Ali, "When news reached Nimbola village that the power-loom factory owned by a village resident, Seth Nimba Kadam, had been burnt down by Muslim mobs in Malegaon town, enraged Hindus attacked Muslims of neighbouring Nimbaiti village in revenge. The mosque in Nimbaiti was the first building to be burnt, following which houses were being torched one after the other. Among the 200 of us who had to flee for safety were two women clutching their new-born babies."
When Hussain Ali, who lived near the mosque, telephoned Madhukar Hiray and appealed for help, he rushed to their rescue.
Hiray recalls: "When I reached Nimbaiti, communal Hindus were gathered around the burning mosque. The moment they saw me, they tried to browbeat me but I chased them away. Meanwhile, all the Muslims had fled from the village and were hiding in the farms. I took them all to the farm of my relative, Samadhan Maru, and told him to stay alert at night because the mobs might try to attack. The next day, Maru sent an urgent message that I should take the Muslims away from his farm since their lives were in danger and he alone would not be able to save them.
"I rushed to Nimbaiti, taking with me a van and a mini truck and brought around 250 Muslims to my farm in Neemgaon. Among them were children a few days old and also some 80–year–olds. These Muslims had lived in peace even during the nationwide communal conflagrations of 1947 and 1992. Apart from the clothes on their bodies, they had nothing left. Even elderly men were clutching me and crying like children. My wife, Nirmalabai Hiray, did all she could to console and comfort the womenfolk and looked after them for several days."
When the mosque and homes of the handful of Muslim residents of Ghodegaon village — four kms from Neemgaon — were targeted by an armed mob of over 2,000 people, they too could think of nothing other than praying to Allah and appealing to Madhukar Hiray.
"I received the call at night when I was in Kolana. I immediately telephoned the OSD (Officer on special duty) Raj Vardhan and alerted him, saying that unless the police rushed to Ghodegaon immediately, a massacre was inevitable. Within 20 minutes of my calling Vardhan, a police contingent had reached Ghodegaon. By the time I reached the village, there was no sign of any Muslims. The mosque had already been desecrated. In one of the Muslim homes, we found a 90–year–old paralysis patient groaning in pain. Absolutely terrified by the menacing mob, his family members had reluctantly left the old man and fled with the rest of the Muslims."
They spent most of the night out in the cold, hiding in the nearby jungles, trekking till they found security on Hiray’s farm.
In Malgaon, the local mosque and the 22 Muslim homes were destroyed. Hindus from Nimbola village who had also attacked Nimbaiti’s Muslims, had threatened and terrified Malgaon’s Muslims before they finally launched a vicious assault on October 27.
Meanwhile, a group of Hindu youth from Morewadi entered a Muslim home and abducted three young Muslim girls. It was Balu Mahale, a young Hindu himself, who somehow rescued the girls and escorted them to their relatives living in Nandgaon. The hapless father of the girls had gone to Nasik in connection with his business on October 26 and was stranded there because of the riots. While he was away, the police arrested Mahale because an informer falsely implicated him in the abduction. Shocked by this tragic turn of events, poor Mahale died of a heart attack the day he returned home after being released, while the real culprits roamed scot-free.
No doubt, Muslims from these villages suffered a heavy loss of property, but if their lives and honour were saved, it is thanks entirely to the compassion of Madhukar Hiray, says Salahuddin.
Hiray is deeply saddened by the fact that two Muslims were burnt alive in Sonjh village. "A relative of mine informed me telephonically that some communalists intercepted a bus going from Manmad to Sondana at Sonjh Takli, pulled out the two Muslim passengers, thrashed them mercilessly, then poured kerosene on them and burnt them alive. The rest of the passengers who witnessed the gory incident, refused to identify the culprits before the police. As a result, the murderers roamed free."
The deceased, who were residents of Manmad city, were travelling to Sondana to rescue their aunts and other relations, after hearing that violence had erupted in Sondana and the mosque there had been destroyed. To hide evidence, after burning the two alive, the killers had collected their skeletal remains and thrown them on a nearby hill. The police could trace their remains only 15 days later.
(As a result of this, even several months later, the deceased could not be identified and their kith and kin were even deprived of the rupees two lakh in compensation that the government had doled out in other cases of deaths. The police told this reporter that the skeletons had been sent to a Hyderabad-based forensic laboratory to assess the age of the two victims.)
In all, three mosques and over 40 Muslim homes were destroyed or damaged during the attack on Muslims in villages around Neemgaon. Razzaq Panjari of Neemgaon is in no doubt that but for Madhukar Hiray there is no saying how many Muslims may have met a similar fiery death.
Even after the violence had abated, Muslims from Nimbaiti who had been sheltered by Hiray were afraid to return to their villages. Hiray then invited 50 Hindus who were active in Nimbaiti and arranged a meeting on his farm where both Hindus and Muslims pledged to protect each other. It is only after mutual trust had been built that the 250 Muslims of Nimbaiti returned to their village.
When asked to explain the unprecedented phenomenon of communal violence spreading to the villages so rapidly, Hiray said rumours had been deliberately spread to incite people. One particular rumour which really outraged Hindus had it that in Malegaon town, Muslims had cut off the breasts of 15 Hindu women and slashed ‘Osama Bin Laden’ across their chests while other Hindu women had been raped. Such rumours were spread through a Shiv Sena mouthpiece and also by word of mouth, and played a big role in inciting Hindus, said Hiray.
Because he had risked his life to shield Muslims, his rivals and Hindu communalists carried out extensive propaganda against Hiray, calling him a ‘Talibani’ and ‘Laden ki aulad’ during the Zilla Parishad elections in January 2002. Despite this, he won with a handsome majority.
"For me, this is the victory of truth. My victory with such a big margin is proof that Hindus in my area have not turned against me. Rather, they believe that what I did was a good thing," said Hiray.
Pardhuman Thakur: Man against the mob
When we break over covenant, we are in a state of war. Force, fear and fraud becomes the order of the day.
— Thomas Hobbes
Once we decide to put aside the spirit of accommodation and mutual goodwill, we enter into a conflict situation. Jungle law comes to prevail in cities and human beings turn into bloodthirsty hounds. The passions of revenge and hatred that are lit consume all human values, and destroyed in the process are all distinctions between neighbours and strangers, good and bad, truth and falsehood, strong and weak. Human beings turn into demons and what follows then are inhuman acts as were witnessed in Nimbayati, Sonaj, Ghodegaon and Malgaon. In Vadner, Khakhurdi, Ajang Vadel, in every village it was a similar story. In every village, sinful acts were committed in the name of religion, as all norms of civilised conduct were violated in the name of Maryada Purushottam (Lord Ram). Even the weak and the helpless, women and children, were subjected to inhuman behaviour.
Vadner Khakhurdi was among the villages that so disgraced themselves. It too was caught in the communal conflagration, it too was swept away in the hate storm. So vitiated was the climate that the 17 Muslim families living there had to flee to the farms and jungles to save their honour and their lives.
"Man is the mixture of clay and fire," says the Bible. In other words, in man there is the power of the fire that consumes all, but in him also resides the compassion of Mother Earth. When the virtues of tolerance, kindness and mercy inherent in his person are kindled, man can also be transformed into a messenger of peace.
If this angel of peace is seen as Madhukar Hiray in Neemgaon, in Vadner Khakhurdi he appears as Pardhuman Thakur or Ramdas Bhila, to offer refuge in their humble abodes. For a full 24 hours they provided shelter to Muslim co-villagers on the run and fed them, before escorting them to the Vadner Khakhurdi police station. From there they were taken in police jeeps to the Police Colony in Himmat Nagar, near Malegaon. Thereafter, Yunus Isa and corporator Pappu Patil escorted them to the safety of Hakim Nagar in the main city area.
Haroon Sandu Pathan, a grocery store owner from Vadner Khakhurdi, later told this writer that but for Pardhuman Thakur alias Gotu Bhau, who stood like a rock between the murderous mob and the targeted families, no Muslim in the village would have survived.
Though the Muslims were given protection and later helped to safety, back in the village, rampaging mobs looted what they wanted from Muslim homes, shops and vehicles and torched the rest. Gotu Bhau, along with Manoj Jain, Subhash Jain, Alpesh Jain and Jitu Seth, escorted some of the Muslims to the safety of a relief camp started by the Muslim Panch Committee in Satana. But Chirag Din Khatik, Kamruddin Shaikh and Ashfaq Shaikh could not escape from the mobs’ clutches. They were badly thrashed and their property looted or destroyed. Ironically, Ashfaq Shaikh was a shakha pramukh of the Shiv Sena’s Jaanta Raja outfit.
The saddest part of this story is that none of the Muslims who fled Vadner Khakhurdi have found the courage to return to their village. The bonds of mutual trust and the sentiment of togetherness have been broken. And the blame for this lies squarely with the local media, which poisoned the atmosphere completely, inflaming Hindu passions with baseless rumours.
To Deshmukh Guruji, Ahire Sir, With Love!
Fatima (45) and her husband Shabbir Ali lift loads to earn a living. Her elder son, Sharif, who studies in the 12th standard, suffers from a heart problem: one of the valves needs replacement. Fatima and her husband struggled to save every rupee of their hard-earned money, to collect the Rs. 20,000 needed for their son’s operation. On October 24, they managed to get another Rs. 10,000 through a chit fund. Even as they were finalising plans to take their son to Mumbai for the operation as local doctors had advised, violence erupted in Malegaon. When Ajang Vadel was caught up in the communal conflagration, Fatima and her husband’s dreams for their son’s treatment and his higher education, were also reduced to ashes. The heart-rending wails of a mother’s shattered dreams were drowned out by cries of ‘Jai Bhavani! Jai Shivaji!’ — war cries of a rampaging mob.
Fatima recalls, "When the mob started burning Muslim homes and shops, Hindu men and women from our locality, led by Deshmukh Guruji, Narayan Ahire, Bhagwan Driver, Ahire Sir, Professor Dhananjay Devre, came to our rescue. They took us to their homes and protected us as they would their own brothers and sisters."
More than the loss of her home and the theft of Rs. 30,000, which they had so painstakingly collected, Fatima is tormented by the uncertainty that clouds her son’s future. For, apart from other things, the file that contained her son’s medical history was destroyed in the fire that gutted their house.
Professor Devre kept Sharif and his brother Aarif in his home and treated them as his own. Earlier, when Professor Devre had apprised the local MLA, Prashant Hiray, of the disturbances in his village, Hiray had urged the professor to mobilise the villagers to help protect the life and property of Muslims. When Hiray visited the village himself, he admonished the Hindus there for failing in their duty. "It is a disgrace that all of you together proved incapable of ensuring the safety of the Rs. 30,000 that a poor mother had saved with such difficulty," he said. He also promised to do his best for the relief and rehabilitation of the affected families.
When the situation had improved somewhat, all the Muslim families were escorted to Malegaon. According to Professor Devre and others from Ajang Vadel, the violence against Muslims was a direct consequence of the maliciously spread, baseless reports of the molestation and rape of Hindu women by Muslims. These rumours inflamed the sentiments of some Hindus, who then resorted to ‘retaliatory action’ against Muslims.
Dashrath Nikam: ‘Over my dead body’
In the same Dabhadi village, where a jeep carrying eight
Muslims travelling from Surat to Malegaon
In this atmosphere, Dashrath Nikam showed enormous courage. Confronting the ugly mob, Nikam first tried to reason with them, urging them to calm, appealing for compassion. He also reminded them of the long tradition of hitherto peaceful co-existence in their village.
Nikam is a respected member of a well-placed family in the area and the son-in-law of former minister Baliram Hiray. Due to his personal stature and because of his family background, Nikam managed to get the mob to disperse. Although his efforts seemed to be successful, Nikam did not stop there. Fearing that continuing rumours about the rape of Hindu women would re-ignite the communal fire at any time, Nikam, along with other prominent locals like Arundev Bunker, formed a peace committee whose volunteers kept a night long vigil. However, the very next day, the rioters reassembled. Nikam faced the mob again, declaring that they would have to kill him before they could reach their Muslim targets. He also threatened them with legal action but by then a section of the mob had already resorted to stone-throwing while others started torching Muslim property.
The Dabhadi flour-mill, and other properties owned by Shaikh Abdul Wahab, a close relative of the MLA from Malegaon, Shaikh Rashid, were completely burnt down. The residence of Yusuf Ali Sapdu was completely gutted.
Mahmood Mansuri Furniturewala recounts, "Despite the highly charged atmosphere, Dashrath Nikam continued to face the violent mob. But for him, perhaps no Muslim from Dabhadi would have been left alive."
Even as the situation remained explosive, MLA Shaikh Rashid reached Dabhadi with a police contingent. Seeing the police, the miscreants quickly dispersed, and an uneasy calm prevailed. The MLA’s relatives were escorted to Malegaon by the police contingent but that left the remaining Muslims feeling more vulnerable than before. With the politicians’ relatives no longer in their midst, they did not know whom they could turn to for help. Dashrath Nikam and a handful of others had done everything it was humanly possible for them to dobut they were obviously unable to quell the surging mob intent on bloodshed. They began to despair. Since the bus service had been suspended on account of the violence, they could not even attempt to flee to another village. In a desperate bid to save their lives and their honour, they fled to the nearby jungle at night and had to contend with thirst, hunger and cold. Once the Muslims had fled, the rioters went on a loot and burn spree, targeting their homes and shops. While it was a Hindu mob that had chased them out of their homes, some Hindus gave the Muslims shelter in their farm-houses and fed them for three days.
In interviews with this writer, many Muslim survivors from Dabhadi named several Hindus who had been their protectors. Fearing the rioters, the latter, however, chose to remain anonymous. Apart from burning shops and homes, the mobs also destroyed the dargah and the tomb inside it. The classrooms in the Zilla Parishad-financed Urdu school had also been vandalised.
Nimba Pagare, Yusuf Ali Supdu and many others are full of praise for Nikam’s show of extraordinary courage. Subsequently, Nikam had to pay the price for protecting Muslim lives: In the Zilla Parishad elections that followed, the Hindutva camp ensured Nikam’s defeat by a margin of about 350 votes. Nikam has no regrets about having lost the elections in this manner, but mourns the fact that Dabhadi’s tradition of mutual co-existence has been shattered, that suspicion instead of mutual trust now governs inter-community relations – and all this, because of motivated and malicious anti-Muslim propaganda by the Shiv Sainiks. Well-known social activist Medha Patkar, too, visited Dabhadi to explain to the Hindus that the propaganda about Muslim atrocities against Hindu women was nothing but malicious propaganda.
Kila Jhopadpatti’s Muslims: Standing tall
You have now read several accounts of how the communal flames
that were lit in Malegaon subse-
Back in Malegaon, fresh problems and fresh conflicts surfaced even after the violence had been contained to some extent. While the city lay enveloped in clouds of smoke, another fire raged in the bellies of daily wage earners. Lack of work in the three days of curfew had driven people living in slums, particularly the daily wage earners, to starvation. Driven by hunger pangs, people started looting ration and grocery shops in the neighbourhood, grabbing whatever they could lay their hands on. But even in the midst of this hunger-driven loot, there were some shining examples where people protected shops owned by members of the other community. Kila Jhopadpatti provided one such example. Ashok Dadaji Shevale ran a ration shop in the Muslim predominant Kila Jhopadpatti basti. The Shevale family resides in Soygaon. For the last 50 years, the key to his shop has been entrusted to a Muslim family living in the basti. When rioting led to curfew and many in Kila Zhopadpatti were reduced to starvation, Shevale telephoned members of the local peace committee, Sharif Pahelwan Hotelwale, former corporator Fattu Seth and Khalil Member. Informing them that the keys to his ration shop were lying with Zaheda Bano and Mehrunnissabi, he authorised them to get his shop opened and sell rations to the local people at the appropriate price. He also requested them to distribute, on his behalf, 10 bags of rice and 15 bags of wheat through the local mosque or madrassa to the poor who were in no position to pay. After distributing the ration free of cost among the needy, the authorised members of the peace committee then sold the considerable stock of grains, rice and sugar that remained, at the appropriate price, to people in the locality.
Recalled Ashok Dadaji, "When I went back to the locality after the curfew had been lifted, Sharif Pahelwan, Fattu Seth and Khalil Member promptly met me and handed over the Rs. 25,000 they had collected through sale of the stocks, saying, ‘Here’s what you had entrusted to us.’ This brought tears to my eyes and I embraced each one of them. You cannot buy such affection and trust with money, nor can you weigh them in sacks full of grain."
These messengers of peace from Kila Jhopadpatti, along with the muezzin of the Jama Masjid, had earlier played a leading role in putting out the fire at Bhaji Bazaar. Master Abdul Ahad, Ramdas Pahelwan, Gulab Pahelwan and Sharif Pahelwan were in the forefront everywhere, helping in the restoration of peace and mutual amity. When tension resurfaced on the night of Friday, October 26, 2001, in the adjoining Kila and Sangameshwar localities, Muslim and Hindu youth armed with lathis and other weapons quickly lined up on opposite sides and started challenging the opposition. Maulana Siraj Ahmed Mufti, Shakeel Pahelwan, Fattu Seth, Gulab Pahelwan came together, reasoned with the youth from both sides, calmed them down and succeeded in sending them to their homes.
Dr. Anil Mule: ‘I only did my duty’
Towns and villages alike were caught up in the communal rage.
The Camp area in Malegaon was
In fact, this time, the situation in the Camp area was even uglier than in the rest of the town. Having turned into demons, humans bent on settling old scores were on the rampage, burning down mosques and dargahs, Muslim homes and shops with commensurate zeal. Cries of ‘Jai Bhavani! Jai Shivaji!’ repeatedly rent the air. Rendered helpless and destitute, humanity scoured the lanes and by-lanes, weeping inconsolably.
Call it the leela, the wonder of the Lord, that for every Ravana, He has also created a Ram. Wherever there were murderers and arsonists, peace makers also came forth.
Shaikh Khalil, his wife and four children, lived in a building behind the income tax office. Identifying his as the only Muslim house surrounded by Hindu homes, the assailants thought his family was easy game. Sensing danger, Sambhaji Nana Patil hid Khalil and his family in his home. As the night progressed, so did Khalil’s anxiety to somehow reach the house of his relatives in the security of a Muslim locality. But getting out was dangerous in the extreme. A mob of over 2,000 roamed the streets.
His neighbours Sambhaji Patil, Shashikant Aher Rao and Ahire Sir (owner of a Motor Driving School) comforted the Khalil family, assuring them that they had nothing to fear. But because of Khalil’s repeated pleas, they arranged for a vehicle to drive them to HUDCO colony or Ashoka Lodge — where he and his family would feel safe. However, they were all stranded near Mausam Bridge. To contain the raging violence, curfew had been imposed. The SRP contingent on duty would not allow them to proceed, nor was it possible for them to retrace their path. Khalil’s terrified wife and children cried and pleaded but the SRP maintained that letting them go further would only endanger their lives.
That was when Khalil remembered his old friend, Dr. Anil Mule, whose house was nearby. When they reached his house, Dr. Mule’s wife welcomed them with open arms. Dr. Mule, who was at his clinic on the ground floor of the same building, spoke to Khalil and told him that his family was welcome to stay with them as long as they liked. Given the situation all around, the Mules suggested to the Khalils that it might be safer if they assumed a temporary Hindu identity in case of an emergency. "They gave my wife a small box of bindi to put on her forehead and my sons were told to introduce themselves as Ajay, Vijay, Sanjay and Dhananjay should the need arise." Dr. Mule quickly disposed off all the patients in the clinic and applied himself to our protection.
Both Khalil and Dr. Mule were apprehensive that some informant might lead a mob to the Khalils place of refuge. "I did not want Dr. Mule’s family, his house and his clinic to be targeted because of us," said Khalil. At his persistence, Dr. Mule finally requisitioned an ambulance from the Jan Kalyan Trust. Dr. TP Devre accompanied the Khalil family up to Ashoka Lodge, from where they proceeded to the safety of Hudco Colony.
Haji Khursheed: Maan Gaye Pahelwan!
The Apsara Lodge, situated opposite the Bus Depot in Malegaon, is owned by Haji Khursheed Pahelwan. He and his son Salim are old Congressmen and social workers.
A diesel pump attached to the bus depot contained over seven thousand litres of diesel in stock. In all, the depot property was worth several crores. Moreover, between 2,000-2,500 people were stranded at the bus depot because of the disruption in services. As Malegaon burned, a solitary policeman was posted to cover the bus stand and the diesel pump next to it. A good judge of public mood, the veteran Khursheed Pahelwan was apprehensive that the depot might be targeted by mobs — a hunch that proved correct.
On the night of October 26, a 1,000-1,500 strong mob in an incendiary mood advanced towards the bus stand from the rear. Mustering courage, Khursheed Pahelwan rushed towards the mob and tried to pacify its ringleaders. Demonstrating considerable acuity, he was able to drill some sense into them and convinced them to disperse. The manager of the bus depot, Bhaskar Chauhan, later stated that but for Pahelwan’s presence of mind, not only would the depot have suffered property losses worth crores, the fallout of such action in the entire area would have been enormous.
The stranded passengers were given shelter in the lodges adjacent to the depot. Then, as the situation began to improve, policemen escorted the passengers in batches, to the Manmad crossing. For five days, a group of depot employees kept round-the-clock vigil over the diesel pump. Khursheed Pahelwan’s son, Salim Ansari, guarded the Hindu-owned shops in the vicinity of Apsara Lodge himself. He also provided shelter to the Hindu shopkeepers who had been stranded in the area at his lodge for six whole days, refusing to accept any payment for boarding and lodging, or telephone charges.
Because some miscreants had damaged the pipeline that supplied water to Malegaon, Malegaon also faced an acute water shortage. When this happened, the owners of Apsara Lodge allowed free access to both the bore-wells on their property. All government officials, political leaders or social workers in charge of ensuring peace in the area were given free boarding and lodging facilities at Apsara. Even ministers who visited Malegaon chose to make the Apsara Palace Hotel their base; hundreds of the affected people would come to meet the ministers at the hotel.
Subhash Malu: A one-man peace army
Subhash Malu is well known to the people of Malegaon for his
selfless service. Coming from a
When Malegaon was aflame, Malu rushed about from place to place, helping anyone in need. When he heard that a lone Muslim family – Syed Saheb, an engineer with the MSEB, his wife, a son and a daughter – who lived in the Siddhi Vinayak Colony, behind MSG College in the Camp area, was under threat of attack, he rushed to their rescue. A 2,000 strong mob was planning its attack on a family of four defenceless persons. Malu wept before the leaders of the mob, pleading for mercy, but to no avail. In fact, they threatened to kill him as well. Malu then ran to a police post, phoned MLA Shaikh Rasheed and asked him to get some police help and rush to the rescue of the trapped family. Just then, Malu ran into Yunus Isa who was also charging all over Malegaon, trying to save lives. Describing Syed Saheb and his family’s predicament, a tearful Malu asked Isa to rush some police help to the Siddhi Vinayak Colony as well. By the time Malu and MLA Rasheed reached there along with inspector Ganore, the mob had already attacked and badly injured Syed and his son. On hearing the approaching police siren, the mob vanished. The police then took Syed and his family to the city in their jeep.
Among other things, Malu is also the president of the Vasudev Balwant Phadke Trust. Throughout the disturbances, the trust’s ambulance was on the streets, escorting the city’s injured, both Muslim and Hindu, to hospital or to safer places.
‘We are safe among our Muslim brethren’
The trust that the Hindus of Dutt Nagar placed in their Muslim neighbours epitomises our hope in humanity. For four days between October 26 and October 29, Malegaon was blanketed in smoke. The raging riots and malicious rumours that were kept afloat helped fan the flames of hatred. Under the superintendent of police Raj Vardhan, the law and order machinery was saddled with dual responsibility – controlling the mobs to contain the violence, and rescuing families who were trapped or in danger of being trapped and targeted by mobs, and escorting them to safety.
Out of the blue, SP Raj Vardhan received information that over a hundred Hindu women and children were trapped amidst Muslims in Dutt Nagar, and that the Muslims had kept Hindu women locked in the Ganapati Hall there. He was also informed that their honour and their lives were in great jeopardy. Appreciating the sensitivity of the situation, the SP made urgent preparations and personally led a large police contingent to Dutt Nagar.
Situated behind the New Malegaon High School, the Dutt Nagar locality is adjacent to Raunaqabad. Until a few years ago, a considerable population of Hindus lived in the area, but over the past five years or so, they have been migrating out of Dutt Nagar, to relatively better localities. Now there are only 10 Hindu families left in Dutt Nagar. Living at the eastern edge of the city, these Hindu families were completely unaware of the rumours that belied their true predicament, totally at odds with reality. Raj Vardhan had rushed to Dutt Nagar on hearing the news. But he was stunned by what he saw on his arrival. "I will never forget the experience; it is an experience that will motivate and inspire me for the rest of my life," said Raj Vardhan. The police did find around a hundred Hindus, the majority of them women, staying in the Ganapati Hall while a group of Muslims kept vigil outside.
Responding to the SP’s questions, the Hindus informed him that they had had absolutely no problems staying there. They did not fear for their lives, nor had they encountered any difficulties in procuring food etc. "Our Muslim brothers and sisters are looking after us very well and protecting us," they said.
This came as a very pleasant surprise for Raj Vardhan. He then told the Hindus assembled in Ganapati Hall, "We have come to escort all of you out of here to a safer place." On hearing this, the Muslims protested, "These Hindus are like family to us, we will continue to protect them. If the police takes them away, it will be a blow to our feelings of togetherness and also a slur on our integrity."
Raj Vardhan then turned to the Hindus to ask them what they felt, and they said, "We feel very safe amidst our Muslim brothers. We do not want to go anywhere." Barku Ramchandra Bagul, an elderly man, intervened to say, "We wanted to leave the locality on the very first day of the rioting. But our Muslim neighbours pleaded with us to stay, and pledged to protect us. We trust them completely; we want to stay here only. We have all moved to the Ganapati Hall at their suggestion, because this way it is easier for them to ensure our security. In the past four days, rioting mobs have tried to attack us on several occasions. But hats off to our Muslim brethren! Throughout, they have stood like a wall between us and the mobs; they have even risked their own lives to ensure our safety."
On hearing all this, Raj Vardhan was full of praise for the local Muslims. But he also explained that the situation in the city continued to be quite tense and fresh incidents kept occurring. He persuaded them that in such a situation, it was better for all concerned that, as a matter of abundant caution, at least the women and the children be moved to a safe and secure place.
The next day there was fresh tension in the city and fresh incidents of violence. Raj Vardhan and his colleagues felt that if a large mob were to descend on Dutt Nagar, despite their best intentions the local Muslims could be rendered powerless. So that night, inspector Ganore from the Azad Nagar police station took a police contingent to Dutt Nagar and escorted the Hindus still staying in Ganapati Hall to the safety of Daregaon. From there, they proceeded to Kalwadi village.
Before leaving Dutt Nagar, Bagul handed over the keys of his house to Abdul Razaaq with the following instructions, "There are several bags of rice and wheat stocked in this house. Distribute it among the people in the locality as and when they need it. And you are not to accept a rupee from anyone for the same."
They stayed in Kalwadi village for 4-5 days and returned to Dutt Nagar the moment normalcy was restored in Malegaon. On their return, they were happy to see that all the Hindu homes in the locality and the property within them had been left intact. Despite Bagul’s instructions, not a grain had been taken from his house. As he was leaving, Bagul had left his goat with Salma Zaheer, which she promptly returned to him the moment he was back. Tears flowed freely as Muslims and Hindus warmly embraced each other, welcoming the latter back to Dutt Nagar.
Murlidhar Namdeo More, Eknath Sukhdeo, Vishwanath Patel, Digambar Parate, Narayan Jagtap, Ashatai Tanaji, Ashabai Rajaram, Dashrath Kashinath, Subhash Kashinath, Dashrath Tarachand, Dajiv are all residents of Dutt Nagar. They all said that for years the residents of Dutt Nagar had lived like one family, without regard to religion or economic status. "Whenever anyone has a problem, everyone rushes to help. We have learnt to share, our joys and our sorrows. We wipe each other’s tears; we also distribute our joys. That is why the bonds that unite us are unbreakable."
Seth Abdul Razzaq, Mohammed Ismail, Saeed Bhai, Mohd. Iqbal, Shafiq Ahmed, Shamsu Cyclewale, Parvez Inqilabi, Jazir Tailor, also residents of Dutt Nagar, all echo the sentiments of their Hindu neighbours.
Haji Iftikhar: Wanted, more like him
HajiIftikhar Ahmed comes from a well-to-do family. He is the proprietor and sceratary of the Is-
lamic Gymkhana in Malegaon. The spirit of social responsibility and service to society are values he has inherited from his elders. He is forever active, trying to establish contacts between people and promoting mutual goodwill. A member of the city’s Peace Committee, he has also been appointed SEO (Special Executive Officer).
At the far end of Iqbal Road, there is a settlement of Hindus called Pawarwadi. Ahmed has a farm nearby which is known as the Janata Garden. For the residents of Pawarwadi, Ahmed and his Janata Garden are always a source of support. Whenever there is any tension in the city, all residents of Pawarwadi, men, women and children, rush to take shelter in Janata Garden. In the latest round of conflict, too, Haji Iftikhar gave them shelter as always.
On day two of the violence in Malegaon, there was a lot of tension in Sangameshwar. Haji Khalil Ahmed was killed in the Diamond Mill compound while he was trying to establish peace in the area. While communicating this tragic news to Master Iftikhar, Khursheed Darakhshan, a prominent resident of Sangameshwar, also informed him that a murderous mob was on the rampage in the area and unless the police went there immediately, Darakhshan and other Muslims, too, would be killed. Realising the gravity of the situation, Iftikhar immediately contacted AdSP Suresh Ahire, who was then in the Kallu Kutti area where Bapu Bachav, a Shiv Sena shaka pramukh, had been killed. Ahire himself was faced with an extremely volatile mob. Thanks to Iftikhar’s plea to the additional SP, Ahire rushed there with a police contingent and a major tragedy was averted.
The communal ‘action-reaction’ cycle was driving the riots out of control. If Muslims were targeted in the Camp and Sangameshwar areas, Hindus in a minority in other parts of the city would fear ‘retaliation’. On hearing of the attacks on Muslims in the Camp area, the 25 Hindu families living in Pawarwadi were afraid. Ahmed visited them and brought all of them, along with their cattle, to the security of his Janata Garden. In the nearby Mira Datar Mohalla, the police had to resort to firing, and tension gripped the entire locality. Here, too, Iftikhar rushed from place to place, reassuring and comforting people.
Bapu: Restoring faith in humanity
Riots erupted in Malegaon on the evening of October 26, and by nightfall, hate and terror had spread to all parts of the city. From Sangameshwar to Pawarwadi and from Agra Road to Kallu Kutti, via Shriram Nagar to the Camp area, communal fury raged everywhere.
October 26 happened to be Dassera Day: It celebrates the day of Ravana’s defeat, a day that symbolises the victory of truth over falsehood. It was also a day when a sizeable section of the police force was on leave. Ironically, on the day that marks the overthrow of Ravana, Malegaon was seized by the communal demon. In this critical situation, public spirited and socially concerned citizens, both Hindus and Muslims, rose to the occasion and did the best they could to prevent violence in their respective localities. Notable among them was Prakash Bapu Patil, commonly referred to as Bapuji.
Prakash Patil and his younger brother, Pappu Patil, are held in high regard by Hindus and Muslims alike. Pappu Patil is a former vice-president of the Malegaon Municipality. The brothers are respected not because they are Congress leaders, not because they are members of the Peace Committee, nor because they are rich. They are widely respected because of their commitment to humane, plural and democratic values. Prakash Patil has always spearheaded initiatives for peace and amity. Bapuji believes in action more than words.
The first night of violence was quite literally an agni pariksha for Bapuji, as it was for other citizens of Malegaon. Soon after sunset, when he heard that Sangameshwar was burning and that his journalist friend, Muzaffar Shaikh’s house had also been torched, he rushed to the trouble spot. He tried to reassure people in a volatile atmosphere. While Muslims called out the azaan from loudspeakers at one end, shouts of ‘Jai Bhavani! Jai Shivaji!’ pierced the air at the other. Cries for help could be heard from every quarter. If the Diamond Mill area was being rocked by murder and arson, in Kallu Kutti a mob had attacked the mosque. Yet another mob was on the offensive near Chandanpuri Gate.
The first thing that Bapuji did was to take Muzaffar Shaikh’s family out of the area, to the safety of his own home. Immediately thereafter, he rushed back to the Chandanpuri Gate area along with Shaikh. There, they met the additional SP, Suresh Ahire. Bapuji then drove around the city along with Shaikh in the AdSP’s vehicle, appealing to all citizens to restore peace. In Kallu Kutti, they encountered a mob that was trying to set fire to a temple and a hotel. When Shaikh tried to reason with the arsonists, they turned their wrath on him. Bapuji then had to step in to reason with and pacify the agitated mob.
They had barely breathed a sigh of relief, when they heard that the Diamond Mill area was drenched in a bloodbath and that Khalil Member had been killed. Bapuji rushed to the scene along with additional SP Ahire. Women and children were pulled out of burning homes and shifted to Anjuman Chowk. From there, Bapuji rushed back to Kallu Kutti. Bapu Bachav, the Shiv Sena’s shakha pramukh from the Shriram Nagar area, had been burnt alive by a mob. Bent on retaliation, a Hindu mob had resorted to shouting slogans and heavy stone-throwing. Challenging them was a Muslim mob, also 700-800 strong, hurling stones at the rival group. Nasik district’s inspector general of police, Khanderao Shinde and the additional SP, Suresh Ahire, had both been injured in the stone-throwing. The police were about to resort to firing when Bapuji prevailed upon them not to do so. Amidst his appeals to the mobs on either side, a lathi-charge helped to disperse the crowd. Had the police resorted to firing, there is no saying how many more lives would have been lost.
Having helped restore peace at Kallu Kutti, Bapuji then travelled with AdSP Ahire to Mausam Bridge. There, a mob had targeted a mosque and the Muslim colony behind it. The police was forced to resort to an intense lathi-charge to disperse the crowd. Faced by the no-nonsense attitude of the police, the mob melted away and the mosque and the Muslims living in its neighbourhood were saved. From there, Bapuji rushed to the Camp area where a mob had surrounded and was stoning the bungalow of Khan Saheb Abdul Rahim. After dipersing the mob and reassuring the family, they next rushed to Kranti Nagar where a mob had surrounded a Muslim basti. Muslim lives and Muslim property were both under threat. Everywhere you turned, there was fire, and clouds of smoke, and armed mobs on the prowl. That night it seemed as if people were determined to consign all human values – compassion, civility, decency, humaneness, mutual trust and respect – to the leaping flames. It was as if the law of the jungle alone prevailed, as if this was to be the last night of civilised existence for the people of Malegaon.
With the help of the police, Malegaon’s messengers of peace were engaged in the rescue of weeping and wailing women and children. From the Camp area at one end to Pawarwadi at the other, the entire city seemed to be burning. From everywhere, came desperate pleas to the police for help. On Kusumba Road, two police inspectors, Patil and Gaffar Shaikh, risked their lives to remove 25 gas cylinders from a godown in a locality that was burning. Had the gas cylinders exploded, the casualties would have been immense.
By early morning, the army, which had been called into Malegaon, had commenced its flag march. It was only after that that the situation gradually began to improve. "Even today my hair stands on end when I recall the ugly incidents of that night," said Bapuji.
But even the arrival of the army only ensured an uneasy calm. Curfew was still in force, the police were engaged in combing operations and the tension was still palpable. The police and the peace makers were also anxious since Shab-e-baraat, when Muslims stay awake praying in the mosques all night, was just a few days away. In their respective localities, the role of peace keepers like Bapuji, Yunus Isa, Sharif Pahelwan, Hanif Member, Pappu Patil contributed greatly to the restoration of peace and in ensuring that Shab-e-baraat passed off peacefully.
Face–to–face with Yamdoot, then Ishaq Chacha
Shastriji (35), the owner of Navjeevan Transport, is a familiar name in Malegaon. He resides in
Soygaon village, about 5 kms west of the city. On the eastern edge of the city, is a Muslim basti where Shastriji rents a godown from a Muslim gentleman, Ishaq Zubairi. The arrangement worked without a hitch for five years. Shastriji had excellent relations with everyone and was on close terms with many in the area.
But what he experienced in the basti on October 26 is best described in his own words:
"Never in my life will I forget that terror-filled evening, an evening drenched in the blood red of the setting sun. That evening, my five employees and I virtually came face to face with Yamdoot. We could have been killed, and very cruelly so, at any moment. May God bless Ishaq Chacha and other Muslim brothers who rescued us from the bloodthirsty mob.
"Late in the afternoon of October 26, a friend had called to say that there was a lot of tension in the city but I didn’t attach much importance to what he said. After dropping my son for his tuition classes as usual, when I reached my godown, the situation seemed quite normal to me. But in next to no time there was a dramatic shift of mood. Rioting erupted near the Jama Masjid, and the police had resorted to firing on Kidwai Road. I then began to worry. I told all my employees to rush to their homes in case the violence spread, adding that I would myself stay behind in the godown since goods worth over Rs. 2 crore were stored there. But my employees insisted that there was no way they would leave me alone in such a situation.
"On hearing the shouts of an approaching mob, we quickly closed all the doors and windows and hid behind piles of gunny sacks. Outside, the sloganeering was building to a crescendo. It was as if a demon of death and destruction were advancing menacingly towards us, slowly but surely. Peeping out through a crack in one of the windows, one of my employees kept up a description of the scene outside. Every now and then, a rickshaw, cycle or motor-cycle would drive by, rushing some blood-soaked person to the Faran Hospital.
"I tried contacting the police and some influential friends, but to no avail. There appeared to be no hope of assistance from any quarter. All options appeared to be closed, as death seemed to inch closer by the minute.
"Suddenly, the door of our godown was broken down and a section of the mob charged inside. The godown was full of gunny bags and gunny cloth. Too terrified even to breathe, we crouched behind a stack of gunny bags at the far end of the godown. The arsonists unrolled a bundle of gunny bags across the godown, pulled it out of the door and torched it. The person who actually lit the gunny cloth was a boy barely 12-13 years old. Within moments, flames leapt across the godown.
"We watched, totally helpless. A certain death stared us in the face. In a last ditch battle to save our lives, we forced an opening in the rear wall, and emerged from the godown into a narrow lane. Amidst frenzied shouts of ‘Catch them! Kill them!’ we somehow managed to reach Ishaq Chacha’s house. On seeing us, he burst into tears. He quickly hid us in his house and along with other Muslim neighbours kept the mob at bay. They saved our lives.
"In no time, the entire godown, four mini-trucks and my motor-cycle, were reduced to ashes. It was as if the flames performed the dance of death. There was no hope of any help from anywhere. Back home, my entire family was in a state of frenzy, desperate for me to get back. I, too, was extremely anxious to get home. But how to get there?
"That’s when a relative of Ishaq Chacha, Latif Kasim Seth, came forward. He took his car out and, with me sitting next to him, headed towards Soygaon. Latif Seth was putting himself at enormous risk for my sake, for my family and me. By then, the entire city was up in flames. Curfew had been imposed. Huge clouds of smoke billowed out in every direction. On the way, he kept picking up every Hindu he saw on the road, and reached us all safely to Soygaon."
Concluding his account, Shastriji added, "It is true that my goods were burnt to ashes. But Ishaq Chacha, too, is left minus his godown and a monthly rental of Rs. 5,500. The rioters have done worse than destroying property and sources of livelihood; they have destroyed faith, trust, mutual respect and a tradition of togetherness. This huge chasm that they have created, who is going to bridge this divide? When? And how?"
It is a question that confronts us all, a question whose answer we are all seeking.
Islamabad’s Muslims: Keeping faith
Ispent a lot of time in Muslim localities like Dutt Nagar, Islamabad, Kila Jhopadpatti, Rasoolpura and Sangameshwar and spoke to a large number of Hindu businessmen, vendors and women who lived in or had trades, businesses located in the area. It was extremely heartening to hear every single one of them say virtually the same thing: our homes, our shops, our businesses, our goods were all safe; during the curfew period and after it was lifted, Muslims repeatedly reassured us that we had no reason to worry.
Said Popat Sadhu Kakode, a resident of Sangameshwar: "I own a ration shop in Islamabad. During the curfew period, corporator Farukh Suleiman sold the grains from my shop to the poor. But the moment I visited the area after curfew was lifted, he handed me Rs. 7,050, the amount he had realised through sales."
Similarly, Siddiq Hasan Raja sold ration from the shop of Ramesh Motilal Jain and passed on the entire amount to its owner. In Siddharthwadi and Rohidaswadi, too, the Muslims protected the Hindus in their midst. All this helped foster unity and fellow feeling between Hindus and Muslims.
A corporator and a gentle man
The area between Mausam Bridge and the Camp settlement is occupied by government offices. Behind them, are some bungalows and a few residential colonies. The residents of the area are almost entirely Hindus with a few Muslim families who reside in their midst.
Said Rajendra Bhosale, director of the Mamco Bank, also a corporator from the area, "The violence this time was particularly shameful, I will never forget what happened. You know, behind the LIC office, there are some four or five Muslim homes. When I had gone there to attend Bapu Bachav’s funeral, a mob attacked Muslim homes, forcing its occupants to run for their lives. Sachin Mahale, Santosh Kasar and Rama Pawar gave shelter to some Muslims in their homes. Meanwhile, a mob attacked the home of Qureshi Mandapwala. I ran to his house. Asif Qureshi was bleeding profusely. I wanted to get them out of there but Qureshi’s mother flatly refused to leave her home. ‘We have been born and brought up here, if we are to die, we’ll die here, too.’ Some Muslims took shelter in Ramesh Sharma’s home.
"Some labourers, Muslims, were moving about stealthily from street to street in a bid to avoid the mobs. I got all of them to gather in one place and escorted them up to the Manmad crossing. They wanted to get out of the city. It was our moral duty to protect them.
"In Ajang Vadel, a mob had surrounded the local Imam and muezzin. We rushed there and with great difficulty managed to bring them safely to Malegaon.
"I then heard that meanwhile, mobs had mounted attacks on the residence of Dr. Shakeel Syed and the mosque in Paltan. I rushed to both trouble spots and tried to reassure the Muslim brothers there. I was saddened to see the state of the mosque and promised the Muslim brothers all assistance for its repair. I also told the agitated Hindu mobs that what they had been hearing were malicious rumours. That, while Hindus who lived in Muslim majority areas were quite safe, we could not guarantee the security of a handful of Muslim families in our midst. This should be a matter of great shame for the Hindus."
A Haji does kar seva for a mandir
There are a number of Hindu families living in the vicinity
of Noorani Masjid. At the entrance to the
The incident was sensationalised by the local press and communalists, who incited Hindu passions. This resulted in violence spreading from village to village.
Meanwhile, peace makers from the Noorani Masjid area, including Haji Ibrahim Seth, Yusuf Seth Nationalwale, Iqbal Peerzada, Asif Ali Driver and others, met and together resolved to get the temple fully repaired and redecorated overnight, so that, when curfew was lifted the next day, the sight of the damaged temple would not provoke fresh violence. Wasting no time whatsoever, they immediately got down to cleaning the temple. Three masons, Sharfuddin Nasruddin Mistri, Arif Bane Miyan Mistri and Goundi Mistri, were brought in from Ayub Nagar to help with the repair work. They got hold of cement, sand, limestone and oil paint from every spot in the locality where repair work was in progress. While the masons worked on the construction, Mohan Electrician was busy with the electrical job. Haji Iqbal and Yusuf Seth procured a new idol. Once basic repairs were completed, Hindus and Muslims together decorated the temple, and the idol was installed in strict accordance with Hindu rites.
Working through the night, in the company of DySP Rathod, inspectors Sonawane, Pravin Patil and Kankare, Prashant Kashinath, Supdu Chowdhary, Tanvir Naushad, Akhlaq, Shaukat Ali Asif Ali, Shoib and Junaid Master among others, assisted Haji Ismael Yusuf Ibrahim and Iqbal Boss in the completion of a sacred task.
As expected, several groups of people came by the moment curfew was lifted, and went back happy when they saw that the temple had been redecorated and the idol was in its proper place. Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal also visited the temple and praised the Muslims for their deed.
Jijabai Pawar: Courage and compassion personified
Both Dileep Pawar and his wife Jijabai Pawar are former municipal corporators. Jijabai was also vice-president of the Nagar Parishad.
Himmat Nagar is a basti situated at the far end of Malegaon Camp. Most residents of the area are poor labourers. Here, over a hundred Muslims have been living peacefully with their Hindu neighbours for years. As far as cultural practices go, the Hindus and Muslims of Himmat Nagar have a lot in common.
During the October 2001 violence, the Malegaon Camp area was the worst hit. A mosque, a dargah, over 50 homes, shops and tapris (roadside shop), cycles, motor-cycles and trolleys were all burnt to cinders. Destroyed along with the property, fell the centuries old tradition of mutual co-existence, a commitment to elementary human values and adherence to basic codes of conduct, transmitted through generations.
In most cases, only a few locals were part of the rampaging mobs. The majority, were people from nearby villages — instigated to ‘retaliate’ in the name of religion, by people whose objectives were political. And, prompted to loot by nothing more than pure greed. These are issues that merit discussion. Discussions will continue but the emotional gulf that has been created will not easily be bridged.
Dilip and Jijabai Pawar are among those who understood what was at stake. They bravely ventured out, collected all the Muslims in the area, brought them to their home and hid them all there. Rahim Mansuri and Sandu Mansuri told this writer that after coaxing the Muslim men, women and children to sleep at night, Jijabai herself would go out and keep a night-long vigil.
The Pawars were apprehensive that the mobs might choose to attack after dark. Groups of miscreants, 50-100 strong, could be seen lurking around in the area most of the time. Day three of the violence in Malegaon also passed peacefully for the Pawars and their unusual guests. But then, as night fell, a mob of around 300, shouting provocative slogans, advanced menacingly towards the Pawar home. In a situation like this, even the most valiant, lose heart. Not Jijabai — Her steps unfaltering, she faced the crowd and her courage and deft handling of the situation was enough to disperse the mob.
The situation in Malegaon Camp was so bad that people like MLA Rasheed Shafi, Yunus Isa and others made innumerable trips to the area to escort Muslims out of there, to the city. So, Pawar says with some pride, "We did not let a single Muslim from our mohalla go anywhere else for safety. We protected every one of them, although unfortunately we could do little to protect their property."
The Ganores: Neighbours to be proud of
This story is not very different from the others. Here, too, one witnesses the struggle between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong. On the one hand, an embattled and bloodied Muslim family struggles to save their honour and their life. On the other, a mob is intent on drawing blood. Political considerations dictate the incitement of passions. Baseless rumours ignite them. In the heat of the moment, there is no space for calm consideration. The excited mob brandishes unsheathed swords. The cry is for revenge. "Life for life!" "Honour for honour!" "Izzat for izzat!" In this dark hour, there is sacrilege in the name of the sacred. In the name of Maryada Purushottam, every human value, maryada itself is cast aside.
The site of this bloody drama is the Siddhi Vinayak Colony. On the one hand, a merciless mob, and on the other, the tormented Syed family. The saviour of this hapless family is the Ganore couple.
Syed Saheb is an electrical engineer with the MSEB. Along with his wife, daughter and son, he lives on the ground floor of a building in the Siddhi Vinayak Colony. On the second floor lives Gyaneshwar Ganore, a sub-inspector at the Azad Nagar police station, with his wife Deepa and their 5-year-old son. A Bohra family lives on the third floor of the building.
Sub-inspector Ganore recounts:
"It was Dassera day. Having returned from festival shopping, my wife and I were having dinner when the telephone bell rang. It was a call from my police station. It was my senior, inspector Kankare Saheb on the line, saying that there was tension in the city, report to the police station immediately.
"Leaving everything, and cautioning my wife to be on the alert, I raced towards the police station on my motor-cycle. Near Mausam Bridge, loot and arson were in full swing. At the New Bus Stand, there was general mayhem while a mob was busy destroying public property. I reached Jamiya Road in Azad Nagar via Ghalib Road and Mushawarat Nagar. Here, the situation seemed to be under control.
"I reached the Azad Nagar police station. Kankare Saheb was busy issuing instructions to the sub-inspectors and briefing them about the latest situation in the area they were to head for and the necessary precautions they must take. I was asked to take charge of the Daregaon police chowky and told that there was a lot of tension in the area. Bhikhu Chowk, Pawar Galli, Noorani Masjid with a temple just behind it and a mixed population, all these areas were quite sensitive. You have to be on high alert. I viewed my assignment as a professional challenge.
"By the time I reached the Daregaon police chowky, the violence had spread from the main city area via Sangameshwar to the farthest end of Malegaon Camp. Wherever you turned, huge fires met the eye. Immense clouds of smoke painted the sky black. The police had already opened fire on Kidwai Road. Violence reigned.
"I was inside the police chowky trying to anticipate possible scenarios and the police response that would be necessary when the telephone bell shrieked again. It was my wife, Deepa, on the line, obviously frightened, speaking in a low voice. She said a mob, 60-70 strong, had launched an assault on our building. They were armed with swords, sickles, knives and other assault weapons. Their target was our friend Syed’s family on the ground floor, she added. She also said that having shut the iron grill on their balcony, Syed and his son were trying to put up whatever resistance they could. Both were already soaked in blood. How much longer could they hold back the murderous mob?
"My wife pleaded with me, ‘Leave everything and rush home to save the life and honour of this hapless family’."
"I was caught in a bind. I could not abandon my duty to get home. An entire area, and a very sensitive one at that, was under my charge. Tension was building up all the time and the situation was turning critical. Despite the curfew, looting, arson and killing continued. On the other hand, I had a duty towards my neighbour, the call of my conscience. Death lurked on either side. I explained my helplessness to my wife and advised her to contact the Chavni police station for help. It was not possible for me to leave my post, even though my own family was in potential danger.
"My heart and my head pulled me in opposite directions. My heart cried out for my neighbour friends who were in extreme danger, while my head demanded that I gather my thoughts together and concentrate on the situation at hand. My sub-conscious registered the clock ticking.
"Deepa phoned me again, after a short while. This time she broke down and cried. She said a fire was ablaze below our building. Syed Saheb’s motor-cycle and other property was being consigned to the flames. And now the mob had started hurling fireballs into Syed’s house. Syed Saheb had hidden his daughter under the sofa while she herself was desperately trying to extinguish the fireballs with water and her tears. The Chavni police station, friends, relations, there was no sign of help from anywhere. The rioters had even snapped the telephone cable leading to Syed Saheb’s home. Amidst heart-rending sobs, once again Deepa pleaded, unless I charged home that very moment, the Syed family would be burnt to death.
"For a moment, I was paralysed, but then I stood with fresh resolve. Fortunately, inspector Kankare arrived at the chowky just then and released me from the bind. He said, ‘Human life is too precious, it must be saved at all cost.’
"I charged home at full throttle, down the Mohammed Ali and Kidwai roads of a smouldering Malegaon. By the time I reached home, a police jeep from Chavni police chowky had also arrived. Seeing this, the rioters disappeared into the dark of the night. We brought both the Syed and the Bohra family out of the building. We rushed Syed Saheb, his son and wife to the hospital on Satana Road for treatment. And we took the Bohra family to the community’s Jamaatkhana at Panch Kandeel."
Concluding his account, Ganore Saheb said, "I am happy that I could fulfil my duty as a human being, my manav dharm. It is also a matter of great satisfaction to me that while I was away from my post (the chowky was in a Muslim-predominant locality), the Muslims in the area maintained peace and kept vigil around Hindu homes, shops and temples. I am proud of the self-discipline that my friends and brothers demonstrated."
P.S.: The traumatised Syed Saheb did not feel secure even inside the hospital. He kept pleading with his relatives and friends for assistance. When nothing worked, he himself hired an ambulance from the Medicare hospital and went to his family home in Nasik. Suryavanshi, the driver of the ambulance, was a street-smart man who reached Syed Saheb and his family to Nasik, safe and sound.
Shaikh Wasif: Trial by fire
On the night of October 26, the fire that engulfed the timber mart near the Maruti Mandir in Nihal Nagar soon spread to the hutments nearby. In this predominantly Muslim settlement, there is a sprinkling of Hindus. Initially, when the timber was set on fire, they had quickly withdrawn into their huts, thinking that they would be safe there. But as the flames swept through adjacent huts, they realised that they had to run for safety. A fire brigade team, consisting of firemen Sanjay Dadaji Pawar and Madhukar Pandurang Bachav, arrived just then.
Their first priority was to tackle the flames licking at the huts, since they would spread rapidly to the entire basti. Just then, they heard a woman screaming, ‘Bachao! Bachao!’ It turned out that the person screaming for help was an old blind woman, who was also handicapped in both legs. Being trapped in one of the huts, she was unable to come out on her own. Her son, Suryavanshi, had run out of the hut along with his wife and children, but by the time he returned to rescue the old lady, the fire had spread and she was trapped.
In the nick of time, before it was all over, the driver of the fire engine, Shaikh Wasif Jan Mohammed, virtually jumped into the fire. In next to no time, he was out again, dodging the leaping flames, the old woman safe on his shoulders. Those who had witnessed this amazing human drama couldn’t stop praising Shaikh for his daring act and tears filled every eye. The woman then underwent medical treatment from Dr. Modi in Durgawadi for three days, after which her son took her home.
Once normalcy had returned to the city, Suryavanshi went to the fire station to express heartfelt gratitude to their ‘saviours’, Pawar, Pandurang and Shaikh.
Ali’s home: A safe haven for Hindus
Amidst 45 Hindu families in Gawli Wada, along side Shaheed Abdul Hamid Road, resides the lone
Muslim family of Kazi Mohammed Ali. By the evening of October 26, this area too was gripped by violence. A volley of stones landed on Nimba Patil’s house and a mob of miscreants was trying to force its way into the lane leading to the basti. But Ali stood resolute in their path, frustrating their ugly design. By 8 p.m., the nearly 300 strong mob started looting and torching the medical store, bangle shop, video centre and other shops situated on the main road, one by one. With no sign of the police anywhere, Ali, Kedar Nath and other neighbours consulted each other and decided that all the women, children and elderly men be shifted to Ali’s building, while the young and able-bodied kept an all night vigil.
Kazi Ali told this writer, "In the meanwhile, I got news that the lives of my relations living in the Camp area, Atik Ali Khan, Syed Saheb and Munna Seth, were in danger. Other relations of mine in Sangameshwar were also in a similar situation. But I was helpless. Death stalked the streets, so movement was hazardous. And my first duty was towards the Hindu brothers and sisters who had sought the shelter of my home.
"Meanwhile, an ambulance of the Jaanta Raja arrived in our basti and took some of the Hindu brothers with them. But word got around that the Jaanta Raja people had left behind a vehicle load of weapons for the Hindus. This led to further tension in the area. At 1.30 in the morning, MLA Shaikh Rasheed took some Muslims out of the neighbouring area. This created apprehension among the Hindu brothers. There was suspicion mingled with fear. I reassured them the best I could. Somehow the night passed without incident and the next day too was peaceful."
"If Kazi Ali had not shown the courage he did, the consequences would have been tragic," said Ranu Sakharam Gawli and Kedar Nath.
Nihal Nagar: No takers for the ‘action-reaction’ theory
The Nihal Nagar and Salim Nagar mohallas stretch from Shaheed Abdul Hameed Chowk to Hing Lodge Nagar on Kusumba Road. Muslims constitute a large majority of the residents in both mohallas but most of the bigger shops and establishments are owned by Hindus. The ration shops, grocery stores and vegetable shops are all owned by Hindus who reside on the other side of the river, in Sangameshwar and the Camp area. About 15-20 per cent of the residents of these mohallas are Hindus. During communal conflicts in the past, the local Muslims had always assumed responsibility for the safety of Hindus living in their midst and for the safety of the shops.
When violence erupted on October 26, this time, too, the Muslims did their duty, despite the fact that shops, garages, khokhas and tapris owned by the local Muslims elsewhere in the city were being consigned to flames. The worst incident of arson was at the Garage Line near Mausam Bridge, in which 144 shops, big and small, were burnt to ashes.
But in Salim Nagar, the grocery stores of Chhagan Ramchandra Patil, Bapu Narayana, and Vasudev Sangeeta, the food-grain stores of Pramod Ramesh Dev and Prabhakar Omkar, Dr. Bharat’s dispensary, the hair- cutting saloons of Ramdev and Sunil, the clinic of Dr. Bharat Jadhav were all intact, throughout the disturbances in the city. The Hindu homes and shops in Salim Nagar were protected by those very Muslims whose own small businesses were being burnt just across the river, in Hindu-predominant localities.
Those who propound the ‘action-reaction’ philosophy need perhaps to take a lesson from these poor Muslims. They would do well to meet and find out for themselves, how Mushtaq Ahmed, Shaikh Yaqub, Shaikh Lukman, Haji Mohd. Usman, Shaikh Isa Shabbir, Iqbal Maniyar, Shaikh Majid Ghani, Basheer Karim Khan, Roshan Khan and Nabi Pahelwan, among others, kept round-the-clock vigil for days, to protect Hindu life and property, even as their own businesses were being destroyed.
The malevolent promoters of blatantly false propaganda about the rape of Hindu women by Muslims should visit Salim Nagar, meet Hindu women and see them going about their daily business, secure and relaxed, living congenially in the middle of a Muslim majority mohalla.
In a conversation with this writer long after normalcy had returned to Malegaon, Chhagan Patil was still overwhelmed with emotion as he recalled how Shaikh Usman had sold goods from his grocery store during the curfew period, and then promptly handed over the entire amount of Rs. 15,000 that he had collected through sales.
Khandu Seth: Protecting a stranger
MUFTI Wajid Ali narrated the following account:
"I had gone to Dabhadi and had no idea of the violence that had broken out. While I was returning home in the evening, I met Mehboob Khan Mistry near Aroma theatre who told me that there was violence all over Malegaon. So we went back to Dabhadi hoping to be safe there and I spoke to my family on the phone.
"Around sunset, the streets of Dabhadi, too, rang out with cries of ‘Jai Bhavani! Jai Shivaji!’ A mob 1,500-2,000 strong, armed with swords, lathis and other weapons was on the offensive. First they destroyed property at the Urdu school, next they targeted the dargah. Then they entered the residential area in search of Muslims.
"We were saved thanks to Khandu Seth. He quickly took Mehboob Mistry, his wife and children, and me to his house and hid us all there. He even hid my scooter in his home and kept guard outside. He sheltered us for two days until the miscreants found out that we were hiding there and launched a fresh assault.
"Realising the gravity of the situation, he called for a Tata Sumo and asked Narayan Deva, Dhandoba and his son to accompany us to Manmad. He also told them that since villages along the way had also been hit by violence, they should take us to Manmad by the road that traverses the forest. After seating me in the rear, they covered me with bed sheets so that no one would see me and identify me as Muslim. In Manmad, they dropped us at the home of Maqsood Seth and returned to Dabhadi. I returned to Malegaon after the situation had improved somewhat and curfew had been lifted."
Once things were back to normal in Malegaon, the local unit of the Raza Academy invited Khandu Seth, Namdeo Narayan Deva and their colleagues to felicitate them for their extraordinary efforts to protect the life of a man (Mufti Wajid Ali) who was a total stranger.
Ibrahim Seth: Hero to a Hindu mob!
Even three days after the initial outburst, the situation
remained far from normal. A lot of people who
One such Hindu family had been sheltered by their Muslim neighbours in Bajrangwadi. Though extremely grateful to the neighbours who had given them protection, safety for each one of them, men or women, young or old, still meant escape from their hiding place to a place where they could breathe more easily. But getting out from where they were to a safer locale involved great risks since the streets were still not free of mobsters. What was one to do?
Haji Mohammed Ibrahim and Atik Ahmed Mahindrawale proved to be their saviours. Packing the large Hindu family into a Tata Sumo, they set off on their rescue mission. Their vehicle was forced to halt near Aroma theatre, but the mob was taken by complete surprise at seeing Hindu women and children emerge from the vehicle.
Parvatibai stepped forward and said, "These Muslim brothers protected us and have now risked their own lives to drive us here." On hearing this, the mob, which had been thirsting for blood just a moment ago, underwent a radical transformation. Ibrahim Seth was showered with namaskars. Some even tried carrying him on their shoulders to parade him around as a hero.
Soon, Haji Ibrahim himself was in for a huge surprise: "As I was leaving the Camp area after dropping off the Hindu family from Pawar Galli, someone in the crowd came up to me, whispering a plea that I should visit his home. I went along with the man, to witness the extremely gratifying sight of 25 Muslim men, women, children and several teenage girls, all safe there. All seemed totally relaxed and comfortable. One of them, Ayeshabi Anwar Ali Khan, told me that the day the violence erupted, one of their neighbours, Anand Jadhav, gave them shelter in his home. But on being threatened by Hindu mobsters, he reluctantly asked the Muslims to go back to their homes."
Jadhav, an employee in the irrigation department, later confirmed this with this writer.
In this critical situation, Bhimrao Sonavane stepped forward. At great risk to himself, he took all the Muslims to his house.
Sadly, two months later, Sonavane, a gem of a human being, and his wife both died in a road accident.
KN Ahire: A friend in need
The story of Shaikh Salim Usman Ghani, laboratory in-charge,
Wadia Hospital, and his wife, a
Ghani and his wife lived in a bungalow called ‘Tamanna’, behind the PWD office. In this almost exclusively Hindu colony, they lived quite amicably with their neighbours and had many friends. When the rioting spread through the city on October 26, a few other Muslim families residing in the area moved to the main city. But Ghani, who trusted his neighbours and friends entirely, saw no reason to move.
On October 27, the situation in the area turned increasingly menacing, with armed mobs moving around the area in search of Muslim targets. The ‘Ashiana’ bungalow in the area had already been burnt down the previous night. Fortunately, people like Yunus Isa had succeeded in rescuing the family living there.
Ghani telephoned his professor friend, Ahire, requesting him to come over. When Ahire reached there, the mobsters pulled back but hung around in the vicinity. Ghani wanted to leave for the safety of Nasik, since he had no relations or close friends in Malegaon city. Ahire advised his friend to pack their bags and prepare to move out of the area.
Said Ahire, "I had hardly returned to my house, when Ghani phoned once again. I rushed back and reached my friend’s house inside of four minutes. Seeing me come back, some of the mob dispersed but others stayed put, raining stones on Ghani’s house. Some were even hurling fireballs into the bungalow through broken windows. Others approached the bungalow with obvious plans to torch the house. Appealing to their better sense was of no avail."
Fortunately for the couple, Subhash Kulkarni, the auditor of the Malegaon municipal corporation, arrived on the spot just then. He had rushed there in response to Ghani’s telephonic appeal for help. Somehow, Kulkarni had convinced an acquaintance of his to drive the Ghani couple to Satana, from where they could proceed to Nasik. His acquaintance was reluctant because vehicles were being stopped on the road, passengers were being pulled out and killed by mobs, and only agreed on the condition that Kulkarni himself travelled with the couple to Satana, a demand to which Kulkarni readily assented.
After reaching Nasik from Satana, Ghani telephoned his friend Kulkarni to thank him for his help. On being asked what had become of the bungalow, Kulkarni replied, "It is now just a heap of ashes."
Shahadat brothers: Trust them with your life
This is the story of Sarjerao Uttam Patil (46). He has lived
amidst Muslims for as long as he can re
Patil recalled that on October 26, he was stuck in Bayana when the rioting started. When he called home, he was informed that social workers, Fakir Mohammed Shahadat and Noor Mohammed Shahadat, had taken his entire family to their home in the Habib compound. For three days and nights, the Shahadats kept an all night vigil.
Prabhakar Patil, Dilip Patil and the female members of the family whom this writer spoke to were full of praise for the way the women members of the Shahadat family, the Shahadat brothers and other local Muslims looked after them throughout their stay. Showing great courage and presence of mind, the Shahadat brothers, Mohammed Haroon, Mohammed Farooq and others thwarted the malicious designs of mobs on more than one occasion.
Thanks to these Muslims, the Hindu family in their midst and Hindu shops in the area remained safe and secure. Fakir Shahadat said that alerted by the attack on the cement and kerosene shop of Ajay Seth, the Muslim youth in the area set up a strict vigil to ensure that nothing happened to Ravi Workshop, Dilip Electric, Omega Electric, Eastern Transport etc.
To Sarjerao Patil, it is a matter of great joy that his decades old experience of inter-religious amity survived the trial by fire this time as well.
Sawant sisters: ‘Had anything happened to our neighbours...’
Shriram Nagar is among the more communally sensitive localities of Malegaon. The Shiv Sena’s Bapu Bachav, who was killed on the first night of rioting in Kallu Kutti, was a resident of this area. His death greatly agitated the youth of Shriram Nagar. Bent on retaliation, a mob in an extremely ugly mood, targeted the four Muslim families living behind Ramraj Hotel.
First, they ransacked the house of Manzoor Khan’s sister, and then, they set upon the house of Ms. Anjum, a schoolteacher. The next targets of the mob, numbering several hundred, were the families of Shaikh Rafi, a correspondent with the daily Lokmat, and Shaheed Raza, owner of a music shop. The journalist was in his newspaper office at the time.
It was at this crucial juncture that the Sawant sisters boldly stepped forward. Showing both courage and tact, they foiled the malicious intent of the mob. Pramod Sawant is also a journalist, a correspondent with the Marathi daily, Sakal. His father, Daga Anand Sawant, is a retired policeman. It was Pramod’s fearless wife, Manisha, who led a squad of other Hindu women and brought back members of the two Muslim families to their home. Mindless of the threats and intimidation by mob leaders, they kept up a 24-hour vigil for three days and three nights.
Manisha kept in constant touch with her journalist husband, who, in turn, would get in touch with senior police officials, thus ensuring regular police patrolling of the area and the arrival of police squads at critical moments.
"Had anything happened to our Muslim neighbours, I would never have forgiven myself and would have lived with that guilt for the rest of my life," Manisha Sawant was to tell this writer later.
To Budha Patil, Murlidhar, Kisan and friends, Salaam!
The story of Ajang Vadel is similar to that of other places. A bloody dramawas enacted here, too. On October 27, an armed mob attacked Muslim homes and the local mosque, and Muslims had to flee to save their lives. That’s when Budha Patil from Dhangar Galli came forward as a saviour. He welcomed the fleeing Muslims to his house as he himself took guard outside, defying the menacing mob. Ajang and Vadel are two contiguous villages with about 25 Muslim homes, a madrassa and a mosque. The fire that engulfed the Muslim homes and the mosque also sparked compassion in the hearts of some village elders. Rajaram Shirode, Murlidhar, Kisan Sonavane, Salvi Ram, Mahadu Wagh and Budha Patil took it upon themselves to turn their area into a fortress, where they fed and provided protection to the 150-200 Muslims for more than a week. The residents of Dhangar Galli together shared the costs of feeding the dishoused Muslims. After normalcy returned, they escorted these Muslim families to Malegaon. Once the dust had settled, some Muslim families returned to the village while others were afraid to do so. Even later, when this book was being written, Budha Patil and Salvi Ram were still trying to convince the reluctant Muslims to return to their village.
Patil Brothers: True to a tradition
Abdul Aziz, a resident of Kidwai Road, says he will remain forever obligated to the brothers,
Ghanshyam and Bharat Patil. Risking their own lives, they pulled his sister and her husband’s 13-member family from the jaws of almost certain death.
Aziz’s sister and her husband, Shaikh Lateef Shaikh Usman, reside in a lane across the Paltan Road mosque. Being the only Muslim family in the locality, they were the obvious targets of mobs during the riots. Given the years of fellowship and camaraderie, and the assurance of his Hindu neighbours, Lateef had not thought it necessary to move out to a safer place. But on the second day of the disturbances, a mob armed with swords, trishuls, knives, etc., gathered near their house, and the lives of this 13-member joint family were in danger.
The Patil brothers, who also live on Kidwai Road, were having their dinner when they received a call from their old friend Aziz Seth, pleading, "Please save my sister and her family." Forgetting their meal, the two brothers rushed to the rescue.
Said one of the brothers, "Fortunately, we saw a sub-inspector from the traffic police department buying medicine at the local medical store. We explained the situation to him and appealed to him for assistance. The sub-inspector had come there to buy medicines for senior SP Kedare. We immediately phoned Kedare Saheb and informed him that 13 lives were at risk. Hearing this, Kedare instructed his junior, ‘Forget my medicines, save lives first. That’s more urgent than my medicines’."
The Patil brothers immediately took out their car and rushed to the trouble spot along with the police officer, driving through the crowd to Lateef’s doorstep. "Leave everything and come with us right away," they told the family. The family did as they were told and all 13 members were driven to Aziz Seth’s residence.
Muzaffar Shaikh: Between a mob and a mandir
Vandalism, loot, arson and destruction ruled every where on the dark night of October 26 in Malegaon. In the Kallu Kutti area, there was a total breakdown of law and order. When SP Suresh Ahire rushed there along with journalist Muzaffar Shaikh and Prakash Bapu Patil, they found that a mob had set on fire the rear of the mosque adjoining the Shah Baba dargah. In response to an announcement on loudspeakers from the mosque, a mob 4,000-5,000 strong assembled there in next to no time.
SP Ahire and Shaikh were finding it difficult to pacify the agitated mob. Some of them said, "The police did nothing when our mosque was torched. Now we are going to burn down the temple in the maidan, come what may." As they moved towards the temple, kerosene cans in hand, Shaikh blocked their path and said, "Our religion does not teach us to burn another’s place of worship. If we burn the temple, what difference will there be between us and those who have burnt the mosque?"
"Let’s burn this fellow before we burn the temple," said one of the agitated youth, pouring some kerosene on the journalist’s head. But Shaikh refused to budge. Ahire and Patil ran to pull Shaikh out of the crowd. DIG Khaderao Shinde, who had rushed to the spot with additional policemen, was injured, along with others, in the stone-throwing by the mob. But Shaikh’s courage and determination saved the day and the temple was left undamaged.
Copyrights © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.