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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 46, November 8, 2014

Meerut: The Danger Signal

Sunday 9 November 2014

November 7 this year marks the birth centenary of Prof Santimay Roy, distinguished freedom fighter (he served a total of 12 years imprisonment and internship in British India), Communist and former member of the National Integration Council (1968-79) who played a prominent role in dousing the flames of communal fratericide in different parts of the country in the post-independence period.

Born on November 7, 1914 in Mymensingh district (now in Bangladesh), Prof Roy tirelessly helped the Bangladesh liberation struggle in 1971 and offered unstinted material assistance to it in manifold forms—something eminent citizens of Bangladesh have not forgotten. It was thus quite natural that the first message of condolence following his demise came from Bangladesh.

An educatioinist of distinction Prof Roy was the Head of the Department of History, City College, Calcutta. He was also a Visiting Professor at Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta.

On August 13, 1999 he passed away in New Delhi. A memorial meeting was held in New Delhi on August 22, 1999 to offer homage to Prof Roy. Those who spoke on the occasion included Ms Kapila Vatsyayan, Prof Muchkund Dubey, Dr Arjun Sengupta, Dr Mubashir Hasan (Pakistan), Ms Rokeya Kabir (Bangaldesh), distinguished personalities represting the Bangladesh High Commission and Embassy of Vietnam, Romesh Chandra.

As a tribute to his memory on this occasion, we are reproducing excerpts from an article Prof Roy wrote on the Meerut riots in 1987. It appeared in Mainstream (July 18, 1987). These are of exceptional importance in the present situation. We are also reproducing a tribute to Prof Roy by Prof P.C. Joshi, the eminent social scientist (who had rich experience in studies on India’s agrarian economy) that appeared in this journal’s Sptember 25, 1999 issue. (Since then both Dr Arjun Sengupta and Prof P.C. Joshi have departed from our midst.)

by Santimay Roy

The communal violence in Meerut in April-May this year may be compared only with the riots that took place in Punjab at the time of partition in 1947 or with the subsequent riots at Ahmedabad in 1969 and at Jamshedpur in 1978.

Never before were the two communities so sharply polarised not only in Meerut but in the whole of UP and in neighbouring Delhi as they are today... According to Yusuf Qureshi, a young advocate, the Meerut convulsion began not with the Sab-e-Barat incident at Shapir Gate on April 14 when a few sparks of a cracker hit a Krishna idol and touched the left foot of a police sub-inspector. Allegedly, the drunken officer fired two shots, killing three innocent Muslims.

In fact, long before this incident, throughout March, the social atmosphere got polluted by the acromonious debate over the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue...

....The first phase of the communal riots started on April 14, in the atash-bazi incident in connection with Sab-e-Barat, as earlier mentioned. It was about 9 pm when the rioting and looting started. Police at Indira Chowk remained passive onlookers, as did the Fire Brigade. Hazi Elias Ansari and Md Hafiz Zaman Ansari made heroic efforts to bring the frenzied mob to sanity. The situation became near normal when the PAC and Armed Police intervened with a heavy hand. For the time being, the violence subsided only to make a renewed outbreak on May 18 to spread to the historic cantonment city. Unfortunately, not even routine measures for restoring peace were initiated. For nearly a month, communal destablisers went on with their unrelenting physical and emotional preparation for a second bout for mutual annihilation, while the administration remained busy elsewhere.

The second phase started on May 14 at 9 am. Two bombs were hurled on two Muslim houses at Chatta Taki Mia in Parimal Bazar during the Roza break. One Islamuddin was hit and he died. Police came and went away, making no impact. On May 15, again a bomb was hurled on a Muslim house from a nearby Hindu house. Tension rose high, causing one death. May 16 passed uneventfully. On May 17, one Ajay Sharma was murdered. He was allegedly a police informer who was a witness to the bomb-throwing by someone from the Hindu community.

The third phase began on May 18. There was an explosion at night at the Suraj Kund area dominated by Hindus. A Muslim shop was set on fire. In retaliation, a Hindu shop at Imlian was set fire to. Rumours and counter-rumours led to widespread disturbances in the whole area in which the Bhurisha Mazar was destroyed. The Laxmi confectionary shop was set on fire and a Hindu shopkeeper was roasted alive. The flames of hatred were further fanned by persistent rumour-mongering on a large scale in which even gadgets like taperecorders were used to confuse the public. Then firing started and the Muslims were shot.

On May 19, at the time of Sahari, around
3 am, the local police alongwith PAC jawans entered the Muslim dominated Shahpur Gate to search Muslim houses for the suspected assassins of Ajay Sharma. Muslims strongly objected to this. In response to a call from the Masjid to perform korbani to defend their honour and religion, women and children came out on the streets and put up a human barricade. Uni-formed men drove their jeep through and over this human blockade, crushing serveral persons, including a seven-year-old child, to death.

As many as 118 arrests were made. The brutality of the police made the minority community sullen and frenzied. This in turn invited further retaliatory and indiscriminate firing from the police. Excited mobs came out openly and the first victim was the well-known doctor and social worker, Prabhat Kumar, who was on his way to attend a patient. He was burnt alongwith his car near Zakir Nagar. This was the beginning of the most horrible phase of communal violence in Meerut, surpassing all previous records in barbarity.

The areas engulfed were Maliana, Mia Mohammed Nagar, Hashimpura, Gujuri Bazar, Transport Nagar, Suraj Kund, Defence Colony, Shastri Nagar, Katkipool, Imlian, Hapur Road and Khatti Road. Reliable sources suggest that the number of dead might be over three hundred and that of the injured over a thousand. The loss of property is estimated at around Rs 15 crores. A large number of cotton yarn shops in the Golakua area was destroyed. Their owners were Hindus but most of the customers were Muslim weavers, who took loans from the owners. Such instances can be multiplied. For example, the Laxmi Textiles and Sindhwal Textiles met with the same fate during the first day of the riots. There is an element of trade rivalry and some pre-planning might not be ruled out.

It seems that the administration in order to cover up its inept handling and partisan attitude throughout the troubled days, is creating confusion in the minds of the people. Now, the administration is blaming one party or the other for the communal riots and giving exaggerated figures of the losses sustained by a particular community to justify its turning on the hapless Muslim workers who did not know what was happening around.

The trouble was allegedly started by Muslim hooligans and it is said that Muslim communa-lists this time were not less prepared and were the first to go on the offensive from April 18 to April 19 noon. They are also reported to have competed with the Hindu communalists of Ahmedabad in committing crimes like burning people alive. But this cannot be used as a justification for the atrocities perpetrated against innocent Muslims. Action against hooligans is one thing but retaliation against innocent persons is a heinous crime and there is no language too strong to condemn those responsible for this. It is also difficult to overlook the dubious role played by the district administraion and the highly reprehensible role of the PAC.

Physically fit youths and even elderly persons were dragged out of their houses and made to stand in the open for hours, beaten mercilessly and killed. Some of the dead bodies were handed over to their relatives but most people were not traceable. There are cases of violation of modesty of girls at Maliana.

Apart from the killings, the bussiness and trade of both communities has been badly hit in the wake of the riots. There is a top-level coordination somewhere at some level—as there was in Ahmedabad and Jamshedpur—between anti-socials and satta gamblers of all hues. The houses of Muslim weavers alongwith their powerlooms were burnt and there is no hope of their being able to stand up on their feet again. Daily wage-earners and labourers have left the place. Tension is being kept alive by rumour-mongers. The attempt is on to widen the gap between the Hindus and Muslims so that whatever goodwill remains is totally destroyed.