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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 42, New Delhi, October 10, 2015

Today‘s Imperative / Moradabad: What Really Happened

Saturday 10 October 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

In the wake of the horrendous incident in Bisada village at Dadri, we reproduce here N.C.’s editorial in Mainstream Annual 1980 highlighting the happenings in Moradabad in August 1980. It is followed by the reproduction of a first-hand report by a Special Correspondent on the Moradabad riots that was published in this journal’s August 23, 1980 issue.

Today‘s Imperative

The time has come when we can no longer afford to indulge in mutual recrimination. The time has come for us to hang our heads in shame.

What has happened at Moradabad is a blot on our patriotism. No amount of quibbling, finding fault with each other, can save us from the ignominy of having to face a situation in which citizens of this country were shot dead by the police for the crime of belonging to a minority community. It is an indication of the magnitude of corrosion of our political life that the guardians of law and order should themselves have turned communal.

Many arguments have appeared in the last few weeks to show that the minority community itself has turned recalcitrant. But these provide no justification whatsoever for brazen attempts at scaring it into a sense of insecurity. If any citizen of our Republic has to face the prospect of his or her life and living being in utter jeopardy because of his or her belonging to a particular community, it not only brings disgrace to the nation but destroys the very democratic fabric of the Republic itself.

It is not a question of hidden hands not being there. Agents provocateur galore are active today in many parts of the country, from the Valley of Kashmir to the hills and plains of the North-East. Saudi funds have no doubt poured in, as have resources of different kinds from Pakistani agencies, since they are mere surrogates of the mightier power or powers whose rulers have long been engaged in creating destabilisation in our country because this nation, its Government and its people have remained unbending before the frowning of those mighty powers. But all this can hardly provide an alibi for our own negligence at home.

What has been attempted recently in Kashmir brings out clearly the sinister designs of far-flung transnational agencies not only to unleash anarchy but a state of virtual civil war. Sheikh Abdullah’s prompt action in snuffing it out has not only saved Kashmir but has shown how swift and firm handling of even the most difficult situation can defuse it. In this background, the rather intemperate attacks on Sheikh Abdullah by some of the local leaders claiming to be secular only a few weeks before, bring out their infantile short-sightedness in gauging the explosive situation in the Valley.

It is a matter of gravest concern for our democracy that the police in UP, particularly in Moradabad, should have misbehaved as they did. For quite some time past, the blatant irregularities in the conduct of the UP police—at Baghpat, for instance—have been shielded by politicians beholden to the very same police for petty partisan gains. No doubt this has emboldened the police to the point of forgetting their primary role as the protector of the public. Added to this is the undeniable reality that in some of the States in the Hindi belt, the police force itself has been subjected to the infection of communal malig-nancy. The Prime Minister is right in warning against maligning different arms of the adminis-tration, and yet it will be playing into the hands of the communalist forces themselves, Hindu and Muslim, if the grave misconduct of the police in Moradabad and such other places does not attract swift and exemplary punishment.

Indira Gandhi carried conviction with a vast section of her countrymen when she rebuked the Janata Government for its failure to protect different communities. But if the police under Janata Raj were party to a pogrom against Muslims in Aligarh, the police under her Government have shown no better record at Moradabad. It would be betrayal of the electoral mandate she has won twice over this year if she cannot put down with a heavy hand any manifestation of communalism in any section of the administration.

The media too have a responsibility which they have yet to fulfil. It is not a mere question of asserting the right to publish how many are hit from which community or even unearthing the hidden hands behind communal tensions, however important that may be. Overriding everything else, there must be constant reiteration of the citizen’s right to be protected and respected. It is ignoble on the part of the Fourth Estate to be patronising to the minority community, or to harp on the separate identity of any community. No self-respecting Muslim would like to be patted, or treated as somebody apart. It was shocking to learn that over the Government-owned radio, a distinguished journalist talked about the separate identity of the Muslims—that they are different in the way they look, dress, eat, worship and believe.

Let it not be forgotten in the heat and dust of the tension-charged atmosphere of today how much India with her rich culture owes to Islam, to those who are its votaries. The magnificent river of India’s great civilisation is fed by many a stream of which Islam has been one of the mainsprings. It is precisely for this reason that our national leaders refused to accept the proposition that the partition of the country effected in 1947 was along communal principles, and rejected the notorious two-nation theory.

In fact, what we have been witnessing today, this alienation of the Muslim community—acquiesced in, if not connived at, by many of the leaders of public opinion in this country—is the pernicious legacy of the partition of India. Thirty-three years after that black spot in India’s history, even today many look upon a Muslim as a stranger in this, his own land, while many a Muslim is forced to look upon Pakistan as his or her haven. There could be no worse commentary on Indian democracy. It is not a question of offering protection to a minority community, it is a question of recognising it as an integral part of the nation, its members as patriots in their own right, and whose forefathers had joined hands in building the rich civilisation of which every Indian is proud. Let us not dissect a Muslim as an alien, because that would amount to dispossessing the Indian nation of one of its vital components. There can be no India without the Muslim being a part of it.

We look down upon the rulers of Pakistan not because they are Muslims, but because they have trampled upon democracy in their own country and permitted their country to be subservient to foreign-power overlordship. A Badshah Khan or a Sheikh Mujib could never be an alien in this land.

Moradabad should shake up every patriotic Indian. No party, no individual worker claiming to be Indian can escape responsibility for what has happened there and what is still happening at many of the tension-spots in northern India.

No doubt it is part of the parliamentary game that the Opposition parties should try to exploit every shortcoming of the Government, and hold up before the public all its sins of omission and commission. At the same time, every party has a responsibility to the people of India, a sacred national trust. It would be betraying that trust if it did not fight with its own resources, however limited these may be, any danger to the common national well-being. The menace of communalism today is creeping into even educated circles. Many of these are not stirred by the enormity of communal hatred destroying our national fabric.

Administrative measures, however well-meant and effective, cannot cope with this menacing phenomenon. The frightening problems of Muslim alienation can be solved only by a sustained mass campaign. It is a measure of the bankruptcy of our political life today that the national leaders of no political party have cared to go and camp in Moradabad in the way Gandhiji used to do in much more difficult circumstances. Noakhali, Bihar and Calcutta were no stunts on his part, they were part of a crusade for national-building, staking his own life for the protection of his fellow-citizens. The brassworker at Moradabad or the teacher at Aligarh cannot function only under police protection even if the police force is purged of the virus of communalism. With all the tall talk about defending national integration, where are the leaders to undertake the crusade?

Much is heard nowadays about youth power and scores of seminars and symposia have been called to discuss the urgency of consolidating national integration. But here is a live case where the dynamics of the urge for national integration can be tested out on the spot. Is it not a shame that no national level youth organisation has so far deemed it necessary, its sacred task, to go to the areas of communal pogroms in large goups to undertake relief work, to help the fear-stricken by living with them, restore normalcy and in the process educate themselves about the urgency of national integration?

Our value-system has been shattered, and it is time we thought of a genuine cultural revolution to lift this nation of six hundred million out of the morass of demoralisation to a realisation of its own greatness. As the first step towards such a cultural revolution, the fight against communalism in all its ugly manifestations, overt and covert, needs to be taken up.

Towards that objective of nation-building, Mainstream once again dedicates itself as it com-pletes eighteen years of its modest but purposeful existence, and steps into the nineteenth.

(Mainstream Annual 1980)

o o o

Moradabad: What Really Happened


“Police par junoon tari tha”, remarked Hafiz Mohammad Siddiq, one of the most respected leaders of Moradabad town. The words meant that the ‘police had gone completely berserk’. Siddiq, Congress-I MLA from Moradabad town, had just given the details of what he himself had seen and experienced at the Idgah on the fateful morning of August 13.

Many reports have appeared in the national press on the disturbances in Moradabad on the day of Id celebrations. But almost all of them are largely police versions of the incident—versions which have undergone many a change. None of the ‘investigative’ journalists cared to meet the really secular and democratic elements among the mass leaders of Moradabad to get a clear picture of the tragedy that befell the town and in spite of which Moradabad is not, as has been made out in a section of the media, a symbol of communal frenzy in the sense in which such a view is under-stood widely.

What is of supreme importance for a highly communally sensitive place like Moradabad is that the disturbances of August 13 were not communal in nature—nor did they turn communal in the subsequent days. How could this happen surmounting desperate police attempts to lend it a communal colour? To get at the root of the question, one should note that ever since the Lok Sabha elections this year, communal elements had been gradually cornered in this town. The Assembly elections for the first time witnessed Siddiq, the popular Congress-I leader, breaking the usual communal lines of voting to win the seat with a thumping margin of 26,000 votes. He secured a massive 40,000 votes, that is, he had the confidence of both Hindus and Muslims in equal measure.

This fact of paramount significance was also reflected in the latest Moradabad disturbances when, braving the gravest provocations from the custodians of law and order, the entire range of riots remained confined to street or house battles between a section of the minority community and the police (the minority community being the worst victims, as is clearly revealed from even the official figures of casualties dished out), with a few instances of lumpen elements allegedly employed by the police attacking and killing some members of minority families.

According to a senior CPI leader of the locality, Anees Jalali, the police action has not been able to break the strong bonds of communal amity, notwithstanding all the efforts of the adminis-trative officials. What is singularly noteworthy is that both Hindus and Muslims have condemned the police misdeeds, “unprecedented in Moradabad’s history”.

President of Moradabad Ward Congress-I Committee Altaf Hussain and also General Secretary of Moradabad Town Congress-I Committee Shamsul Islam said they had seen how Hindu traders had denounced the role of the police when the police and the PAC were looting Muslim shops in Mandi Chowk at 4 pm on August 13.

Now let me return to Siddiq. He looked haggard and tired that night when we called on him at his place. It was that same day—August 13—an auspicious day turned into a black day of sorrow. Siddiq said he had himself seen about 150 bodies, a large number being those of children, in the Idgah and Galshahid areas.

Were you there when the firing took place? Siddiq nodded in the affirmative. When we saw the police resorting to indiscriminate firing, he tried to implore the officers to call a halt to it. He had in his arms a small child hit by bullets. But his requests were of no avail.

And then Siddiq disclosed something which has not been mentioned in any national daily. The bodies of the dead were all assembled by the police, thrown into trucks and driven away towards Sambhal.

The Congress-I leaders, including Siddiq, were emphatic in claiming that most of the deaths had taken place as a result of police firing.

This correspondent is convinced that the police in the beginning had deliberately tried to suppress the number of civilians killed. On the first day while details were given about the police constables on duty killed and injured (the names of the three deceased policemen were released and it was said that 16 more had been injured, three of them seriously), the number of civilians who died was kept as low as 21. The next day, when attempts to cover up proved fruitless, the figure jumped to 81 (with four policemen and one Provincial Civil Service man making the official total 86). On August 18, the number of dead was officially placed at 112, most of these being those killed on August 13 at the Idgah.

The police tried to make out a case that most of the people, including children, were killed on August 13 at the Idgah on account of a stampede following police firing and not directly as a consequence of being hit by bullets from the side of the police. Eyewitness accounts—including that of the local Imam Syed Qaari Dr Kamal Fahim (Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery, Aligarh) who conducted the Id prayers at the Idgah—were very different. Dr Fahim categorically stated that he had himself seen persons in three safs (rows in which they stand to offer prayers at such congregations) lying on the ground inside the Idgah. They had been hit by bullets fired within the Idgah. In Dr Fahim’s own words: “There were 125 of them, dead and injured, some of the latter breathing their last. I implored the DM to send the injured immediately to hospital. But he did not pay any heed.”

He went on: “At that time a truck came and stopped at the main gate of the Idgah. I thought it had been brought to carry the injured to the hospital. Police descended from the truck. First lathi-wielding police and then armed police entered the Idgah and proceeded towards the injured and the dead. Relatives of the injured and the dead refused to let them take away the bodies. I told the Dy SP leading the police force: ‘We will allow the bodies to be handed over to you, but you ask your men to go out of the Idgah compound.’ But instead of listening to me he ordered a lathi charge, and firing inside the Idgah was resumed. People began to run helter-skelter. The police then ame forward, dragged the bodies and put them in the truck. When I saw the bodies being dragged into the truck, I told the Dy SP: ‘They are human beings, not animals. They should not be dragged like this and dishonoured.’ A policeman pushed me aside and said: ‘We will trhow the bodies this way.’ At that point I went and sat down on the front seat of the truck so as to ensure to that the injured were taken to the hospital. But the police pushed me out and threw me on the road. I got hurt on the right thigh.”

The authorities claim that extremist Muslims were behind the disturbances in Moradabad. There is nothing in this writer’s possession to contest or confirm this assertion. One really does not know from where the pig or pigs intruded into the congregation and who, if at all, drove the animal or animals there, though according to Maulana Ishaq Sambhali (former CPI Member of Parliament from Sambhal) and Hafiz Mohammad Siddiq, the pigs strayed into the Id congregation “not by accident, and they came from the side where the police were posted” and “hence the Muslims’ contention that the police should have prevented the pigs from entering the congregation was quite justified”.

But all this will have to be ascertained by the judicial inquiry instituted into the incident. It could well be that some extremist Muslims began the brickbatting. Whether such elements had foreign arms with them will no doubt be gone into during the inquiry.

However, it is absolute nonsense to claim, as the editor of a widely circulated New Delhi daily has done, that “no one can possibly dispute it (that the attack on the police in Moradabad was clearly pre-planned) in view of the fact that some members of the congregation at the Idgah had brought knives, draggers and even firearms with them”. This is the height of fantasy. Even the police, who first claimed that there was firing from the Muslim mohalla behind the Idgah (later this was changed to suggest that the Muslims behind the Idgah had first attacked the police with firearms) never said that those in the congregation of Muslims offering prayers inside the Idgah were armed. In fact police officers and local policemen whom this reporter met clearly pointed out that the one lakh congregation inside the Idgah was totally peaceful. Only those outside had turned unruly and violent, they said.

The point to note is that even if a section of Muslims (belonging to the extremist fringe) was bent upon creating trouble, the majority of them had no such motive. Why then did the police strengthen the extremist Muslims by their action? It is here that one is compelled to accept the local Imam’s observations. He said: ”I feel this is a conspiracy of the administration with persons who are prejudiced. I must point out that nowhere did I find any Hindu-Muslim tension. All responsibility for the incident on August 13 at the Idgah and the adjoining areas rests on the police and the administratio. It is they who are to be blamed.” Also relevant in this context is the opinion of Maulana Ishaq Sambhali and Hafiz Mohammad Siddiq. “We must say,” they affirmed, “that if the police had not provoked the people by opening fire, then these unfortunate developments would not have taken place... If the police had made immediate arrangements for sending the injured to hospital, many lives would have been saved...The Moradabad disturbances bring out in sharp focus the callous rejection of life. This is unprecedented.”

Both the Central and State governments have been prompt in taking certain administrative measures like removing the District Magistrate and SSP in view of the grave complaints against them. Now the duty is to initiate political action by way of setting up popular relief and peace committees comprising representatives of all secular and democratic parties in all affected localities to instil confidence in the people. It is only through such political activity that normalcy can be restored. And this should not be difficult precisely because the Moradabad riots were not communal in character.

Moradabad has highlighted the crying need to change our administrative and police set-ups and give them a new orientation. The UP PAC’s record is notorious. This correspondent also had a taste of the local police’s highhandedness before the Kotwali Police Station in Moradabad on August 14. But it is strange that renowned columnists are demanding “boosting up” of the administrators’ and police’s morale. They are actually hinting at something ominous. If the Government, which has displayed remarkable promptitude despite administrative callousness, follows the aforementioned suggestion, it would mean literally playing into the hands of extremist saboteurs in the Jamaat-e-Islami and the RSS.

The need of the hour is to reinforce the secular political elements who alone can preserve, protect and further communal harmony with the active cooperation of the Government and the assistance of vigilant, forward-looking, healthy and far-sighted administrators. And they are the best guarantee against the police going berserk.

(Mainstream, August 23, 1980)