This year’s riot was massive
Blood rained thick and fast
Next year’s electoral harvest
Will be handsome indeed.
- Gorakh Pandey
During this year’s Ramnavami, the Muslim community became the target of a well-planned loot and destruction. The words of Gorakh Pandey have turned out to be embarrassingly true. In recent times, there has been a well-organized effort to push Bihar towards communal frenzy and on this occasion Bihar Sharif has been maximally affected. The BJP has been using the Ramnavami to further its violent projects on a national scale and have converted the festival into a political instrument. Religious festivals are not supposed to be occasions for brandishing swords but the increasing use of religious festivals to spread communal violence and aggression has emerged as a key feature of Indian fascism.
The wide spread violence and loot witnessed in Bihar Sharif and Sasaram on March 31 was part of BJP-RSS game plan to harvest votes ahead of 2024 polls by dividing the society on communal lines. In Bihar Sharif, not only was the Madarsa Azizia and its library burnt down and completely destroyed but also the Sogra College was damaged. Shops belonging to the Muslim community were also systematically destroyed.
Soon after the communal frenzy of March 31, a fact-finding team (FFT1) of CPIML visited the affected areas in Bihar Sharif to carry out preliminary investigation. The team included the leader of the party’s legislative team in the Bihar Assembly Mehboob Alam, Phulwari MLA Gopal Ravidas, Kumar Parvez, Nalanda District Secretary Surendra Ram, the local party leader Pal Bihari Lal, Nasir Sahab and some local activists. This was the first such team to visit the area after the incident.
A second fact-finding team (FFT2) of AIPWA and CPIML visited the area on April 9 for a comprehensive study. This team was composed of AIPWA National Secretary Meena Tiwari, AIPWA State Secretary Shashi Yadav, MLA Gopal Ravidas, Afshan Zabeen, Anita Sinha, Arifa and Juhi Nisha and others. Members of FFT2 were stopped by the administration from visiting the violence affected areas, but with the help of locals some members of the team were able to enter these areas stealthy to meet people and investigate the sequence of events. A third fact finding team (FFT3) comprising of comrades Nand Kishore Paswan, Ravi Shankar Ram and Kaisar Nehal the visited affected areas in Sararam.
All the three fact-finding teams and their investigation witnessed a similar pattern in the violence that took place in Bihar Sharif and Sasaram. The violence that took place was not instantaneous but a part of pre-planned conspiracy hatched by the BJP-RSS and other right-wing groups. For months, the local BJP-RSS and Bajarang Dal functionaries were giving hate speeches and gathering large number of weapons like swords and some guns. This also bring into the question of complete failure of police and its intelligence mechanism. Why the police and administration remained silent as the conspiracy unfolded? Even as the Ram Navami procession diverted from its approved route and started moving towards Muslim localities, no alert was sounded and no police force was mobilised.
The events at Bihar Sharif have left the country especially worried because people were looking up the state to forge a model of resistance to the current ruling regime. A challenge is posed to the image of Bihar as the flag-bearer of anti-fascist resistance by the saffron brigade which managed to execute a planned violence, although to a limited area. The violence was in fact on a much smaller scale as compared to the 1981 communal riots in this area, which had affected the whole town and surrounding villages. This time, due to the vigilance of the local people the violence was limited to some pockets of the town.
Nalanda in Bihar is considered to be an ancient centre of education. The ancient Nalanda University build in the 5th century and 110 year old Madarsa Azizia were considerd to be two hallmarks of education that form the history of Nalanda. For decades, the Hindu right-wing forces were building propaganda around 12th century destruction of Nalanda University and using it to create anti-Muslim sentiments. The communal forces used this plot to unsuccessfully target Madarsa Azizia even in the 1981 and 2017 riots. The destruction of Madarsa Azizia was an assault on the Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb, on minority rights and on a very important center of education.
The historic Madarsa Azizia was established in 1896 by Bibi Sogra in the memory of her husband Moulavi Abdul Aziz. Aziz left his job with the colonial government and jumped into the freedom struggle. Like Fatima Sheikh, Bibi Sogra was highly attentive to the cause of women’s education. The library housed around 4700 religious scriptures, books and rare manuscripts. These included not only the Quran, Hadis and other religious scriptures but also non-religious books in Hindi, English, Urdu, and Arabic as well as books on Mathematics, Geography, and so on. The degree granted by the Madrassa was considered highly prestigious. Nearly 500 students were studying here at the time of the incident. The Madrasa had received national and international acknowledgement, including a special mention from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on March 2020.
The destruction proves that educational centers are leading targets of Hindu supremacist forces. The Modi government talks about Beti Bachao Beti Padhao but his destructive agenda targets educational centers. Through these kinds of events, BJP also mobilizes unemployed youth of Dalit and backward communities as foot soldiers against the Muslims. This is a ploy to break the Hindu Muslim Unity that has existed in this country for thousands of years and still forms the greatest barrier in the path of the Hindu Rashtra’s fructification.
The BJP’s call to build a Hindu Rashtra is essentially an effort to keep the age-old Brahminical structure intact. They want to reduce the Muslims and Dailts into to second class citizens sans any liberty and rights. It is the same BJP which violates the constitution on a regular basis, snatches away the rights of the common people, and tries to end reservation for Dalits and backward classes in education and employment. They want to make India a country that belongs exclusively to Adani and Ambani.
The Bajrang Dal, Vishva Hindu Parishad, RSS and BJP have tried to systematically spread communal violence through the Ramnavami incidents. This may not be a coincidence that the Home Minister's visit to Sasaram on 1 April and to Navada (located few kilometers from Bihar Sharif) on 2 April were planned in advance. He was prevented from going to Sasaram but gave a well thought out speech in Navada invoking the communal frenzy. “Give us all 46 seats in 2024 and a clear majority in the 2025 State Assembly elections and we will hang the rioters upside down.” He reminded people of the ‘peaceful’ atmosphere in Gujarat following the state-sponsored genocide in 2002. It seems that since losing power in Bihar they are prepared to go to any length to capture power here. Bihar has not witnessed a call to violence of this nature in connection with the electoral fortunes of political parties.
Advani’s bloody chariot had been stopped in Bihar in 1990. Following the Gujarat genocide in 2002, Bihar clearly rejected the BJP government at the centre in 2004. In the 2020 Assembly elections the people of South Bihar gave a ringing endorsement to CPIML and its ally the Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD). That was a vote against feudal and communal forces. Bihar must dig deep into its anti-communal heritage and decisively fight back communal fascism not only in the state but in the whole of India.
The FFT1, which visited the affected areas in Bihar Sharif, found a deserted town with internet services shut down, police patrols on the roads and nearly no local movements. The team reached Gagan Diwan where shoes and chappals were lying scattered all around amidst a total lull. Some terrified migrant workers had taken shelter in a room in a mosque.
A witness Anil Patel told the team that the Ram Navami procession route was planned from Shram Kalyan maidan, Hospital Mor, Bharav, Laheri thana, Gagan Diwan, Sogra College to be culminated at Maniram Akhara. Madarsa Azizia and Muradpur mosque are situated at 100 meter South-West of Laheri thana. From here onwards there is dense Muslim population on the route. There is a big Kabristan and a mosque near Gagan Diwan. This part of the route was most affected. Next is Sogra college and then a Dargah. Laheri thana is located at almost middle of this route.
A large number of participants of Ram Navami Shobha Yatra had swords, choppers, spears and lathis with them. A group of masked men on bikes did rounds in a one kilometre stretch shouting anti-Muslim provocative slogans. This created fear and terror among locals.
The attacks began at around 5 pm near Gagan Diwan. The shutter of Digital Duniya was broken and stones pelted in the shop. The owner of Asia hotel was asking for help amidst stone pelting. At that time a mob of 600-700 was present at the spot and procession has been transformed into a mob indulged in rioting.
Rioters suddenly arrived at Madarsa Azizia at around 6 pm and broke into the Madarsa after breaking the main gate. The guard Mohan Bahadur present unsuccessfully tried to stop a very large number of armed rioters. The guard was beaten up by the mob. The hall of the Madarsa has 18 almirahs where very important books were kept. They were all burnt to ashes. Eight more wooden almirahs had important record of documents regarding affiliations and registration as well as documents relating to registration, marks sheets, certificates of students and appointment letters of teaching and non-teaching staff since 1910 to 2022. These were burnt down too. The adjoining room is Principal’s office where computer, printer, air conditioner, accounts and Bank books, along with ten plastic chairs, one table, one steel almirah, carpet and other belongings were burnt. The eastern part of this Madarsa caters to a classroom transformed into a hostel where 13 beds and five electric fans were destroyed by fire.
The mob started looting shops. The mob had a free hand with no police presence at that time. Police arrived only after 4 hours. Many Hindus neighbours in that area tried to resist and protect the properties of minority community. Most of the attackers were from outside who went towards Bari Pahari after looting.
Anil Patel added that preparations for this day were going on for last one month. A month ago Bajarang Dal did a big programme by illegally blockading a road. This was initially opposed by the police but they succumb to the pressure and the police station incharge had to apologise with Bajarang Dal people. This boosted their morale.
Hoardings and over-sized flags were installed in whole town; air was filled with slogans like making another Ayodhya. A day before, on 30 March a 51 feet high flag was hoisted at Dhaneshwar Ghat, this ceremony was attended by local BJP MLA Sunil Singh.
Advocate Sarafraj told the team that Madarsa Azizia and Muradpur mosque were burnt in the beginning. Whatever may be the truth, the fact remains how the police station situated very near could not know of the incident for a long time. This raises concerns and doubts about the complicity of the police. Just a day earlier Bajarang Dal did a loudspeaker announcement requesting to install saffon flags over the houses. This perhaps was a tactic to identify the properties of the minority community. Nearly 31 big and small establishments were attacked and burnt, of which three belong to Hindus.
The Muajjin of the mosque described the events of March 31. High volume and provocative songs being played over the DJ systems of the Ram Navami procession which resulted in a stampede like situation and stone pelting. Soon rioters reached inside the corridor of the mosque.
70 year old Meharunnisha showed her house. The tin door of lavatory was cut with a sword, asbestos roof was damaged, food that was cooking on the stove was lying scattered. The house was set on fire. The mob tried to molest girls in the house. Dheelan Transport in the neighbourhood was set on fire. Her son drives a rented truck which was also burnt. Eye witnesses told that the rioters brought petrol to set these properties on fire. An auto rickshaw and a motorbike were also burned. This attack was so sudden and fierce that the people could only think of saving lives by running away from the spot.
The fact finding team visited historic Madarsa Azizia and Sogra College. Besides looting shops and arson, this hundred year old institution was also targeted and completely burnt down. Madarsa Azizia was closed at the time of attack due to Ramzan month. The smoke was still bellowing in the evening of April 1, indicating administration’s laxity in putting out the fire.
All shops were closed at that time of violence. First, attackers disconnected the electricity connection, broke the CCTV cameras, burnt the generators and then broke open the shops. Attackers knew exactly CCTV DVDs were kept in shops that were attacked, pointing towards a well prepared recce before the violence was orchestrated. The locks were broken in a professional manner with a tool. The Asia hotel is kind of some unofficial office of RJD and the City Palace is owned by a minority cell office bearer of JD(U). They were deliberately targeted.
Akbar Azad, 60 years, is a member of the Peace Committee and also associated with Anzuman Mufahid Islam. He set up a drinking water stall for the members of Ram Navami procession. He was badly beaten up by same processionists. He said this is very disheartening that he was attacked by the people in whose service he came forward. He said by remaining silent in face of stone pelting minority community members averted a bigger disaster.
Akbar Azad was groaning under pain when this team visited him on 9 April. His head was badly injured; also many spots on his back, belly, arms and legs were blackened with the beating marks. Rioters might have thought he had died. Later he was brought to his home by some people. There was no ambulance available so he remained in home throughout night, only next morning he got proper treatment. He went to police station to lodge an FIR but the police told him to go to Bihar thana and record his statement first. He went but his signature was not taken over his statement. His statement was finally recorded after many days in CO office.
The rioters destroyed his drinking water stall, along with 12 chairs, and iron bench, some documents and his hut. He identifies his attackers and says most of them were from Paharpura associated with VHP. When they wielded swords, the women constables present at the spot ran and hid inside the houses. Shakil, Shaukat and Mujahid Hasan were also badly injured at this spot.
Ward councillor Umesh Ji and Satyaprakash took initiative to stop the rioters and saved many items from looters at Digital Duniya. Their initiative gave strength to 10-15 more people who forced looters to return the looted items. Local people also came forward to protect the Muradpur mosque and its Imam and his family. The mob had hoisted saffron flag over the mosque, burnt down small shops in the premises of the mosque.
Advocate Sarafraz was also attacked but he was saved by the locals. He is the lone Muslim in that neighbourhood; 4-5 neighbours risked their lives to save him. The neighbours said they are living together since centuries and this is their duty to protect their neighbour from such attacks.
The administration reached at the spot at around 8 pm, and then people inside the mosque were rescued. Younger brother of Tarique Sahab was saved by locals from inside City Palace.
The night of March 31 was filled with terror. This was more intensified by the police raids in the houses of Muslims. Section 144 was imposed in town in the morning of April 1.
It is alleged that the Bajrang Dal targeted outer parts of the city by spreading fake rumours through whatsapp messages of large numbers of Hindus being killed. By seven in the evening news of firings in Paharpura, Maniram Akhara, Khasganj, Bari Dargah etc. came in. People in Akhara, which is dominated by the poor belonging to extremely backward castes told about a rumour that was being spread in the evening of 1 April that large number of Muslims have attacked the Akhara. This was a rumour that led to assembly of a mob which fired at police persons deputed. When the police retorted with tear gas shells, Bajrang Dal spread another rumour that the administration is acting on behalf of Muslims by firing at Hindus.
There were also firing incidents reported on 1 April around the Akhara locality, which is adjacent to a Muslim muhalla where Badi Dargah, Chhoti Dargah are located. The police have arrested Anuj Kumar s/o Rampravesh Mahato from this locality. Anuj’s mother told her son went to see the procession and had done nothing wrong. He is the only earning member in family but now in jail.
The team met with some of the youths present in Akhara. They boasted about their involvement in provocative sloganeering, shouting Mian Murdabad, and Go to Pakistan etc. One Shrawan Kumar Pandit also told that petrol was provided for their vehicles.
Again, on April 7 there was report of attacks on shops in Chora Bageecha area.
The Muslim neighbourhood lies to the North of Badi Dargah while to its south lay the neighbourhoods of Tanti, Kushwaha, Ramani and other communities. Ayodhyanagar, which lay further to the South, appears to have been the epicenter of the conspiracy. This area has strong presence of Bajrang Dal and the RSS. All threads of the conspiracy connect to this place.
On 1 April afternoon there was a round of firing here in which a 26 year old man Vikas Kumar was shot and killed. His brother subsequently lodged an FIR which claimed that Vikas was shot while returning home from the market. The shots came from behind the Ustad Dargah. The incident happened at 7 pm. As soon as he entered the said area there was a minor disturbance and he was shot.
Bhushan Singh, a local resident told the team that a plan had already been hatched to attack the dargah. Some people had reached there with petrol bombs. That is when the shots were fired. The crowd tried to set the dargah on fire and that shot was fired in the ensuing melee. The Muslim neighbourhood is full of terror as of now and lies desolate.
The team attempted to visit the house of Vikas but were surrounded by Bajrang Dal members threatening “Bihar too needs a Yogi Raj. We tolerate all Muslim festivals. Why can’t they tolerate ours?” The FFT1 had to leave the areas due to the situation.
The locals in the area were trying to get back to their daily work routines. Shops were allowed to open only till 3 pm at that point of time. The team reached a doctor’s clinic. Soon after the team started talking with the doctor, his long-time friend and patient Sohail Alam entered his chamber. He said that the relations between communities were cordial and friendly but festivals became occasions of great inter-community tension. He said that people must be warned against rumours and the administration must play a more proactive role.
After Paharpur, the fact-finding team reached Katra where it met 88 year old vice-president of Indian National League, Iqbal Zafar. He was worried but told us that his area did not see any untoward incident this time. He told the riots of 1981 are still fresh in his mind, this time nearby villages, mostly Yadav dominated, did not indulge into any violence. He added that people’s secular mind set is gradually being communalised in the market area, where we go for shopping from non-Muslim shopkeepers. He suspects that efforts are on to destroy the harmony among the people.
A tomb of Hazarat Makhdum Saiyad Kutubuddin Shah near Patel College was destroyed in the evening of 1 April. This shrine whose iron gates were smashed, Quran Sharif was desecrated, electric fans and utensils were stolen by the mob, is popular among Hindus and Muslims devotees both.
Vikki Dome is sanitation worker in Bihar Sharif municipality. His caste is considered lowest in the caste hierarchy. Till few years ago he was the city president of Bajarang Dal. He left this organisation when he saw desecration and attacks on the statues of Dr. BR Ambedkar by RSS-Bajrang Dal. He said that municipal authorities are preventing sanitation workers from going to work in muslim localities, though he is receiving phone calls from the residents of those muhallas. He suspects that this may be an attempt to destroy the evidences of the riot.
“I have seen the working of Bajarang Dal from inside, and still I’m in contact with few insiders. This riot is part of a design of BJP’s 2024 plan”, he says. He said Bajarang Dal in Bihar Sharif is not that strong to perpetrate a riot without the support of the administration.
The first question being raised is, when it was suspected that religious processions may be used to flare up violence, then why the administration gave permission for the next two consecutive days, and that too without any adequate security arrangements? On the day of Ram Navami on 30 March local MLA Sunil Singh led a big procession that hoisted a 51 feet high flag at Dhaneshwar Ghat.
March 31 was Friday, the day of weekly prayers for the Muslims, the Hindus openly wielded swords and other arms in the procession. The district president of Bajarang Dal himself explained about the preparations of the procession in the meeting of the Peace Committee, even then the administration did not provide sufficient police force. There are precedents of tensions built up during previous years; hence the role of administration and especially of Superintend of Police is very much questionable. Khan Saheb, a friend of Akbar Azad of Anzuman Mufahid Islam and a member of Peace Committee told the team that he objected to taking out a procession on Friday from the sensitive route. Some veterans from VHP who were also in that meeting agreed to take out the procession only after the Friday prayers are over. Hence the time of 2 pm was scheduled. But the masked men on bikes arrived early and started disturbing the situation.
Advocate Sarafraj told the team about suspicious role of the administration. The FFT2 was informed that the police delayed filing FIRs in many cases. The owner of Asia hotel Tarique Bhai had to run pillar to post to lodge his FIR for three full days. Police tore apart the complaint letter initially. The administration remained mute spectator during the violence.
Dr. Sarafraz’s house is in the Muslim mohalla near Gagan Diwan. A person died on 31 March in that locality and the cremation was scheduled at 1 pm. When the body of the deceased was taken out, that was time before the Ram Navami procession was to take place but a large crowd was already present on the street. People suspected some untoward incident might happen so they moved to the other side of that area.
Minority community members tried to remain inside their houses on the day of Ram Navami procession anticipating violence. Bajarang Dal supporters were wielding swords and flags and shouting anti-Muslim slogans.
The commotion started when the procession reached near a temple situated across the road near Gagan Diwan. The procession had almost passed the road when people at the end of the procession became violent. This group reportedly was from Paharpura and Ayodhya Nagar. Most of the rioters live in this area. Bajrang Dal district president Kundan Kumar lives in Ayodhya Nagar. All had their faces were covered and targeted shops one after another.
The administration did not do anything to prevent them. Bajarang Dal district president Kundan Kumar was also in the meeting of 31 March. He told of a very large gathering, and that they have invited people from 127 villages. By doing so he actually challenged the administration, even then the administration hadn’t shown any urgency.
A huge sum of money must have been spent in this campaign of communal frenzy that went on for a month. The mob included people from as far places as Hilsa, Islampur, Sarmera, Asthawan, Shekhpura, and Patna. If properly investigated we would know the truth. The procession was held with 4000 swords, all of them were of same size and design. It is not difficult for the district administration to find out the supplier of these arms. Earlier whenever there was any procession planned, the administration had made heavy police deployment from Laheri to Sogra College, but why this was not done this time raises serious question regarding the role of police.
The locals reported that the rioters were paid Rs. 500 each, a shawl, liquor and petrol for vehicles. There is no effort seen to investigate who is the mastermind of this whole planning. Kundan Kumar is now arrested, but his supporters are still challenging by saying they will turn Bihar into another Uttar Pradesh.
The eyewitnesses said they were surprised to see such a small force just before that procession was about to arrive. Suddenly at 5 pm there was commotion and stone pelting started. The local people asked youths in the locality to remain inside houses, but few got stuck on the road.
After a while procession reached at Laheri thana where around 20 policemen with lathis (batons) sitting helplessly. They couldn’t dare to come out.
The police, which was absent during violence, began targeting Muslims localities instead of taking action against BJP-RSS functionaries, which orchestrated the violence. This raises the question, whether the police was following BJP-RSS’s script of blaming Muslims every time festival processions turn into communal frenzy. The FIR lodged in Bihar Police station mentions that the Ram Navami procession turned violent after provocation from Muslim community, completely ignoring the evidences that were widely available about the pre-planned violence by BJP-RSS.
The muhalla behind Gagan Diwan was raided on 31st March night at 3 in the morning when people were preparing for Sehri. 11 muslim youth aged between 13 and 20 years were arrested and their houses were ransacked. Rehana Khatun told the team that they didn’t open the doors out of fear when police knocked after midnight. Police entered through roofs using a ladder and indiscriminately arrested all youth present in those houses. Mustakim, Md. Shahid, Sunny and Viru were picked up from her house. All of them earn their living by pulling rickshaws or doing manual wage work. Police asked their names before writing in the FIR.
This is quite intriguing that the first FIR doesn’t mention what happened at Madarsa Azizia or Sogra College. Police later arrested Md. Jahid, Md. Sadab, Gulfam, Firoz, Raja Sahab, Md. Guddu, Kd. Arif, Md Mushtaq, Md. Aiyaz, Md. Afzal, Md. Arman, Md. Tannu, Md. Chikku, Md. Badru, Md. Shahrukh, Md. Zakir, Md. Matku Paanwala, Md. Mustafa Miyan, Manoranjan Yadav, Dharmvir Yadav, Jagdish Yadav, Sanjay Paswan, Munna, Munna Master, Santu Kumar, Rakesh Kumar, Fakira Yadav etc.
Till April 1 administration’s ire seemingly remained targeted towards Muslims. Only after intervention by civil society groups and the evidences of pre-planned conspiracy becoming news, the police began taking action against real perpetrators. By April 9, FIR was lodged against 150 people including Kundan Kumar of Bajrang Dal and some arrests were made. So far the administration has lodged 16 FIRs and also investigating WhatsApp messages that were spread to flare up violence. The seizure notice has been served on Kundan Kumar.
The other FIRs lodged are mostly of burning of big shops. Complaints by small shopkeepers were received by the Laheri police station but no FIRs were lodged. The police only told them that those complaints will be taken care of when compensation will be distributed.
FFT3 witnessed similar pattern to Bihar Sharif in Sasara town where tension started to build up from 30 March. Objectionable slogans were raised from the Ram Navami procession against Muslim community, even obscene abuses were hurled and sword wielding people threatened them. On 31 March Chiktoli Mosque was attacked around 11, locks broken and religious books were desecrated and torn apart. Saud Quraishi’s vehicle was burnt in Shah Jalaal Peer muhalla, and Usman Quraishi’s scrap shop, Shahjad Quraishi and Shamshad Khatun’s houses were also burnt. Such attacks were organised at other places also. The tower and façade of Phulan Shah Mazaar and many lights and grills inside were damaged.