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Home > Communalism Repository > India: Communal Violence in Akot - A pre-planned conspiracy

India: Communal Violence in Akot - A pre-planned conspiracy

11 December 2012

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A Fact-Finding Committee comprising a professor and some students of Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Wardha (MGAHV), social activists and journalists visited Akot (District Akola in Maharashtra) on 23rd November’ 2012. An incident of communal violence occurred on 23rd October in Akot in which four people were killed and several injured. 22 homes of Muslim community and about 25 shops belonging to both Hindu & Muslim communities were set ablaze. All the deceased were from lower-middle class background.

The Backdrop of Communal Violence

The pitch for communal violence was laid down on 19th October. There were 65 Durga Puja Mandals celebrating the nine day long Navratri festival in the whole of Akot town. Every Mandal is affiliated to a particular caste-based community e.g. Mali community, Kunbi community, Dhobi community etc. A Muslim boy inadvertently spitted while passing alongside a Mandal belonging to Dhobi and Bhoi community whose honchos belonged to Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). He was accompanied by his friend of same age. The spitting did not even reach closer to the idol but a few droplets of saliva certainly fell down on the curtain. The boy was caught by the Mandal workers, was beaten up and held hostage on the venue. A crowd gathered after the ensuing ruckus and a person named Shoaib reached there to understand the goings-on; he intervened to a certain extent and tried to placate the Mandal workers. He urged them to consider the age of the boy, who was just seven or eight years old. The Mandal workers even said that today these people are spitting on the idol, and tomorrow they would do so on our faces. Shoaib, however, managed to settle the matter and free the boy from their hostage. The news of the incident spread in the surrounding areas after half an hour or so. A person named Aijaz, who is a tailor by profession and whose shop is located close to where the incident occurred, came over to workers and sought to find out what was it all about; he, too, then returned to his shop.

In another half an hour or so, the police arrived at Aijaz’s shop and enquired about the details like name and address of the boy. Aijaz was aware of the incident but had no idea who those kids were. Hence he expressed his ignorance to the police, who then went back. The police returned after half an hour and started interrogating Aijaz again. When Aijaz expressed his ignorance this time as well, the police took him to the Akot police station. Meanwhile, Sanjay Gawande, Akot’s sitting Shiv Sena MLA, arrived at the police station accompanied by around 250-300 followers belonging to Bajrang Dal, VHP and an organization called Chhava (cub) and soon sloganeering commenced. Heated altercation took place between the gathered crowd and the local police officers. Yielding to the pressure put on by the MLA and his followers that ‘the kids should be rounded up’, the police started beating Aijaz with broad belt (popularly known as Bajirao belt in police lingo). Due to mounting pressure, the police brought Shoaib to the police station who revealed the names and addresses of the boys involved. The police lost no time in rounding up the kids along with their fathers at the police station.

Looking at their age, the on-duty senior police officers said that these kids themselves are ‘Bhagwan ka roop’ and they would certainly have spitted inadvertently and not deliberately. Mr. MLA too slackened down looking at the kids but opened a new ploy at once that the kids may be innocent but the real mastermind is someone else and the police must nab the real culprit who has committed sacrilege towards the Durga idol. After this, the MLA and his followers retreated. The police kept Shoaib and Aijaz in their custody for whole of that night booking them under section 107. Both of them were released on bail the next morning. That Shoaib had helped settle the matter and Aijaz had reached the venue to understand what was happened turned out to be their sole crime. Two completely innocent individuals were made scapegoats to appease the ‘feelings’ of the Shiv Sena MLA and the people belonging to Hindu communal organizations. This, however, was the turn of events on 19th October after which the issue had died down and peace prevailed despite which the Muslim community remained terrified to a large extent.

Political circumstances

The polling for the by-election for one seat of Municipal council in Akot town was on 21st October. There are, in all, 31 seats in Akot Municipal Council for which the elections happened in December 2011. Shiv Sena and BJP had managed to grab two seats apiece. The winner from one of those seats was Shiv Sena candidate Jyoti Manoj Raghuvanshi, wife of Manoj Raghuvanshi, from Ward No 5. The Congress candidate, a Muslim woman, who lost the election, challenged the election of Manoj Raghuvanshi’s wife in the court. The basis for the challenge was that Jyoti Manoj Raghuvanshi has more than two children (A state law in Maharashtra debars those who have a third child born after 2001 from contesting in any public election). The Congress candidate’s challenge was not misplaced and upon investigation the allegation was found to be true, so the election was nullified. Now the contest this time was between Shiv Sena candidate Manisha Rahul Raghuvanshi, who also belongs to Manoj Raghuvanshi’s family, and Congress candidate Salma Nishat. When the results were declared, Congress clinched the seat from Shiva Sena.

Shiv Sena candidates have emerged as winners in four out of five Assembly elections since 1989 and the elections for Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly are due in 2014. Shiv Sena’s sitting MLA Sanjay Gawande has become fairly unpopular in the last three years of his stint. The outcome of Municipal Council elections last year, in which Shiv Sena could manage only two seats out of 31, was a testimony to his unpopularity. Sanjay Gawande’s unpopularity was again the reason behind Shiv Sena’s defeat in the recent by-election.

The happenings on 23rd October

Following the 19th October incident, the rumor was rife in the town that the Muslims will commit some kind of mischief during the procession for the idol immersion. For example, the rumor even had it that the Muslims have gathered a plethora of stones which would be hurled at the idol during the immersion. Communal organizations, local shopkeepers and petty traders together played a major role in running the rumor mill.

23rd October was the day of idol immersion. A procession was planned where hundreds of people where going to take part. The administration had made strict arrangements for the day. Wherever there was a mosque or a Muslim settlement on the course of the procession, barricading arrangements were made and troops were deployed in large numbers.
People were moving in a procession for the idol immersion program. Suddenly, exactly at the place where the incident of spitting had occurred, workers of a Mandal began saying that a stone was hurled and it struck them. The police started looking around at once but there was no stone hurled from anywhere and the procession was made to move ahead. The news of stone pelting spread like a wildfire and stampede of sorts occurred, but the police brought the situation totally under control. The members of the Fact-Finding Committee tried to find out from the senior police officers whether really any stone was pelted or any stoning attack happened to which they replied in negative mentioning that it was just a rumor.

A reign of violence

While the idol immersion was still on, around 7-8 pm the rioters attacked a dingy settlement on the outskirts of the town called Barde Plot mostly inhabited by Muslim and Bari community. The rioters set 221 houses to fire and killed two persons. The rioters killed an 80 year old paralytic man Haji Mohammed Yasin who could not run to save his life. His 75 year old wife Zulekha Bi, who tried to save him, was attacked by a sharp weapon on her leg and an iron rod was also used to attack her. She was grievously injured in the attack and was admitted to Akola civil hospital in unconscious state. A 16 year old boy Mohammed Zafaruddin who had just returned from day’s work was also killed by the rioters. The victims informed the Fact-Finding Committee that the rioters were carrying lighted torches, iron pipes, swords and kerosene. The Fact-Finding Committee also recovered small bottles from gutted houses of Muslims which, filled with chemicals, were used to hurl at each house. The rioters had prepared for the act well in advance.

The police reached the venue after a short while and tried to bring the situation under control; the Hindu communal elements attacked the police in retaliation in which the police personnel suffered injuries. The communal elements tried to stop the fire brigade vehicle from entering the area where the rioters had set the Muslims’ houses on fire. According to the police, one of the assailants, a 23 year old man Yogesh Mahadevrao Nakhate who had entered too deep in the Muslim settlement also got killed. In the retaliatory action from Muslims on 24th morning, an 82 year old man Manohar Rao Budhe from Kasar community was killed. At Six o’ clock in the evening on 24th, while curfew was in effect, nine scrap shops2 out of which eight were owned by Muslims and one by a Hindu were put on fire; five shops owned by Muslims and nine shops owned by Hindus were set ablaze in the vegetable market3. The police have so far arrested around 50 people each from both communities booking them under various sections.

The role of Hindu communal forces in the riots

When the members of Fact-Finding Committee met victims and enquired about the identity of the assailants, it emerged that most of them belonged to Bari community (Hindu OBC) and were outsiders. The Bari community is singularly involved in production of betel leaves in the district of Akola. A major portion of the community still belongs to lower-middle class and the lack of education is widely prevalent among them. Late Mahadevrao Bodke, an influential leader of the community, belonged to RSS. The city head of Bajrang Dal, Gajanan Makode, Shiv Sena city chief Anant Meshan and persons occupying important posts in other communal organizations all come from the Bari community. The Bari community as a whole is a traditional supporter of Shiv Sena. The Bari and Muslim community live side by side and their settlements are adjacent to each other in the area where riots started. A communal incident occurred right in the middle of busy marketplace in 1999 leading to stampede in which an 80-85 year old elderly person from Bari community died. The communal organizations gave a political tinge to this incident. This incident helped the communal organizations in communally radicalizing the whole Bari community and the community was used as an instrument against the Muslims to further their communal agenda in the recent riots as well.

The Fact-Finding Committee met members of Hindu community and tried to figure out reasons behind the incident and their mindset during the course of riots; it turned out that not a single person has concrete and realistic information, rather the whole community considers Muslims to be responsible for the incident. For example, ‘the idol of goddess was desecrated deliberately’, ‘stones were hurled at the idol’, and ‘the Muslims were the first to strike’ etc. During the course of talks, the Fact-Finding Committee came to know that Muslim youth were arrested for being associated with SIMI at both Akola and Akot but a majority of them have been acquitted. But the arrests of the youth for being associated with SIMI and alleged terror network helped a great deal to spread the rumor among Hindu masses that SIMI operatives are behind the recent riots too. Overall, the Hindu communal elements have utilized the SIMI phenomenon handsomely and carried out communal polarization of the society as a whole. Most of the Hindus were found to harbor the traditional image of Muslims which the RSS stands for.

The Hindu communal organizations are trying hard to fuel the communal tension which was created in the aftermath of Babri Masjid’s demolition; they have greatly extended their mass base in this area. In Akot Taluka alone, 400 cadres of RSS, 150 of VHP, 200 of Bajrang Dal, 100 of Chhava organization, 150 of Maratha Mahasangh are primarily active in furthering their communal agenda by unconstitutional means. Besides, organizations like Shiv Sena, BJP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) who are active under electoral politics, too have an adequate mass base.
Shiv Sena’s social base lies among the other backward classes in whole of Maharashtra. From the beginning, the Maratha community has been dominant in Congress as well as the whole state. After the independence, the Congress’ policies denied any space to the backward classes. Shiv Sena was the first party to grant that space to in politics the OBCs. Chhagan Bhujbal, who started his career with Shiv Sena and switched over to Congress and belongs to Mali community, has publicly acknowledged that he owes his current position to none other than Bal Thackeray.

A professor from the Degree College in Akot told the Fact-Finding Committee that the communal organizations have greatly strengthened their position in all the areas of the region where Muslims are in sizeable proportion and situations of communal tension are created in a well-planned manner. The communal organizations put forth the argument to Hindu community that if Hindus fail to unite, the Muslims would have an upper hand. This phenomenon of the Hindu communal organizations often creating the situations of communal tension wherever Muslim population is proportionally higher is visible all across the country.

The effect of communal violence on the Muslims

The Fact-Finding Committee conversed with Muslim community, its leaders, victims and also the common Muslim citizens. The fact that the Muslim community is deeply terrorized came to fore during the course of conversations. The Shiv Sena MLA Sanjay Gawande and his followers have been booked under a few lighter sections for gheraoing the police station. But neither the government nor the police have taken any strict action against him or his followers for their role in scripting the prologue to the riots. The Muslim community now has all the more retreated into its shell .The role that secular polity was expected to play in such a situation seems to be lacking in Maharashtra. The Congress party has formed Hanuman Sena to counter the communal forces in the region. [Hindi Daily Dainik Bhaskar carried a story on 24th October under the heading ‘Hanuman Sena causes political stir’ – As a parallel organization to Bajrang Dal, Hanuman Sena can cause heartburn for the BJP. The relationship between the Shiv Sena and the BJP is getting soured day by day. In the light of this, it is believed that Shiv Sena can cause damage to the BJP in certain affairs by using Hanuman Sena as armor. The possibility of Bajrang Dal activists switching their allegiance is closely watched. The formation of Hanuman Sena was announced in Nagpur two days ago. Former Minister Satish Chaturvedi announced in presence of Rajendra Mulak, State Minister for Finance & Energy and Shiv Sena District Chief Shekhar Sawarbandhe that the Hanuman Sena would be taking an aggressive role over developmental issues.…….But it’s being said that Hanuman Sena has been organized with an objective of creating an alternative for Congress in which Bajrang Dal activists can also be accommodated besides the Shiv Sainiks……………These organizations have been helpful towards BJP so far, but discontent is simmering in both the organizations for some time now. ..……. Bajrang Dal activists complain that they are being restrained from their active work in the name of discipline. Their position in the BJP circles is on decline. It’s being said that a few disgruntled activists themselves have sent SMS to Bajrang Dal activists urging them to join Hanuman Sena].

In such a scenario, religious organizations have taken lead in relief work in terms of providing legal and financial assistance to the arrested. In the wake of this, there is an increased scope for various Islamic organizations like Jamaat-e-Islami, Ahl-e-Hadees, Ahl-e-Sunnat-wal-Jamaat, and Tablighi Jamaat who work towards propagation of Islam. Women have been the worst sufferers due to Muslim community’s retreat into its shell. For example, only those women can step out of their homes which do not have any male members in the family. Educational opportunities have also been reduced considerably for Muslim women. People informed the Fact-Finding Committee that until around 20 years ago, Muslim women would go to movie theaters but it stopped once the streak of riots started. Overall, the movements of the Muslim women have been severely restricted from the 90s itself.

The neo-liberal economic aspect of the riots

In the Akot riots, petty shopkeepers and traders played a major role in rumor mongering. All over the country, the traders and shopkeepers involved in the retail sector are feeling a sense of insecurity due to impending FDI in retail as per the new economic policies. This feeling of insecurity among petty shopkeepers and traders was capitalized by communal organizations in a way that the political forces like BJP, Shiv Sena, and MNS only can safeguard their interests, and in so doing these organizations took their communal agenda to these sections. While Congress is eager to implement FDI in retail at both the Center and State level, BJP is against FDI in retail just because it is in opposition at both the places. Shiv Sena and MNS are supporting the FDI in retail on a condition that companies like Walmart should only employ the ‘Marathi Manus’.

Vidarbha has seen the largest number of farm suicides than any other part of the country. The agrarian crisis has deepened further due to neo-liberal economic policies. A large portion of Vidarbha has been witness to communal tension after the decade of 90s in some way or the other. The communal forces have strengthened their base in a few areas of Akola, Buldhana (Khamgaon), Amravati, and Yavatmal districts; there is no industrial development worth its name in the whole region. Barring cities like Mumbai, Nasik, Aurangabad, Pune and Thane, agriculture plays a major role in the economies of most of the districts in Maharashtra. Upon hearing of riots taking place somewhere in Maharashtra, one gets befuddled that it’s an industrially advanced region. But a majority of this region is still reeling under pre-industrial stage. Due to extensive cotton growing in Vidarbha, textile mills were set up in Akola and almost all other districts. All of them have completely shut down their operations now. Due to abundant supply of water and coal in a few areas of Vidarbha like Nagpur, Wardha and Chandrapur, power plants are being set up for power generation so that more power can be transmitted to those areas of the region where industrial production is taking place on a large scale.

Ranjan Kawande (Lecturer) and Ayub Miyan Deshmukh informed the Fact-Finding Committee of a temple in Akot which, for its maintenance, had received financial assistance from the Hyderabad ruler Nizam. Not just Akot- in fact, the Nizam was first to offer financial assistance for establishing Sri Shivaji Education Society in Amravati. In the same way, the Nizam extended financial help for constructing a Gurudwara in Nanded. The financial assistance provided by a Muslim ruler to the temples, Gurudwaras and an education society run by Hindus could have been a stellar example of communal harmony, but in the 90s, when new economic policies come into effect and it is said that Market will function according to its own rules and the State will not intervene in its affairs, but on the other hand the State or the polity consistently form an alliance with religion (communalism). All of this culminates in the form of communal violence in Akot and all other places in the country.

Members of the Fact-Finding Committee: Amir Ali Ajani, Shrikant Pandey, Nilesh Jhalte, Monish Kaushal, and Sharad Jaiswal.

Released by: Sharad Jaiswal, Assistant Professor (MGAHV, Wardha), sharadjaiswal2008 at

Translated from Hindi by: Bharatbhooshan Tiwari