Coming in the wake of Bhavanipur massacre, yet another incident that exposed the callous and fascist approach of the BJP was the recent “riot” in Kanpur where more than two dozen Muslims lost their lives in police firing. As part of the ongoing RSS campaign of burning religious scriptures of Muslims, a copy of the Quran was burnt by Vishwa Hindu Parishad in New Delhi around 4 March. Vajpayee pooh-poohed it as rumour. To protest against this act, the Muslims of Kanpur decided to burn effigy of Atal Behari for shielding the miscreants. Showing total disregard for the minimum democratic rights of citizens, the police went berserk and opened fire on the protesters. The anger of the Muslims against the police atrocity poured out on the streets of Kanpur for the next couple of days. The police, especially the notorious PAC, reacted with beastial fury to quell this.
The role of the local RSS-BJP leaders was highly deplorable. They guided the police to torch the shops and houses of Muslims. A leading Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, whose chief editor is a Rajya Sabha MP elected on BJP’s ticket, added fuel to the fire by publishing concocted stories to initiate a large scale Hindu-Muslim riot.
An indefinite fast by CPI(ML) activists has been going on in Kanpur from 31 March to demand a judicial probe into the incident. To protest against the ‘police raj’ of the BJP, a demonstration will be staged by CPI(ML) in front of the Vidhan Sabha in Lucknow. A joint team of the CPI(ML) and the All India Muslim Forum toured the affected areas of Kanpur. Excerpts from the report of this team is reproduced below.
Members of the team:
The team extensively toured the ‘riot’-affected areas of Kanpur on 24-25 March, 2001. It came to the conclusion that the entire incident was not a communal riot. Rather, it occurred due to the government’s policy of not allowing the minorities their right to democratic expression and voice their opposition. The police administration took an entirely communal stand, and, in connivance with the BJP and the RSS, tried to make it out to be a communal riot. Some local newspapers made up false stories, spread rumours and tried to incite Hindus.
The investigation team visited Yateem Khana, Parade Chauraha, Nai Sarak, Chandrashekhar Hata, Chaubey Gola Mandir Vidyarthi Samarak, the spot where ADM Pathak was killed, Maston Road, Topkhana Shivala, Choodi Bazaar, Baconganj, Takia Park Chauraha, Chamanganj etc. The team spoke to common citizens belonging to both communities and investigated areas which had been set on fire.
Some Muslims of Kanpur had decided to burn the effigy of the Vajpayee government on 6th March (with black ribbons as a sign of protest) in order to protest the burning of the Holy Koran in front of the UNO Office in Delhi.
On 16th March, Friday, after namaz, 250 people were marching from Yateemkhana to Shiksha Park, where the programme was to be conducted. Police stopped the demonstration some distance away from Yateemkhana and tried to snatch away the effigy. First the police lathicharged the demonstrators and then opened fire. Three demonstrators were killed on the spot.
Curfew was clamped in this area and the police – the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) – began a rampage, targeting specifically the Muslims. On 16th March, around 3 p.m., unknown anti-socials numbering around 60-70, set fire to the shop of one Rakesh Srivastava, before reaching Chaubey Gola Mandir. Then they tried to smash property and set fire to them near the Mandir. But they could not do so, thanks to the resistance put up by local Muslim youth. Some of the local Sahus, viz. Shankar Lal, Nehru Lal and Rakesh applauded the role of the Muslim youth, viz. Taj Mohammad, Gulam Mohammad and Pappu in putting up a militant resistance to the anti-socials. Targeting of Chaubey Gola Mandir Vidyarthi Smarak seems to be a well-planned strategy, since it occurred immediately after the event of effigy-snatching (the spot where the effigy was snatched was about 1 km. away from Chaubey Gola Mandir-Vidyarthi Smarak).
Next day, the Dainik Jagran published a news item under the headline “Vidyarthi martyred again after 71 years” and also published false news about the Vidyarthi statue having been badly damaged as well as the Mandir having been demolished, with a view to inciting Hindus. However, the investigation team found that the statue as well as the Mandir were in tact. People living near the Mandir told the team that from the house in front of that of BJP leader Chaurasia, a bomb had been hurled towards the Mandir. This added further to the tension.
As the tension escalated, the police continued to target Muslim-dominated areas for attack. At that time, ADM Pathak reached the area and an altercation ensued between him and the PAC regarding firing. Soon after, he was found battling for life on the street. At first, the administration said that the bullet that had killed him was fired from Sunehri Masjid. Then it was said that the bullet had come from Noorani Masjid. The incident took place between 6.00-6.15 p.m. It is worth noting that the Sunehri Masjid is more than 100 meters away from the spot where the bullet struck Pathak, while the Noorani Masjid is also quite far away. And there is a house in front of it. By all calculations, a bullet from a .9 mm pistol (as has been claimed in the postmortem report) could not have struck a target that far. Further it was said by the administration that the bullet struck Pathak in a lane whereas the team’s finding was that he was killed on the main road. Moreover, it was a well-known fact that .9 mm pistols are found only in the possession of police. Also, at the spot where the ADM was killed, a heavy contingent of PAC was already present. In fact, it was the police and the PAC men who first gave the information of Pathak’s killing to people in Chaureshwar Ka Hata (a nearby area which is a stronghold of the BJP and RSS). Later, some of the newspapers published highly provocative news regarding the killing of Pathak, giving the police further justification to loot, beat up and harass Muslims, in connivance with RSS men.
17th March: The local corporator Pramila Pandey, the then DM Anita Bhatnagar, the SHO of Baconganj PS, Mohanlal Varma, along with PAC men and BJP goons, began publicly chanting Jai Shri Ram while the police and PAC indiscriminately hurled stones. The husband of Poornima Singh, the BJP corporator, was arrested while hurling bombs at a mosque and several live bombs were recovered from his house.
The same day, Choodi Bazaar was set on fire. This is a Muslim-dominated area and is just behind Mahanagar Kotwali, which was the centre of the entire operation. The Bazaar could not have been burnt down had the police and the PAC not helped actively.
The same day, Maston Road, Talaq Mahal, Yateemkahna, Nawab Ka Hata became centres of violent attacks on minorities. Intekhab Alam, son of Noor Mohammad, (18 years), 40/112 Nawab Ka Hata, was standing inside a gate. A bullet coming from the top, and grazing the wall, went right into his skull. Marks of splattered blood and flesh could still be seen on the wall. The bullet had even pierced the tin shed above the shop. Haroon, an innocent youth (businessman), was killed by the PAC. Another youth, Dara also succumbed to PAC bullets. The shop of Sharaf Khan, 97/115, Talaq Mahal, was forced open by breaking the latch and was torched.
18th March: When things had just begun to improve, in the morning at 6 a.m., the police and PAC torched the entire Waarsi market, which is a big cloth market. The entire market was gutted. Locals told the team that while the fire was raging, the PAC were on a rampage. This market kept burning for 36 hours while the PAC stopped any fire brigade that came to extinguish the fire. One owner of a cloth shop, Mohammad Parvez, recounted that three Hindu friends, Ajay Gupta, Padmakumar Gupta and another person were staying in his house when the SHO of Baconganj thana took them into his custody, and thinking they were Muslims he began to abuse them saying, “you will be killed in an encounter”.
In Nazeerbagh, which is a big cloth market in front of Baconganj thana, residents told the team that 28 to 33 companies of PAC were on the rampage, looting goods, loading them in their vans and going away. In Baconganj thana compound, sons of an ex-policeman were given police rifles for firing at the Muslims.
In Khwaja market, which is also in front of Baconganj thana, door and shutters of shops were broken on a large scale and the shops were torched.
The same day, at 6 a.m., police fired indiscriminately from the top of a 5-storied building in front of the thana. Several people in the area told the team members that the operation was conducted under the leadership of SHO Mohanlal Varma. He was abusing Muslims: “Katuas…bring out your Allah. Where is he? We will make this area another Maliana or Moradabad…3 hours’ time is there…let us see how your Allah saves you”. The team however did not find any bullet or bomb marks on the walls of the Baconganj thana.
Hundreds of people in this area corroborated the fact that Mohanlal Varma was behaving like a Swayamsevak of RSS. They said it was not at all a riot. Rather, it was a brutal attack by the PAC and the police, targeting the minorities. The shops of Khwaja market and Ansar market were selectively looted and set on fire. Those who even dared to peep out from windows were shot at. The wife of one Sultan, Nagma Begum, got a bullet shot in her head. Four young boys were picked up from these areas and are still under arrest. The riot was aimed at destroying the main business centres of Kanpur, which were dominated by Muslims. The owner of Siraj market, Izhar Alam, who is also the editor of Saptahik Asia, an Urdu paper, throughout called the police and PAC communal. According to him, the entire incident was a police versus people clash. After all, for six days several Hindus remained secure in his house. Near Siraj market is another big market of chappals – Lux footwear. On the top storey of this market is the house of one Anwar Sahib, which was first looted and then set ablaze. Nearby, the Badi Masjid of Takia Park was set ablaze too. The entire mosque was burnt to ashes. The door of the house of Shahid, who lives near Takia Park was broken down, the house looted, and two gas cylinders taken away, while one cylinder was used to burn a motorcycle kept there. The entire operation was led by the SHO of Chamanganj thana, Rajesh Tiwari. All the police personnel were present while the area remained aflame for hours. Every hour the police would open fire to terrorise the locals. Resident of Takia Park masjid say that the local RSS leader was collecting rioters. The police of Chamanganj thana and the PAC also joined the rioters. The thana was hardly hundred yards away from Takia Park and Siraj Market. All the shops belonging to Hindus in Siraj Market were selectively spared. In the second round of violence, three rioters suffered serious burn injuries and one died later. Muslims were arrested in hundreds during this period, and among those killed, the majority were Muslims. And all of them were killed by the police and the PAC. However, not a single person belonging to BJP or RSS was arrested. Those who were detained were set free later. During the curfew none of the opposition leaders were allowed to visit the areas under curfew. Yet, the BJP leaders Vinay Katiar and Rajesh Sonkar were moving freely along with the officials. They were also issuing statements aimed at inciting the Hindus. Some such posters were also posted in select areas of the city without the name of any organisation.
On 19th March, a peace march was organised under the leadership of the veteran communist leader Shivkumar Mishra. The team got information regarding the burning of nine mosques – including one mosque in Chowk Sarafa, two in Shivala Road, two in Hatia, two in Takia Park.
The entire incident was a result of brutal fascist suppression of the right to expression and protest of the minorities. Although a lot of effort was made by the police and the PAC as well as the BJP and RSS to start a communal riot, the common people belonging to both the communities successfully thwarted this attempt.