Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Hindutva chants, vandalising Muslims’ properties, Police violence: What happened in Darbhanga on Basant Panchami?

Violence erupted in various areas of Darbhanga district, Bihar, on February 15 and 16 during Saraswati Visarjan Pooja, also known as Basant Panchmi, a Hindu festival commemorating the goddess Saraswati and symbolizing the onset of spring.

However, the practice of Saraswati idol immersion which has been peaceful over the past years allegedly turned out to be violent and hostile for the Muslim community this year, subsequently leading to the arrests of both Muslims and Hindus in large numbers.

On February 15 and 16, Darbhanga reported two incidents. In one, Bahera Police booked more than 400 identified and unidentified individuals, both Hindus and Muslims, for allegedly inciting communal violence and attacking police personnel. In another, Tarsarai Muria police booked 61 Muslims, including women and minors.

In both incidents, the Saraswati Visarjan procession passed outside mosques, chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and allegedly hurling abuses at Muslims.

Police officers are also accused of barging into the houses of Muslims and arresting them despite their no involvement in the violence.

Sequence of events

Bahera, (February 16): On the night of 16 February at around 7 pm, a procession for the immersion of goddess Saraswati was taken out in Badi Bazar of Baheda town on Basant Panchmi.

In one of the videos of the procession from Bahera, accessed by Maktoob, the mob can be seen and heard shouting the alleged slogans and vandalising the properties near the mosque.

The video further substantiated that the procession moved towards Badi Bazar mosque, the Jama Masjid of the town, the Hindu mob allegedly raised slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and Hindu religious songs were being played loud on DJ. The parked vehicles near the mosque were torched and broken by the mob. They pelted stones and bricks at the nearby houses. 

The Hindu mob were sporting a saffron shawl also called gamcha and were carrying belts, lathis and swords in their hands. 

A local, and also an eyewitness Ruknuddin Shamsi who was returning to the town with his friend Zulfiqar Mustafa explained the entire episode he witnessed in Badi Bazar to Maktoob.

Shamsi told Maktoob, “The procession which usually returns after it reaches the Masjid, crossed from outside it this time. I was coming back after attending an event in a nearby village with Zulfiqar but had to take another longer route to reach our home in Qaziyana Mohalla.”

“The procession was violent and we feared passing through it. They were shouting hateful and religious slogans, had weapons in their hands and were large in numbers. So, to avoid landing in trouble we peacefully took a turn to our home and reached safely”, he said.

Shamsi said, “But what we witnessed after a while was unfathomable. We were sitting at our homes, which are far away from where the violence by the Hindu Mob took place. Police officers in huge numbers came to the area and randomly entered any home they wanted, arresting people in the name of investigation, who are still in custody after almost a month.”

Zulfiqar Mustafa (25) is a law graduate from the Aligarh Muslim University and is now practising as a lawyer in the Patna High Court. He was sitting at his home when police came in large numbers, some in uniform and some without it, barged inside his house and picked him up along with his 3 brothers and a cousin. All 5 brothers are still in police custody for almost a month now.

“Upon learning about the violence in Badi Bazar, we called Mustafa to come home as soon as possible. We were satisfied that he was home and safe. At around 8:30 pm, police broke into our house by damaging the front door and started beating everybody present in the house including women and children who came to appear for the matriculation examinations of 2024,” Ghazala Hasan Rabia (34), eldest sister of Mustafa told Maktoob.

The Bihar board matriculation examinations were conducted from 15 to 23 February 2024 and multiple students came to Bahera to appear for the same as their centre for examination was Bahera. Around 15 students who were staying in Mustafa’s house from nearby villages and towns to write their exams, were also arrested.

The students however were released the next morning, after their examination admit cards were checked by the police officers, according to Rabia.

When asked if the police furnished any reason or warrant to arrest Mustafa and his brothers, Rabia said, “They were not listening to anybody, they came and started thrashing everyone present in the house, including the children who were staying with us. Do you think they would have answered or even tried talking to us? They turned everything in the house upside down before leaving.”

“All the students were here on their own without their parents, those small kids were taken to the police station at night and were there for the entire night. They were released in the morning. But all my brothers are still in jail”, she said.

“Now only women are left in our house”, said Rabia. “When the kids returned the next day they complained of being beaten up in custody”.

She added, “While police were beating us, they told Zulfiqar – tera career barbaad kardenge (we will destroy your career), which means that they already knew him. But when he repeatedly told them that he is a lawyer, they hit him harder.”

Rabia also said that when she went to meet Zulfiqar at the Bahera police station she requested the officer there to release her brothers but she alleged, “The officer told me – aur karwao golabari (tell them to do more firing).” 

Muslims’ properties torched

Aftab Alam (85), whose house is also situated at Qaziyana Mohalla of the village, with households of Muslims and Hindus around, said that police in numbers of 200 attacked and looted the belongings in his house. Alam lives with his only son’s widow and 3 grandchildren, two of his sons and one of his daughters married in another village. 

Alam said, “When we heard of violence, we locked our house and went to my brother’s house in another lane to be together in times of distress. Behind us, police along with some people in civil clothes – the Hindu mob vandalised my house. Broke all the furniture, and television, ransacked the almirah and threw all the stuff inside it.”

He added, “We lost the gold jewellery of my son’s widow, some iron rods bought for constructing a room and some money we had in our house. We don’t know if the mob took it, or the police.” 

He further said students staying in his brother’s house were also taken into custody.

“Sabka naam pucha, aadhar card se milaya, jo hindu tha usey chorr diya, musalman ko le gaya – (Their names were matched with their Aadhar cards and Hindus were spared while Muslims were taken into custody.) My daughter’s 16-year-old son, a minor, is also in the police station”, alleged Alam.

Alam, who served the government in the Registration Department 25 years ago, said, “Tab ka din hai aur aaj ka din hai, koi pursan-e-haal nahi hai, aap pehli hain jo puch rahi hain humse ki kya hua tha Saraswati Visarjan k din – (Since that day, there is no well-wisher, you are the first one who is asking us what unfolded on Saraswati Visarjan day)”.

The retired officer asked, “Drink, dance, kill, is this their pooja,, is this what Saraswati, the Goddess of education preaches? I don’t believe that any God and religion would preach.”

He also recalled that saffron flags printed with the pictures of the Hindu gods Hanuman and Ram were planted atop all the Hindu houses in the community a few days ago.

“Maybe that was done deliberately to mark houses belonging to Muslims and to identify houses of Muslims.” 

When asked if he would file any police complaint about the incident, his alleged loss and his grandchild’s release, he said, “No, I won’t. The police will investigate the case. Would there be a fair investigation and the police would do justice? They have absolute power and impunity and they would only take action against the one they want to, like they have arrested Muslims who were not even present at the spot of violence.”

In the videos of Alam’s house accessed by Maktoob, his house can be seen ransacked, the TV broken, all Almirahs open with stuff lying on the floor, the dressing table lying upside down and the main entrance broken. Maktoob confirmed with a local that the video belonged to Alam’s house and the incident happened on the night of February 16.

Tarsarai Muria (February 15): A similar incident was also reported on February 15, in Tarsarai Muria village, which is around 25 kilometres away from the Bahera Village.

The police in its complaint booked 61 Muslims for allegedly pelting stones at the procession of Saraswati idol immersion passing from outside the Mosque.

The police complaint also alleges that a communal clash broke out between members of Muslim and Hindu communities, leaving police personnel injured.

However, locals alleged that the procession stopped in front of the mosque, Jama Masjid, and played loud music followed by the chants of ‘Jai Shree Ram’. Police personnel were present in the village at the time of the procession and didn’t do anything to avoid the clash or violence.

Inaction of police

In both cases, the police are accused of not taking appropriate action. Allegedly, more in Tarsarai Muria, where police have booked 61 individuals and all are Muslims. The Muria police station is some 50 metres away from the place of the incident but locals say they didn’t take any precautionary measures afterwards.   

“The police did not do anything to stop the violence that occurred during the rally. They came later and only implicated Muslims,” Meraj Alam, a local news reporter from the village told Maktoob.

He added, “Police barged forcefully inside the houses of Muslims and had brutally beaten Muslims, particularly women.”

In one of the videos shared with Maktoob, multiple Muslim women showed their injuries alleging that police brutally beat them up and the mob accompanied them with a rod, lathis and axe. 

A woman said, “The Hindu mob barged inside our house and the police were with them. They did nothing and even dragged daughters and brides of the family out of their room in the absence of our men in the house and started hitting them.”

FIRs and arrests

In both the incidents, in Bahera and Tarsarai Muria, the suo-motto complaints made by the police were registered into an FIR under sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful assembly for a common cause), 341 (wrongful restraint), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means), and 8 other sections of Indian Penal Code. 

Additionally, section 34 of IPC is separately used in Bahera and sections 427 (),153-A (promoting enmity between two religions), and 295-A (deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings) are invoked in the Tarsarai Muria case in the FIR.

Maktoob reached out to Darbhanga Police in both the constituencies, Bahera and Tarsarai Muria, to learn about the allegations levelled by the locals.

Investigating officer Rani Kumari in Bahera police station and Dhruv Kumar Chaudhary in Sadar (Bhalpatti) Observation Post where the case is registered were approached by Maktoob but didn’t receive a response.

Rabia, when went to meet his brother Zulfiqar at Bahera police station last Sunday, she said, “I got him some home-cooked food. He only asked for his books, he wrote the name of the book on a slip and gave it to me.”

She said, “The entire house is full of his books and he is fond of studying. Out of the pile of his books, I couldn’t find that one book, he would have found it in a second.”

“He is educated and that is what irks them the most, the educated Muslim youth”, she added.


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