By Tarique Anwar

Nawada (Bihar)/New Delhi: Charred remains of vehicles; burned shops and buildings dotting the landscape; looted showrooms; bricks, stones and glass shards strewn on hotel beds — the signs of communal violence that rocked the ancient town of Bihar Sharif in Nawada district of Bihar on March 31 still look fresh.

That day, the hustle and bustle of the historic town was at its peak with the festive spirit of Ramzan and Ram Navami (celebration of lord Rama’s birth). Little did the people know that the peaceful atmosphere would soon be engulfed by the fire of communal violence. The violence, which lasted for hours, apparently without any police intervention, has shaken the very core of the city — leaving behind a trail of destruction.

According to multiple people NewsClick spoke with, the Bajrang Dal (a Hindu nationalist militant organisation) had been granted permission by the district administration to organise a Shobha Yatra or procession on Friday March 31 — a day after Ram Navami.

Announcements were allegedly made, urging Hindus not to open their shops on Friday. This claim, however, could not be verified as the police neither denied nor accepted it — saying their investigations were on.

Beyond anyone’s expectations, including the law enforcement agencies, about 50,000 people — according to District Magistrate Shashank Shubhankar’s own admission — attended the processions. However, a crowd of a maximum of 5,000 people were allowed to participate in the rally.

“The idea was to outnumber the police force,” he told NewsClick.

Though there was complete ban on disk jockey (DJ) loudspeaker systems and brandishing of weapons, such as swords, huge sound amplifiers on big trucks were playing communally charged and provocative songs and slogans, said several people NewsClick spoke with.

The procession started at around 2 p.m from Shram Kalyan Maidan and had to end at Baba Maniram Akhada temple, passing through Hospital Mod, Bharao Par, Kanta Par, Gagan Diwan, Soghra College Mod — a stretch of around 4.5 km along the Main Road (also called Ranchi Road).


As the procession was passing in front of a mosque on the main road at Murarpur, the flavour of DJs playing religious songs and bhajans changed, said some eyewitnesses.

“The songs were no longer religious. Lord Rama suddenly turned a threat or symbol of a promised land. The lyrics of most of the songs are similar — assertions that the Ram temple will be built, that Muslims will be shown their place, that they too will be forced to chant Rama’s name. ‘Kill them or send them to Pakistan’, goes one song, ‘but don’t let them fatten on the nation’s resources’,” said Anil Rai, a resident of the area.

Such songs have become popular in the past few years, such as “topi wala bhi sar jhuka kar, Jai Shri Ram bolega” (one wearing a skull cap will also be forced to chant Jai Shri Ram). Many of these songs are indigenous compositions. Technology and the internet are making them easier to put together as albums.

If allegations by some local residents are something to go by, this time, the slogans were highly “provocative”, “abusive” and “objectionable”.

Derogatory slogans that stereotype the appearance of Muslim men, asking them to “Go to Pakistan”, “The graves of Babar’s children will be dug in India only” and “Pakistan-supported Muslims, your end is certain now” rented the air.

The district magistrate, too, agreed that the songs and slogans were objectionable and provocative, but stressed that the CDs and pen-drives the police seized did not have such slogans cited above.

“DJs were banned, but could not have been forcefully removed as that would have led to further worsening of the situation. Later, we took swift action and arrested the organiser and the man who had rented out the music system,” he said, adding “there were deliberate attempts to ridicule a particular community. Not just the songs or slogans, but the tone and the demeanour of the participants of the rally were aggressive”.

The procession progressed on the permitted route. Eyewitnesses said there were heated exchange when the DJs, playing the songs and slogans loudly, were made to halt right in front of Shahi Masjid (mosque) at Murarpur in Bharao Par area. The two sides were pacified and the procession moved ahead.

Then, a few “rowdy” young men in the crowd stopped two men near Muslim-concentrated Gagan Diwan locality — nearly half a kilometre from Murarpur on the same stretch — and allegedly asked them to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (a Hindu religious slogan).

“The elderly person among the two men chose not to react, but the younger one, who was in his early 20s. objected. He was brutally thrashed. This triggered an altercation. A saffron flag was hoisted in a graveyard, which is located at Gagan Diwan along the Ranchi Road. That was when the situation slipped out of hand,” said Jamil Akhtar, ex-municipal councillor of Ward No. 39, who lives in the locality.

However, DM Shubhankar said it was not that the other community (Muslims) did not react. “The youth, majority of whom were in their early 20s, were out of control. As the brawl started (after the two men were asked to chant Jai Shri Ram), Muslims also indulged in stone-pelting. But its retaliation was highly disproportionate, organised and lethal,” he said.

This triggered a stampede-like situation, and a portion of the rally returned back to run amok. The rioters torched two buses parked in a garage (City Complex) owned by one Murtaza Ansari. What suggests a targeted attack was the fact that close to it, there was another garage that was left untouched.

The burning of vehicles, shops and houses soon after the procession turned violent, points to the fact that the rioters were prepared and were carrying inflammables with them.

The district magistrate also accepted that the crowd was “prepared before-hand”, and was carrying “inflammables and explosives”.

Continuing the rioting and arson spree, the rioters reached Kanta Par where they set ablaze the City Palace — owned by Mohammad Sultan Ahmad Ansari, a leader of the ruling Janata Dal (United). The three-storeyed marriage hall was completely destroyed…

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