The library of the Azizia madrasa with more than 4,500 rare books that was burnt down by a mob during communal violence on the day of the Ram Navami procession in Biharsharif, Nalanda district. | Photo Credit: Nagendra Kumar Singh

On the afternoon of March 31, a day after Ram Navami, a crowd of over 2,000 people gathered at the Shram Kalyan Maidan in Nalanda’s Biharsharif. “In our area and culture we do the Shobha Yatra (religious procession) a day after,” says Sameer Jaiswal (name changed to protect identity), a resident, who has lived in the Muslim-majority town with a population of about 4 lakh people, all his life.

His voice is steady when he gives out matter-of-fact details of the yearly festival to celebrate Ram’s birth as the  avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu. This year, the procession that comprised 12  raths (chariots) was brought together by the far-right grassroots organisation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the Bajrang Dal, its youth-led militant wing.

As the conversation proceeds, Mr. Jaiswal is distraught, as any father whose 16-year-old has been jailed would be. Usually a carnival-like atmosphere prevails during the  yatra that goes down narrow roads, with people dancing around the chariots that carry various characters of the Ramayana, led by a trio dressed as Ram, his consort Sita, and brother Lakshman. “It may take many hours to go through the city, even until midnight,” says Mr. Jaiswal. On this occasion, in the early evening, just as the peace committee comprising both Hindus and Muslims was handing out  sherbet to the participants along the way, stones began to be hurled at the Gagan Diwan  kabristan (burial ground) and the Murarpur mosque, 3 km away.

In the violence that ensued, at least 250 petrol bombs went off in the mosque complex, the Azizia madrasa’s 100-year-old library with over 4,500 rare books of Islamic literature was destroyed by the fire, a Hindu flag was hoisted atop the  masjid, and a mob threatened the Muslim population within the religious premises to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. Horrifyingly, a similar incident had taken place 175 km away in Sasaram, Rohtas district, a day earlier.

When 183 people were imprisoned, it turned out that 54 were minors, both Hindu and Muslim, 30 from Biharsharif and 24 from Sasaram, spread across five police stations, with 18 first information reports (FIRs) filed. Many teens were on the cusp of adulthood, at 17, and have been charged under the Arms Act…

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