By Umesh Kumar Ray

Nalanda (Bihar): At least four districts in Bihar witnessed communal tension on the occasion of Ram Navami this year, with Bihar Sharif in Nalanda, the home district of chief minister Nitish Kumar, seeing the worst of it.

In Bihar Sharif, just about 70 km from Patna, not only were more than a dozen shops and godowns set ablaze, but the more than 100-year-old Madrasa Azizia, with a library of 4,500 books, was also burnt. Stones were pelted at a mosque adjacent to it.

Shakir Qasmi, principal of Madrasa Azizia, says that in the 4,500 books, there were some rare ones and the rest were course books. Due to the fire, he continued, cracks have appeared in the walls of the building, so now it will have to be repaired.

During the clash, a young man was killed in the firing and several were injured.

Internet services have been shut down and Section 144 is still in force in the violence-hit areas of Bihar Sharif, although shops have been allowed to open from 6 am to 2 pm for the last three days. Except for medicine shops, retail outlets close at 2 pm. Vehicular movement comes to a standstill and silence prevails. The only sound is from the police vehicles that pass by with sirens blaring and the anti-riot squad conducting a flag march.

Local people say that after 1981, there has never been this level of violence in the city. Humayun Akhtar Tariq, about 55 years old, has been running a hotel in the heart of the city for the past three decades, with a dental clinic inside the hotel. The rioters have damaged his hotel. He says that he is not sad that his hotel has been damaged; he is sad that his trust has been broken.

“For 32 years I believed that I am safe here, because Hindus live around me. But today this belief has disappeared. Will get the hotel repaired, but restoring trust is difficult,” he said.

Naresh Kumar had a small shop two minutes away from the hotel, where he used to do paint work. His shop was also badly damaged. A bicycle and other items kept inside the shop were destroyed. He says that since 1990 he was running this shop, but nothing like this ever happened before. “I closed the shop in the afternoon due to the Ram Navami procession and went home. After some time I got a call that my shop had been set on fire,” he said.

Naresh asked, weeping, “All Muslims [in the area] would give me love and call me painterji. I never faced any difficulties here. Miscreants in the Ram Navami procession snatched my only source of livelihood. Now how will I survive?”

Naresh Kumar at his destroyed paint shop in Bihar Sharif. Photo: Umesh Kumar Ray

Where and how the clash started is not yet known, but a local journalist who was present at the scene said, “Many organisations had tableaux, accompanied by a procession. The first two processions passed safely. After this the procession of Bajrang Dal was coming out, I think the violence started.”

People from both communities have blamed the district administration’s inaction and lack of preparedness. Locals say that the procession was huge, but only a dozen constables and trainee police personnel were deployed.

Police have registered more than a dozen FIRs in this matter and arrested about 150 people. Ashok Mishra Superintendent of Police, Nalanda has rejected the allegations that not enough personnel were deployed, calling it “baseless”.

Sasaram in Rohtas district also saw communal clashes on March 31 during a Ram Navami procession and the government had to shut down internet services and impose Section 144 in the city as a precautionary measure.

In Bhagalpur too, stones were pelted between two communities during a Ram Navami procession. There was a communal clash in Gaya as well…

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