A Letter From Khargaone Madhya Pradesh: ‘First the country was Partitioned’…

“PEHLE desh ka batwara huwa, ab gali aur mohallon ka batwara ho raha hai. Isse hoga kuch nahin, bas nafrat aur badhegi (First the country was Partitioned, now lanes and localities are being divided. Nothing will be achieved by this, only a rise in hatred),” says Zakir Ali.

Two months after communal clash engulfed Khargone, it is a changed city — in ways more than one. At six localities, walls or barricades now separate areas dominated by different communities. Among those who find their lives altered is Zakir, a tailor, who lives in one such locality, Baniyawadi.

While for some, the walls mean “safety”, for others, it means a longer distance to access basic necessities. Others question why the government resorted to this measure rather than just stationing police to keep the peace. At least one resident has moved court.

The barricades and walls stand alongside homes, shops and vehicles, burnt or vandalised during the April 10 violence, and still to be removed or repaired. Even the stones pelted by both sides are still lying on some rooftops. After the violence that left one dead and three wounded, police registered 62 FIRs in which around 150 people have been arrested and over 200 booked.

District Collector Purshottam Kumar says the walls and barricades are a temporary measure, and would be removed in a few months. “Tension has eased, but there is still mistrust, with small incidents flaring up and getting a communal colour,” Kumar justifies.

According to officials, the local municipal corporation received several written complaints of rash driving or acts of arson during the night.

After this, a team of officials, including the Superintendent of Police and Collector, visited these areas, and were urged by residents to raise these walls. Initially, barricades came up in 11 locations, but with tension easing, they have been removed in five.

District Collector says walls are a temporary step. “Tension has eased but there is still mistrust, with small incidents flaring up and getting a communal colour.” (Express photo by Iram Siddique)

The district administration also made at least 5,500 people across Khargone sign bonds for “good behaviour” and stationed police in 22 locations identified as sensitive. A local market which often saw clashes flare up has been shifted.

One of the RCC walls separates the Hindu-dominated Zamidar Mohalla from the rest of the Muslim-majority Khaskhas-wadi area criss-crossed by narrow bylanes.

Rupali Bhavsare welcomes the wall. “That night, rioters entered Zamidar mohalla from Khaskhaswadi. There was no one to help us. Police told us to fend for ourselves as they were busy in worse-affected areas. The wall helps us sleep better at night,” she says, adding that they had thrown red chili powder to ward away rioters.

Bhavsare’s husband Deepak says the violence shocked him as his work with the district veterinary department often takes him to Khaskhaswadi. “They all know me. But in the clash, even my house was not spared.”

Sarla Bhavsare says that since the wall came up, women and children “walk around freely”. “Miscreants from Khaskhaswadi would earlier come here and play cards, pass derogatory comments,” she says.

Then there is Akbar Baghwan, whose family is the only Muslim one to find itself on the Zamidar mohalla side. His house is located right along the wall, which cuts off direct access for him to a road where he parks his tempo that he uses to transport vegetables. Now he has to take a motorcycle to reach that spot from home.

“When the wall was being built, I told the administration this. Also, that my father was paralysed and can’t be carried on a bike to and from home. And that, if they had to build the wall, to leave my house on the Khaskhaswadi side, but no one heard,” says Akbar. He claims he even called the Chief Minister’s helpline. “I got a message saying my complaint had been resolved, but nothing changed.”

Another resident, Saleem Khan, has moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court against the wall obstructing a common passageway. The matter is yet to come up for hearing.

The Bhatwadi mohalla near the Sarafa market is 1.5 km away. Here, a barricade now blocks the narrow bylane that connected the area to Muslim-dominated Tadvi side.

Just next to the barricade are gutted shops of Rajesh Puri and Kailash Pandit. Puri, who says he lost goods worth Rs 25 lakh in the riots, welcomes the barricade for giving “a sense of security”. With help from the district administration and aid from the community, he says, he has rented a shop now.

On the other side of the barricade lives Salma Bi, 55, who says that for the family, everything is a trek now, from catching an auto to getting a gas cylinder.

“Some people came from outside, did what they had to do and left. But why do we have to suffer the consequences? What is the administration trying to do by putting us behind these barricades?” a neighbor requesting anonymity asks.

Another neighbor, Afzal Khan, says: “If security was an issue, they could have set up a small chowki, two policemen. Even we would have been relieved, our children safe. What good is this barricade?”

About 500 meters away, a barricade blocks another by-lane, separating Muslim dominated Miyaman mohalla from Baniyawadi. It has upturned the lives of Shivkanya Gurjar and her husband Rakesh Gurjar, who run a small snacks manufacturing unit in Miyaman mohalla and live in Baniyawadi.

“We would make at least six trips between the house and the unit during the day. But now these trips are impossible. We have been living with our Muslim neighbors peacefully for years. On the day of the clash, some people did use the lane to enter Baniyawadi, but my Muslim neighbors stood guard,” says Shivkanya.

Her opposition to the barricade doesn’t go down well with the others, she admits. “They ask why I’m against the barricade. But why should I not talk against it? We are the ones who are suffering,” says Shivkanya.

Zakir Ali is one of her neighbors. The 38-year-old says his family has been living here for over three generations. He now struggles to reach the garbage van or collect milk as vehicles can’t get past the barricade.

Akeela Bi says she has to trek down to the road to get gas cylinders, and then find someone who can carry them to their home.

In Anand Nagar, where Hindu households were targeted in the violence, 60-year-old Kali Bai and her family themselves constructed a wall near their home to block the passage to Muslim-dominated Kareem Nagar. “We were advised to do so (by an official),” Kali says.

A district official says they are taking other measures too to guard against a repeat of the April violence. Recently, permission was sought by organisers of the Ram Navmi rally that sparked off the April 10 incident, to “complete the procession”, as the violence had cut it short. “They were okay with even five people being allowed to assemble, but the rally was denied. They understood the sensitivity and cooperated,” the official says.

Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox

A proposal has been moved to set up two more police stations and create more posts in Khargone, which has a single police station serving a population of roughly 2.5 lakh, apart from stationing an SAF battalion in the city for emergency use.

On the lodge casesd following the violence, Khargone SP Dharam Vir Singh says investigations are on.

“In two cases, after we named the accused, people came forward to file affidavits stating they had wrongly identified them. This is a positive sign that people are coming forward themselves,” Singh says.

.

Leave a Comment