The horrific massacre at Kherlanji and the protests that have followed have, once again, raised troubling questions on the impartiality of the Police force. The following is an article that i wrote for Frontline in the aftermath of the Aligarh riots in April 2006. The article finally didn’t make it – not because of a conspiracy of silence – but because another correspondent had already filed; but I think it might answer the “What were the police doing?” question that we often find ourselves asking.
“The mob is frenzied and frightening. But you can run from the mob. You can’t run away from a police bullet,” says Sarfaraz Khan, a resident of Aligarh. When he heard the mob coming, Khan’s son, Shadab pulled down the shop shutters and headed home, but never made it. As he scrambled up long slope that separates Muslim settlement at Tantan Para Farsh from the Hindu settlement at Kanvari Farsh, Shadab was cut down by a bullet that sliced through his neck with clinical precision. He was nineteen. By afternoon on the 6 April 2006, police firing in the riot hit town of Aligarh had claimed three more casualties: Naved was 16, Sarfaraz was 22, and Azam was 24 years old. Another 17 people were wounded. Continue reading Kherlanji, Aligarh and the Provincial Armed Constabulary
Sitting in his second-floor office in the Ahmedabad suburb of Naroda, Bajrangi talks about his NGO, Navchetan, which ‘rescues’ Hindu women who have been ‘lured’ into relationships with Muslim men. “In every house today there is a bomb, and that bomb is the woman, who forms the basis of Hindu culture and tradition,” Bajrangi begins. “Parents allow her to go to college, and they start having love affairs, often with Muslims. Women should just be kept at home to save them from the terrible fate of Hindu-Muslim marriages.”
Bajrangi’s Navchetan works to prevent inter-religious love marriages, and if such a wedding has already taken place, it works to break the union. When a marriage between a Hindu woman and Muslim man gets registered in a court, within a few days the marriage documents generally end up on Bajrangi’s desk, ferreted out by functionaries in the lower judiciary. The girl is subsequently kidnapped and sent back home; the boy is taught a lesson. “We beat him in a way that no Muslim will dare to look at Hindu women again. Only last week, we made a Muslim eat his own waste – thrice, in a spoon,” he reveals with barely concealed pride. All this is illegal, Bajrangi concedes, but it is moral. “And anyway, the government is ours,” he continues, turning to look at the clock. “See, I am meeting Modi in a while today.”
One might dismiss Babu Bajrangi as a bombast when he claims proximity to the chief minister, or describes the beating of Muslim boys. But for a man of obvious stature in society he is also accused of burning Muslims alive. As the chief accused in the infamous Naroda Patiya case, one of the worst instances of brutality during the 2002 violence, he is alleged to have led the mob that killed 89 people in the area. It is a burden that rests lightly on Bajrangi’s shoulders. “People say I killed 123 people,” he says. Did you? Bajrangi laughs, “How does it matter? They were Muslims. They had to die. They are dead.”
Evidence of Bajrangi’s complicity was so overwhelming that even a pliable state administration could not save him from an eight-month stint in prison. “They cannot reduce my hatred for Muslims with that, can they? While in jail, I demolished a small mosque that was located in there,” he says with a sly, childlike grin. Bajrangi’s views on what is wrong with Muslims are unabashedly straightforward. “They are all terrorists. Refuse to sing even the national song. Why don’t they just go to Pakistan? Now, our aim is to create a society where we have as little to do with them as possible.”
The 2002 pogrom in Gujarat was not a standalone event. It had a past, and as Prashant Jha’s essay in Himal tells us, a future.