I learnt about the incident on September 8 through an e-mail from Dr. Sujat Vali from Godhra. When I called him, he gave the phone number of his sister Shabana who lives in Ratlam. Shabana apprised me of the tense situation in Ratlam. I called Mr. L.S. Hardenia, a prominent secular activist in Bhopal, he also furnished some details. I decided to go to Ratlam on the day of Eid.
I left Delhi on the night of September 10 by Swaraj Express and reached Ratlam at 7: 45 AM. I informed Shabana and her husband Mr. Munawar Jiva Khan of my arrival and said that I would reach their home after meeting DM and SP and visiting the site where trouble began. I started walking towards the city. On my way I went to a medical store and talked to its owner, a middle aged Sikh. He said that the riot had occurred in Mochipura, Sheranipura, Danipura area. I went to that area. As I entered Mochipura I was struck by the poverty of the area. The city has a population of 3 lakh, of which 1 lakh are Jains/ Baniyas, 60 thousand Muslims and rest others. Mochipura and Danipura are mixed populations. I talked to Muslims standing near a mosque. One of them, a barber, said that there was no quarrel between Hindus and Muslims, only police had tortured and robbed them and put their dear ones in prison. Similar tales I heard from several others. As I proceeded ahead, I saw 5 police men standing on a platform. I talked to them, gave a copy of Sadbhav Mission Patrika and explained the purpose of my visit. I was surprised by their positive response. After I left they read the magazine and informed the Additional Superintendent of Police about the goal of my visit. The ASP expressed his willingness to meet me.
I walked to the Danipura Mosque. There were signs of cow dung spray on the side wall of the mosque, however, it could not be a cause of a major confrontation. Muslims say cow dung was thrown at the door of the mosque also but there was no one inside the mosque with whom I could confirm. Police later told me that Imam was in prison. I talked to two middle aged Gurjars (there are 15 Gurjar families on two sides of the mosque who have buffalos and sell milk) outside their homes. One of them said that this was the only cow dung on the mosque wall. The other said that he had filed a complaint with Jan Sunwai ten days ago as loudspeaker at the mosque was very loud. On September 3, around 5 PM police came for an enquiry. After the police left, people from the mosque came and said why did he not talk directly to them and thus a quarrel developed. He showed his door and the door of a neighbour that were damaged on that day. Some electrical appliance was also damaged. But it was not something that happens in a riot.
As I was returning from the mosque two policemen came and said that the Additional Superintendent of Police Mr. Vyas wanted to meet me. In a little while he arrived along with Additional District Magistrate Mr. Saluja, Deputy Collector and DSP. I told them the purpose of my visit and what I input I had got from the people. They said that when tension continued police came to the mosque, then several thousand people assembled with swords and other arms. I said that during Ramzan people assemble in large numbers for Taravih prayer but they do not have arms. There might be may be 50 or 100 people with some sort of arms but not more. The ASP agreed with my assessment. Then he said, when police tried to disperse them they resorted to stone pelting. As police chased them, they went into a big mosque and someone went on the mike and started shouting Islam is in danger, then police had to carry the counter offensive and search operation and arrests were made. I argued with them for half an hour about the need for restraint as most people affected by such operations are innocent. I gave them a copy of People Centric Nationalism and copies of Sadbhav Mission Patrika. From there I went to the big mosque. Every one over there was complaining of police excesses. Then I went to Nagar Qazi. There were five members of the family. They greeted me with warmth and openness. Their version of the incident was objective and unbiased. They had praise for DIG Ved Prakash Sharma and advised me to meet him.
At 1 PM I reached Shabana and Jiva Khan’s place. They were immensely warm and offered me lunch. Shaban connected me to Congress President Dr. rajesh Sharma. He was out of town, however, he said he had met the DM in this connection and was in touch with Mr. Kanti Lal Bhuria, MP from Ratlam and Minister of state at the Center. Mr. Bhuria is out the country and would return on the 18th. Mr. Khan later took me to Manav Kalyan organization president Mr. Agarwal. He had all praise for police action and blamed Muslims. I could understand his position when he showered praise on Modi. From there we went to the residence of Ms Yasmin, President Mahila Congress. She was also arrested but was released same day. She was deeply anguished by police atrocities. From there we went to DM’s residence. He was home but busy. Then we went to DIG’s residence. He was warm and said that he was working on how to release hundred or so people who were in prison. It was 6PM by then and Mr. Jivakhan took me to train station.
The incidence has caused deep wound physical as well psychological on the Muslims who are economically hard pressed in Ratlam. The arrested persons must be released without delay, people must be compensated for the damage caused during the search operation (some even allege that money and ornaments were taken away) and it must be investigated why the situation was not handled tactfully and why innocent people in such huge numbers were implicated when there was no injury to anyone.
(The author teaches at Delhi-IIT)