Lessons from Malegaon?
Maxwell Pereira

mfjpkamath@gmail.com

Malegaon in Nashik district about 280 km northeast of Mumbai, is one of the largest cities in northwest Maharashtra on the Mumbai-Agra national highway. It is a major textile-producing centre, and with its twin city Bhiwandi, is famous for its power-looms. Nearly three-quarters of Malegaon's 7 lakh people are Muslim.

The township is unhealthily ghettoised with the Mausam River – more a nullah, forming an unsanitary boundary between the Muslim and Hindu populations. Despite physical separation, the lives of the two people are deeply intertwined by dictates of trade – suppliers of yarn being largely Hindu, weavers mostly Muslim. The place has a Muslim medical college and a madrasa for girls. It also has a history of communal violence.

Malegaon was born in the shadow of violence, when thousands of Muslims from Delhi fleeing the British suppression of 1857 relocated here and in neighbouring Bhiwandi. Its current demographics trace the people to UP, Bihar and Bangladesh.

Clashes first erupted in 1963 when Ganapati Visarjan and Muharram happened to fall on the same day. There have been riots since: in the sixties, early eighties, in 1992, and worst of all in October 2001 when the army had to be called in to restore peace. After the Gujarat riots in 2002, truckloads of Muslim families considered this a haven too.

The propensity for mischief was statedly apparent in 2003 when pages of the Quran in a local mosque were found torn. The incident did not spark riots as feared, mainly because of efforts of numerous mohalla committees that strived hard to bridge the divide.

Malegaon has not been able shake its stigma as a "terror town" because of its continued links with SIMI and LeT – making families from other parts of the state wary to marry their daughters here. The place featured in the run up to the attack on RSS HQs in Nagpur – and following disclosures after the May 10 seizures of 30 kg RDX in Ellora near Aurangabad, yielded weapons and RDX from its bowels too.

Then last week, on September 8 at around 13:15 after Friday prayers, three bomb blasts hit a crowded market in town around the cemetery adjacent to a mosque. Blasts were timed to meet the surge of people leaving the mosque after special prayers for Shab-e-Bara'at – a festival when Muslims visit cemeteries to offer prayers for the dead. 37 people – mostly Muslims, died and at least 125 were seriously injured.
 
Confusion prevailed over divergent versions of political leaders and the police who spoke of "two bombs attached to bicycles"; while other reports indicated devices had exploded in three places. Initially, the state home minister and the DGP claimed concrete leads to the perpetrators, but the local IGP at Nashik denied anything of the sort. TV cameras caught the DGP in his civvies, and die-hard policia old timers found his body language too casual while reacting to an incident in which nigh two score lives were lost. To be fair to the beleaguered Maharashtra police on the mat for not detecting yet the 7/11 serial blasts in Mumbai trains, their control in Malegaon in the aftermath of the blasts is praiseworthy.

Bajrang Dal and the Lashkar are among main suspects. BD followed a similar pattern in blasts at Parbhani’s Mohammadi Masjid and mosques at Purna and Jalna earlier this year. The Anti-Terrorism Squad, who arrested 16 BD activists for these blasts, should answer the reasons for going slow on this probe. BD had also proved their bomb making abilities in the Nanded incident when four activists died while making bombs. Muslim caps and clothes were recovered from their houses, and those arrested later told interrogators they wanted to avenge several blasts across the country. Involvement of Hindu fringe groups was also suspected in the 2002 blasts in Aurangabad.

Intelligence agencies do not rule out Islamic terrorists. They suspect the Jaish-e-Mohammad whose attempt to foment trouble during the recently concluded Ganapati festival was foiled by tight security measures. So the current blasts could be solely to provoke communal tension – not only to kill people, but also to create panic in the already sensitive town. In the ring of suspicion is also the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami whose modus operandi includes use of bicycles and local bombs. A nexus between HuJI and SIMI is known.

In the context of these latest Malegaon blasts, a new metaphor of ‘Hindutva Terrorism’ finds mention in The Hindu newspaper in an Op-ed column. Be this an attempt to equate it with Islamic terrorism, the fact remains that terrorism does not distinguish between Hindu and Muslim. While conspiracy theories that this was a Pakistan sponsored attempt to destabilize India and polarize religious relations could be true, the fact that it could be the act of a local extremist to settle old communal scores stares us in the face. There is the angle of local politics too, with the controversial ex-MLA Nihal Ahmed Mohd Usman in the centre of it.
 
To conclude, intelligence sharing across the states and the Centre is a must to connect links between those who sponsor terror, who inspire and plan terror and those who execute it. It is for the moderates and the right thinking majority in the Muslim community to rise to the occasion and expose those from within who operate under the religious or community haven. If it is home grown terrorists trying to settle religious scores by shedding Muslim blood, then the force of law must strike on them so hard to make it absolutely clear that anti-Muslim terrorism will also not be tolerated. And if it is local politics exploiting security vulnerabilities, then those vested political interests must be exposed and punished severely.

12.09.2006: Copyright © Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com TOP


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