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Myth of the Hindu Backlash: When Bombay Burned

Teesta Setalvad 07 Jan 2016

Image Courtesy: Hemant Shirodkar

December 1992-January 1993 was a bleak, dark time for Bombay, when the cosmopolitan myth around this city was truly shattered. The insidious politics of hate and division, propped up by rumour mongering and spinning of the stereotype saw December of 1992 and January 1993 severely test Bombay’s ethos.
 
On January 8, 1993 the Radhabai Chawl incident was malevolently used by the Shiv Sena (and its then junior partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party,BJP) to justify the targeted retaliation against the city’s Muslims. As this excerpt from the report shows,  long before the Radhabai Chawl incident, right from the night of December 20, 1992, Bombay’s communal pot had been kept boiling, Muslims under attack.  The Mahaartis, a politically targeted programme to justify attacks on Muslim neighbourhoods were formally launched on December 26, 1992. Thereafter sections of the underworld got into the act and Mathadi workers and others were targeted in stabbings.
 
 Two reports, The People’s Verdict (a citizens effort headed by two retired judges) and the official report of the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission recorded and analysed the situation. The Justice BN Srikrishna Commission report was completed in February 1998, by which time the Sena-BJP government was in power in the state.
 
Every attempt was made to conceal the report. Then, Sabrang Communications & Pulishing Private Limited, with the help of generous individual donations from citizens of Mumbai and India published the report, in full. Thanks to the donations we made it available at at low prices.
 
The entire text of the report is available at  https://www.sabrangindia.in/reports/damning-verdict and http://www.sabrang.com/srikrish/intro.htm  In the long introduction to the report the writer (Teesta Setalvad) had analysed its contents. We bring to you this analysis in parts, beginning with the ‘Myth of the Hindu Backlash;
 
     
The  third malicious element of communal propaganda visible in Mumbai during the relevant period has been the theory of “a Hindu backlash in retaliation” in response to heinous acts against Hindus, like the burning alive of a family in a Jogeshwari slum (Radhabai Chawl incident) preceded by the murder of Mathadi workers (also see later sections). This theory of  “Hindu retaliation”, led by “Hinduhriday-samrat” Bal Thackeray, that gained wide sway and currency during and after the violence in Mumbai is rooted in Hindu communal discourse of yore. An examination of all judicial Commission reports in post–Independence India since the first major riot in Jabalpur in 1961, shows that the perverted discourse around “Who cast the first stone?” has been maliciously used by Hindu communal organisations — be it the RSS, Jana Sangh, the Sena or the BJP — to justify their blatantly aggressive acts. In every communal riot situation, this discourse points to violent acts of Muslims as being the flashpoint for that violence. This selective discourse conceals the systematic and deliberate provocation of  the minority  community — through hate–writing, provocative slogans and incendiary and insulting allegations for weeks and sometimes even months preceding the outbreak of violence.

The reason why the spurious theory of a “backlash” gained such wide currency during Mumbai riots was simply because even a Congress(I) Chief Minister, Sudhakarrao Naik and Mumbai Police Commissioner, Srikant Bapat, bought this theory and responded to the violence based not on an appreciation of the ground reality but on a deliberately misinterpreted representation of events.

Justice Srikrishna, commenting on the second phase of riots in January 1993,  categorically rejects that it was merely a backlash of the Hindus because of the cases of stabbing, the murder of Mathadi workers and the Radhabai Chawl incident. He observes: “The events which took place between the period 12th December 1992 and 5th January 1993 indicate that there were attacks going on against the Muslims and their properties in different areas”. (Pg. 20, para 1.27–ii).
  • December 20, 1993, two Muslims were locked in a room and the room set alight within the Goregaon jurisdiction; due to the severe burns suffered one of the victims died.
  • On the night of December 24–25, 1992 one Mathadi worker was killed; though subsequent police investigations revealed the identity of the criminal to be an alchoholic, the communal atmosphere and communal outfits interpreted that the killing was done by a Muslim.
  • The Mahaartis launched by the Sena-BJP combine from December 26, 1992 added to the communal tension, endangering the fragile peace which had been established. Some of the Mahaartis were later used as occasions for delivering communally–inciting speeches; the crowds dispersing from the Mahaartis indulging in damage, looting and arson of Muslim establishments on the way. The Mahaartis continued unabated with no restriction on them being imposed by the police throughout January 1993 and came to an end only by the first week of February 1993.
  • There were also several stabbing incidents carried out by professional criminals in different areas of the city, with the intention of whipping up communal frenzy, in which the majority of the victims happened to be Hindus The stabbings appeared to be executed with professional accuracy intended to kill the victims. The killers had not been then identified in several cases, though it was presumed, at least in the cases where the Hindus were victims, that the killers were Muslims. The motive for the stabbings appears to have been to whip up communal frenzy between Hindus and Muslims. Some of the Muslim criminal elements operating in South Bombay, like Salim Rampuri and Firoz Konkani, have been identified as the brains behind the stabbing incidents. That they were criminals was underplayed by Hindus; that they were Muslims was all that mattered, and a cry went up that the Muslims were bent upon a second round of riots.
  • On January 1, 1993, an article appeared in the Shiv Sena organ edited by Bal Thackeray, Saamna, under the heading “Hindunni Akramak Vhayala Have” (Hindus must become aggressors), openly inciting Hindus to violence.
  • On January 2, 1993 a number of Muslim hutments in M.P. Mill compound within the Tardeo jurisdiction of south Mumbai were set on fire. On the same day, there was an incident in Dharavi where two Muslims were assaulted with iron rods.
  • On January 3, 1993 there was an attack on a Muslim in Dharavi jurisdiction with a knife. On the same day, several persons claiming to be officials of MHADA, and alleged to be Shiv Sainiks, went around Pratiksha Nagar in Antop Hill jurisdiction surveying the residences of Muslims there.
  • On January 4, 1993 a big mob of Hindus, led by Shri Gajanan Kirtikar, Shri Ramesh More and other Shiv Sena activists, took a morcha to the Jogeshwari Police Station complaining of lack of security for Hindus. Some of the people in the morcha attacked Chacha Nagar Masjid and the Muslims in the vicinity and injured them. Several Muslim huts in Magdum Nagar in Mahim jurisdiction were set on fire by Hindus.  
  • On the night of January 5, 1993 a Mathadi worker employed in the godown of Vijay Transport Company who was sleeping in the godown went to the street to relieve himself. Suddenly, he was set upon by miscreants who stabbed him to death. Three more Mathadi workers who came out of the godown to help him were also stabbed to death. The murders of the Mathadi workers created tremendous tension in the area. The Mathadi Workers’ Union called for a bandh. Huge meetings were held which were addressed by leaders of Mathadi Unions. Speeches were made during this meeting to condemn the police and Government for their ineffectiveness with exhortations that Hindus might have to pick up swords to defend themselves if the police failed to protect them. At the time when these murders of Mathadi workers took place, neither the police, nor the public, had a clue as to the identity of the killers, which came to be established much later. Nonetheless, the Hindus spearheaded by the Shiv Sena kicked up a furore that the murders had been committed by Muslims, virtually giving a call for arms. On January 5 –6, 1993 the Mathadi workers gave a call for bandh of wholesale markets, which also gave immense publicity to the murders of the Mathadis, allegedly by Muslims.
  • On January 6, 1993, the situation in Mahim went out of control at 9 p.m. Hindus attacked Muslims in Muslim pockets in Mahim area led by Shiv Sena Corporator, Milind Vaidya, and a police constable, Sanjay Gawade, openly carrying a sword. There were serious riots in which frenzied mobs of Hindus and Muslims attacked each other.  
Which incident among the list of horrors listed above was worse than the other? Should the Radhabai Chawl incident be elevated to a special category? The only thing that can be said for such selective projections that elevate one tragedy above others and relegate others to mere statistic is that it is poor comment indeed on the times that we live in. When the injury to a victim is measured by whether he/she is Hindu or Muslim and the veracities of testimonies are similarly upheld or dismissed.

Commenting on Bapat’s affidavit and testimony, the Judge remarks: “Even the state government and the police were sold on the theory that the Hindu backlash came on account of the said gruesome incidents. Though Bapat has been quick to point out these incidents in his affidavit, he claimed total ignorance with regard to several equally gruesome incidents in which Muslims were victims, which were put to him in his cross–examination.” (Pg. 197, Para 2.14).

“For example, he seemed either not to recollect, or be unaware, of the arson of a timber mart in Ghatkopar jurisdiction on December 15, 1992 resulting in four Muslims being burnt alive, an arson in Goregaon jurisdiction on December 20, 1992 in which one of the Muslims was burnt and killed, of the attack on Muslim hutments in M.P. Mill compound on January 2,1993 and large–scale arson of Muslim hutments on January  4, 1993 in Mahim jurisdiction and the morcha led by Shiv Sena leaders Shri Ramesh More and Shri Gajanan Kirtikar to Jogeshwari police station, en route causing havoc in Chacha Nagar and damaging the Chacha Nagar Masjid, of the arson of a taxi carrying two Muslims which was burnt causing their death on January  7,1993 in Antop Hill jurisdiction and the Devipada incident of January 12, 1994 in which two Muslim ladies were stripped naked and attacked by a mob and one lady and her uncle were murdered and burnt.” (Pg. 197, para 2.14).

This theory of  “Hindu retaliation”, led by “Hinduhriday-samrat” Bal Thackeray, that gained wide sway and currency during and after the violence in Mumbai is rooted in Hindu communal discourse of yore. An examination of all judicial Commission reports in post–Independence India since the first major riot in Jabalpur in 1961, shows that the perverted discourse around “Who cast the first stone?” has been maliciously used by Hindu communal organisations — be it the RSS, Jana Sangh, the Sena or the BJP — to justify their blatantly aggressive acts.

The Judge further observes: “There is legitimate grievance made by the Muslims that the memory and information of Shri Bapat is either selective or that he had been selectively fed with only such material to be placed before the Commission as would suit a particular theory being advanced by the State Government and the police. Bapat also claimed not to know that Shiv Sainiks under the leadership of local Shiv Sena leaders Baburao Mane and Ramkrishna Keni had taken out a celebration cycle rally in Dharavi jurisdictional area (on December 6, 1992)  which went around the Muslim areas shouting abusive and provoking slogans during which a stone was thrown at a local Mosque, though he claimed that, if such an incident had happened and reported to him, he would have certainly shown it as the first in the series of incidents referred to in paragraph 42 of his affidavit. Despite the material on record in the concerned case (C.R.No.718 of 1992) showing clearly that the celebration rally/procession had been organised by Shiv Sena, to deny, as Bapat did, the role of Shiv Sena in the riots, is ignoring the obvious.” (Pg. 197, para 2.15).

Shiv Sena MP, Madhukar Sarpotdar had in his deposition before the Commission defended his party’s philosophy of retaliation even saying that “when incidents against Hindus took place in one part of Mumbai, acts of retaliation against innocent Muslims in other parts was justified.” Sarpotdar had also said that as a senior leader of the Shiv Sena he could say that this was the philosophy of his party as well.

A significant section of the ATR is devoted to the murder of the Mathadi workers and the Radhabai Chawl incident. The ATR reiterates the retaliation theory: “when action and reaction are taking place rapidly, it is difficult to investigate as to where they started.” The ATR also supports Bal Thackeray’s rejection of the interview given to Time magazine but makes no attempt to deal with the provocative and incendiary writings of Thackeray in his mouthpiece, the Saamna, that have been relied upon by the Judge in his indictment of the Sena chief.

No attention has been paid to the incidents listed by the Judge (mentioned above) that prove that right from December 20, 1992 till January 5, 1993, stray but gruesome incidents of violence continued unabated where members of both communities were victims. The government is utterly silent on specific instances of brutality that by their very chronology explode the theory that it was the selective targeting of Hindus on January 5–6 and on January 8, 1993 that were responsible for the Hindu backlash. The attitude of the government as reflected in the ATR is uncaring of the enormous loss of life and property that took place during the riots since it merely limits itself to justifying the Shiv Sena’s own role in the violence.

(Excerpted from the Introduction – Myths shattered --to “Damning Verdict”, Report of the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission appointed for inquiry into the riots at Mumbai during December 1992-January 1993 and the March 12, 1993 bomb blasts)
 
 

Myth of the Hindu Backlash: When Bombay Burned


Image Courtesy: Hemant Shirodkar

December 1992-January 1993 was a bleak, dark time for Bombay, when the cosmopolitan myth around this city was truly shattered. The insidious politics of hate and division, propped up by rumour mongering and spinning of the stereotype saw December of 1992 and January 1993 severely test Bombay’s ethos.
 
On January 8, 1993 the Radhabai Chawl incident was malevolently used by the Shiv Sena (and its then junior partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party,BJP) to justify the targeted retaliation against the city’s Muslims. As this excerpt from the report shows,  long before the Radhabai Chawl incident, right from the night of December 20, 1992, Bombay’s communal pot had been kept boiling, Muslims under attack.  The Mahaartis, a politically targeted programme to justify attacks on Muslim neighbourhoods were formally launched on December 26, 1992. Thereafter sections of the underworld got into the act and Mathadi workers and others were targeted in stabbings.
 
 Two reports, The People’s Verdict (a citizens effort headed by two retired judges) and the official report of the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission recorded and analysed the situation. The Justice BN Srikrishna Commission report was completed in February 1998, by which time the Sena-BJP government was in power in the state.
 
Every attempt was made to conceal the report. Then, Sabrang Communications & Pulishing Private Limited, with the help of generous individual donations from citizens of Mumbai and India published the report, in full. Thanks to the donations we made it available at at low prices.
 
The entire text of the report is available at  https://www.sabrangindia.in/reports/damning-verdict and http://www.sabrang.com/srikrish/intro.htm  In the long introduction to the report the writer (Teesta Setalvad) had analysed its contents. We bring to you this analysis in parts, beginning with the ‘Myth of the Hindu Backlash;
 
     
The  third malicious element of communal propaganda visible in Mumbai during the relevant period has been the theory of “a Hindu backlash in retaliation” in response to heinous acts against Hindus, like the burning alive of a family in a Jogeshwari slum (Radhabai Chawl incident) preceded by the murder of Mathadi workers (also see later sections). This theory of  “Hindu retaliation”, led by “Hinduhriday-samrat” Bal Thackeray, that gained wide sway and currency during and after the violence in Mumbai is rooted in Hindu communal discourse of yore. An examination of all judicial Commission reports in post–Independence India since the first major riot in Jabalpur in 1961, shows that the perverted discourse around “Who cast the first stone?” has been maliciously used by Hindu communal organisations — be it the RSS, Jana Sangh, the Sena or the BJP — to justify their blatantly aggressive acts. In every communal riot situation, this discourse points to violent acts of Muslims as being the flashpoint for that violence. This selective discourse conceals the systematic and deliberate provocation of  the minority  community — through hate–writing, provocative slogans and incendiary and insulting allegations for weeks and sometimes even months preceding the outbreak of violence.

The reason why the spurious theory of a “backlash” gained such wide currency during Mumbai riots was simply because even a Congress(I) Chief Minister, Sudhakarrao Naik and Mumbai Police Commissioner, Srikant Bapat, bought this theory and responded to the violence based not on an appreciation of the ground reality but on a deliberately misinterpreted representation of events.

Justice Srikrishna, commenting on the second phase of riots in January 1993,  categorically rejects that it was merely a backlash of the Hindus because of the cases of stabbing, the murder of Mathadi workers and the Radhabai Chawl incident. He observes: “The events which took place between the period 12th December 1992 and 5th January 1993 indicate that there were attacks going on against the Muslims and their properties in different areas”. (Pg. 20, para 1.27–ii).
  • December 20, 1993, two Muslims were locked in a room and the room set alight within the Goregaon jurisdiction; due to the severe burns suffered one of the victims died.
  • On the night of December 24–25, 1992 one Mathadi worker was killed; though subsequent police investigations revealed the identity of the criminal to be an alchoholic, the communal atmosphere and communal outfits interpreted that the killing was done by a Muslim.
  • The Mahaartis launched by the Sena-BJP combine from December 26, 1992 added to the communal tension, endangering the fragile peace which had been established. Some of the Mahaartis were later used as occasions for delivering communally–inciting speeches; the crowds dispersing from the Mahaartis indulging in damage, looting and arson of Muslim establishments on the way. The Mahaartis continued unabated with no restriction on them being imposed by the police throughout January 1993 and came to an end only by the first week of February 1993.
  • There were also several stabbing incidents carried out by professional criminals in different areas of the city, with the intention of whipping up communal frenzy, in which the majority of the victims happened to be Hindus The stabbings appeared to be executed with professional accuracy intended to kill the victims. The killers had not been then identified in several cases, though it was presumed, at least in the cases where the Hindus were victims, that the killers were Muslims. The motive for the stabbings appears to have been to whip up communal frenzy between Hindus and Muslims. Some of the Muslim criminal elements operating in South Bombay, like Salim Rampuri and Firoz Konkani, have been identified as the brains behind the stabbing incidents. That they were criminals was underplayed by Hindus; that they were Muslims was all that mattered, and a cry went up that the Muslims were bent upon a second round of riots.
  • On January 1, 1993, an article appeared in the Shiv Sena organ edited by Bal Thackeray, Saamna, under the heading “Hindunni Akramak Vhayala Have” (Hindus must become aggressors), openly inciting Hindus to violence.
  • On January 2, 1993 a number of Muslim hutments in M.P. Mill compound within the Tardeo jurisdiction of south Mumbai were set on fire. On the same day, there was an incident in Dharavi where two Muslims were assaulted with iron rods.
  • On January 3, 1993 there was an attack on a Muslim in Dharavi jurisdiction with a knife. On the same day, several persons claiming to be officials of MHADA, and alleged to be Shiv Sainiks, went around Pratiksha Nagar in Antop Hill jurisdiction surveying the residences of Muslims there.
  • On January 4, 1993 a big mob of Hindus, led by Shri Gajanan Kirtikar, Shri Ramesh More and other Shiv Sena activists, took a morcha to the Jogeshwari Police Station complaining of lack of security for Hindus. Some of the people in the morcha attacked Chacha Nagar Masjid and the Muslims in the vicinity and injured them. Several Muslim huts in Magdum Nagar in Mahim jurisdiction were set on fire by Hindus.  
  • On the night of January 5, 1993 a Mathadi worker employed in the godown of Vijay Transport Company who was sleeping in the godown went to the street to relieve himself. Suddenly, he was set upon by miscreants who stabbed him to death. Three more Mathadi workers who came out of the godown to help him were also stabbed to death. The murders of the Mathadi workers created tremendous tension in the area. The Mathadi Workers’ Union called for a bandh. Huge meetings were held which were addressed by leaders of Mathadi Unions. Speeches were made during this meeting to condemn the police and Government for their ineffectiveness with exhortations that Hindus might have to pick up swords to defend themselves if the police failed to protect them. At the time when these murders of Mathadi workers took place, neither the police, nor the public, had a clue as to the identity of the killers, which came to be established much later. Nonetheless, the Hindus spearheaded by the Shiv Sena kicked up a furore that the murders had been committed by Muslims, virtually giving a call for arms. On January 5 –6, 1993 the Mathadi workers gave a call for bandh of wholesale markets, which also gave immense publicity to the murders of the Mathadis, allegedly by Muslims.
  • On January 6, 1993, the situation in Mahim went out of control at 9 p.m. Hindus attacked Muslims in Muslim pockets in Mahim area led by Shiv Sena Corporator, Milind Vaidya, and a police constable, Sanjay Gawade, openly carrying a sword. There were serious riots in which frenzied mobs of Hindus and Muslims attacked each other.  
Which incident among the list of horrors listed above was worse than the other? Should the Radhabai Chawl incident be elevated to a special category? The only thing that can be said for such selective projections that elevate one tragedy above others and relegate others to mere statistic is that it is poor comment indeed on the times that we live in. When the injury to a victim is measured by whether he/she is Hindu or Muslim and the veracities of testimonies are similarly upheld or dismissed.

Commenting on Bapat’s affidavit and testimony, the Judge remarks: “Even the state government and the police were sold on the theory that the Hindu backlash came on account of the said gruesome incidents. Though Bapat has been quick to point out these incidents in his affidavit, he claimed total ignorance with regard to several equally gruesome incidents in which Muslims were victims, which were put to him in his cross–examination.” (Pg. 197, Para 2.14).

“For example, he seemed either not to recollect, or be unaware, of the arson of a timber mart in Ghatkopar jurisdiction on December 15, 1992 resulting in four Muslims being burnt alive, an arson in Goregaon jurisdiction on December 20, 1992 in which one of the Muslims was burnt and killed, of the attack on Muslim hutments in M.P. Mill compound on January 2,1993 and large–scale arson of Muslim hutments on January  4, 1993 in Mahim jurisdiction and the morcha led by Shiv Sena leaders Shri Ramesh More and Shri Gajanan Kirtikar to Jogeshwari police station, en route causing havoc in Chacha Nagar and damaging the Chacha Nagar Masjid, of the arson of a taxi carrying two Muslims which was burnt causing their death on January  7,1993 in Antop Hill jurisdiction and the Devipada incident of January 12, 1994 in which two Muslim ladies were stripped naked and attacked by a mob and one lady and her uncle were murdered and burnt.” (Pg. 197, para 2.14).

This theory of  “Hindu retaliation”, led by “Hinduhriday-samrat” Bal Thackeray, that gained wide sway and currency during and after the violence in Mumbai is rooted in Hindu communal discourse of yore. An examination of all judicial Commission reports in post–Independence India since the first major riot in Jabalpur in 1961, shows that the perverted discourse around “Who cast the first stone?” has been maliciously used by Hindu communal organisations — be it the RSS, Jana Sangh, the Sena or the BJP — to justify their blatantly aggressive acts.

The Judge further observes: “There is legitimate grievance made by the Muslims that the memory and information of Shri Bapat is either selective or that he had been selectively fed with only such material to be placed before the Commission as would suit a particular theory being advanced by the State Government and the police. Bapat also claimed not to know that Shiv Sainiks under the leadership of local Shiv Sena leaders Baburao Mane and Ramkrishna Keni had taken out a celebration cycle rally in Dharavi jurisdictional area (on December 6, 1992)  which went around the Muslim areas shouting abusive and provoking slogans during which a stone was thrown at a local Mosque, though he claimed that, if such an incident had happened and reported to him, he would have certainly shown it as the first in the series of incidents referred to in paragraph 42 of his affidavit. Despite the material on record in the concerned case (C.R.No.718 of 1992) showing clearly that the celebration rally/procession had been organised by Shiv Sena, to deny, as Bapat did, the role of Shiv Sena in the riots, is ignoring the obvious.” (Pg. 197, para 2.15).

Shiv Sena MP, Madhukar Sarpotdar had in his deposition before the Commission defended his party’s philosophy of retaliation even saying that “when incidents against Hindus took place in one part of Mumbai, acts of retaliation against innocent Muslims in other parts was justified.” Sarpotdar had also said that as a senior leader of the Shiv Sena he could say that this was the philosophy of his party as well.

A significant section of the ATR is devoted to the murder of the Mathadi workers and the Radhabai Chawl incident. The ATR reiterates the retaliation theory: “when action and reaction are taking place rapidly, it is difficult to investigate as to where they started.” The ATR also supports Bal Thackeray’s rejection of the interview given to Time magazine but makes no attempt to deal with the provocative and incendiary writings of Thackeray in his mouthpiece, the Saamna, that have been relied upon by the Judge in his indictment of the Sena chief.

No attention has been paid to the incidents listed by the Judge (mentioned above) that prove that right from December 20, 1992 till January 5, 1993, stray but gruesome incidents of violence continued unabated where members of both communities were victims. The government is utterly silent on specific instances of brutality that by their very chronology explode the theory that it was the selective targeting of Hindus on January 5–6 and on January 8, 1993 that were responsible for the Hindu backlash. The attitude of the government as reflected in the ATR is uncaring of the enormous loss of life and property that took place during the riots since it merely limits itself to justifying the Shiv Sena’s own role in the violence.

(Excerpted from the Introduction – Myths shattered --to “Damning Verdict”, Report of the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission appointed for inquiry into the riots at Mumbai during December 1992-January 1993 and the March 12, 1993 bomb blasts)
 
 

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