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Residents point fingers at BJP as communal violence flares in peaceful Rishikesh

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 7 October 2017, 18:48 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

Famous for sandy river beaches, sprawling ashrams, temples, adventure sports and wildlife, Rishikesh is finding it hard to come to terms with the communal violence that gripped the town and adjoining areas after body of a 34-year-old man was found on tracks near Raiwala on 3 October.

The residents of this quaint town are in a state of shock as they have never heard of such incidents ever being reported from this tourist hotspot.

Scared to express their opinion publicly, many say that such incidents have become routine since the BJP government came to power in Uttarakhand. For them, communal violence in Rishikesh is just a reminder of how right-wing groups have been emboldened by BJP's win in the otherwise peaceful state.

Meanwhile, police claimed that after two days of violence, normalcy has been restored while confirming that Section 144 still remains imposed in several parts of the town as a precautionary measure.

The clashes

The cycle of violence in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, started on Thursday after state Assembly Speaker Premchand Aggarwal visited the Raiwala police station to demand immediate arrest of those involved. According to reports, the police arrested the accused on Thursday, following which protestors belonging to right-wing groups gathered outside the police station seeking arrest of others.

Sensing an opportunity to target the minority community, right-wing Hindu groups organised violent protests. This eventually led to several shops belonging to Muslims being vandalised. A few were even set ablaze.

The situation soon spiralled out of control: violent protestors began pelting stones at shops belonging to Muslims. Two people from the community were injured in the process. On Friday, Hindu Vahini, an offshoot of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, went from one neighbourhood to the other, forcing businessmen to shut their shops.

Late Thursday night, another shop belonging to a cloth merchant from the community was set on fire by unknown people.

The situation remained tense on Friday amid reports of Muslim shop owners still facing the fury of right-wing groups. According to reports, a Muslim man, who had come to the wholesale mandi to sell his produce, was beaten up by a mob. He sustained injuries on his head and also had injuries on his stomach with a sharp weapon. He was admitted in the government hospital while two of his associates who were also beaten by the mob remain missing.

Another shop of a local band party was also targeted and most of their musical instruments were destroyed.

A tense situation

The situation remained tense on Saturday though police and district administration claimed that normalcy has been restored.

“The situation is under control right now. Though there was violence on Thursday and Friday, we have issued stern warning to protestors and made them aware about the imposition of Section 144. So far we have arrested four such protestors responsible for vandalisation,” said Sarita Dobhal, SP, Dehradun (Rural). She went on to add that those accused of the murder have also been arrested and have confessed their crime.

According to the police, the situation in the area became tense after Lakshman Singh was found dead on the railway tracks on the night of 3 October. Reports suggest that Singh, father of three, was involved in an affair with the daughter of Islam, a poultry owner. Singh worked for Islam and when the latter came to know about their affair, he sacked Singh. But Singh continued to maintain relations with the daughter which infuriated Islam.

Later, Islam and his son were booked for murder who confessed their crimes and was sent to judicial custody, Dobhal said. Meanwhile, members of Hindu Jagran Manch continued to claim that there was a larger conspiracy behind the murder.

One of the Manch's members, speaking on the request of anonymity, spoke of how he had wanted to have been there to pitch in. "If I was there, I would have certainly killed one or two. These people need to be taught a lesson. They are slowly trying to turn into majority in our holy town and they hate us. I don't know why they hate us so much but such action was needed to ensure they know their place,” he said.

Rumour mongering

Meanwhile, his claims were shot down by Har Giri, sub-divisional magistrate, Rishikesh, who said Muslims hardly form even 4% of the town's population. “The situation is under control and we are ensuring that those indulging in violence and rumour-mongering are brought to justice,” he said.

When asked whether any such incidents have been reported from the town in the past, he denied. In fact, many in Uttarakhand had been raising this issue of how ever since the BJP came to power in the state, communal incidents are being reported from the hilly state. “Why is it that only when the BJP comes to power we get to hear such incidents? No such incident was reported during the previous Congress government,” said Rajpal Kharola of Congress.

He, too, spoke of how communal violence was totally unheard of in Rishikesh and warned that things will only worsen till 2019. “This is shameful for a democracy that people are being targeted for their religion. We want the case to be investigated and guilty be brought to the book but why target innocent people,” Kharola added.

Meanwhile, Vishwa Hindu Parishad said the incidents were unfortunate and some miscreants were responsible for the hooliganism. Bharat Gagan, VHP's district vice-president, said the chief minister has also requested for all to maintain peace. Interestingly, he said how there should be no differences with Muslims since “our ancestors were same and some unfortunate incidents in the past led them to embrace Islam”.

Ever since the BJP came to power in the state, such incidents are widely being reported from the hilly state that has no history of communal violence. Earlier, in July this year, members of a right-wing organisation vandalised a shop in Satpuli town in Pauri Garhwal after a minor boy uploaded an offensive picture of the Kedarnath shrine on Facebook.

Later, similar incidents have been reported from other parts of the state, which reflects how right-wing groups feel emboldened under the BJP government in state, Centre and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

First published: 7 October 2017, 18:48 IST