A Split-level War in Jamshedpur
The steel city of Jamshedpur has witnessed communal strife ever since the first steel mill was built. It is now a nouveau riche city with different communities competing for as much of the trade and commerce as they can. Wealth breeds crime as well as prosperity; the city has its share of the underworld. Tension has many causes. many faces. Religious festivals and processions lead to rioting which politicials are quick to exploit to their own advantage. Early in April 1979. Bala Saheb Deoras, head of the Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh (RSS). a Hindu fundamentalist organization, visited Jameshedpur and exhorted Hindus to assert their rights in a Hindu country. Ten days later the city went up in flames. reducing entire localities to ashes and leaving scores of innocent men, women and children dead.
The city of Jamshet’s (Jamshetji Tata, the founder of the House of Tatas) dreams has developed some ugly warts. It is an adolescent city, immature, vigorous, energetic, even rich; it wears fancy clothes and uses a good deal of cosmetics; but a disease has entered its lungs and heart, and its face breaks out in a hideous rash every now and then. Cosmetics and ugliness; the first does not hide the second, they exist side by side, in amazing complacence. The contrasts are startling. You see young engineers with their beautiful wives, the women laughing at some private joke as they motor home in the late afternoon, perhaps after lunch and tennis at the club. But ,in the city, down a broad, paved road lined with trees, fanned by cool breezes from the hills of Chotanagpur, is the posh and antiseptic Tata Medical Hospital where the more fortunate of the victims of communal violence are suffering, the sores now bandaged, but the wounds of the heart festering, and hate oozing from the eyes like a malignant pus that will contaminate all that it touches. The rose garden of the Jubilee Park is a square of red on flowing green; charming, very charming, so soothing that you could sleep forever on the grass; why, so pretty that even Bombay film producers use it as a venue for songs that echo into the blue hills as macho hero and pneumatic heroine race into each other’s arms and cling hard till the camera pans to two flowers making love. But the perfume is overwhelmed by the stench of the burnt, mutilated, shot, wounded, dying, dead, men, women and children at the Government hospital. The walls of this hospital are splashed with the black soot of age and carelessness; the atmosphere is septic, and the stench wafts out and onto the road, the nurses work hard for little reward, and on a bed sits a man injured in the head and leg, staring into space; beside him is his mother, also staring into space. Their world has burnt down. In the recesses of the hospital lie the dead, in hideous shapes, and each of them, each man, woman and child, has written a will in the presence of a hundred witnesses, and the will says that each member of the dead person’s family receives a legacy of hate, an equal share each; and this legacy has no limits, no boundaries, so each member of the deceased may take what he or she can carry away.
Have you ever heard the silence of a city? Curfew time is five o’ clock but long before that the silence has been building up. The city stopped roaring on 11 April 1979, but now as the sun enters the last quarter of its daily journey even the half-raised voices of the morning have hushed. The daylight is strong still. A cat drops quickly from a parapet onto Masjid Road and the eye, in reflex, catches the soundless movement for nothing else stirs, nothing else moves, there is no one on the street. Our car moves on, a window quickly shuts, soundlessly. Even the huge, squat, serried factory structures that fill the skyline of Jamshedpur seem afraid of making any noise. Dogs, scampering in the rubble of destruction, do not bark so much as whimper. The one sound that follows us is of the police; they are present at each street corner, neat and deadly guns in their hands, each picket with a plainclothes magistrate, and each picket stopping our car to check our curfew passes : the bold “Press” signs taped on the car are not sufficient proof of our innocence, and rightly so: stranger things are happening here than gun-running by fake journalists. A Muslim was nabbed carrying weapons in a Marwari’s car; traders have no religion, as we have all heard, particularly traders in illegal arms. Chickens, owned by nobody now, are wandering about busily in deserted, broken, burnt and looted homes. Jagged bricks pockmark both sides of the road, bricks which are witnesses, weapons and finally victims of battle. A single slipper lies in the middle of the street. A lone cyclist, a Sikh, passes us, stares at us; he is on his way from work. The street lights are on; they have been on for the last few days as no one, in fear, has gone to switch them off; they become a little more noticeable in the gradually weakening sunlight, as dusk seeps towards this silent city. From the boundary walls of Agrico factory, Rajesh Khanna and Rekha promise Prem Bandhan. A bunch of crows sits on a speedbreaker; as our car nears, the crows trot off together, literally trot off. Now to less deserted streets; or seemingly less deserted — the shops and signs on either side make this street less forlorn. But in the shadows there is movement; beggars, without a home, stuck against the drawn shutters of the shops, wearing black rags, staring at the empty roads. Beggars and guardians of the law and a handful of journalists; that is all that moves in a curfew.
There is curfew too in the narrower lanes of Jugsalai, the business centre of the city, but here there are signs of life. This is where the merchants live and earn, and they are spending these unproductive evenings chatting on the verandahs, looking at the streets. It is getting dark now, and our car winds through lanes and bylanes in search of mood and battlefields. At one turn a loud ‘Halt’ stops us abruptly. Police scamper down from a rooftop. We are on the border of a Muslim area. The officer of the law is sceptical about our verbal assurances. He demands to see our curfew passes, and is not totally convinced by them. S. P. Singh, the editor of Ravivar is in our car. The policeman looks hard at S. P. Singh who wears a beard; ‘Are you S. P. Singh?’ he asks, and his voice has disbelief in every syllable. The editor of Ravivar has to show his identity card with his photograph to prove his point, and then the policeman almost reluctantly gives us back our curfew passes. We are two Muslims and two Hindus (purely by chance) in the car, and the two Hindus both wear beards that would do a Muslim proud. The picket thinks we are carrying arms for the Muslims. And in case we have any doubt that their attentions are only routine, one of them calls out as we depart: ‘I hope there is nothing lethal in the boot’.
Law and order have two enemies: the Full Truth and the Complete Lie. When people realize the truth, they start revolutions. When they are fed lies they begin meaningless riots. Lies are the staple of every communal disturbance. They are spread by people who have a stake in this stupid violence, who have something to gain out of impoverished Hindus and Muslims fighting each other. Businessmen, traders, politicians, goondas, leaders of ‘cultural organizations’(like the Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh —RSS) feed the people with lies, watch these lies become convictions in people’s hearts, watch the passions build up, and then these leaders actually set up the events which will provoke a conflagration. They simply stick a pin into the nerves of people, and it is only a matter of time before the people explode. Then, when the first round of violence is over, when the initial steam has been let oft the lies keep on circulating. The people must not realize that they have been fooled or they will tear down their false heroes. There is fuel already in the murky events that make up communal violence, and upon this more lies are heaped and spread. After all, if the Hindu and Muslim live in peace, how will the RSS find another convert? How will the trader sell arms? How will a shopkeeper have the pleasure of seeing a rival’s shop burn down? How will the goonda loot? How will the communalist kill a fellow human being? Keep the lies floating friends!
Item; a young man is escorting us out of Dimnabasti, the Adivasi (tribal) locality where the trouble had its physical origins: He is in his late teens and is visiting his brother on a holiday. He works in a transport company in Ranchi, and has a watch on his hand to prove his earning capacity. As we are leaving he asks us; ‘How badly have the Adivasis been attacked in Delhi?’ We assure him that there are no riots in Delhi. He says that someone has heard a report over the radio!
Item; Ganesh Sau, who is not an Adivasi, is chatting with a group of young Adivasi villagers. We want to talk to the villagers, but he begins answering on their behalf, and they recognize his leadership. He does not make clear what precisely he is doing there; he does not live there, he accepts. He says he has been ‘working’ in Dimnabasti for years. In the course of the conversation he tells up that the administration banned the jhanda (flag) procession despite a High Court order to allow it. This is not true, but Sau has apparently been led to believe it, and in turn the Adivasis of the village believe it and are worked up about it.
Item; on the Ranchi road, a few hundred yards away from Azadnagar, where the violence broke out, we discuss the riots with a group of young Hindu men. One of them, who despite his slightly ragged dhoti reads magazines and newspapers and keeps in touch with politics, insists; ‘Muslims were using bullets made in America, China, Pakistan. Pakistani guns have been discovered. Please note, there are American arms. So you know who is behind these riots, who is arming the Muslims’ We try and argue, but he will not be moved.
Item; A man sitting on his haunches in the cool of a shopfront in Daiguttu, speaks about the huge arsenal built up by the Muslims. ‘The police have not seized anything from them’ he says. ‘I have been shot by foreign bullets.’ This surprises us: foreign bullets would hardly allow a man to walk about freely. We ask him to show us the wounds They are black pockmarks: the marks left by the charm (pellets) of countrymade guns, not by sophisticated bullets. When we point out the discrepancy, he smiles.
Item: Just opposite Azadnagar mosque we stop to take pictures. An angry young man, perhaps mistaking ‘as for politicians, shouts, ‘Sab kuch ho gaya to murdaghat pay aaye hain!'''''''' (After everything is over they have come to the graveyard!) Pair enough. We begin talking to a person who looks a devout ‘Muslim. He has large handkerchief over. his head; the mustache on his upper up is cropped according to Islamic norm, his heard is full. He does not need much encouragement to begin his tale of woe. ‘You should see the number: of Muslim huts which have been burnt there.’ he says, pointing across the field ‘One hundred, at least.’ The actual damage is far less.
The misfortune is that lies are believed, and they generate the most dangerous of passions, the desire for revenge. It was to douse such passions that the authorities, perhaps for the first time in the long history of communal riots in our country, released details of how many Hindus and Muslims were killed and injured. And perhaps this is why the authorities did not try too hard to artificially deflate the number of casualties. The figures tell a certain story : both Hindus and Muslims suffered, though the latter suffered much more, particularly in loss of homes and property.
During Bakrid, the Muslim festival, the knives come out for the sacrifice of animals, and the police go on alert, as many Muslims sacrifice cows. The gaiety of Holi, the Hindu spring festival, is sometimes marred by tension when some stupid Muslims begin to take objection to colour being sprayed on them. Moharrum sees pseudo-martial Muslims taking out huge processions, carrying weapons they have no business to have in the first place: it is an aggressive display which has very little to do with the origins of this sad day (Moharrum is the month of mourning in the memory of Hassan and Husain) in the Islamic calendar. And now Ramnavami must be added to the list of ‘sensitive ‘ festivals. Ramnavami is the equally absurd Hindu answer to Moharrum. The flag of Mahavir, the Lord Hanuman, is raised, and processions are taken out where martial arts are displayed: it is a symbol of militancy, and each procession contains the germs of communal violence. In Jamshedpur today, as many as 72 akharas (processions) are taken out every years.
On the outskirts of Jamshedpur is a colony of Adivasis. Dimnabasti. All the land of Jamshedpur once belonged to the Adivasis, but now of course a hundred different people have acquired the Adivasi land. Over ten years ago, a group of Muslims set up Sabirnagar about two hundred yards away from Dimnabasti: the intervening stretch of beautiful rolling fields is characteristic of the Chotanagpur plateau. Two roads mark the boundaries of Sabirnagar: Road no.14 and Road no.15. they are not far apart; it is a very small colony of mud huts. The roads are hardly roads; they are mud tracks. While Road no.15 goes up to Dimnabasti, Road no14 stops short on this side of the fields separating the Adivasis from the Muslims. On Road no.14 is a thatched mosque which the Muslims have constructed; and there is a madrasa (Muslim religious school) on the premises of the mosque.
The immediate, though not the real, cause of the Jamshedpur riots was absurdly silly, but then that is in pattern too. How many lives have been lost over a loud drum or a mischievous prank! The processionists of Dimnabasti wanted to take their jhanda through Road no.14; the Muslims felt that they should go through Road no. l5. The difference in the two routes was a matter of a few hundred yards. To go through Road no.14, the jhanda would have had to cut diagonally across the field, and then pass through a hundred yards of Muslim bash. On the way would fall the mosque. The Muslims pointed out that if the jhanda took Road no.15 straight to the main road, it would avoid the mosque too.
The Hindus refused to budge from their point of view. The road was a public thoroughfare, they insisted, and nobody could divert a procession of their’s. The jhanda from Dimnabasti had begun only in 1978, and the previous year there had been trouble over the route, but the administration had not allowed the use of Road no.14. Re matter went up to the Nigh Court. The Court ruled that while Road no.l4 was a public thoroughfare, it was up to the district administration to decide to give permission or not to the procession. The administration said this year, as it had said the previous year, that it would not allow the jhanda to go through Road no.l4 and the War of the Egos started. Hindus and Muslims in Jamshedpur who had never set eyes on Road no.14 and 15 became experts on the subject. The Hindu point of view was simplified to this: How could the Muslims prevent them from taking out a legitimate Ramnavami procession ?After all, Hindus never stopped Muslims from taking out their Moharrum processions. The Muslims said that the Hindus were deliberately establishing a right of way where none had existed before and this ‘ridiculous’ route, once established, would he an annual insult to the pride of the Muslims.
It was readily apparent that both sides were spoiling for a fight. Jamshedpur is the communalists’ dream city for a hundred different reasons. There are the memories of 1964, when the Muslims were butchered by Hindus excited by tales of true and imagined torture of the Hindus of East Pakistan. Then too Adivasis were fed lies and used by Hindu leaders against the Muslims — the Adivasis were told that their brethren were being murdered in East Pakistan. This time, the Adivasis could add one more grievance to their short list of resentments against the Muslims (the two communities first fought each other only in 1964, and this is one of the saddest aspects of this nasty business — the Adivasis have been dragged into the communal war by elements of the RSS). After 1964, the few Muslims living in Adivasi majority areas decided to move out: Sabirnagar was the result of such reaction. Moreover, the Adivasis, who had watched for generations their land being either looted or bought at dirt cheap prices by everyone, starting from industrialists like the Tatas to every new community that settled down in Jamshedpur; the Adivasis who were still condemned by our society to live in ignorance and waste, whose women were still considered such easy game that there were no really established whore houses in the city, these Adivasis now found that even Muslims were buying land from them. Sabirnagar must have been a needle in the eye of the Adivasis living within sight. The Jamshedpur-Ranchi industrial belt is volatile for various reasons: urban pressures, the wealth generated by a fully-employed population, the fact that the city has no tradition (only one generation can really claim to have been born and brought up in the city.) The city of Jamshedpur itself has been a boiling pot of disparate fortune seekers from the inevitable Marwaris to the refugees from the Punjab who were promised a house and a future in the Fifties. There is the clash of temperaments and greed; moreover, the strong lumpen proletariat and goonda element make this city a haven for the mischievous.
Goondas have always been important leaders of such cities. The boomtown syndrome creates a strong underworld which steals and smuggles and brews cheap liquor and provides protection. Dhanbad of course is the classic example but Jamshedpur is not too far behind. The Thakurs control the Hindu underworld and they are adequately supported by the Marwaris. The Muslims too have their criminals, petty and not so petty, with colourful pseudonyms culled from the Hindi cinema. Recently, two important goondas died in Jamshedpur. The Hindus lost a godfather called Pyara Singh and the Muslims lost their Robin Hood, Anwar. Pyara, after a long and lucrative career in crime, died a peaceful death. And Anwar, nicknamed Sikandar (after Alexander the great, no less) was killed in a police encounter Both communities felt orphaned by the loss of these leaders; the Muslims, in particular, because Anwar was their sole superstar in the underworld. The Muslims felt so bad after the death of Anwar that they wanted to give him a hero’s burial. The police very sensibly refused to allow any such nonsense. But it is a fact that both communities held the two godfathers in great esteem. The Muslims were grateful to Anwar; he had given them protection in the 1971 riots which means, of course, that he supplied them with arms. And, as one Hindu, a waiter in a restaurant, told us; ‘If Pyara Singh were alive, there would not have been a communal riot.’ Such is the faith of innocents. It is balderdash to say that the death of these two led to the riots, but it did nothing to reduce the tensions. With their protectors dead, the leaderless felt an increased panic and this must have been reflected in some of their subsequent decisions.
There is also the interesting, and important point that the Muslims of the city form one of the richest Muslim communities in the country. They have jobs; more than half the employees of Tisco, for instance, are Muslims. Muslims have also entered trade, while some Muslim goondas have had a profitable role to play in the illicit liquor business and money lending rackets. Muslims with any economic stake are the first targets of Hindu communalists. The Hindus are usually backed by business interests who want to displace the Muslims after they have been either economically destroyed or thoroughly demoralized. The history of riots shows clear efforts by landlords or traders to use the conflagration as a camouflage to do what they couldn’t have achieved legally. Indeed, this is one of the principal reasons why businessmen feed communalists.
There are so many strands, and they are so tangled, that it is virtually impossible to disentangle them all and describe them But the vital reason which provoked the Jamshedpur riots was caste and local politics (in Bihar, caste and politics are never too far from each other). After the Janata victory in March 1977, law and order in the north virtually collapsed, particularly in the industrial belt as the lameduck Congress ministry lost interest in ruling.
Things did not improve much with the coming of the Janata Government in the State. but soon the Karpoori Thakur ministry began finding its feet. By 1978, it was ready to take strong administrative decisions, and by the middle of that year, the complexion of the administration in the region had altered. Dr Kumar Suresh Singh, a scholar who had done his thesis on Adivasis, and a man with an extremely good reputation as an officer, was lifted from the comparative obscurity of the directorship of the Anthropological Survey of India and made Commissioner of Singbhum. B. K. Sinha became the Deputy Commissioner, the youthful U. K. Singh came in as Sub Divisional Officer, and a Harijan, Ram Swaroop, was made Superintendent of Police. It is a tribute to these officers that whoever has gone to inquire into the riots at Jamshedpur cannot question their integrity.
But the local mafia (and here we include the politicians) obviously did not find these new officers very palatable. To begin with they were honest: and honest officers can change the whole chemistry of a corrupt city. The SP, particularly, is a vital figure; and he refused to play the little games which the politicians and the local mafia indulge in to display their power and control over the administration. Among the people ignored by the SP was the local Janata MLA, Dinanath Pandey, who has an RSS background, and who played a key role in engineering the riots. According to one source, the Janata politicians, working with the RSS and others, including probably the Muslim Jaamat-e-Islami (the organization which has been and continues to be the biggest enemy of Indian Muslims), had decided to provoke communal riots as early as October 1978. Their aim: to discredit the present administration and have the officers transferred. (I would like to stress that the person who told us this was not a Government officer but a local politicians.)
By the end of March 1979, everyone in Jamshedpur knew that a communal riot was in the offing. A Janata leader in Patna even warned the State Government about the impending crisis. In fact, the one major criticism against the district administration is that they could have taken stronger pre-emptive action to stop the riot. In any case, by the end of March both communities had begun stockpiling their weapons of offence and defence.
When Balasaheb Deoras, chief of the RSS, came to visit Jamshedpur on 1 April, talk of the Ramnavami procession was already polluting the air. Among other things, Mr Deoras told this faithful audience that it was very sad that in their own country Hindus were not allowed to take out their religious processions. He also pointed out that though the number of mosques was increasing in India, no Muslim country allowed a Hindu temple to be constructed. It is pointless to comment further on such statements:they tell their own story. The RSS is not so much an organization (cultural or political, take your pick) as a state of mind. It is the physical form given to an attitude towards the minorities, particularly the Muslims. It represents Hindu revivalism of the worst sort; in its heart it is still taking revenge against Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor. Its influence on the Hindu community varies with time and place but (luring communal tension its impact is wide, and RSS members become the most dangerous clandestine force, determined to provoke violence. Naturally, they do not admit this publicly. Publicly, there is sweetness and light, hobnobbing with the Jamaat-e-lslami. This friendship should not surprise anyone. After all, the Jamaat is a communal body itself, and since both draw sustenance from communalism, they could often be working together to arouse tension. Mr Deoras, in Jamshedpur, for instance, received a pen from the local Jamaat leader, Shamim Ahmed Madni. It was a gift of friendship, and the pen was significant as Mr Madni had brought it from the holy country of Saudi Arabia.
By 5 April, the administration had refused permission for the use of Road no.14. On the previous night, efforts had been made by Hindu and Muslim leaders, including the local MLAs (Jamshedpur also has a Muslim Janata MLA, Mohammed Ayub) to effect a compromise, but no agreement was reached. Some processions were begun, but stopped by Hindus who insisted that until the Dimnabasti dispute was settled, Ramnavami would not be celebrated. The Muslims, also, were being instigated by communalists among them, but they kept a low public profile. In protest against the administration, the Hindus forced closures of shops and cinema halls.
The administration made arrests, while the leaders continued to argue and debate over a compromise. On 7 April, the Sri Ramnavami Kendriya Akhara Samiti issued a pamphlet which cannot be called anything but utterly communal in character: indeed rarely do the instigators of riots display their hand so openly.
This pamphlet was headlined ‘An appeal to the Religion-loving Public of Jamshedpur.’ Two shoulder headlines said, Dharma ki jai ho and Adharma ka naash ho (Victory to religion and Destroy those who do not believe). The appeal said: Till now the people have borne every cruelty peacefully, but in the name of peace the Hindus of this area are being crushed. In Dhakidih, the police destroyed an image of the Lord Hanuman, in Jugsalai the police rained lathis and tear gas; in Mango, the Hindus have been reduced to a minority. It is clear that behind this are the SP and some sycophantic officers of his. What is clear is that all the constables, havildars, Home Guards, etc., are ready to support us... The reasons why you could not take out your processions on the dashami remain, and as long as this corrupt and anti-Hindu SP stays here, images will continue to be destroyed. Rut in this struggle we must remember our culture and our self-respect. Keeping this in mind, the Sri Ramnavami Akhara Kendriya Samiti has decided that all the akharas will come out at two in the afternoon on Wednesday, 11 April, which is Hanoman Jayanti. Only the Mango (that is the Dimnabasti) akhara will come out at eleven in the morning, and pass through Road no.14. According to our decision, everyone will come here first, bring out this akhara, and then disperse to their localities to bring out their processions...We want to tell the Governor of Bihar, the Chief Minister, the district officials and all the policemen and officials that if any untoward incident takes place during these peaceful processions then the full responsibility for that rests on the shoulders of the administration. So, the administration must make arrangements for safety with impartiality.
Declarations of war have been more polite. This was open provocation and it sent the temperature of the city higher than ever. (One hopes that the people who see no RSS involvement in communal riots wilt take notice of such pamphlets.) Efforts continued to be made by some sane men to prevent the coming bloodshed, but the leaders of the Hindus were adamant. Eventually a compromise was reached: the procession would begin on Road no.15 and turn into Road no.14 through a connecting mud track. it was also decided that some Muslims would accompany the procession to see it through safely.
Meanwhile, in response to the call Hindus began assembling at Dimnabasti early on the morning of the 11th carrying weapons in their hands, officially for the games At eight in the morning the jhanda left Dimnabasti. Only about twenty-five people from Dimnabasti itself accompanied the akhara; the rest were outsiders. The procession went through the designated route, and with a lot of noise but no violence reached the main road. In fact there was virtually no damage in the Dimnabasti-Sabirnagar area, apart from a couple of burnt huts (no one was injured). When we saw the two colonies they looked angelically peaceful. Commenting on this, a police officer standing guard told us with a laugh: Yahan to Bajrangbali kHmd baithe they - - poonch ghuma ke chale gaye. Lanka jaltee rahi (Bajrangbali himself was sitting here; he turned and went away and left Lanka burning).
There was a sigh of relief as the procession reached the main road; but the sigh was premature. The next point where trouble could arise was in Mango, less than a kilometre down the road, where the procession would go through a Muslim area. The procession progressed very slowly. This was clearly an effort to delay the procession till eleven o’clock, when Hindus from all over the city were scheduled to join the procession as per the pamphlet. The number of processionists kept growing: there were at least 15,000 people in it now. In the lanes of Mango, particularly in Azadbasti and Azadnagar, the Muslims began gathering, some afraid of the violent mood of the processionists, and some with mischief on their minds. Both sides were prepared for battle: the tension had taken its toll on the nerves.
A little after ten, the procession stopped opposite the mosque which stands on the main road. The administration was eager that the procession move quickly from there; if this point could be crossed peacefully there was every chance that the riots might have been averted. But it was at this sensitive point that the Janata MLA and old Jana Sangh hand, Dinanath Pandey, played his trump card to ensure that the riots did take place. He announced that the procession would not move until the administration released all the Hindus who had been arrested earlier! The Commissioner and other officials pleaded that even if they wanted to they could not do this: they could not release the prisoners without any legal proceedings. But Mr Pandey in his wisdom would not be budged. Inflammatory speeches were made. As V.N.Mishra, a magistrate who was on duty all through, and had had little sleep the previous night, put it: We thought around eleven that the danger was almost over and in an hour’s time I could have a bath and catch up on some sleep. But as it happened I could only snatch a few biscuits to eat during the next 24 hours.
At 11-40 a.rn. the inevitable happened. A stone was thrown. A bomb exploded. The rest was murder.