After September 11, 2001, Malegaon went down in history as the only town in India to see processions in support of Osama bin Laden. Police firing during the processions sparked communal riots. And the hope and trust between Hindus and Muslims in this Muslim-majority town became the greatest casualties.
Both communities blamed the police and administration for compounding an already incendiary situation. But the fact remains that growing unemployment and fast-disappearing means of livelihood have led the youth from this textile town to seek alternative means of income. And terrorist activity, even on the fringes, is instant money.
Economic interests once bound Hindus to the Muslims in Malegaon - the former were suppliers of raw material, the latter were textile merchants. Since the 2001 riots, though, Hindus moved out of Muslim pockets and vice versa, leaving no room for interaction between the two communities.
That also meant that Muslim youth could carry on their activities uninterrupted and unwatched. Not surprisingly, the first arrest in the Aurangabad arms haul earlier this year was made in Malegaon. Subsequently, many of those involved were traced to the town.
Maharashtra DGP PS Pasricha makes no bones about the fact that Friday’s blasts were an attempt to “disrupt communal harmony”.
That is also the first thought that came to the mind of Sarfaraz Arzoo, editor of the Urdu-language Hindustan daily, with an edition in Malegaon.
“The shab-e-barat today is the equivalent of the pitrapaksh when Muslims pay obeisance to ancestors. So there was a heavy gathering at the kabristan. They first tried to target Hindus hoping for a communal strife, now they are targeting Muslims, hoping for the same results.”
Time will tell if they will succeed.
Pandurang, a grocery shop owner who does business on the edge of the road dividing the two communities, says, “A lack of interaction has kept the peace for five years. But today’s blast could change things.”