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Riots & wrongs

At this time nearly a quarter century ago, New Delhi’s streets were paved with the bodies of Sikhs killed in riots after the Indira Gandhi assassination. Families scarred by communal riots speak to Hindustan Times about the almost-forgotten tragedies.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2008 08:21 IST
Rakesh Verma
Rakesh Verma
Hindustan Times

Bhagalpur (Bihar), October 27, 1989 - 1,161 dead

Bhagalpur’s muslims hate farm fresh cauliflowers. Green cabbage too.

Hindus had raided neighbourhoods across the district in late October 1989, slaughtering Muslims by the scores. Months later, bodies began turning up three feet under the soil in one village — the killers had buried the dead and camouflaged them with cauliflower and cabbage saplings.

Hyderabad December 8, 1990: over 200 dead

Kanpur December 8, 1992: 254 dead

Nellie, February 18, 1983: 1,819 dead

Police found 116 bodies in Logain, a village 62 km from the district headquarter town.

“Of the 11,415 registered cases of rioting, 2,440 have gone missing. This is nothing but a clear instance of complicity between the district police and the local judicial officers,” said Salhauddin Khan, the Patna HC-appointed Special Public Prosecutor.

“That our Hindu neighbours could do this is something we yet cannot believe. The vegetables grown in and around Logain still bear the odour of the dead,” said Sakeena Beewi, a resident of the village who escaped the attack.

No one was arrested. Beewi had accused the powerful local landlord of planning the massacre and cover-up, but no investigation was carried out. “It was my word against his,” she said.

In Chanderi village, 22 km from Bhagalpur town, one woman has lived with the memories of 61 deaths. Malika, 33, who uses a single name, was 14 then.

Riots had taken place in a nearby area and Chanderi’s Muslims were uneasy — but the local police officer reassured them that they were safe. Malika’s closest friend Bholi, a Hindu, had asked her to rush to her home if there was trouble.

On the morning of October 27, Muslims began streaming in to the Imambara for Friday prayers. Over a hundred Hindu neighbours gathered before it, brandishing lathis, spears, swords and axes. The police officer arrived too, Malika said, and shouted: “Get back to your prayers” and disappeared on his jeep.

Then the massacre began. People were slashed, hacked, beheaded, or just clubbed senseless as the mob shouted pro-Hindu slogans.

“I ran wildly and hid myself under a nearby haystack. I could clearly see (the attackers), their clothes coloured red with the blood of our fathers, uncles, brothers and grandfathers,” Malika said. “I saw them drag out wailing women by their hair, stabbing them through their chests so that the guts of some of them spilled out”

So she ran to her last refuge — Bholi’s house. But Bholi’s mother refused to let her in despite her daughter’s pleas.

For seven hours, Malika hid in a pond, when two men found and attacked her with swords, slashing her left leg and severing her toes.

With police apparently looking the other way, a contingent of Border Security Force had been sent to the area, and it rescued Malika. She nearly died in hospital, having lost a lot of blood.

She finally got an artificial leg — and a new life. A BSF jawan, Taj Mohammed, was so moved by her story that he proposed marriage to her.

They got married in March 1990 and moved to J&K’s Poonch district, but returned soon because her mother-in-law could not accept her son’s disabled wife.

In Bhagalpur, where riot-related compensation was being distributed. Malika was given Rs 1 lakh for each of her murdered parents and Rs 10,000 from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. The then Bihar minister Ghulam Sarwar helped her acquire a tiny plot of land in Bhagalpur’s Sadruddin Chak, a locality on the fringes of the town.

Then her husband took the money and disappeared.

She has since built a two-roomed house on that plot and each morning goes to the Collectorate where, after 19 years, she has a job as a daily wager.

First Published: Nov 03, 2008 00:43 IST