Blame It on the Mob

CBI is set to ex­on­er­ate the po­lice and Ra­jasthan gov­ern­ment and blame Hindu and Mus­lim mobs for the 2011 Gopal­garh vi­o­lence in which 10 Meos were killed

India Today - - INSIDE - By Ro­hit Par­i­har

CBI is set to ex­on­er­ate the po­lice and Ra­jasthan gov­ern­ment and blame Hindu and Mus­lim mobs for the 2011 Gopal­garh vi­o­lence in which 10 Meos were killed.

Gun­fire rid­dled the mosque. My son went down with a bul­let in his face. I had to lunge to save my­self.”

Ha­jir Khan

Septem­ber 14, 2011. Ha­jir Khan, 65, and his son Maulvi Khur­shid were of­fer­ing prayers in­side the mosque at Gopal­garh, a small Ra­jasthan town 90 km from Bharat­pur. Sud­denly, a blue riot con­trol ve­hi­cle of Ra­jasthan Po­lice rum­bled in, armed po­lice­men in tow. “Gun­fire rid­dled the mosque. My son went down with a bul­let in his face. I lunged to save my­self,” says Khan. A brief lull later, the ar­moured ve­hi­cle turned away but the guns blazed again.

Two days later, Khan found his son’s body at a mor­tu­ary in a Bharat­pur hos­pi­tal. The corpse was a charred lump with limbs miss­ing. Khan says he was told it was found with two other bod­ies in an Idgah well, 200 yards from the mosque, on the evening of Septem­ber 15. His son was iden­ti­fied by a DNA test of his teeth. He says a por­tion of the face where the bul­let had hit had been chopped off, ap­par­ently to erase ev­i­dence. Post- mortem re­ports, ac­cessed by IN­DIA TO­DAY, say all three were burned alive.

Five more died that fate­ful day, all Meos, a lo­cal Mus­lim com­mu­nity, their bod­ies found charred or with bul­let and burn marks. Two more died in hos­pi­tal. Nearly two years into its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, sources say the chargesheet likely to be filed by CBI in Oc­to­ber, may pin the blame en­tirely on Hindu Gu­j­jar and Mus­lim Meo mobs, ab­solv­ing the po­lice and state gov­ern­ment. This de­spite al­le­ga­tions that the Ra­jasthan Po­lice used ex­ces­sive force even as the state gov­ern­ment ig­nored an in­tel­li­gence alert from the ad­min­is­tra­tion in Bharat­pur about an im­mi­nent com­mu­nal clash.

Gopal­garh is part of a Meodom­i­nant belt that ex­tends into Haryana, but the town it­self has a Gu­j­jar ma­jor­ity. The Septem­ber 14

bloodbath was pre­ceded by a se­ries of clashes be­tween th­ese two cat­tle- rear­ing com­mu­ni­ties. The trig­ger was a dis­pute over a two- acre plot of non­trans­fer­able gov­ern­ment land ad­join­ing the mosque that Meos got trans­ferred as a burial ground but which Gu­j­jars con­tin­ued to use for graz­ing till July 2011. Both sides had moved court and clashed at a hear­ing on Septem­ber 13. The same evening, a Gu­j­jar youth was beaten up for sex­ual ha­rass­ment at a cell phone shop owned by erst­while mosque care­taker Ab­dul Gani. Hours later, Gu­j­jar youths bashed up Gani, his two sons and Maulvi Rashid, the mosque’s imam, who was pass­ing by.

By night, loud­speak­ers in lo­cal mosques al­legedly re­layed the twin as­saults, and the ru­mour spread that the imam’s limbs had been chopped off. CBI is in­clud­ing as ev­i­dence in its chargesheet po­lice records of mosque an­nounce­ments that were ac­com­pa­nied by calls for retri­bu­tion. By noon on Septem­ber 14, Meos and Gu­j­jars took to fir­ing coun­try- made guns in the air to taunt each other. Then Bharat­pur dis­trict col­lec­tor ( DC) Krishan Ku­nal and su­per­in­ten­dent of po­lice ( SP) Hinglaj Dan called in com­mu­nity lead­ers and bro­kered a truce, coax­ing Gu­j­jars to apol­o­gise to the imam by 4 p. m.

It soon came un­stuck. Both po­lice and CBI in­sist the Meos were in­sti­gated by Maulvi Rashid and Gani into re­ject­ing the com­pro­mise. Armed mobs be­gan march­ing to­wards the mosque, burn­ing down Gu­j­jar- owned shops en route. Doc­u­ments sub­mit­ted be­fore the CBI court in Jaipur, where the case is be­ing tried, re­veal that some Hin­dus, mostly Gu­j­jar, ap­proached the po­lice at this junc­ture, charg­ing the Meos of at­tack­ing them. By evening, a po­lice riot con­trol ve­hi­cle ap­peared at the mosque with se­nior of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing the Bharat­pur DC and SP, and armed po­lice­men tail­ing it. They were fired upon, the DC even get­ting hit by a pel­let on his shoe. Meos, how­ever, con­test this ver­sion. They told IN­DIA TO­DAY that fewer than 100 of them were in the mosque to of­fer prayers af­ter peace was bro­kered, and that oth­ers were headed for it merely to join prayers.

The first vol­ley of po­lice bul­lets was fol­lowed by another at around 5 p. m. Po­lice sources say most of the armed Meos fled the mosque soon af­ter the first round, leav­ing be­hind the un­armed. Sources add CBI is likely to claim in its chargesheet that the Meo mob was not there to of­fer prayers at all. Around 6 p. m., a Gu­j­jar mob en­tered the mosque and killed Meos.

The CBI chargesheet may as­cribe seven deaths to the Gu­j­jar mob and at­tribute another three killings to have

Po­lice in­sti­gated Gu­j­jars to such bar­barism. Gu­j­jars and Meos keep clash­ing but no one has in­dulged in such vi­o­lence be­fore.”

Shamshud­din

“very likely” been com­mit­ted by the mob— giv­ing the ben­e­fit of doubt to the po­lice, which had kept fir­ing for about 20 min­utes. The only firearm CBI and po­lice have seized so far is a lo­cally- made gun. And that, surely, couldn’t have killed so many.

The killings had shaken up both the Ashok Gehlot gov­ern­ment and Congress. The Chief Min­is­ter vis­ited Gopal­garh on Septem­ber 24, but quickly called in CBI and or­dered a ju­di­cial probe in tan­dem by re­tired

Gadi ayi aur gole barsa kar chali

gayi ( A ve­hi­cle came and left af­ter fir­ing a vol­ley of bul­lets).”

Mo­hamadda

Ra­jasthan High Court judge Su­nil Ku­mar Garg, be­sides shunt­ing out the lo­cal SP and DC. With CBI re­fus­ing to probe 11 FIRs reg­is­tered against of­fi­cials on grounds that the fir­ing was or­dered to main­tain law and or­der, it may now be left to the ju­di­cial com­mis­sion to de­cide if the po­lice fir­ing was jus­ti­fied or not, and whether there was any state lax­ity.

CBI sleuths have scoured Gopal­garh and ad­join­ing vil­lages for 43 sus­pects who are on the run, hav­ing ar­rested 19 oth­ers in­clud­ing Gani. Lo­cal MLAs Zahida Khan of Congress and Anita Singh of BJP got an­tic­i­pa­tory bail in early Septem­ber 2013 af­ter CBI sought their ar­rests for ob­struct­ing the po­lice and in­sti­gat­ing mobs. Both claim lo­cal au­thor­i­ties called them to defuse the sit­u­a­tion. Maulvi Rashid has gone un­der­ground af­ter he was charged for sedi­tion in Au­gust.

Con­gress­man Vishven­dra Singh, for­mer MP and scion of the ex- roy­als of Bharat­pur, says both Meos and Gu­j­jars are scared and an­gry about the CBI raids. BJP has or­gan­ised bandhs across the dis­trict, protest­ing against the raids to cash in on the dis­con­tent. Pos­si­bly clear­ing the ground for the clean chit he is ex­pect­ing from CBI, the Chief Min­is­ter re­cently said that no one had ever been lathi- charged dur­ing his reign, prompt­ing BJP’s Va­sund­hara Raje to re­tort: “If the gov­ern­ment didn’t open fire, how did peo­ple get killed in Gopal­garh?” The clean chit may ac­tu­ally end up jeop­ar­dis­ing Gehlot’s poll prospects.

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter@ ro­hit0

PU­RUSHOT­TAM DIWAKAR/ Photographs by www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

MOHAMADDAWITH HIS SONS NAU­MAN ( LEFT) AND US­MAN

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