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
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.”
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.”
“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).”
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.
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MOHAMADDAWITH HIS SONS NAUMAN ( LEFT) AND USMAN