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Bhopal: A fact-finding team comprising representatives of eight political parties which visited Khargone on April 25 has said that the Bharatiya Janata Party government and district administration were directly responsible for the communal violence in the region during Ram Navami.
The team also said that action has largely been one-sided and police had failed in restoring peace a good 15 days after the incident.
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, April 27, in Bhopal, the fact-finding team released a 16-page report outlining that the Muslim community had been constantly subjected to provocations in the last one year.
The report pointed out that despite input from intelligence, the administration allowed a rally without permission in sensitive areas. It also demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the death of Ibris Khan.
“The officials holding constitutional posts are breaking every law of the rulebook. First they allowed a rally without permission despite the input of a clash, by intelligence. The rally which should have left Talab Chowk Masjid Square at around 3 pm stayed there till 5 pm and provocative songs were playing in front of the mosque,” said Jaswinder Singh, state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who headed the fact-finding team.
Singh said that over a half dozen cases where reported in the last one year in which members of rightwing Hindutva groups and BJP had tried to provoke Muslims in Khargone.
Speaking on the demolition drive carried out by the administration after the Khargone riot, the fact-finding team alleged that all the houses and shops demolished belong to Muslims. “A few shops in Choti Mohan Talkies and Aurangpura Square were demolished which have nothing to do with the incident…owing to political pressure,” Singh added.
“The four Hindu shopkeepers who were renting from the Talab Chowk Masjid Committee, were allowed to empty their shops before the demolition while their Muslim counterparts were shouted at and sent away,” the team said.
Another member of the fact-finding team, Swarup Nayak, associated with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) said that the way government and officials targeted and branded a particular community for the clash resembled Hitler’s way of treating Jews.
In a straight accusation, the fact-finding report blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for creating turbulence in Khargone and Barwani districts to polarise voters after losing nine out of 10 seats in 2018 assembly elections.
The joint statement of the fact-finding team reads, “The violence was deliberately stirred and the reason was political. They said there are 10 assembly seats in Khargone and Barwani (the other district that saw riots on Ram Navami in Sendhwa block). If the results of past four assembly polls are analysed, it could be seen that in 2003, 2008 and 2013, the BJP won six to seven of these 10 seats. However, in 2018, the BJP lost nine of the 10 seats (and also lost the polls with a slim margin). It is this defeat that the BJP is not able to digest and therefore it is conspiring to cause communal polarisation to win the (2023) polls.”
CPI(M)’s Singh said that after BJP won four state assembly elections on March 10, party men carried out a victory procession in Khargone. During the ‘Vijay Yatra’, crackers were thrown into the Talab Chowk Mosque. Despite a police complaint by the Mosque committee, no action was taken, Singh said.
‘Hate mongering continues unabated’
Blaming the district administration and state home minister Narottam Mishra for failing to restore peace in the region even after 15 days of the incident, the team alleged, “Even two weeks after the incident, the hate mongering and targeting of a particular community continues unabated. Several videos and photos have surfaced in which people are seen openly boycotting Muslims. Religious places are still under lock and key and relief work is yet to begin.”
The team said that over a dozen FIRs have been lodged by victims of the Muslim community and over 20 applications are pending. However, no accused person belonging to the majority community has been named, the team said. “Over 40 FIRs were lodged by the victims of the majority community and over 160 Muslims were arrested,” it also noted.
On the death of Ibris Khan who became the first casualty of the clash, the fact finding team asked why the police hid his death from his family till April 18 when they had recovered his body on April 11 itself.
“Even the home minister Narottam Mishra and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan were kept in the dark about Ibris’s death. It was on April 15 when they got official communication about his’ death,” said Singh.
Apart from Jaswinder Singh and Swaroop Nayak, the eight member fact finding team comprises Shailendra Sahily from Communist Party of India, Raju Bhaatnagar from Nationalist Congress Party, Pradeep Khuswaha from Samanta Dal, Ajay Shivastav representing the Loktantrik Samajwadi Party, Devendra Singh Chouhan from CPI (ML) and Yash Bharti from Samajwadi Party.
The fact-finding team also asked why police did not file a murder case and instead filed a case of ‘unnatural death’ despite the short postmortem report confirming homicide.
The team further pointed out that SP Rohit Keswani told media that police brought the heavily injured Ibris (then unidentified) to the hospital from Kapas Mandi locality. However, the police report says that the guard of the Kapas Mandi – Kamal Salve, who is also the eyewitness of the incident as per the FIR – brought the body and the following day, hospital staff informed the police about it.
Another objection raised by the fact-finding team was related to the filing of a murder case. According to SP Keswani, after conducting his autopsy by April 11 afternoon, police sent the body to Indore’s MY Hospital as Khargone district hospital lacked a refrigerated mortuary.
“We registered a murder case on April 14 at 11:57 pm under sections 302 and 34 of the IPC when the autopsy report of unidentified man confirmed homicide,” said SP Keswani. According to police, it was still an unidentified body although, almost 12 hours earlier, Ibris’s brother Ikhalq had filed a missing report with his mother in the same Kotwali police station.
Showing the copy of the autopsy report, Jaswinder Singh asked, “When police received the true copy of the autopsy report on April 18 then how come they registered the murder case on April 14, four days before receiving it.”
“For the next three days, police neither informed Ibris’s kin nor the media that they had found an unidentified body which is an standard procedure in missing cases and unidentified dead bodies,” said Yash Bharti, a member of the fact-finding group.
The third and most important question raised by the fact-finding team is related to establishing Ibris’s identity. According to the FIR, police tried to find the whereabouts of the deceased man in the locality for days but “did not find anything.”
The fact-finding report questioned it saying, “Ibris’s body was found barely 300 metres away from his house. Everyone in the locality knew that he was missing and his family was frantically searching for him. What method did the police adopt to identify the body? Who exactly did they ask? Had they informed the media about the unidentified body? Why did they hide Ibris’ death to the chief minister and home minister for five days?
Singh said, “On one hand, police told the home minister and chief minister about Shivam Shukla’s head injury and SP Siddhart Choudhary’s leg injury. On other hand, police hid Ibris’s body for eight days.”
Neither agriculture minister Kamal Patel nor additional chief secretary Rajesh Rajora who visited the riot-affected localities met with Ibris’s family to console them, the team said.
“The police, who failed to identify the body for eight days, arrested five people with the crime weapon within two or three days,” Singh added.
When The Wire reached out to SP Khargone Rohit Keswani over the allegations, he replied, “We have followed the law and if anybody feels that police have not taken the proper action in relation to the case, they are free to go to court.”
The report concludes that hiding Ibris’s death for a week has served the purpose of the government which is on a witch hunt to target a particular community. “The BJP government and the police would be on the backfoot if the news of Ibris’s death was revealed on the very first day. They may not have been able to demolish the homes and shops of the Muslim community nor be able to carry out one sided action,” Singh said.