Mumbai: On May 13, in the otherwise peaceful city of Akola, in north-central Maharashtra, violence broke out between the Hindu and Muslim communities following an objectionable Instagram post against the prophet. The violence, which lasted for a few hours, late Saturday, resulted in the death of a passer-by and injuries to many others. At least two policemen, who were on duty, were injured in the incident. The police have since arrested over 28 youngsters, mostly belonging to the Muslim community.
The district administration has imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) – which prohibits the assembly of four or more people in an area – in the old city region of Akola. Internet services, too, have been disconnected for 48 hours since Sunday morning (May 14).
It all began with an Instagram post by one Karan Sahu, a leader of the radical right-wing group in Akola ‘Chhatrapati Sena’. Sahu, who has a massive following on all social media platforms, uploaded a post on Instagram deriding the Muslim community and the prophet. The post had in no time garnered thousands of likes and his followers had soon begun sharing it on their handles too. By late evening, the Instagram post had reached many in the Muslim community and the community leaders had decided to approach the nearby Ramdaspeth police station.
While some media reports have attributed the incident to the recently released film The Kerala Story, there is no confirmation if the screening of the film in the city had any direct role in the incident. The controversial film is accused of spreading false propaganda against Kerala and Muslims.
“At the Isha Namaz (last namaz for the day), many youngsters talked about the post. We were told that the Muslims in the old city region will be targeted. The post was provocative and put out with the intention to hurt our sentiments,” said a man, belonging to the Muslim community, who had been to the police station along with the crowd.
At the police station, when the police allegedly refused to take note of their complaint, the crowd got agitated. “Many among us started sloganeering and soon stone pelting started,” he added.
The old city of Akola has a well-known Raj Rajeshwar temple. Around the temple area, the Hindus, the Muslims, and the Buddhists have three separate settlements. The news of stone-pelting at the police stations soon reached the Hindu area.
“In no time, the news of the incident was distorted. Now, suddenly WhatsApp messages were sent out claiming a mob of Muslim men had entered the temple,” said Dynaneshwar Sultane, a member of the Zila Parishad. Sultane said while no such incident happened, it had triggered immediate response among the Hindus and an attempt was made to enter and damage the lone masjid in an adjoining lane.
The cause of death
A 40-year-old man named Vilas Gaikwad was killed in the attack. Eye witnesses have claimed that Gaikwad, who belonged to the Dalit community, was driving an auto-rickshaw when the mob attacked him. “He repeatedly kept telling the mob that he is not from the Muslim community. But nothing would convince the angry mob,” said one of the eyewitnesses. Another said that the reason they mistook his identity is because his auto-rickshaw had “KGN” written on it. KGN stands for Khawaja Gharib Nawaz aka Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti, an Islamic scholar that many among the Muslim community revere.
The Wire tried to reach both the superintendent of police and deputy superintendent of police in Akola but has not got any response.
Political activists in the region say that while Akola must have witnessed small skirmishes, it has mostly been a communally peaceful region. “At least from 1992 (the country saw extreme violence following the Babri Masjid demolition) onward, there has not been any communal incidents in the state,” said Rajendra Patode, spokesperson of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi.
Deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, who is also the guardian minister of the district, did not visit the place after the incident. Fadnavis on Monday, May 15, however, told the media that “there are some deliberate attempts to create a law and order situation in the state.”
Separately, in another unrelated event, on May 14, violence broke out in Shevgaon village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.
In this incident, several people, including the police on patrolling duty, were injured. Here too, the district administration has imposed section 144 and the internet connection has momentarily been suspended.
As many as 32 people were rounded up by the police allegedly for their role in the violence. Many shops and vehicles parked on the road were set ablaze.
Tension ensued between the two communities following a procession organised on the occasion of King Sambhaji Jayanti. Some miscreants had allegedly pelted stones on those participating in the procession.