What happened at Begumbagh?

Source: The Indian Express

Not everyone enjoys the same kinds of rights and privileges in New India. This statement has been proven on various occasions over the past years, and every day something or the other in the news cycle reminds us of this harsh truth. Under a government that functions according to the logic of Ram Rajya (and not democracy), Muslims in India occupy an especially precarious position. They are reminded of this almost every day through various acts of violence and aggression that has now come to be synonymous with patriotism.

On 25th December, the ruling party’s youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and other Hindutva groups took out a motorbike rally in Begumbagh area of Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, to collect donations for the Ram Temple that is being built on the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. But it became evident that their intentions were not as simple as they appeared, because soon the people in the rally began shouting slogans that threatened violence against Muslims and women who were watching from the rooftops.

Newslaundry stated in their ground report that when two women, later identified as Hina and Yasmeen, offended by the slogans, threw stones at the rallies, the mob seized the moment to unleash violence on the residents of Begumbagh. This was followed by the police wantonly arresting Muslims and destroying their property. So far, 18 people have been arrested, all of whom are residents of Begumbagh. No participants of the rally have been arrested.

Begumbagh is a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood, and when the area was ransacked and vandalized in the wake of the incident, several media outlets blamed the Muslims for the destruction. Media houses carried reports which stated that the violence had been started when stones had been pelted from the Muslim houses. Following this, police and other officials went to Begumbagh the next day with a bulldozer and razed a Muslim family’s home to the ground. Abdul Hamid, the person whose house was demolished told reporters from Newslaundry, “They came with a bulldozer on December 26 to demolish the house from where stones were pelted. But the owner told the police he was Hindu. He showed them the temple in his house and said his son was a member of the Bajrang Dal. They left his house alone and razed ours, even though not a single stone was thrown from there.” Hamid is 62. One of his daughters was to be married in May; the family had been making preparations for the same and now everything was ruined.

The District Collector Asheesh Singh told the Indian Express that the demolition had been carried out to hurt “criminals who resort to such acts as stone pelting” economically. When he was asked why no action had been taken against the members of the rally, the District Collector said, “The residents claimed that the clashes erupted as those in the rally hurled abuses and chanted offensive slogans, but they have not been able to come up with any concrete evidence. We are ready to take action if any video proving it is brought to our notice.”

Even though Abdul Hamid had not participated in the stone-pelting (he and his sons were out for work when the incident took place), his house was demolished because Yasmeen, one of the stone-pelters, was a tenant of Hamid. She is now jailed. Hina, on the other hand, is gone along with her children, and the police are looking for her. The police had also gone to demolish the place where Hina stayed but didn’t when Kikaram, her landlord, begged them and showed them the temple inside his house.

Three days after this incident, a similar incident took place in Chandan Khedi village where violence broke out when members of Hindutva groups shouted slogans outside a mosque. Officials told the Scroll that around 200 people chanted Hanuman Chalisa and “Jai Shri Ram” while prayers were being offered inside the mosque. This led to a heated exchange between Hindus and Muslims, and stone pelting.Witnesses also told the Scroll that some members from the rally climbed the mosque and tried to damage the minaret. Videos have also shown Hindutva group members trying to damage nearby houses and vehicles. Based on video evidence, 24 people had been rounded up from the village and section 144 was also imposed by Indore Collector Manish Singh.

Once again, the district administration of Indore started demolishing parts of nearly 80 houses in Chandan Khedi a day after the incident. As the Congress party raised objections regarding the timing of these demolitions, the district authorities have said that this was done for the widening and development of a road. On the other hand, Indore BJP President Rajesh Sonkar supported the demolition and said that it should not be seen as targeting any particular community. He added that it had been a long pending demand of the people of Chandan Khedi.

-Sanjukta Bose

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