On 13 October 2016, communal riots took place in the Gummakhan Purva and Medilal Purva of village Tatehra, Bahraich during Durga Puja procession which was taking an idol for immersion. In the loot, arson, and violence that followed, 40 houses belonging to members of the Muslim community were burnt down. A 7-year old child, Soni, was tragically burnt to death during the riots. Several people were also grievously injured and cattle and other property and valuables such as vehicles, cattle, cash and jewellery were destroyed.
The fact finding team visited Tatehra on 16 October 2013. Apart from the Gummakhan Purva and Medilal Purva of village Tatehra, the team also visited two adjoining villages, Bahelia and Balchanpur.
Tatehra gram panchayat is located 130 kilometres from Lucknow, in District Bahraich. The village has a total of 44 families— 41 belonging to the Muslim community, 2 to the Kurmi community and 1 to a Scheduled Caste. For years, Hindus and Muslims here have been living together peacefully. Villagers told the team that in 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished, this area remained free of any communal clashes. However, the communal clashes which occurred here on 13 October 2016 have turned this atmosphere of peace and harmony into that of hatred and violence.
The Incident at Gummakhan Purva, village Tatehra:
Villages Bahelia and Balchanpur are located near village Gummakhan Purva. Durga Puja festivities have been organised in village Bahelia for the past 12 years and the procession taking the idol for immersion would pass through Gummakhan. In the precious years, women also used to be part of the procession. However this year, there were no women in the procession.
Residents of Gummakhan Purva told the team that on 13 October, the procession carrying village Bahelia’s Durga idol, which comprised hundreds of people from many neighbouring villages, arrived in Gummakhan Purva at around 4 p.m. along with a tractor with DJ and speakers which was playing extremely loud music. It is worth mention that there is an administrative ban of use of ‘DJ’ vehicles during religious processions. The procession and the DJ tractor stopped in front of the Masjid. Four policemen had accompanied the procession. Some people who were part of the procession were raising slogans denigrating the Muslim community. At that time, villagers were coming to the mosque to offer their daily afternoon namaz (Asar). When they asked the leaders of the procession to stop playing loud music as it was time for namaz, people who were part of the procession became angry and told the villagers that namaz is offered in the masjid everyday and that it would make no difference if it did not take place one day. At this an argument ensued between the two groups and some people who were part of the processions started pelting stones on the Masjid and the namazis. The four policemen who had accompanied the procession remained mute spectators and did not take steps to control the violence. When the stone pelting started, many Muslim villagers ran away from the village, leaving largely only the women behind.
People who were part of the procession reportedly informed Peshkar Yadav, who is a Zila panchayat member belonging to the Bhartiya Janta Party. Soon thereafter, Peshkar Yadav came to the spot along with other persons including Babu Tamboli, Santosh, Dhani Ram, Pawan, Shivkumar Shukla, etc. They were carrying petrol, diesel and kerosene with them. The S.O. of P.S. Fakharpur also arrived at the spot with Peshkar Yadav in a police vehicle.
Soon after arriving at the spot, Peshkar Yadav and his men, instead of stopping the violence, instigated the mob even more and started burning the Muslim houses after dousing them in petrol, diesel and kerosene. The loot and arson of Muslim houses which started at 4:30 p.m. continued unabated till around 9:00 p.m.
The S.O. of P.S. Fakharpur, who had arrived at the spot with Peshkar Yadav, did not take any steps to stop the violence. Some women who were present at the spot during the rioting told our team members that some policemen who had come with the S.O. even joined in the arson and instead of stopping the rioters they instigated them further by saying that today they had a freehand to do what they wanted.
In all, 40 houses were looted and burnt down in Gummkhan Purva and Medilal Purva, which is a hamlet that is part of Gummakhan Purva village. There are only 2 Hindu houses in Gummakhan Purva and 1 Hindu house in Medilal Purva. The said house in Medilal Purva belongs to Bechiyalal Varma, which was also burnt down by the rioters. The two Hindu houses in Gummakhan Purva belong to one Mohanlal Varma and Raghuraj Harijan, which were not touched by the rioters. The team noticed that both the houses prominently displayed the images of Hindu gods and goddesses in the front portion of the house.
Attack on Medilal Purva, village Tatehra:
Medilal Purva is a hamlet which is part of Tatehra village. Mushtaq Ali, a resident of Medilal Purva who could not run away when the during the riots due to a pre-existing injury on his legs, told the team that after the rioting started in Gummakhan Purva, Medilal Purva was also attacked at around 5:00 p.m. by about 100 persons who came from the direction of village Haripur. They attacked Medilal Purva and after looting and violence, these persons joined the rioters in Gummakhan Purva. He identified Omkar Nath Chaurasia (Zila Panchayat Member, BJP), Virendra Awasthi, and Sanjay Gupta resident of village Biswa.
Testimonials of victims:
Nannu Khan and other villagers told the team that the incident occurred at the time of daily afternoon namaz (asar) and that the procession stopped right in front of the masjid while playing loud music on the DJ. It was when the villagers protested against the noise that the violence started. First the mob beat up villagers using the lathis they were carrying. A little later, the pradhan of village Bahelia Jagdamba Prasad and other persons led by Zila panchayat member Peshkar Yadav including Santosh, Babu Tamoli, Rakesh Pal, Ladli Pal, Ameeri Pal, Mangal Bhuwa and others went around Gummakhan Purva and Medilal Purva of Tatehra village and burnt down 40 houses. Chaos ensued after this and the rioters even beat up women. Police personnel were present at the spot but they did not do anything to prevent or contain the violence. When the incident had started, four police personnel were present at the spot.
Ashfaq and his wife, who were crying inconsolably, told the team members how they were unable to save their 7 year old daughter, Soni, who was sleeping at that time and who was tragically burnt alive. Soni’s grandmother Kismatun told the team that when the clashes started at the mosque, the rioters started chasing and beating people up with lathis. She had left her sleeping granddaughter on a cot and gone to get feed for the cattle when the incident started. The rioters set fire to their house and goods and to the cot on which the child was sleeping. In the chaos that ensued, the family was unable to get back to their house in time to save the child.
Naseeban said that when the violence started in the village, she shut herself in the house with her children. However, some people, who were accompanied by policemen, broke down the door and entered her house. They beat up everyone present and threw them out of the house. Then they broke open her trunk and looted Rs.60000/-, which she was saving to send her son to Saudi Arabia, and silver and gold jewellery and then set the house on fire. Because her house was pucca, only household goods, vehicle, etc., were destroyed.
25 year old Munni, who was visiting her aged mother along with her two young daughters on Muharram, sustained an injury on her head when a brick thrown by the rioters hit her. Her mother Jugra showed the team Munni’s blood soaked dupatta. When the team visited the village, Munni had left for her sister’s house due to fear following the riots. The rioters also burnt down the tazia which taken out during Muharram.
Meraj Khan told the team that the rioters burnt down his bed, clothes and all other household items. The government has only given him 50 kilos of rice and 50 kilos of wheat as part of the relief package. Safikun told the team members that the rioters burnt down all her household items when she had run away to save her life. She said that the rioters burnt down houses in the village in the presence of police personnel. Atiq of Gummakhan Purva told the team that they are five brothers who reside in separate houses with their families. All of them are now left with nothing as all their possessions have been burnt down. Kalim Khan’s tractor was burnt down. His elderly father Jamindar told the team that the tractor has been purchased just 6 months ago. When he tried to stop the mob from burning down the tractor, they attacked him, as a result of which he suffered injury on his legs.
The houses made of thatch completely burnt down and people have been rendered without shelter. They are left without food, clothing, utensils and other necessities such as bedding. The rioters also tried to burn the pucca houses in the village by dousing them in petrol. When they failed to burnt down the houses, they broke down the doors and looted possessions such as jewellery and set fire to the remaining items.
Sakeena was beaten up and verbally abused, the door to her house was broken and her house was set afire in front of her. The rioters looted Chotu’s house, stole 50000 rupees cash which his brother who works in the city has sent to repay a loan and then burnt down his house. Jameela’s house was destroyed so completely that it was hard to tell that a house even stood there prior to the incident; all that was left was a pile of ash. Everything she possessed including an engine, motorcycle, clothes and utensils have been destroyed. Gulbadan, who also lost all her possessions in the riots, was sitting next to a pile of ash and rubble where once her house stood when the team visited, feeding a baby goat from a plastic nipple. She told the team that the goat was the only thing she was left with and that its mother was burnt alive with the rest of her possessions. Victims told the team that 4 goats belonging to Latif Khan were burnt during the riots while 3-4 buffaloes and 5 goats have been missing. 3 motorcycles, 2 pump sets, 1 tractor and several carts were destroyed in the fire. The rioters broke into Ashiq Khan’s pucca house and looted goods, including jewellery worth one lakh and 50000 rupees in cash. The rioters also destroyed the boundary wall of the burial ground. The walls and lattices of the masjid as well an inverter were destroyed.
Saimunissa of Medilal Purva told the team members she along with her daughter were locked in a room and beaten up mercilessly. She said that while some of the rioters were instigating others to rape them, others in the mob said that women should be spared. Shamili of Medilal Purva, a widow whose daughter died in an accident a few days ago, has now been rendered homeless. Her home was destroyed, her hand pump was uprooted and even the few utensils she possessed were destroyed and thrown into a nearby pond. The rioters destroyed the meagre possessions Rahimatul, of Medilal Purva, had put together as dowry for her daughter’s marriage.
Action taken by the Police and the Administration:
The victims told members of the fact finding team that stone-pelting occurred in Gummakhan Purva at around 4:00 p.m., after which the In-charge of Police Station Fakharpur had reached the spot along with the police force. The riots which followed took place in his presence. C.O., Fakharpur reached the village at around 11:00 p.m., while the D.M. and S.P. of the district reached the village only on the next day at around 11:00 a.m., which clearly shows not only the gross callousness and negligence of the district administration, but also indicates their involvement in the pre-planned violence which took place in the village.
The police has registered two cases regarding the incident, The first FIR was lodged by members of the Muslim community on 13 October 2016 in P.S. Farakhpur, that is, Crime No. 1448/16 under sections 147,148,149, 436, 336, 302, 307, 504, 506, 429, 427 of the Indian Penal Code and section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act against 58 named persons and 400-500 unnamed persons. 34 persons have been arrested in the said FIR so far. However, it is noteworthy that the persons accused of instigating the mob for violence and looting, like the pradhan Jagdamba Prasad, Zila Panchayat member Peshkar Yadav, Santosh, Babu Tomali, Rakesh Pal, Ladli Pal, Ameeri Pal, Mangal Bhujwa,have not be arrested till 16 October 2016. The second FIR was lodged by members of the Hindu community on 14 October 2016 in P.S. Farakhpur, that is, Crime No. 1449/16 under sections 245, 236 and 323 of the Indian Penal Code, in which 4 persons have been named— Arif, Atiq, Kadir and Khalil. On the administrative level, the S.O. of P.S. Frakhpur, the Sub Inspector, and one constable have been suspended.
Relief work by the administration:
The administration has given Rupees 7900 to those affected by arson and the family of the deceased child has been given rupees 5 lakhs. Apart from this, assurance has been given that rupees four lakhs will be given from the Chief Ministers Fund and that those whose houses have been burnt down will be provided assistance under the Lohia Awas Scheme. Food and feed for cattle has also been distributed among the victims. Some local social and political organisations have also met with the victims and have been distributing food and clothing. However, given the extent and nature of damage, the relief provided so far remains inadequate as most people have been shelter-less and without clothes, utensils and other household necessities.
Events in Gummakhan Purva prior to the riots on 13 October:
The Fact Finding Team learnt from the riot victims of Gummakhan Purva that the procession with the idol of goddess Durga started from village Bahelia. Many people from village Balchanpur, which adjoins Bahelia, were part of the procession. Seven persons from Balchanpur have been named in the FIR and out of these, three people have also been arrested.
We were informed that after the arson and looting in Gummakhan, the rioters went to Balchanpur and threatened and intimidated the villagers. However, when our team visited but none of the Muslim families in the village were willing to talk about the incident.
In order to understand the perspective of the other side, the team met the families of Kuldip, Sunil and Sandeep, who were arrested by the police. The team met Sandeep’s father, Moolchand Tiwari, who initially said that he does not know anything, only that his son had gone along with the procession for immersing the idol of goddess Durga and has been falsely accused and arrested. However, when the team told him that we had do not represent any religious community and had come only to ascertain the truth so that no innocent suffers any injustice, women from his family and neighbourhood also assembled there and spoke to the team. One of the women told us that a new Durga temple has been built outside the village, where an idol of the Goddess, which was brought from Ayodhya, was installed on 9 October 2016. Before being installed, the idol was taken through the neighbouring villages. On 9 October 2016, when villagers from Balchanpur took the idol through Gummakhan Purva village, some minor fights had taken place with the Muslims there. Though on that day everybody intervened and the matter was settled without any violence, the clash turned violent on the day of idol immersion. Moolchand also confirmed this. Noor Jamaal from the same village told us that no permission from the administration for the installation of the idol on 9 October 2016. We learnt that Master Krishnakant Tiwari, Munna Prasad Tiwari, Phoolchand Tiwari, Rajesh, Suresh and Hanuman Prasad from the same village had played a vital role in the construction of the said temple and the idol installation.
1. It is clear from the above that prior to the communal riots which occurred on 13 October 216 in Gummakhan Purva, an atmosphere of communal tension had been created in the area due to the incidents which occurred on 9 October 2016. Unfortunately, these incidents were ignored and it was in alleged retaliation to them that the conspiracy for communal riots emerged. The role of intelligence agencies also needs to be investigated in this context.
2. It appears from the inquiry that a conspiracy to cause communal violence in the area seems to have already been in place prior to the incident. The perpetrators were carrying petrol and diesel with them and they targeted and burnt down the Muslim houses in the village.
3. It appears that incidents of communal violence during processions for immersion of idols and tazia processions have occurred in various parts of Uttar Pradesh such as Bahraich, Sitapur, Faizabad, Raibareilly, Gonda, Sultanpur, Shrawasthi, Kushinagar, Deoria, and Moradabad after pre-planning and conspiracy by the sangh parivar. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Sh. Akhilesh Yadav has repeatedly said that action will be taken against the D.M. and S.P. of areas where communal incidents take place and they will be prosecuted. Then why have the D.M. and S.P. of the affected areas not been placed under suspension and prosecuted?
4. Despite the ban on the use of “DJ” vehicles during idol immersion processions, such vehicles were used in the area, which were the main trigger for the communal clash.
· Inter-community meetings for communal harmony be organised in order to check the prevalent atmosphere of communal mistrust and hatred.
· Prosecuting the persons responsible for the violence is important in order to contain the atmosphere of fear which prevails in the area.
· People be made aware of the legal provisions
· Appropriate action be taken against organisations which indulge in spreading communal violence and hatred.
· The judiciary and National Human Rights Commission take suo moto cognizance and investigate of the incident
· Organisations and forces which spread communal disharmony need to be isolated
· Peshkar Yadav be arrested and prosecuted.
· All the persons involved in the communal riots be identified and prosecuted
· The compensation amount given to the victims be increased
· Clothes, food, beds, etc be provided by the government to the victims
· An independent inquiry be conducted into the incident
Members of the fact finding team:
· Ansar Indori, Convenor, NCHRO, New Delhi
· Ashok Kumari, Research Scholar, Delhi University, New Delhi
· Nizamuddin Khan, Independent Journalist, Uttar Pradesh
· Rajeev Yadav, Secretary, Rihai Manch, Uttar Pradesh
· Sandeep Kumar, Human Rights Activist, Uttar Pradesh
· Sridevi Panikkar, Advocate, Supreme court New Delhi