A house that was partially demolished. (Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari)
In what has deepened anxieties in the wake of the communal tension during rallies by right-wing organisations in few districts in Madhya Pradesh, the local administration in Indore partially demolished 13 houses in the minority-dominated Chandan Khedi village last Wednesday, stating these were illegal encroachments on government land.
The demolition happened a day after clashes were reported last Tuesday during a Ayodhya Ram Mandir fund-raising rally which passed through the street where these houses were located in Chandan Khedi. There were also reports of stone-pelting by the residents with several injured on both the sides.
When contacted, Pratul Sinha, Sub Divisional Magistrate of Depalpur Tehsil, which covers Chandan Khedi, told The Indian Express, the initial plan was only for road construction, not widening. “After the clash, it was realised that the road was not wide enough for even a fire tender to pass. Following the clashes, the villagers were told to demolish the houses since these were illegal encroachments on land owned by the government of Madhya Pradesh.”
According to Sinha, villagers were told that either the administration will break the houses, which may cause greater damage, or they can themselves pull down the required portion. He said, the demolition work was carried out with oral consent without any demolition notice.
“We gave adequate time to the residents to remove their belongings and none of it was damaged. The 30-foot-road through the village is almost ready. For the widening work, about 4 feet space of 10 houses each was demolished and 7-8 feet of three other houses were broken,” Sinha said.
The villagers are critical of the move. Almost immediately after the December 29 clashes, 27 of them were arrested for pelting the rally with stones. Even as the arrests continued, the bulldozers rolled in.
A panchayat member, Mohammad Rafeeq’s house was among the ones on the demolition list. Arrested in connection with the clashes last Tuesday, his wife Parveen Bi said district administration officials came and asked her to vacate the house for demolition a day later. “I told them that with the front wall demolished, how can a woman whose husband has been taken away live safely? Why did they suddenly decide to demolish our homes without any notice,” she alleged.
Located 40 km from Indore, Chandan Khedi has 400 Muslim families and about 15 Hindu families. It witnessed clashes almost similar to those at Ujjain’s Begum Bagh locality and Mandsaur in the last week of December during fund-raising rallies by right-wing organisations followed by stone-pelting from the other side.
When contacted, Harinarayan Chari Mishra, DIG, Indore, said the rally was organised by one Bharat Patel and the first altercation was over villagers shooting videos of the rally as it passed by. “During the argument, some villagers pelted the rally with stones in which three people were injured. That led to the clash,” he said.
Bharat Singh Anjane, who organised the rally under the banner of Shri Ram Janma Bhoomi Nirman Samiti, alleged that the convoy came under attack from villagers without any provocation. “The rally had slowed down near the village as the 12 feet PCC road cutting through the village was narrow in some portions due to which about 70 bikes, which were part of the rally, got clustered in one portion. It was not the first time that our convoy came into attack; there have been at least three instances in the past where anyone going to a nearby Hanuman mandir was attacked.”
Villagers claimed that the trouble started when a small group trailing the rally stopped in front of the village mosque and began chanting Hanuman Chalisa. “They also hurled abuses at the villagers,” alleged Shakir Patel. When the villagers objected, a scuffle broke out. Soon the small group, which was part of the rally, on being outnumbered and facing stone-pelting, went away. Two hours later, they returned with more men.
The mob that returned to the village was armed with sticks, swords and firearms, villagers claimed. As the clashes intensified, three people began climbing the minaret of the village mosque in an attempt to break it. Police, meanwhile, were trying to control the situation, asking the villagers to stay put in their homes.
When asked about the villagers’ allegations that police officials did not effectively intervene, IGP, Indore, Yogesh Deshmukh said, “We are trying to identify those in the rally who were responsible and they will be booked soon. I will urge all those who have evidence to come forward and action will be taken against all responsible, including policemen.”
Two policemen – DSP Pankaj Dixit and Station House Incharge of Gautampura Police Station R S Bhaskare – have since been suspended for failing to control the situation.