Jyoti Punwani, Mumbai
The news of a Muslim being killed by a mob on a public street in Pune on Monday night brought back disturbing memories of the 1992-93 riots. Not since then, at least in the major cities of Maharashtra, has a Muslim been lynched thus by a Hindu mob. The state has seen many communal riots since then, but when this killing took place, there was no Hindu-Muslim riot on. There were just the usual gangs of Hindutva vandals out on the streets venting their anger against a Facebook post.
The police have arrested seven suspects for the killing, who they allege, belong to the Hindu Rashtra Organisation. Will they be punished?
Going by the record of the police in the 92-93 riots, it seems not. At that time, the stringent anti-terrorist act TADA was applied in many such lynching cases. The accused, most of them Shiv Sainiks, remained behind bars till the trial. Yet, all of them were acquitted because in 99 % of the cases, witnesses, who had given graphic descriptions of the lynchings that took place in broad daylight in residential localities, turned hostile.
At that time, the leader of these accused, who, according to the Justice Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry, “like a veteran general, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims”, was not even questioned. This time, the police did question Dhananjay Desai, founder-president of the Hindu Rashtra Organisation. Expectedly, Desai claimed his outfit “did not plan attacks on innocent persons.” The police however, arrested him in an older case – of distributing pamphlets offensive to one community on Shiv Jayanti in March.
Some questions should be asked. Protests against the offensive FB post broke out in Pune late on Saturday night. The police could claim to have been caught unawares then, but what were they doing all through Sunday and Monday, as the vandalism continued? How could a mob armed with sticks be bold enough to bludgeon someone to death in public, in a city on the verge of a communal riot, where already, mosques had been stoned?
The police say Dhananjay Desai has 23 cases against him. Over the last five years, Desai has been instigating Hindus to attack Muslims. He harps on doing away with caste differences and identifying all non-Muslims and non-Christians only as Hindus. His speeches, spewing poison against Islam, its teachings (as interpreted by him) and its followers, are all over the Internet.
These are crimes under Sec 153 A (promoting enmity on grounds of religion). His offences are not hidden from the police; indeed, in Kolhapur last October, he began his speech by displaying a notice from the police asking him to show restraint.
How has Desai been allowed to carry on committing these offences? He constantly refers to the killing of two cops in Bhiwandi in 2006 by Muslims. He says this is what Islam teaches. One reason may be why cops are soft on him.
The Maharashtra police’s Hindutva tilt is not just well-known, it has also been well-documented by the Madon and Srikrishna Commissions of inquiry into communal riots in Mumbai and Bhiwandi. This bias has cost hundreds of lives.
The police are not accountable to citizens, but don’t they have to justify their actions to the Home Department and finally, to the Home Minister? Can we expect R R Patil, who after all, is part of a ‘secular’ ruling alliance, to instruct his men to ensure that the killers and their leader are punished?