Ranchi: It's been four days since communal tension is simmering in Ranchi. The first of the three communal clashes occurred on 10 June when a crowd at the jam-packed Eid-bazaar in Hindpiri's Main Road, got into a fight with a group of people holding a bike rally celebrating four years of Modi government. One of the bikes, reportedly hit a woman, triggering clashes in the area.
The incident, fanned by social media posts and rumours of the death of a cleric, flared up quickly from there on. The area remained communally volatile for almost four hours.
Later that evening, two clerics were attacked on their way back from a Madrassa in Nagri, on the outskirts of the capital and were allegedly forced to chant the name of a certain 'god', further inflaming communal passions. Four days on, the tension continues to simmer with over 100 policemen deployed in the area, after two incidents of stone pelting between members of two communities were reported. The incident occurred after a rumour spread that banned meat was found at a temple.
Rumours flamed a spark
Gaurav Pandey, who was in a mobile accessories shop at Daily Market recalls the incident at Hindpiri: "I was buying tempered glass for my phone when the whole thing began. I could hear distant chants of Jai Shree Ram," he said. "The shopkeeper, who happened to be an acquaintance, told me to leave the place immediately. I had no clue what was happening but when I reached home some 20 minutes later, violence had erupted in the Main Road area. Soon, messages began circulating that people were killed, but it all turned out to be rumours."
"In each of the cases since Sunday, especially the clash in Nagri and Hindpiri, social media fanned the rumours," said Rai Mahimapat Ray, Deputy Commissioner, Ranchi. "The initial tiff at Hindpiri was a small one that could have been sorted out, but the internet messages spread fast and the rumours gave way to panic among people. The police and the district administration were deployed there till evening," Ray said.
At Nagri too, the stone pelting between the communities began on the morning of 12 June "after someone circulated the news of banned meat being discovered at a temple," said Ray. "We had to bring in a large force to calm the situation," he added.
Ram Narayan Singh, officer in charge of Nagri Police Station also said, "Peace talks were on between the groups when another clash happened after a new rumour spread that a boy has been killed by a religious group. Shops were shut and property was vandalised on the basis of a random story that originated on social media."
Singh said that five people had been taken into custody in connection with the 10 June attack on the two clerics, Maulana Azhar-ul-Islam and his friend. "They are being questioned about the details of the incident as per the FIR." In the FIR, Maulana Islam alleged he was beaten by 20-25 people at around 10 pm near Argu village of Nagri Block and was forced to chant the name of a certain god.
The police are now asking the public to directly forward communally charged social media messages to police headquarters, so that they can nab the rumour mongers. A week ago, city SSP Kuldeep Dwivedi had issued a notification warning admins of social media groups in Hazaribagh, against circulating any rumour that could cause unrest among the people.
"People must use their common sense before acting on any volatile message. We have opened the police control room for complaints against any such messages that are spread on social media. People can directly send the screenshots of such messages to my official number. The City SP and SDO can also be contacted," Ray said.
Jharkhand's peaceful past
Though the situation is under control for now, the administration maintained a strong vigil given that only a week ago, two communities clashed and several vehicles were burned in Hazaribagh, a town around 95 kilometres away from Ranchi, after abusive language was used against a religion in a Facebook post.
The recent rise in incidents of communal violence in Jharkhand is in contrast to the region's history of communal harmony. "The state was peaceful even until a decade ago," said Santosh Kiro, an academician and former journalist. "Incidents of communal clashes were rare. The first of these incidents which blew up into a big clash was in 2015 over certain songs being played during Ram Navami," Kiro recounted.
At that time, people had been forced to remain indoors for two days and schools were shut down. Chief Minister Raghubar Das had to personally visit the areas to calm the situation. Then too social media played a major role as hate-filled messages were circulated widely. That incident was followed by rioting in Ranchi in 2017 when a person named Alimuddin Ansari was lynched in Ramgarh for allegedly selling banned meat. It has been one communal incident after another since then, over real and imaginary incidents.
Kiro, who is currently working on a book on Jharkhand's history, recalls a wholly different picture of Ranchi. "Back in the 90s when the Jharkhand movement was in full swing, people from all religious communities came together on the streets demanding a separate state," he said. "They shared the same stories of struggles. And in less than two decades, the same city is burning because some unruly elements are creating a sense of mistrust. This is not the Ranchi I have seen grow. It is all very sad."
However, while it was still part of Bihar, Jharkhand's capital city Ranchi had witnessed communal riots in 1967 when a procession taken out by the Communist Party of India, demanding recognition of Urdu as a second language, was attacked. Eastern region of the country was witnessing communal tensions back then due to the influx of Hindu refugees fleeing eastern Pakistan.
But even as Kiro reminisces of a peaceful past, the streets are being patrolled by a large contingent of police deployed across the capital, with orders to be on high until Eid, which is expected to fall on 17 June. "We are tightening the noose on rumour mongers. All of them will be booked under the IT Act and action will be taken against them," said VK Srivastava, spokesperson of Jharkhand police.
The author is a Ranchi-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Jun 14, 2018 11:30 AM