WHEN four people were killed for a patch of land littered with debris in Bangalore last week, it was a cruel reminder of the volatile passions that religion and rumours can evoke. A mob also destroyed nearly 50 vehicles and damaged property worth lakhs, besides shattering the calm of a Bangalore locality known for its peace. And as the misplaced rage of the affected parties simmers, the incident has created communal tension that will in no way help reduce the suspicion with which Hindus and Muslims view each other.
Ironically, the provocation for the violence that held all of south Bangalore hostage for more than a day was anything but communal. The incident was sparked off by clashes between two groups within the Muslim community over differences about clearing debris that was part of the Idgah Mosque in the heart of Jayanagar. The debris on the small patch of land is part of the five-acre-plus property that was used as a burial ground till 1974 by Muslims. While a makeshift mosque was built on the property about five years ago, the patch with the debris jutted onto the busy Jayanagar thoroughfare.
Efforts have been made by the city corporation since the late '80s to clear the rubble and widen that part of the road to facilitate increased traffic. However, the group of faithful who managed the affairs of the property resisted the efforts as the land itself was embroiled in a legal dispute.
Though gifted by the Maharaja of Mysore in 1935, the title deed of the land was not given to the neighbouring Jama Masjid in Basavanagudi that managed the property. While the city corporation wanted the land to revert to the government as the purpose it was gifted ceased to exist, Muslim elders sought ownership as it was used for prayers. A suit in the state high court failed to resolve the dispute as the court ordered maintenance of status quo.
As a result, removing the debris became a bone of contention between two groups within the community with divergent views on the dispute. Younger members of the community wanted removal of the debris to be a quid pro quo for granting of the title deed for the property while the elders wanted to cooperate with the neighbourhood and remove the debris, the status of the property notwithstanding. Being a minority place of worship surrounded by the majority community, intransigence was not seen as the best stance by the elders.
Violence was sparked off when those opposed to the debris removal pelted stones at a dredger that was brought to clear the rubbish last Wednesday afternoon. Soon, rumours flew around of the makeshift mosque being demolished and all hell broke loose. Pockets of Muslim population in the surrounding areas erupted, leading to death and destruction.
And the provocation being a place of worship inevitably lent communal overtones to the whole incident. The Hindus are being blamed for the violence. Says a young graduate at the site: "The stones were pelted by some miscreants and others took advantage of the situation. People from other neighbouring areas came here to foment trouble." Youngsters at the site also told Outlook that some local politicians belonging to several political parties were trying to score their own brownie points using the debris and the dispute.
While minister of state for home Roshan Baig and senior police officials—who acted promptly to check the violence—have denied any communal conflict, even Muslim elders admit it was an internal affair which went out of control. Says Syed Umar, president of the mosque managing committee: "This was not a communal conflict. But with the Babri Masjid demolition still fresh in the minds of youngsters, it is tough to keep their emotions under control."
Police officers who did not want to be quoted say the violence also came in handy for some elements in the community disgruntled with the demolition of some illegal constructions on the nearby Banner-ghatta Road by the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force. While that is for the police to investigate and bring the culprits to book, the government is making efforts to erase the communal colour given to the incident. Peace meetings have been held and saner elements in the community counselled to avoid further incidents. And the debris as well as the dispute will have to wait as the focus has now shifted to cooling passions.
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