The residents of Maharashtra’s Dhule believe that the minor brawl that sparked off a bout of communal rioting on 6 January was pre-planned. Six people died in the rioting, and hundreds were injured. The brawl took place at the Maratha Khanawal restaurant in Macchimar Bazaar. The owner, Kishore Wagh, is the brother-in-law of Nationalist Congress Party councillor Maya Wagh. Kishore Wagh was arrested on Friday for inciting violence and causing damage to public property.

Since 1992, Dhule has witnessed five riots. Last Sunday’s riots took place mainly in two of the city’s 11 sensitive areas.

Dhule MLA Sharad Patil of the Shiv Sena told this newspaper that two men had gone for lunch at the restaurant: “Two local Muslim men ordered biryani and were presented with a bill of Rs 60 by the waiter, who too is a Muslim. But the duo had only Rs 40 with them. The waiter complained to his manager and soon fisticuffs started. The fight then spilled onto the streets after both sides brought in their own sets of friends to settle the matter.”

Dr Khan Irshad Ahmad, secretary of Jamiyat Ahle Hadia Dhule, says that the police could have prevented the riots: “Two auto-rickshaw drivers had gone to the eatery, which is located opposite the local police station. After the fight they went to the police station to lodge an FIR. The police refused to register a complaint and instead slapped one of the drivers.”

The incident soon took a communal turn, with men of all ages taking to the streets with glass bottles and acid bulbs. Initially, the local police tried to control them by resorting to a lathi-charge, but the crowd could not be controlled and the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) was called in.

When asked whether it was necessary for the police to shoot at the crowd, Patil said, “It was when acid bulbs started pouring down on the police and five-six policemen got injured that the decision to fire was taken. It was taken at a meeting between the police and the authorities at the district collector’s office.” In a combing operation later, the police found six tonnes of broken glass pieces and stones from various homes.

Abdul Jaleel Ansari, whose entire three-storey house in Madhavpura was burnt down, blames both politicians and the police for his plight. “I was sitting in my home when around 3.30 p.m. I heard a commotion outside and ran out with my family members. We saw a huge mob along with the police ransacking everything. The police asked us to vacate our home, while the rioters looted it. They then asked the rioters to burn down our house. Four more houses faced the same fate,” he alleged. He called councillor Maya Wagh and asked her to send a fire engine. “But the fire engine came at 12.30 a.m. after my entire house got burnt. We have seen many riots here and believe this was pre-planned. All this over Rs 20? We are not fools,” says Jaleel, who works as a driver and is living with his relatives for the last six days.

Salim Zainuddin, who was shot on his left arm at Macchimar Bazaar was covering the violence for a local Urdu newspaper. “I saw gas cylinders being brought out by the mob to start a fire. Petrol bombs were being hurled from rooftops. Youngsters were hurling glass bottles and acid bulbs. Bullets too were being fired from all directions. The police were just standing there. When I turned my back I got shot.” He says that the ammunition was all in place and a riot of such a scale could not have taken place without pre-planning.

The NCP, fearing a backlash has cancelled its Convention for Minorities, which was scheduled to be held on Sunday, 13 January, in Beed district.

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