By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
Malegaon/New Delhi–The secularism of India was once again put to test when serial blasts, killing at least 31 people and injuring more than 300, hit Malegaon (Maharahstra), known as a communally sensitive town, last week (September 8). The four blasts occurred near the Noorani Mosque, a graveyard and the busy Mushaira Chowk on Friday just a little before 2:00 PM (IST), when people had gathered for Friday prayers and for special prayers on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat.
The blasts created a panic among the people, leading to a stampede as they rushed out of the Kabristan. The majority of those injured were children. Among the dead, 15 men and 10 children were Muslim worshippers, but six were female Hindu passers-by. Fear that the blasts might lead to communal violence led authorities to impose a curfew and to deploy paramilitary forces to maintain law and order.
Condemning the terror attack, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and various political leaders called on the people to maintain peace and communal harmony. Leading politicians, including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, and Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, rushed to the town, displaying their sympathy for the affected people.
Though various speculations have been voiced, it is still not clear whether Bajrang Dal, the Pakistan-based Lashkar group or any other organization was responsible for Friday-blasts. The July 11 blasts in Mumbai, the terrorist attacks on Ayodhya and Varanasi and Fridayâ€™s bombings in Malegaon are part of â€œa big conspiracyâ€ by anti-national forces to shatter communal harmony, according to the “minister of state for home,” Sreeprakash Jaiswal.
While authorities are still probing into who could be responsible for blasts and whether there is any link between these and Mumbaiâ€™s July attacks, the people of Malegaon have risen above these concerns by displaying communal harmony.
Thus, following the initial outburst displayed by a mob that assaulted policemen and burnt vehicles, calm descended on the town. Shattering apprehensions about communal violence, Hindus and Muslims reached out to help each other.
Evidently, attempts made earlier by certain local authorities to encourage interaction between Hindus and Muslims of the area paid off as influential people of both communities taking crucial steps to ensure that communal tension would not spread through Malegaon. Hindu doctors, particularly Vaidya and Satyajit Shah, treated severely injured Muslims–saving many lives. Hindu boys joined to rush injured to hospitals and also queued to donate blood. Neighbors took to the road with water, food and a few warm words for the victims. On their part, Muslim leaders, including Mufti Mohammed Ismail, Hakim Seth and Hanif Bhai, accompanied by police, toured the town, calling on people to remain calm and to maintain peace. Muslims formed a human chain to help safely evacuate hundreds of girls stuck in a local school.
Not surprisingly, Maharashtra State Minoritiesâ€™ Commission vice-chairman Abraham Mathai commented: â€œThe people of Malegaon have shown exemplary courage and foresight by pre-empting a major communal clash.â€ â€œThe perpetrators of this dastardly attack played their cards well, choosing a mosque on a Friday and that too on an auspicious day like Shab-e-Baraat. Leaders of both the communities showed great maturity to prevent a communal riot,â€ according to Peace Committee president Prakash Patil said.
The curfew was lifted on Saturday morning, and by Sunday, business in this textile town had returned to normal. Earlier, communal tension also meant shutting down of powerlooms. As expressed by a Muslim loom-worker: â€œWhenever a riot or any violence occurred in the town, powerlooms were the first to close. This time, the situation is different.â€ â€œWe need Hindus to run our looms. They provide us the yarn and many of them market the fabric we weave. Without them there would be nothing in this town. Earlier, no one thought twice before pelting a stone across the street. Now we simply canâ€™t afford to,â€ according to Abdul Lateef Gafur.
The Friday blasts have also been an eye-opener to the importance of political rhetoric guided by planning and forethought. Congress President Gandhi, in the presence of Chief Minister Deshmukh, Home Minister Patil, deputy CM R.R. Patil and senior Congress leader Mohsina Kidwai, tried to show her sympathy by meeting with several Muslims and offering them compensation on Saturday (September 9).
Refusing to take Rs 100,000 ex-gratia, Shakil Ahmed, who lost his 16-year old son in the blasts, said: â€œThis city is like a hell-hole. It lacks basic amenities such as a civil hospital and medical support staff. In times of emergency like yesterday, victims had to be rushed to the privately-run Farhan hospital here or Dhule, which is 60 km from Malegaon and Nashik which is 120 km away.â€ Three other Muslims also rejected such compensation. So much so, as public anger rose, embarrassed by such criticism, Gandhi and her group were compelled to leave the meeting midway.
Money or political rhetoric cannot bring lost ones back, but a little attention paid to improving basic health facilities here in Malegaon could save more lives if terrorism ever strikes here again.