September 25, 2003

The Hindustan Times, September 25, 2003

Bajrang Dal blasts mosque, forces Muslims to flee
DK Singh
Iklera (Jhalawar), September 25

More than a hundred Muslim families have fled several tribal-dominated villages in Rajasthan's Jhalawar district after Bajrang Dal activists destroyed a village mosque with explosives and subjected them to a series of attacks over three consecutive days last week.

Nearly 30 people have been arrested in this connection.

Police have claimed that the alleged mastermind of these incidents, RSS's Iklera tehsil karyawahak, Kanwarlal Meena, and his accomplice, Devi Lal, an ex-convict, are "absconding".

But Meena, a paramedic who now runs a local hospital, is readily available to anyone who wishes to contact him. He told Hindustan Times that the attacks were carried out by angry people, and not by Bajrang Dal activists.

The local administration has already started reconstructing the 20-25 feet wide mosque with the help of the community. Another mosque in Ratanpura village, which was partially damaged, is also being repaired.

Local Muslims complained that the harassment started a day after 14 Bajrang Dal activists were injured in police firing at Iklera police station on September 16. The activists had turned unruly after they were rounded up for travelling without tickets to Jhalawar to participate in a VHP meeting.

The next morning, Hafez Safwan Alam, the Imam of the Gehunkheri mosque, was stopped by a group of activists.

"They put a sword on my neck and forced me to take off my cap. Somehow I managed to escape into the nearby maize field. I later heard a blast from the mosque. When I returned I saw the rubble of the mosque and its charred remains," said Hafez.

The Muslims in Gehunkheri had learnt about the plan of attack on September 16 night and 12 families went to Iklera police station to seek protection.

The mobs, looted about a dozen houses and set fire to at least four houses and a sawmill. Smoke was billowing out of the houses when this correspondent visited Gehunkheri this afternoon.

Most of Gehunkheri's Muslims escaped to Iklera, 15 km away, hiding under crops of maize and jowar and braving knee-deep mud. Siraj Ansari's saw mill and tractor were burnt, and many others' cattle let loose and crops destroyed.

The same drama was enacted in four other villages in the next two days, the police confirmed. Most people have run away to their relatives in other districts and some to Madhya Pradesh. A few who have returned have left their families behind, said the Shehri Qazi Hafiz Lal Mohammed.

People of the community named Meena in seven different FIRs registered after the attacks. Meena claimed "Angry people and not the activists caused only 10 per cent of the damage. The minority community damaged their own houses and vehicles to claim compensation."

Meanwhile, tension is palpable in Iklera tehsil including the affected villages of Gehunkheri, Misroli, Kokhera, Arania, and Ratanpura, even as the administration is trying to bring back the families. Additional DGP (law & order) S N Jairath, said, "Normalcy is returning and we have rehabilitated most of the families."

A few miles outside Iklera we see a saffron hoardings: "ideal Hindu village welcomes you" proudly highlighting the that the Muslims have moved out. Saffron Bajrang Dal flags, have also come up on "Hindu houses."

Abdul Naeem from Iklera said that the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had been active in the area after Gujarat carnage and in the past two months they have held activities like mashal julus, sankalpa sutra and trishul deeksha and a meeting of 15,000 people at Gehunkheri on September 12.

The minority community constitutes about 20 per cent of the population in Iklera and in the past six months they have written several letters to the administration about the rising insecurity in the area.