Bhiwandi Experiment

I was appointed as Deputy Police Commissioner, Bhiwandi in June 1988.  I knew its ill repute as a city of communal violence.  While passing through to Nashik I had noticed the disorganized nature of the town.  I had heard that that the town was infested with crime and was also a haven for criminals from all over.  I was therefore a little wary of taking charge of Bhiwandi. 

At the outset itself I resolved to study in depth the communal riots at Bhivandi.  I wanted to find out why Hindus and Muslims kill each other.  I wanted to go to the root of these riots.

Bhivandi is situated 45 Kms to the East of Mumbai. A totally disorganized town where two thirds of the people live in slums, its population density is almost double that of Mumbai City with the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and Karanatak contributing substantially to the floating population.  According to 1991 census, the population of the town was six lac.  Hindus were 48% Muslims were 52%.  In the distant past, Bhivandi had been a good port.  Merchants from Iran and Afganistan had settled here. Many Muslims from the surrounding areas had also migrated to Bhivandi.  The number of power-looms in the town is so great that the town is a mini Manchester of Maharashtra.  Many are attracted by the abundant opportunities of employment. Hence, the Muslims are in large numbers.  The town is however known for it’s Hindu-Muslim riots more than anything else. It is hyper sensitive to any kind of communal trouble. Horrible communal riots had taken place here in 1960, 1965,1970, 1984.

I had served in the Maharashtra State CID intelligence wing from 1984 to 1987.  Fortunately, I was in charge of the communal branch.  I had ample opportunities to study the Hindu, Muslim, Dalits caste Hindu riots in the state. I was also present in Bhivandi and Thane for the riot bandobast duties in 1984; I had serious reservations about the manner in which police handled these riots.

My impression was that the police behaves like a Fire Brigade.  All of us know the functioning of the Fire Brigade.  Fire Brigade is always ready and alert.  They wait in their station in full fire fighting gear including the helmet. The fire tender is always filled with water.  After all the preparations, they wait.  What do they wait for?   They wait for a phone call about an out break of fire some place. The moment they get the call, they rush out with blaring sirens. They douse the fire with water, rescue the trapped victims and then return to the station, waiting for the next emergency call.  They do not consider what the height of the buildings or the width of the road should be, how should the town should planned, or how inflammable materials should be stored etc. All that they do is extinguish a fire that has already broken out.

The Police machinery behaves in a similar fashion, including Bhivandi police.  Leaves of officers is canceled. SRPF pickets are posted at various places.  Wireless mobile vans with Policemen wait at strategic places.  Everybody is alert, like a cobra coiled and ready to attack.  What do all these persons wait for?  Riot News!  The moment they hear of the riots they rush to the place with blasting sirens.  They use tear gas, resort to lathi charge or open fire.  The army is summoned The riot is controlled.  Some culprits are arrested and their chargesheets sent to the Court.  Then, like the Fire Brigade they return to their stations and wait for the next call.

The police are never seen planning for prevention of the riots, or reducing its intensity.  Could we implement some schemes during peacetime itself, keeping in mind long term planning and abandon this fire fighting approach?  I decided to study the riots of 1984 from this angle.  I studied the background of the rioters and the victims of the riots. I interviewed hundreds of people. I examined the social, economic, religious causes of the riots. I then published my findings in my book "Bhivandi Riots 1984

Communal riots cannot be ignored.  Government had appointed commissions like Madan commission to inquire into them. Government spent lakhs on the commission.  The Commission took years to file a report that ran into thousands pages. Did the commission really uncover the chemistry of the riots?  Did they recommend long term measures? Did the commission really feel the pulse of the riot?  Answers have to be found for all these questions.  Despite the Madan commission of 1970 riots, did occur again in 1984.

While I was posted at Bhivandi my friends used to inquire from me “Suresh who is more aggressive, we or they?  Who suffered more deaths, we are they?

I decided to find out who the aggressors were and who were the victims of the riots.  About 200 persons were killed but only 66 corpses were identified.  I traced their relatives, the relevant witnesses and the investigating officers of these cases.  I met each one of them and collected information about the deceased on a total of 15 points including name, age occupation, income, caste, sub-caste, political affiliation, communal leanings, active part in movements, crime record, temperament and the motive behind his/her killing.

As per police record 962 persons were charge sheeted.  I inquired with the 243 accused afresh and collected information about them on the same points as the deceased.  The injured in the riots also gave information.

I analysed this information.  Who got killed – their people or our?  Who were the aggressors, their people or ours?  I tried to find a reply to my friends’ queries through this study.