Nalanda: It was 12:30 pm on 28 March 2018. Five Hindu and an equal number of Muslim men were ready to carry the Ram Navami rath across the town of Silaoo, 20 kilometers from Bihar Sharif.
The procession was supposed to begin in Karadih and end in the block office. Accompanying the 10 men was inspector general, Rajesh Kumar, along with senior police officials, the District Magistrate and other administrators.
“The problem occurred when the rule of only 10 people participating in the procession was not followed. People from Karadih village tagged along and the crowd soon swelled to 3,000 men. All of them had weapons in their hands. Some had swords, some had lathis and some knives. A few carried both. Whenever the crowd shouted Jai Shree Ram, they hoisted their weapons,” said a constable witness to the procession.
Local sellers in the town told News18 that there was a sudden spurt in demand for swords, knives, wooden sticks and other India-made forms of weapons around the time of Ram Navami. Although there were no mass orders.
A senior police official in Nalanda, who did not wish to be named, said, “We started investigating the case with the motive of catching the perpetrators. However, in these five days of our investigation we doubt of pre-planning and plotting as well. However, I cannot give you confirmed news about this.”
After around two hours of walking, the massively armed crowd reached Haiderganj Karah, a Muslim dominated area of the town. Pre-empting communal tension, the police had already bracketed off the surrounding areas to stop the crowd from entering the Muslim locality. Apparently, it did not work.
“As they reached Haiderganj, some anti-social elements started pushing the police barricades in an attempt to enter the Muslim areas. We tried to stop and control them. They were mouthing obscenities to the other community. The crowd was still under control until the Bajrang Dal leaders stepped in,” said a constable.
Local reporters, photographers and multiple participants in the procession told News18 that in order to stop the anti-social elements, a senior government official slapped one of the Bajrang Dal workers, which then sparked off stone pelting in a big way.
In the process certain individuals from the Muslim community were hurt as well. The situation became uncontrollable when both parties started retaliating.
The mob forcibly halted the Shramjeevi Express train, hurled stones at it and tried to break windows.
“Fortunately, there were not many people in the train...We had to escort the train out," said the same constable.
The police fired approximately 10 rounds in the air and fired tear gas as well.
The FIR registered in the case has named 72 perpetrators. The sheet reviewed by News18 has three Muslim men with the rest being Hindu citizens. Three Hindu women have been named as well. Nalanda police have imposed altogether 14 Sections of the Indian Penal Code on the perpetrators.
A week prior to the Ram Navami celebrations, district magistrate (DM) of Nalanda, Dr. Tyagrajan SM, called for a peace-keeping meeting between the Hindus and the Muslims. According to rules, only those processions were to be allowed that would follow the same route as last year.
An official in the office of DM, who did not wish to be named, said, “BJP and Bajrang Dal leaders used to land up here every day requesting the DM to allow the procession to take a new route. They said that more people will be able to see the procession if the new route was allowed. The DM, paying heed to the requests, said he will form a committee for the same.”
Bihar BJP's spokesperson Rajeev Ranjan, district leader Ram Sagar Singh and other local BJP leaders such as Sudheer Kumar and Shyam Bharti were seen holding meetings with the Bajrang Dal leaders. They also organised multiple bike rallies prior to Ram Navami. The rallies rang with shouts of "Jai Shree Ram" and saffron capes and swords were seen aplenty.
Local reporters and the officials told News18 that the committee consisting of five Hindu and five Muslim men agreed to the proposition of the new route in a meeting held on 27 March, a day prior to the celebrations. The meeting was attended by the Superintendent of Police and the DM. It was also decided that only the committee members, that is ten people, will take part in the procession.
Meanwhile, Bajrang Dal distributed saffron vests among the citizens on the same day.
According to the FIR, the prime accused are local BJP leader Nitya Nand Singh and Bajrang Dal conveners, Dheeraj Kumar and Kundan Kumar.
“There were loud chants of Pakistan murdabad as we entered Haiderganj Karah. I don’t think there is anything wrong in that. We are enemies and it’s okay to mock that country,” said a participant in the procession, who did not wished to be named fearing arrest.
Meanwhile, following 37 arrests and 1700 unnamed FIRs, shopkeepers in Silaoo have kept shutters down since the last five days.
“We are under the constant fear of arrest. Who knows when the police might come and lock us up for no mistake of ours whatsoever. The police are misusing the unnamed FIRs to arrest people at will. We will not open shops,” said a fruit seller in Silaoo, who did not wish to be named.
The shopkeepers in the area are alleging that there have been biased arrests.
“The Police for some reason are only arresting Hindus. They are letting the Muslims walk free. The market where our shops are mostly consist of Hindu shopkeepers. We as a group have decided that we will not open the shops until the police makes public announcements that they will not arrest innocent people,” said a tea stall owner in Silaoo.
Sub-inspector Rajesh Kumar, while patrolling the area, was seen talking to Shravan Kumar, Minister for Rural Development, Bihar, requesting him to urge the general public to come out and lead normal lives.
“Why will we arrest innocent people? We are requesting everybody to not be afraid, come out and open your shops,” said Rajesh Kumar.
However, the local political leaders have left the district.
Several Bihar districts namely Aurangabad, Munger, Sheikhpura, Siwan and Samsatipur, Nawada are majorly affected with either communal clash or clash with police after deliberate attempt of Ram Navami procession participants to deviate from pre-determined route.