After 3 lives were lost in BSF firing to stop rioting on the outkirts of Hyderabad yesterday, a pall of eeriness has descended on the city. An indefinite curfew was clamped in the affected area after the police brought the situation under control. At least 20 people, including several policemen, were injured in heavy stone-pelting, while 7 others suffered bullet wounds. Shopkeepers in the markets around the historic Charminar have downed shutters while the police have stepped up patrolling all sensitive areas of the city and its outskirts.
Trouble had broken out around 6:30 am yesterday when two Muslims set a Sikh flag (Nishan Sahib) on fire, according to some eyewitnesses. Others offer a less dramatic account. They say a scrap dealer, who burns scrap everyday, was spotted with the burnt flag. An argument ensued and, within minutes, a group of Sikhs poured into the streets. The scrap dealer managed to make it to the Rajendranagar Police Station and inform the police. The first group says the Sikh boys chased two Muslim boys caught red-handed setting the flag on fire, while other Sikhs followed them to reach Muslim-dominated locality Arsh Mahal where the flag burners were seen running into. Before the police could arrive, the mob set several houses and shops belonging to another community on fire. They also ransacked houses creating panic in the area. About 15 vehicles were either burnt or smashed.
Sources said the delay in arrival of security personnel gave an opportunity for the mob to go berserk. It was when both the sides — armed with knives, swords and rocks — matched each other in strength that the police, Rapid Action Force (riot police) and paramilitary forces reached the spot, some junior policemen informed सिर्फ़ News.
There are conflicting reports on what triggered the riot with some claiming that two members of a community, who intended to construct a place of worship at the spot where the flag was burnt, faced resistance from the other community. “Tension had been building up for the last few days over the land issue, which appears to have ended up in violent clash,” the city’s police said.
Some Sikhs and Hindus are attributing the flag-burning incident to the fact that the neighbourhood of Sikh Chhawni had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP-TDP combine some days ago, and this was a vengeful act on the part of some Muslims who did not like their voting preference. The flag was planted on a hillock near a graveyard in Rajendranagar, which is adjacent to Bahadurpura in Hyderabad, this set of onlookers said. The flag post has been removed.
The security forces’ actions began with lobbing of tear gas shells. Some of the shells landed inside some households, forcing out the dwellers inside. Tear gas still wasn’t enough to stop the mobs. The BSF jawans then fired in the air. The threat failed to deter the rioters. It was then that the rioters were directly fired at; 10 people among stone-pelters suffered bullet injuries, 1 died on the spot and 2 others succumbed to their bullet injuries in the hospital they were taken to. Incidentally, one of the victims had lost his family member in a similar riot in 2004.
“We warned them and repeatedly announced that they must disperse. About 300 to 400 persons were on the ground. Numerous teargas shells were fired to clear them. It was then we opened fire in the air. Three people have died in the firing. The injured are stable,” said Cyberabad joint commissioner of police Y Gangadhar. “The situation is under control, but we have to stay alert for the night,” said Cyberabad Police Commissioner CV Anand. By night, there was a massive deployment of forces across the Old City.
Police have asked people not to believe in rumours and maintain calm. The injured are being treated at the Osmania General Hospital.
Meanwhile, radical Sikh organisation Dal Khalsa in Chandigarh expressed concern over the clash. Expressing grief over the killings, organisation general secretary Kanwar Pal Singh appealed to leaders of both the communities to defuse the tension and come forward to resolve the crisis. Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) has demanded a judicial probe into the police firing. In a letter to Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan, MIM chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi demanded an inquiry by a sitting judge of the high court.