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Riots

There are certain moments in one's life when he feels that he is just standing on the sidelines, watching life as it rushes past him. He can only see the trail of smoke that's left behind. He tries to take control, the struggle becomes fierce but what he doesn't realise is that the more he struggles, the more he is losing control. As a software developer, my life is also rushing past me and when I look back, I see many faces in the smoke; some I recognize, some I don't. I can see the events of my life unfolding before me, like a movie, but a particular scene stands out in the complete reel of my life - the Hindu-Muslim riots.

The year was 1992. I was just eight years old then. I was living in Sitamarhi, a small sleepy town in Bihar which shared its border with Nepal. In an era of no Google Maps, you would have a hard time locating it in on the map of India. The border was completely porous. Goods were (and are) easily smuggled across - the cheap chinese ones, ranging from the tiny bulbs which are used for decorating houses during Diwali to complete home theatre systems. The business was booming, the town was peaceful with people having enough money to fend for themselves.


We lived near Mehsaul Chowk, a prominent place in the small town, which separated the Muslim ghettos from the Hindu ones. My father, a veterinary doctor, was very well known in the area for he is good at what he does. He had some muslim clients as well, who paid great repects to him. We had a rented place, the first floor of a two-storeyed house. From the roof, a large part of town was visible. Thus it became the vantage point for all the ladies whenever any baarat passed by on the street. It was also jam-packed by people whenever Durga puja procession was taken out on the street, much to the annoyance of the owner of the building, an old man, a good friend of my father, who lived on the ground floor. Now this man had never done anything brave or heroic in his life himself but was very vocal about what people must or must not do to protect the sanctity of their religion. We chose to ignore him whenever he started babbling.

On that fateful October, all of us gathered on the roof to see the Durga puja procession, a much hyped event in that small town. Every year the procession followed the same path, passing a street overlooking the house of Anwarul Haq, a well known Muslim politician. That evening I tried to crane my neck to see the idol of Goddess Durga, when suddenly everyone started screaming. My father quickly caught hold of me and took me downstairs with my mother and soon the roof was deserted. I couldn't understand what had happened. Soon I came to know that someone had thrown a rock at the idol which had broken one its nine hands. People had started saying that the rock came from the direction of the Muslim neighbourhood, so it must be their planning. Suddenly the house was full of sounds of police sirens. We dared not venture outside to see what was happening. That night I slept a little.

Next day, I woke up from the sounds of TV, with the DD news anchor drawling away in her own style, about how there has been a riot in Sitamarhi, and that curfew has been declared. Cool, I thought. I had always heard about riots and curfews but never experienced them. I was happy and wanted to go out. Around nine am, Mom asked me to come for breakfast. I went to the dining table to see my father in an animated discussion with the old owner of the house. I took the first bite of bread when suddenly the skies were filled with shouts of "Jai Maa Durga!!". I was scared as hell. I couldn't eat. The old man seeing this remarked, "What's with children nowadays?? There are your own people, son. Be brave!! We have to fight with them." Mom took me into another room. She was furious. "How is a little boy of eight years supposed to understand who is good and who is bad? I don't like that man. I will break loose hell over this house, if he again comes into my house." she angrily told my father.

Days passed by as we heard more of these shouts and news of people being butchered in neighbouring Reega, famous for its wood cutting factory, the factory now being used to cut to women and children instead. Curfew was still imposed and we slowly ran out of ration. Everyday we used to eat the same old Khichdi, made of rice and pulses which were well stocked. Suddenly the riots didn't seem that well to me.
One good thing that I still remember about the curfew was the absence of power cuts. The town which recieved only 2-3 hours of electricity each day had now no power cuts at all. We joked that may be the curfew should be extended after all.

After around ten days, curfew was relaxed but Section 144 was imposed prohibiting assembling of people in groups of more than three. The vegetables that I hated earlier seemed like manna to me now. Slowly the tension subsided and things returned to normalcy. The 30-odd people who were killed were quickly forgotten so much so that if you Google the term "Sitamarhi Riots", you would probably find fewer that 5 results.

In 2007 I heard that after a long trial, the court acquitted the all 33 accused in the riots. The report of the commission set up to inquire about the riots has not been made public yet.

Comments

  1. I come from the same town and was a young boy like yourself when the unthinkable happened. However, I feel that some sections of your memoir are inflammatory (for instance, wood factory being used for slaughtering etc.). I object to such nasty conjectures- it is a very sensitive issue and you should be rather cautious when writing about those things. I am a social scientist at the University of Cambridge and I hope you would believe me when I say that these problems have their start in lopsided accounts of events and you may inadvertently be generating one here. Please edit and make the account neutral.

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  2. reading dis i also went 20 yrs back... almost de tim was same as 2day...i also belongs to mehsaul chawk & my house was at road side...still i can fell the parasympathetic sensations same with d remembrance of riots and missin durga puja of our town...

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