This month in the year 1979, the Hindu-Muslim violence in Jamshedpur took the lives of 108 people. The number of dead could have easily been 114, but as it turned out, my family and I survived the mayhem, to write about it thirty years later.
This unfortunate event occurred when I was at the tender age of five, however the memory of it is etched in my mind and it is one of the clearest early memories that I have. Thirty whole years later, and the images of the violence that occurred are still extremely vivid for me.
Earlier that day on April 11th, the tension in the air was heavy with anticipation of something horrible to come. Somehow my mother was able to sense it and on the morning of Ramnawami she went with her brother and my two little sisters to a nearby Muslim neighbourhood (Golmuri). My father being the idealist was confident that nothing would happen. In case something did happen, he had formed a group of Hindus and Muslims to defend the houses against any mob attacks whether they be Hindus or Muslims.
I and my brother, who was two years older than me, stayed behind though my mother and sisters had left early that morning. As the day went on, the small crowd that was outside on the streets talking amongst themselves began to grow. My brother started getting uncomfortable and by lunch time we convinced our father to take us to Golmuri where my mother had gone earlier. While we were there, eating lunch at Uncle Kamaal’s house, we heard shouts that the rioting had started.
Recalling 1964 and 1979 riots
We went out quickly to see what was happening and saw smoke rising in the air in the distance. My memories after that are vivid but in pieces. I remember that we were staying in a house full of women and children. I remember not wanting to eat the food as it was only half-cooked. This was my introduction to life as a refugee at a very tender age. I remember going on the roof at night to see what appeared to be the whole city burning up in flames. I also remember someone warning us not to go up there and stand there to avoid the risk of being an easy target for someone to shoot at. I remember that I was not able to see my father much and being very scared the entire time.
Years later I would find out that our house in the Tinplate area of Jamshedpur was a refuge for all the local Muslims after all the Hindus of the joint front slowly left. My father, who was back in Golmuri the next day to drop off some supplies, got stuck there as the curfew was clamped. He couldn’t go back and Muslims of Tinplate feeling besieged went to the Tinplate factory to ask for help but instead they were brutally murdered by their own colleagues. My father survived this tragedy by not being able to leave the area.
Our house was looted but we were one of the lucky ones. Others had all their belongings burnt. Months later, we moved to a new area called Agrico colony, across the street from another Muslim neighbourhood of Bhalubasa. These freshly white-washed houses failed to hide the black soot of the fires that was set in them. We didn’t know if anyone had died in those houses but signs of loot and plunder were clearly visible.
Over the years, I met many people with their own tales of that horrible time. I will meet a woman with burn marks on her body, a survivor of the ambulance that was doused in flames with the intention to kill all inside. Everyday on our way to school, we will see the charred ambulance parked outside the Police Station.
Of the 108 dead, 79 were Muslims and 25 Hindus. There were many injured and many who lost everything. Jamshedpur is an industrial town dominated by Tata factories where many residents of the town are employed. Most of the city is company property and people of all faiths live together in company quarters.
It is difficult to understand why this tragic event occured in a city so young where and with such a diverse population. Most of the residents are from different parts of undivided Bihar or other parts of India, and all were blue-collar workers trying to make a decent and honest living. Muslims werent the only ones who lost their lives, Hindus did too, so who really benefitted from this tragedy?
The person who single handedly took the entire city hostage that day in Jamshedpur, thirty years ago, was local legislator, Dinanath Pandey. Pandey, the person responsible for the riots, was awarded a seat in the Bihar assembly, twice after the incident. As BJP candidate he won elections as late as 1990. He made his seat a safe BJP seat. In the last two assembly elections, BJP won from there with over 50% of the total votes polled.
India goes to the polls to elect its representatives and decides who will run the country for the next five years. When we complain that the government doesn’t do anything for us, or when we complain of goondas and criminals in politics, remember that we as voters put them there in the first place. People like Dinanath Pandey, with blood on their hands, have no place in any legislative body. Congress has done well by taking away party tickets from Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, but it is the same party that ruled Andhra Pradesh when the Muslim youth of Hyderabad were illegally detained and tortured by the state police. They will not take any action until the public shows them how upset they are.
If the parties fail to take any action and continue to field these criminals, we the people have take the stand and refuse to vote in those with hate-filled agendas or a criminal history.