It was the day of Makar Sankranti and Id Milad-un-Nabi. After celebrating during the day, the residents of Kotadi village in Pratapgarh district of Rajasthan were just turning in for the night when communal clashes broke out, leaving three dead and six injured. Two days later, the village remains under curfew even as additional security forces have been deployed in the area.
According to reports, the violence began after a group of Muslim youths made some objectional comments about some young RSS workers returning from a meeting in a nearby village at around 7.30 pm on Tuesday.
“Both the groups gathered support from their respective communities and clashed at the local bus stand. Members from the minority community opened fire, injuring some Hindus. The Hindus too brought out their firearms and set ablaze several houses and shops belonging to the minority community. The violence spread to the neighbouring village of Moheda, where two persons (Dinesh Gaeri, 25, and Bhanwar Singh, 45) were killed,” said Ratan Lal Lahoti, District Collector, Pratapgarh.
The third victim has been identified as Raja Khan, 20, who was visiting his grandparents in Kotadi.
Zarina Khan, 35, whose husband Salim has been detained by the police, said they had just begun their dinner when they saw a mob armed with burning torches and bottles of fuel rushing towards their house. Zarina and her family fled, as their house went up in flames. “When the mob came, Raja Khan was eating dinner with us. We told him to rush home. He was shot while he was trying to flee,” said Zarina. Alleging that only Muslims had been detained, she said, “The Hindus who shot him and those who set our shops and houses on fire are still at large.”
Kotadi has a total population of 3,000, of which about 700 belong to the minority community. While villagers alleged that over 40 shops and houses were burnt, police put the figure at around 25.
Jamila Khan, 50, alleged that their neighbours, belonging to the Rajput and Gaeri communities, were the first to attack. “All our savings, jewellery as well as cash for my granddaughter’s engagement have either been looted or burnt. We are just left with the clothes we are wearing. We have no foodgrain,” she said.
Her grandson Shah Rukh, a Bachelor of Business Management student, said he had to miss his exam as all his books got burnt.
But Ram Lal, a member of the Gaeri community, said, “We are poor people. We work in our fields, eat our roti and go to sleep. These Pathans own illegal firearms and are engaged in smuggling. They are responsible for creating a hostile environment in the village.” The affected areas are part of the opium plantation belt and instances of illegal use of firearms have been reported earlier.
Shishu Pal Singh, whose nephew Shailendra Singh, 19, sustained a bullet injury, said, “We have no idea what triggered the violence but innocent villagers including my nephew got injured.” All the six injured are Hindus.
Shahnaz, another resident, claimed the trouble between the two communities began over two months back. “Some mischievous boys from the Gaeri community would throw stones at the houses of the Rajput families and blame us. The Rajputs would retaliate by pelting stones at us,” she said.
“We have detained five members of the minority community. There are a few others from the Hindu group who are in the list of suspects, but most of them are absconding. We are looking for the other accused who have been identified,” said U L Chhanwal, Superintendent of Police, Pratapgarh.
Meanwhile, the Vasundhara Raje government has announced Rs 5 lakh compensation for the victims’ families.