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Varanasi to Ajmer: SP braves saffron rage to keep

18 Mar 2002

BJP wants his head for being tough

SUKHMANI SINGH

KISHANGARH, MARCH 17: Those who lost some faith in the khaki colour after the bloodletting and arson in Gujarat can take a bit of hope from neighbouring Rajasthan. Here, the state BJP unit wants the head of Ajmers Superintendent of Police Saurabh Srivastava, whos credited with having prevented a demonstration in Kishangarh in the district from reaching its bloody conclusion.

The BJPs state unit has threatened a state-wide agitation next week if Srivastava and other senior officials are not suspended. Srivastava appears to have invoked the wrath of the BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and Hindu Suraksha Samiti for spoiling their plans in Kishangarh town, 30 km from Ajmer, on March 1. The police had refused them permission to march through the minority-dominated Kasai mohalla that day, and Srivastava had ordered his men not to spare anyone who was inciting trouble.

"I feel satisfied that I did not allow the two communities to kill each other, instead converting it into a police versus rioters clash," says Srivastava.

He and his force staved off around thousand people from both communities who were armed with kerosene bombs, soda water bottles, jagged marble stones and tubelights during a four-and-a-half-hour face-off. Five policemen sustained head injuries, and the 40-year-old SP himself was badly bruised on the legs. The skin on his hands is still raw from catching the stones, much like a cricketer.

"It was the most difficult mob I had ever handled in my 11-year-long career," says Srivastava. "Highly motivated and violent, they were shouting slogans that they would teach the Muslims a lesson. They were selectively targeting Muslim shops and had burnt around 18 shops during the rioting." However, Ghanshyam Tiwari, vice president of the BJPs Rajasthan unit, is mighty upset. "We are celebrating March 18 as Daman Virodhi Divas to protest the police brutality. We have presented a memorandum to the governor demanding a judicial inquiry into the incident and are asking for the suspension of the SP, SDO and CO. We want cases to be registered against them," he blustered. "If our demands are not met, we will launch an indefinite dharna in Ajmer from March 21 and then call for a bandh on March 25."

But the locals in Kishangarh look at the events of March 1 quite differently. Had the police not taken stern action, some of them said, the consequences could have been disastrous. Vegetable vendor Ali Akbar (60) said, "If anyone has done anything wrong, its the politicians. There should be an SP like this everywhere."The March 1 action has, in fact, helped the police, who had retreated cravenly during communal riots in Nasirabad and Beawar last year, regain face. "They stood by me and obeyed instructions bravely. I am proud of them," says Srivastava.

The SP had runs-in with the Sangh during his previous tenure in the RSS stronghold Kota too. In August 2000, history-sheeter and bootlegger Prabhu Gujjar was murdered by some Muslim youth.

Violence erupted during his funeral procession the next day. A mob burnt down Muslim houses and kiosks. Srivastava came down with a heavy hand on the rioters, and Sangh organisations staged a dharna and agitated against him for months. "Their complaint is woh riots hone nahin dete. I learnt then that if police take strong action, things come under control. If they act partisan, the situation snowballs out of control. Our job is to uphold the law of the land, we dont have to pander to politicians."Srivastava witnessed his first Hindu-Muslim riot in his hometown Varanasi — which he describes as a communal tinderbox — at the age of six.

Later in Kanpur in a Sikh dominated locality, he was privy to the worst of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. We were in the heart of it all. I saw the looting of shops, people being killed, the use of force by the police. Ours was the only Hindu house and it became a refuge for women and children from neighbouring Sikh families." His most searing memory is that of a Sikh doctor being lynched by his Brahmin compounder who had been working for him for years. Brought up in a devout Hindu family, Srivastav began questioning several dogmas he had taken for granted when he enrolled in university. Today, he describes himself as a "normal human being with no religious leanings. I keep a copy of both the Bible and the Koran, for my understanding. The moment I identify myself with one particular religion, that will be the end."


The Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia was formed in 1993 to combat rising religious intolerance in South Asia and to campaign for peace and justice in the region. We are committed to working towards a just, non-violent resolution of the crisis we are currently living through. If you are interested in joining us in this work, please call 617-983-3934 or e-mail info@alliancesouthasia.org

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