by Gautam Pemmaraju
Over two weeks ago, on August 11, a sizeable gathering of over 15,000 gathered at Azad Maidan, a public ground in Mumbai, to protest violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar/Burma and those of the northeastern Indian state of Assam. It was in early to mid July that violence broke out between sections of the multifaith indigenous Bodo people and migrant Bengali Muslims in Kokrajhar, Chirang & Dubhri districts of Assam displacing over 400,000 people, and earlier, 87 people were reportedly killed in ethnic clashes between Rohingya and Buddhists in Rakhine. The crowds were responding to a call by Raza Academy, a 25 year old Mumbai based organization, that has been actively mobilizing Muslims in the city protesting slights against their religious sentiments – from anti-George Bush public protests, announcing a cash prize of 100000 rupees for hurling a slipper at Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival early this year, seeking the revoking of a visa to the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, to protesting the presence in Mumbai of the Canada based Pakistani cleric Tahirul Qadri, accused of apostasy and of thanking Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, for providing state security for his public gathering in Ahmedabad. (See Faisal Devji’s interesting piece on the Rushdie/Jaipur Lit Fest episode here).
A group of no more than 2000 people were expected to gather, but unanticipated crowds filled up Azad Maidan, and reportedly, a group of rioters, armed with sticks, rods and swords, which had infiltrated the congregation, went amuck at around 3.15 PM, setting fire to TV OB Vans, police vans, public transport buses, besides attacking policeman and media persons. The violent mob, gathered at the gate of Azad Maidan, had begun to raise angry slogans against the media for not adequately reporting the ‘atrocities’, displaying images of ‘atrocities’ against Muslims. These images, which had been circulating across social media, were in no small measure, immensely provocative. In the violence that ensued, two Muslim youth were killed in firing, and 54 people were injured, mostly police. There have been allegations that some policewomen were sexually assaulted.