Ground Report: Right wing groups on the rise, uneasy Gajwel stares at new communal fissures

After a man allegedly urinated near Shivaji statue, communal tensions gripped Gajwel as a Hindu mob attacked a mosque in Telangana CM KCR's constituency.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Jul 07, 2023 | 8:13 PMUpdatedJul 08, 2023 | 4:11 PM

Ground report Rise of right-wing Hindu leaders a concern in Telangana's Gajwel after communal tension arrest toll reaches 17 in 4 days

The Gajwel town in the Siddipet district of Telangana may have begun the week on a tumultuous note, but appeared to have almost returned to normal by Thursday, 6 June.

People were going about their lives as usual: The markets were open, the offices were functioning, and attendance at the town’s lone school and college was near normal.

This appeared to be in contravention of Section 144 that had been clamped in the area, but the authorities seemed only too happy to let the people go about their lives.

To them, this meant that the people were focusing more on their daily routine and not provocations to hate and violence.

The only indication of the turmoil earlier in the week was a heavy police presence at the locations that witnessed the triggers of the communal tensions — including the town’s prominent Shivaji statue and the Madina mosque.

Also Read: Why is Coimbatore the communal cauldron of Tamil Nadu?

‘Tensions for the first time’

Yegonda Goud, a social activist and a member of the Dalit Bahujan Front (DBF), had difficulty remembering when the town had previously witnessed such strife.

“The polarisation in Gajwel started three years ago, when Raghunandan Rao was elected to the Telangana Assembly in the 2020 bypoll from the nearby Dubbaka segment on a BJP ticket,” he told South First.

The activities of right-wing outfits with a Hindutva leaning have only gained momentum since then, said Goud.

He added that the fact that Gajwel was the Assembly constituency of Telangana Chief Minister and BRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao could also have added fuel to the fire.

Otherwise, the Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Dalits have long lived in harmony in the town and its surrounding villages, he said.

Goud also opined that a small issue had been blown out of proportion in the town, and provocations led to tensions.

Also Read: ASI has no record of Hyderabad ever being called Bhagyanagar

The trigger

At the centre of the storm is Mohammad Imran (24), who used to work in Hyderabad but recently returned to the Sangapur village, about 2 km from Gajwel. His sister and brother-in-law stay in the village.

The police, after arresting Imran on 3 July, said that he met his friends in the village earlier in the day and they then came to Gajwel town.

The cops added that Imran and his friends allegedly consumed alcohol at an establishment near the Shivaji statue in town, and he then urinated close to it.

As word of the deed spread, a mob arrived on the spot and allegedly assaulted him, a fact that was captured in the video that subsequently went viral online, leading to widespread outrage.

They also paraded him semi-naked on the road, another fact that was caught on camera.

Also Read: Hindus, Muslims of a TN village embrace harmony after decades

The escalation

The escalation of events started the night of 3 July, when people from the Muslim community in the Sangapur village were arrested for allegedly assaulting a local youth, K Sandeep, at Ambedkar Chowrastha, according to an FIR registered at the Gajwel Town Police Station.

The issue only snowballed from there, the first indication of which was a rally of some 2,000 Hindus that was taken out in the town.

Inside the compound of Madina mosque in Gajwel

Inside the compound of Madina mosque in Gajwel. (Ajay Tomar/South First)

Participants of this rally attacked the Madina Masjid in the town, pelting stones at and vandalising it, Tanjamul Masjid Committee (TMC) president Sayyad Yousufuddin — the imam of all eight mosques in the town of Gajwel — had told South First earlier.

When the correspondent visited Madina mosque in Gajwel and sat down face to face with Yousufuddin, he said 400-500 people were in the rally, out of whom only 40-50 were from Gajwel town.

The rest, he noted, were from the surrounding areas, including neighbouring Mutrajapally — the village nearest to the town.

Yousufuddin noted that there were only four-five people in the mosque at the time, including him, and they tried to de-escalate the situation.

“The mob were there for around 40-45 minutes and raised slogans such as if they (Muslims) want to stay in Hindustan, they had to be Hindus. We tried to pacify them. I can’t even imagine what would have happened had the mob come inside,” he explained to South First, thanking the local police for responding swiftly.

Also Read: Minor row turns communal, BJP councillor among 11 booked

New fears

Gajwel, a town as well as a municipality, has a population of nearly 25,000, according to the 2011 census. However, that number might have reached 40,000-50,000 in 2023, local government sources told South First.

At the entrance of Madina Mosque

At the entrance of Madina Mosque. (Ajay Tomar/South First)

“Most of the people here have their own small businesses, like garment shops, eateries, and hardware stores,” said a government source.

“Many have migrated to Hyderabad in search of work. The Muslim community people mostly have mechanic shops, welding shops, or fruit and vegetable carts. The neighbouring villages have an agriculture-based economy,” added the source.

While the locals said that the town had been a great example of communal harmony over the decades, both social activist Goud and TMC president Yousufuddin said the rise of some local leaders from BJP-affiliated Hindu organisations over the years had muddied the waters.

Some of these leaders, who are also behind bars for disrupting the peace on 3 July at the Ambedkar Chowrastha and leading the mob that allegedly attacked Madina Masjid on 4 July, are Gachchubai Mahesh Goud, Devullapalli Manohar Yadav, Gangishetti Ravinder, Sunkari Balakumar, Pitla Kumar alias DJ Kumar, and Chintru Srinivas.

“These leaders differentiate and discriminate on the basis of religion and take the law into their own hands. One day some Hindu and Muslim children were playing like usual on the street where one of these leaders lives. The leader reprimanded the Muslim children,” both Goud and Yousufuddin claimed.

Also Read: Controversial BJP MLA Raja Singh booked thrice in 3 days

17 arrests, 8 FIRs this week

While the cops had arrested 11 men till Wednesday in connection with the incidents of communal violence, six more were arrested on Thursday. A total of eight FIRs have been registered in connection with all the incidents so far.

While three of these FIRs were registered against Muslim men from the Sangapur village and Gajwel town, including 24-year-old Mohammad Imran, the rest are against Hindu men.

Ambedkar Chowrastha near Gajewal police station

Ambedkar Chowrastha near the Gajwel Police Station. (Ajay Tomar/South First)

Apart from Imran, five of the arrested are from the Muslim community and 11 are from the Hindu community. All of the latter are allegedly affiliated with right-wing organisations.

The men from the Muslim community in prison are Mohammad Akheel (25), Mohammed Zaheer (51), Muhammad Ghaus (22), and Muhammad Qadir (32), all residents of the Sangapur village, and Mohammad Naheem (20) from Gajwel.

The 11 men from the Hindu community who have been arrested include Kashamain Naveen (23), Gachchubai Mahesh Goud (33), Srinivas (20), Devullapalli Manohar Yadav (25), Kailasa Srikanth (36), Ramulu (39), Sunkari Balakumar (46), Matam Mahipal (30), and Pitla Kumar alias DJ Kumar (43), all residents of Gajwel.

Two others — Mushanam Karunakar Goud (25) and Matam Mahipal (30) — are residents of nearby villages.

All the accused have been charged under Sections 153A (intentionally promoting religious hatred), 295A (insulting religious beliefs), 188 (disobeying orders from public servants), and 143 read with 149 (engaging in unlawful assembly with a common intention to commit an unlawful act or use force) of the IPC.

Imran has also been charged under IPC Sections 294 (obscene conduct in public places), 295 (defilement of a place of worship or an object held sacred), and 504 (insult and provocation).

The Gajwel police also registered a case against Chikoti Praveen, an organiser of gambling events, for taking out a rally in the town without permission.

Praveen visited the town without obtaining permission from the police and led the rally, said the cops. Along with others, he also went to the Shivaji statue, garlanded it, and poured milk on it.

Police was deployed at Shivaji statue in Gajwel

Police personnel were deployed at the Shivaji statue in Gajwel. (Ajay Tomar/South First)

Of the eight FIRs, six have been registered following complaints submitted by Gajwel police officers themselves.

One has been registered based on a complaint by a member of the Bhagat Youth Association, Madhu Goud Thalla, against Ghaus and Zaheer.

The group is said to be involved in establishing statues of 17th-century Maratha king Chattrapati Shivaji.

The Madina mosque’s imam, Yousufuddin, also registered an FIR against the mob for vandalising the house of worship and pelting stones.

All the accused have been sent to 14 days of judicial remand to Karimnagar jail.

“We are scanning the CCTV footage as well as gathering information about the perpetrators from our sources. The situation was a momentary lapse that led to escalation at the mosque. In future, we will be conducting awareness programmes and peace meetings with all communities. We will also educate youth about religious harmony,” Gajwel ACP M Ramesh told South First.

He added that Section 144 would come into effect routinely in Gajwel to maintain peace. “The plan is to stop huge illegal gatherings,” he said.

Allegations and counter-allegations

The disquiet was palpable at Mohammad Zaheer and his son Mohammad Akheel’s house when South First visited.

Imran is their neighbour, and his mother is currently undergoing treatment in hospital.

Sangapur village on outskirts of Gajwel town

Sangapur village, where a significant Muslim community lives, on the outskirts of Gajwel town. (Ajay Tomar/South First)

“What Imran did was completely wrong. Legal action should be taken against him. But what proof does the police have against my father (Zaheer) and brother (Akheel)? They were the ones who were attacked by the mob on the night of 3 July,” Mohammad Afroz told South First.

However, ACP Ramesh was of the view that whoever was at fault, their kin would try to save them. “We are just going by the facts we have in the form of evidence,” he said.

Yegonda Goud was of the view that right-wing Hindu outfits had become more active in Gajwel since erstwhile Telangana BJP president Bandi Sanjay Kumar was given the charge of managing the party’s affairs in the state.

“These leaders give issues a communal colour to boost their vote banks,” he said.

‘Muslims attacked first’

Vishwa Hindu Parishad member Gyadari Rajaram viewed the series of events through a different prism.

Road leading to Madina mosque barricaded by police

One of the roads leading to Madina mosque was barricaded by the police. (Ajay Tomar/South First)

“The attack on the mosque was provoked from their (Muslim) side. Our people were conducting a peaceful rally. As we passed in front of the mosque, they started throwing stones, and our people retaliated. It is being reported that Hindus threw stones first. But that’s not true,” he claimed while speaking to South First.

Reacting to Mohammad Imran’s actions, he asked, “Why will we Hindus as a majority keep calm? They started it, and we are defending ourselves.”

Asked about the increase in the ranks of right-wing Hindu organisations in Gajwel, Rajaram denied it.

“There hasn’t been any exponential increase in the last couple of years. All the organisations work under the Bajrang Dal, be it the VHP or the Bhagat Youth Association,” he said.