The deadly bomb blast which ripped apart bodies of the believers on September 29 has left a deep scar on the psyche of the town. Without losing any time, I was at Bhikku chowk, the epicentre of the blast, which resembled more like a battlefield than an ordinary chowk in a Muslim neighbourhood. The members of leaderless Muslim community were busy helping the injured in their own individual way. A few emotional Muslims protested against the police claim that it was a cylinder blast. It hurts me deeply that a stone-pelting incident can alter the destiny of my community. Clashes between Muslims and Police followed. Police first-lathi-charged and then opened fire. People fell like a pack of cards.
From Bhikku chowk I rushed towards Noor hospital like a madman searching for sanity. Police bullets seem to have an ingrained bias against Muslims. Bullets chase Muslims till death. As I entered the hospital to inquire about the injured, I could hear the gunshots being fired outside (in Mushawerat chowk). With each shot, I trembled with rage and fear. Each shot increased my heartbeats. The palpitation was so seismic that I feared that my heart would jump out and leave me dead. On one hand Dr. Saeed Faizee, Dr. Sohail and Dr. Faisal continuously worked to restore the faith of Muslim community, outside the naked dance of official bias was at play. Where was the humanity of the people?
The scene at Faran hospital – where the majority of the injured (58) were brought – was chaotic. Curios onlookers and some family members of the injured were caught in the mêlée outside the Faran hospital. As I entered the hospital the smell of fresh blood became unbearable. It is still in my head. The injured were being treated by Dr. Saeed Farani and his dedicated team of doctors. The entire hospital was in collective mourning. The cry of a toddler will haunt me for the rest of my life. It could have been my nephew or anybody else’s. A bared burnt back of a bearded old man almost brought me to the brink of cry. But then the call of my métier restrained me. I made sure that tears didn’t spill out of my eyes. In the operation theatre, I saw an open surgery being performed on one of the injured. The ruptured veins of his left foot were a terrible sight to behold. I could stop there while beholding the sanguine scene or gently pass out. The sight of the three dead bodies neatly lined one after another froze my soul. I felt as if I was in the awesome presence of death. As I clicked their pictures, a thought crossed my mind: Is it fair for a journalist to take pictures of the victims mowed down by flying balls, nails and bullets? It was a call of the conscience. In the spilt of a second, I decided to go ahead. I thought I was Muslim as well as a journalist. The job of a journalist is not to write but to communicate. The Muslim in me thought that I must communicate to the world that my own community has been hit in its own backyard. Not once, but twice.
When the guns fell silent, I returned to Bhikku chowk at 3am. Uninformed media persons were orchestrating the official line that the bomb blast site is below the building where Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) once had its office. But nobody bothered to say that the bomb blast site is rather in front of a Police chowky as well. These are matters of perception.
Why was Bhikku chowk chosen for the blast site? Bhikku chowk represents a strong Muslim identity where Muslims from all diverse sects and walks of life gather for a cup of tea or socializing after traweeh prayers in Ramadan. The attack was on Muslim identity. Why can’t the security agencies accept that there is in essence a turf-war going on between communalists of different faiths in the form of bomb blasts? It is unfortunate that in this war Police often seem to be on the side of the majority community. It is a bitter truth albeit uncomfortable.
Next day, home minister RR Patil uttered the usual platitude of repeated bombings of recent past. “It was an attack on national integration.” I am sorry, Mr. Patil. Bhikku chowk is not the place for bridging the gulf that has divided two communities. It is a traditional Muslim ghetto. The attack was on Malegaon’s Muslim identity and not on national integration. There were eyebrows raised when I bluntly asked him ‘How many people have died in the police firing.’ He paused for a moment; Nikhil Gupta, Nasik SP, bent and whispered something. “Nobody has died in the police firing. Police had fired 58 rounds in the air so no one was injured,” Patil claimed. This goes against the public perception and a doctor’s claim in Malegaon. According to Dr. Saeed Farani at least 3 persons have been injured in the police firing. The actual figure is obviously higher but nobody is willing to say because the town is reeling under fear.
Each Muslim mother in Malegaon is praying lest her son becomes a “suspect.” Things will never be the same in this forsaken corner of Maharashtra but this much is certain: Indian Muslims will not allow India to become another Pakistan.