Remembering Bhagalpur: The riot that killed over 1000 people in Bihar


By Nithin Sridhar

The Justice NN Singh Inquiry Commission, which was formed in 2006 to investigate into the Bhagalpur riots of 1989 in which over 1000 people had died, tabled its final report in the Bihar Legislative Assembly on 7-August.

The report squarely holds the then Congress government under chief minister Satyendra Narayan Sinha, the state administration, and the police as being responsible for one of the biggest riots in Independent India.

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The 1000-page report has not only blamed the Congress government for its inaction and complicity in the riots but also have identified around 125 officials, including those belonging to IAS, IPS and state services for their gross negligence. The report has recommended taking actions against these officials for their acts of omissions and commissions committed during the riots. Let us revisit one of the most horrific riots in the Indian history.

Sequence of the events

Bhagalpur has been a sensitive area which had witnessed many riots even before 1989. There were riots in Bhagalpur in 1924, 1936, 1946, 1967, 1970 and 1984. But the riot of 1989 was the most widespread riot that Bhagalpur ever witnessed.

The 1989 riot started on 24-October and spread to around 250 villages. Apart from killing around 1000 people, it displaced at least 40,000 people.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had organized a five-day Ramshila program as part of its country-wide Ayodhya Ramshila programs. The programs were aimed at collecting bricks from various houses for constructing Ram temple in Ayodhya. On 22-October, when one such program was passing through Fatehpur village, it had provoked brick-batting and arson. On 24-October, when a similar procession was passing through the Bhagalpur town, the Muslims of Tatarpur (a Muslim dominated area), refused to allow the procession to move through their area.

When the procession continued to move through the area, there were reports of bombs, arson and missiles being thrown at the procession. This triggered off the riots that spread and consumed numerous people till the end of November.

However, the Members report (tabled in 15-Feb-1995) of the Commission of Inquiry that was constituted under Justice Prasad and two other members observes that: It may be that some miscreants of doubtful communal hue may have thrown bombs, some stones and crackers to create a mayhem, but nothing more can be said. Though, the minority report (tabled in 28-Feb-1995) of the Justice Prasad blames Muslims of the Tatarpur area for throwing bombs and triggering the riots.

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The inaction and complicity of the administration

The complicity and inaction of the police and district administration had been heavily criticized in Members report of 1995 itself. The report indicts the administration for:

  1. Allowing the Ramshila procession to pass through Tatarpur area, though a license was not issued to take the procession through that area.
  2. Indifference and incompetence in not anticipating the riots.
  3. Failure to dispel the rumors that provoked widespread communal violence.
  4. Failure to maintain the curfew and the violation of the same by officials themselves on 25-October to protest against the transfer of their SP.

The police were further seen moving with the mobs and rioters and assisting them in their destruction. These observations have been re-iterated in the Justice NN Singh report. The latest report also blames the government as well as the police and administration for inaction and negligence.

Regarding the punishment delivered to the guilty, WarishaFarasat states: “Though 23 years have passed, the victims of the communal carnage are still struggling, socially and financially. In only a handful of cases, such as the Chanderi and Logain massacres, have the guilty been punished.”

It is high time that the guilty are punished, the victims are fairly compensated and the congress state government that presided over the riot is questioned and asked to come clean.