How the Bihar Police Colluded With Hindu Mobs During the 1989 Bhagalpur Massacre

10 January 2017

In their book, Splintered Justice: Living the Horror of Mass Communal Violence in Bhagalpur and Gujarat, Warisha Farasat, a lawyer practising in Delhi, and Prita Jha, a legal activist and researcher based in Ahmedabad, closely examine the state’s accountability in two instances of mass communal violence. The first occurred in 1989, in Bhagalpur district in Bihar, when clashes between Hindus and Muslims continued for over two months, resulting in nearly 1,000 deaths, of which over 900 were Muslims. The second was the Gujarat riots of 2002, when Hindu mobs led attacks on Muslims in the state, resulting in the deaths of close to 1,100 people, including nearly 800 Muslims and over 250 Hindus. “A recurring feature of such episodes of bloodletting is that elected and selected public officials fail to uphold their most sacred constitutional duty—to provide equal protection to every citizen,” write Harsh Mander and Navsharan Singh in their introduction to the book. Mander is an activist and writer who works with victims of mass violence and the director of the Centre for Equity Studies, and Singh is a senior officer with the Canada-based International Research Development Centre. “They fail not because they lack the mandate, authority or legal powers. They fail because they choose to, because of the pervasive prejudice and bias against these disadvantaged groups that permeates large segments of the police, magistracy, judiciary and the political class.” Splintered Justice builds upon the findings of a 2014 book, On Their Watch: Mass Violence and State Apathy in India, in which scholars from the CES collated information they had gathered, through RTIs and extensive study of case files, on various incidents of mass violence in India.

In the following excerpt from the first part of the book, which focuses on Bhagalpur, Farasat recounts how the accounts of the victims and survivors indicated that the police had colluded with the rioters. Several witnesses said that they heard police officers encouraging the attackers. Farasat writes that the police also misled the Border Security Force and the army—both of which had been called in to help contain the violence—by giving them incorrect information about which villages to reach. Many survivors noted that KS Dwivedi, the then senior superintendent of the police, played a key role in enabling the Hindu mobs—an allegation that a commission of inquiry later upheld.

The police’s role in the Bhagalpur carnage was questionable, if not downright criminal. Instead of protecting Muslims, they watched as mobs put them to sword, or worse still, joined the perpetrators. This eroded whatever trust Muslims had in the enforcers of law, so much so that eyewitnesses preferred to lodge complaints in courts rather than with the police.

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    Warisha Farasat is an alumnus of the National Law School, Bangalore, and Columbia University. She practises law in Delhi, and has explored the intersections between law, politics and society.

    Keywords: FIR 1989 Bihar communal violence Communal riots justice Bhagalpur KS Dwivedi