PUCL report on Coimbatore violence in late-1997
Editor’s Note: Here are detailed, edited excerpts from a report by a PUCL team on the communal violence in Coimbatore between November 29, 1997 and December 1, 1997. The report, focussing on the anti-Muslim aspect of the communal violence, provides salient factual details. However, the PUCL as an organisation has failed to focus on the activities, strategy and deadly explosive strikes of Muslim fundamentalist organisations which have exploited the situation in Coimbatore and some other parts of Tamil Nadu and preyed on the feelings of innocent Muslims, especially young men. Readers should keep this in mind while reading these excerpts, which constitute relevant background to the serial explosions that took a terrible toll in human lives, well-being and morale in Coimbatore.
PUCL report on Communal Violence in Coimbatore between November 29, 1997 and December 1, 1997
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, constituted a 12-member team to probe the recent violence in Coimbatore. Its members were: S. Kalavathi, scientist, Kalpakkam, and treasurer, PUCL; P. Chandran, bank officer, Chennai, and member, PUCL, Chennai; R. Venkatesh, law student, Chennai, and member PUCL, Chennai; D.V. Natarajan, scientist, Kalpakkam, and member, PUCL, Chennai; V. Sridhar, scientist, Kalpakkam, and member, PUCL, Chennai; Irfan Engineer, Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai; Sandhya Matre, researcher, Mumbai; P.A. Pouran, Advocate, and general secretary, PUCL, Kerala; Venu Vilayudi, social activist, Kerala; S. Gopal, engineer, Kalpakkam, and member, PUCL, Chennai; G. Kurinji educationist, Erode, and treasurer, PUCL, Erode; and G. Sugumaran, secretary, PUCL, Pondicherry.
The team visited the affected areas, namely Fort, Kempatty Colony, N.H. Road, V.H. Road and R.S. Puram, from December 22 to 25, 1997. The team met several of the officials concerned and affected persons. It visited the houses of several Muslims who were injured or killed.
The team met Nanjil Kumaran, Commissioner of Police, Kovai; Lallawm Sangha, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Kovai; C.T. Dhandapani, MLA; K.N. Murali, Inspector, B-1 Police Station; M. Mohammed Ansari, state secretary, Al-Umma; Jaffer Ali, district president, TMMK; office-bearers of the Federation of All Muslim Organisations of Coimbatore; Kottai Saravanan, district secretary, Hindu Makkal Katchi; Ramasamy, convenor, Youth Wing, Tamil Nadu Arunthathiyar Democratic Front; Moogambikai Mani, state secretary, Hindu Munnani; Raj Mohan, district office secretary, Hindu Munnani; Dr. Aslam, Kottaimedu; Dr. Fakir Mohammed, Kottaimedu; Prof. Jawaharullah, president, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK); Hyder Ali, secretary, TMMK and S.A. Basha, president, Al-Umma.
The team also visited the residence of M. Ramanathan, DMK MP, and spoke to his wife and son. The efforts to meet the Dean of Coimbatore Medical College Hospital were unsuccessful but the team could meet a few doctors, staff nurses, affected persons and patients who were in the ward at the time of the violence. The team could not meet District Collector G. Santhanam as he was busy with his work. The team also spoke to several eye-witnesses.
Edited excerpts from the PUCL report on what happened in Coimbatore between November 29, 1997 and December 1, 1997:
The conflict and rivalry between sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities, which started from the early 1980s, are allegedly due to the intolerance of some leading Hindu businessmen towards the growth of Muslim businessmen (like the owner of Shoba Cloth Centre).
Hindu Munnani leader Rama Gopalan had visited Coimbatore many times and delivered highly provocative speeches insulting Muslims and Islam. The Hindu Munnani has also gone on a campaign asking Hindus to purchase only from shops owned by Hindus.
Immediately after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, there were protests in the Kottaimedu area. On December 8, 1992, the police unnecessarily opened fire on a Masjid and lathi-charged Muslims who had assembled there. There were no injuries or death.
Following the bomb blast in the RSS building in Chennai in November 1993, the Kovai police arrested S.A.Basha and 15 others under the Terrorists and Disuptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA). The police also entered Kottaimedu, terrorised Muslim people and ransacked their houses. They arrested almost all Muslim youth and boys on false grounds and beat them up in custody. This brutalised the minds of Muslim boys and youth against the police.
To add insult to injury, the police put up three checkposts at important entry roads of Kottaimedu, and four pickets inside Kottaimedu, thereby isolating the place as an island. This further affected the psyche of the boys and youth who thought they were being perceived as criminals. PUCL, in its report dated February 28, 1994 on the above incidents, specifically recommended the removal of the checkposts. It also named some of the police officers as being responsible for the brutal and illegal attack on the Muslims. Many people whom the present team met said that one police officer (named in the PUCL report) was seen instructing his men to shoot during the events on November 30, 1997.
In the recent past, some Muslims have got organised under various organisations like Al-Umma and the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) for their ‘protection and safety’. Another organisation, Jamaithul Ahlul Quran and Hadis (JAQH), works for removing the ills in the Muslim community.
During the last election campaign, DMK candidates promised that the checkposts would be removed if they came to power. As the winning trends were known, some Muslim youth smashed the checkposts and stabbed two constables who protested their action. Some policemen took the above incident as a challenge to their authority. M. Mohammed Ansari, secretary, Al-Umma, admitted to the PUCL team that such an event took place and several youth were arrested.
In Kottaimedu, about 80 per cent of the people are Muslims; the rest are Hindus and others. All along, they have been living together peacefully, even during some of the worst periods mentioned above.
It should also be noted that the percentage of Muslim policemen in Kovai is less than 1 per cent.
Platform shops and mamool: There are about 1,200 platform shops in and around Ukkadam, Big Bazaar and Kottaimedu, mostly owned by Muslims. The police have been collecting as mamool approximately Rs.25 to Rs.50 per day per shop. After the elections these traders got themselves organised under various organisations like the TMMK, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and Al-Umma. It is to be noted that Al-Umma and TMMK have played a crucial and effective role in curbing the mamool collections by the police. This loss of revenue also seems to be at the background of the conflict between the Muslim community and the police.
Poster war: The TMMK has been issuing calls since September 1997 to Muslims all over Tamil Nadu to attend the procession to be held on December 6, the day on which Babri Masjid was demolished. They have declared it a “black day”. The Hindu Munnani also put up posters calling December 6 a “victorious day” for the Hindus – a day of destruction of the symbol of slavery, and soon it would be Mathura and Kasi (“Indhukkalin vetri naal; adimai chinnam agatria naal; viraivil Kasi Mathura”). This poster of the Hindu Munnani affected the sentiments of Muslims and also instilled a sense of insecurity among them. Later a poster put up by “Indian” appeared calling December 6 the day on which “Bharat Matha was raped” (“Bharatha Matha karpazhikapatta naal”). The Hindu Munnani objected to this poster. No Muslim organisation claimed authorship of this poster. However, no steps were taken by the authorities to remove this and it started a poster war. The current crisis should also be seen against this background.
INCIDENTS ON NOVEMBER 29
On November 29, around 7.00 p.m. two Muslim youth on an M-80 vehicle were stopped by a Sub Inspector (S.I.). One of them was Jahangir, office bearer of Al-Umma. The S.I. asked for his licence and Jahangir did not have it at that time. He claimed that the licence was at his home. When the S.I. asked his name, he did not divulge it but said he was an Al-Umma member. This led to a wordy duel and he was taken to the B1 station. The vehicle was also taken. “The young-blooded, recently recruited, volleyball playing probationary officer”, the S.I., is alleged to have used foul language against Muslims.
On hearing of this incident, Ansari, Secretary of Al-Umma, went to the police station at about 7.30 p.m. to enquire about it. According to Ansari, he went straight to the Inspector and complained about the incident. In the presence of Ansari, the S.I. allegedly told Jahangir that all Muslims should be packed off to Pakistan and used denigratory language against Muslims. Ansari used abusive language in retaliation. He was beaten with a lathi by the S.I. and the constables. The Inspector intervened and stopped the beating. Ansari said that he would take up the matter with the higher-ups and left at 8.30 p.m.
The news of ‘Amir’ being beaten up spread and a large number of people assembled before Al-Umma office. When Ansari reached the office, the crowd started debating on a road-roko to protest against the S.I. As the meeting was in progress, around 11 p.m., Commissioner Rajendran came with a police force to Al-Umma office for “searching”. The restive crowd objected to this. The police then informed the assembled that they had come to arrest the three persons who had killed a traffic constable named R.Selvaraj at 9.00 p.m. Ansari said that he was not aware of such an incident and that he would help apprehend the killers and hand them over by 11 a.m. the next day. Ansari told the PUCL that he was still unaware of the reasons for the killing of Selvaraj. According to him, two Police Inspectors were also present. The Comm-issioner agreed and asked the police to withdraw.
The police, while withdrawing from Kottaimedu, allegedly set fire to the platform shops. Kottai Saravanan, district secretary of the Hindu Makkal Katchi, told the PUCL team that it was “the Hindus” who burnt down the platform shops. Leaders of the TMMK, who were returning from Pollachi at 1.30 a.m. on November 30, saw the shops burning. Arunthathiyars (a Dalit community) living across Ukkadam confirmed that the shops were burnt during the night of November 29. The PUCL team could not visit the police quarters to meet the police constables as “the situation there had not yet returned to normal.”
Central Forces in Action Personnel of the Central forces in the thick of action during the November- December 1997 riots in Coimbatore.
The burning of platform shops lends credence to the theory that mamool collection was at the backdrop.
Based on a few eyewitness accounts, Al-Umma located the three persons suspected in the killing of Selvaraj – Abbas (22), Shafi (22) and Azeez (20) – and handed them over to the police at 9 a.m. on November 30. While Abbas and Shafi were iron scrap traders, Azeez was a platform vadai vendor. The three belonged to Pothanur, N.H. Road and Karumbukadai respectively.
INCIDENTS ON NOVEMBER 30
By 8.00 a.m. on November 30, about 100 policemen staged dharna at Ukkadam. Kottai Saravanan told the PUCL team that two senior leaders of the Hindu Makkal Katchi (named) and also cadres of the Hindu Munnani participated in the dharna. (This additional crowd, comprising mostly persons attired in Iyappa Swami dress, will be referred to as “Hindu fundamentalist forces” in the following text.)
The police staged a dharna for over an hour-and-a-half and then took out a procession towards the General Hospital. They blocked the railway subway on the Trichy road for some time. Several senior police officials said that no one could get any policemen to carry out law and order work. They could get drivers only with some difficulty. Some officers said that several policemen confided that they were afraid of the organisers of the protest and procession and therefore were not in a position to obey their seniors.
In the meantime, at Ukkadam, several Muslim youth came out to protest against the burning down of platform shops. Rumour was rife that Hindu fundamentalist forces in Kempatty Colony were planning to enter Kottaimedu to attack the Muslims. In the CMC colony, where the majority of residents are Arunthathiyars, the rumour was the other way round. Therefore, the Hindu fundamentalist forces of the CMC colony, comprising several Arunthathiyars, rallied to protest against the rumoured Muslim entry. The PUCL team has checked and found that there was no such entry.
However, according to some Arunthathiyar eyewitnesses in the CMC and another interior colony, the Hindu fundamentalist forces first attacked Muslims with acid bottles and stones. Muslims retaliated and a tense situation prevailed. The Arunthathiyars also said that a police Inspector (named) had asked them to loot and take whatever they wanted. A few days later the Inspector allegedly threatened them to return the loot, failing which they would all be booked for looting. While the Inspector agreed to the latter statement, he refuted the former. He said that there could have been a mistaken identity.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Lallawm Sangha was seen controlling the crowd effectively. Later he had to go to the hospital area. Both sides had words of praise for DCP Lallawm Sangha’s efforts.
Ayub Khan, district urban secretary of the TMMK, came to the trouble spot around 11.00 a.m. and saw the situation tense. He also saw Valliammai Bakery and Krishna Sweets burning. A few huts on the colony side were also seen burnt. It is claimed that Ayub Khan and his friends saved a few Hindu youth caught atop the Bakery. Then Ayub Khan went about controlling the Muslim crowd and made them sit down.
Meanwhile, one Noor Mohammed(23), who went to work in the morning to MMA Market, returned home by foot around 11.30 a.m. on November 30. As he came to L.N. street, he sensed some movement of metal close to the back of his head. He quickly turned and saw a policeman swing an aruval (a kind of chopper) to chop his head off. He ducked and put out his left palm to stop the aruval and received a deep cut. He ran for his life and escaped. Noor Moham-med also saw a few members of Hindu fundamentalist forces along with the policemen. Having narrowly escaped death he reached Dr. Aslam’s clinic and got first aid. He was later sent to the hospital for treatment.
The PUCL team met Dr.Aslam and Dr. Fakir Mohammad, who did yeoman service in trying to save lives. Some of the lives saved were later snuffed out inhumanely at the hospital grounds. According to Dr.Aslam, who runs a small clinic on Vincent Road, over 100 people came seriously injured th e same day. He made this estimate on the basis of the 70 ampoules of injections which were used up between 11.30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. on November 30.
Several patients had to go without injections. Three were brought dead and two died as Dr. Aslam was treating them. Most of them had gunshot injuries anywhere from above the hip to the head. Several persons had deep cuts, caused either by an aruval or a bayonet, from hip to head. Hardly one or two cases had injuries on the leg. A few Hindus with cut injuries were also treated by Dr. Aslam. (It should be noted here that Arunthathiyars told the PUCL team that when the Hindu fundamentalist forces were fired at during the looting spree, rubber bullets were used.)
The soft-spoken Dr.Aslam was ably assisted by Dr.Fakir Mohammed, retired Joint Director of the Forensic Department, in saving several lives and handling bloodied Muslims by struggling for over seven hours without even time to worry about what caused all this. The PUCL team was greatly impressed by the dedication of these two doctors and their sense of professional ethics. Dr. Aslam spoke not a word about religion or caste. He spoke only of medical requirements and necessities.
On the other side of Kottaimedu, off N.H. Road and into CMC Colony in Hafizpet, a vicious attack on the houses of innocent middle class and poor Muslim families was launched by Hindu fundamentalist forces clad in black and saffron, chanting “Jai Kali; Om Kali”. In terror, several families handed over their house keys and stood as mute spectators just to save the lives of their women and children. Some of the looters told the Muslim women that they were left unscathed and unmolested merely because at that time they were “Iyyappa swamis”. (The terror left behind could be felt by the PUCL team even 25 days after the event. On the day the team visited this area it saw that rice, kerosene and a few vessels were being handed over to these families by a Rotary Club.)
A Masjid in the locality was desecrated, the Quran burnt to ashes, furniture and fans twisted out of shape, and windows broken. In one of the houses a burning gas cylinder was thrown at the entrance to blast it open. A middle school building catering to all the children of that locality was heavily damaged. The wall of the DMK office was pulled down, leaving a gaping hole.
Almost all the houses were allowed to be looted by the police and Hindu fundamentalist forces. Poverty-stricken Arunthathiyar women and children went into every house and carried every item they could lay their hands. A rice godown (located in a Muslim building but owned by a Nadar) was ripped open and looted. After some initial hesitation, the looters managed to carry away sacks of rice. Buckets, fans and various consumer items were taken away. A few days later, as instructed by an Inspector, most of these items were dumped in the Lakshmi Theatre compound.
In contrast not even a scratch was made on a Hindu house or on the three temples in the Kottaimedu side. (Less than one fifth of the population here are Hindus.) Kottai Saravanan, who has his shop in this locality, confirmed the above observations.
A KILLING SPREE
The arrival of a senior police officer (named) on the scene at about 12.30 p.m. on November 30, 1997 started a series of senseless shooting at Muslims that left over 17 dead and more than 100 seriously injured. Beginning at Eswaran Koil Street Junction on Big Bazaar street and ending at the L.N. Street junction near Ukkadam, the police unleashed an orgy of violence. A police officer (named) along with 20 policemen, was sighted shooting without orders. (A lower level officer confirmed this on condition of anonymity.) In one case, an officer was seen pulling down the above officer’s hand when he was about to shoot down another innocent Muslim. Yet another officer was seen pleading with him that such illegal and brutal behaviour was unbecoming of a police officer.
Muslim boys, who came running to see the shops of their relatives or friends being ransacked or burnt, were shot at without any reason. One Abu Backer Siddique aged 13, was killed on the spot by a bullet piercing him close to the heart. In order to cover up this hideous crime, the policemen dug a deep crater around this region, poured petrol into it and burnt the flesh. Later they attempted to get a post mortem report stating that Siddique might have died in the “communal clash” owing to stabbing or immolation. The PUCL team was told that when the false report was not accepted, the parents were refused access to the body. The parents got the half-burnt bodily remains of their son with the correct report only three days later, thanks to the efforts taken by some Muslim organisations which are part of the Coimbatore District Federation of All Muslim Organisations.
When a senior officer along with some policemen reached the L.N. Street junction, he saw Ayub Khan controlling the crowd and making them sit down. Ayub overheard the senior officer instructing the policemen to shoot down “the person with a blue shirt” and saw the officer point his finger towards Ayub. Inspector Suresh was heard arguing with the officer that there was no need to open fire as the crowd was sitting quietly, away from the main road and that some Muslims as well as Ayub were seen effectively controlling the crowd. Inspector Murali confirmed this.
But the senior officer ignored Suresh and proceeded with his instruction to fire at Ayub. On seeing the pointed gun, Ayub ducked as a bullet grazed by. The next thing he realised was profuse bleeding from the right side of his head. He also saw the next bullet felling Sahul Hamid, who died a little later. The crowd ran for their lives into Kottaimedu even as bullets were flying past or through them.
Ayub was taken to Dr. Aslam’s clinic. Later he and the other injured were put in a Matador van and sent to the General Hospital. On the N.H. Road, the senior officer did not allow the van to go towards the hospital. The van left for the hospital when the Assistant Commissiner of Police Antony Selvaraj took strong exception to the officer’s inhuman behaviour.
AT THE GOVERNMENT HOSPITAL
The policemen, who came on a procession after the dharna along with Hindu fundamentalist forces, assembled in the hospital grounds. The first signs of rowdyism and savagery were seen when, around 8.30 a.m., C.T. Dhandapani, sitting DMK MLA, was beaten up when he visited the hospital to express his condolences over the death of Selvaraj. The uniformed policemen were indifferent spectators while policemen in mufti and Hindu fundamentalist forces carried on the attack. The PUCL team spoke to the MLA. Even though he confirmed the presence of the above people, he said he would prefer talking about their identity to the P.R. Gokulakrishnan Commission of Enquiry.
Inspector Murali told the PUCL team that at that time the DCP was in the hospital grounds. Even as early as 8.30 a.m., several hospitals were threatened not to treat a single Muslim if he or she came injured. It should be noted here that the first firing in the Kottaimedu area took place four hours later.
Several eyewitness accounts by those who were in the hospital grounds and on the Tiruchi Road and those who had been in-patients during those days give graphic details of the gory incidents that took place on November 30 starting with the arrival of the first injured Muslim. They were stopped, prevented and driven out, beaten, kicked about, battered or tortured to death – after ascertaining that they were Muslims. Several Muslims tried to escape death by using Hindu names. Those who were identified were mercilessly attacked with bayonet, aruval, wooden rods and the boot. Even those Muslims who accompanied the seriously injured ones were attacked. Autos were overturned and occupants battered or knifed or torched.
Noor Mohammed, Ayub Khan, Habib Rehman and Mohamed Harris along with two other wounded persons reached the G.H. in a Matador van. The van was stopped by the Hindu fundamentalist forces along with some policemen in mufti. Ayub jumped out of the van and ran into the hospital.
Habib and Harris (who had bullet injuries) were dragged out of the van and savagely attacked by policemen in mufti along with Hindu fundamentalist forces. Habib Rehman’s condition became serious and the police took out petrol from a nearby vehicle and poured it on him. One among the Hindu fundamentalist forces set fire to him. Dr. Chidambaram Jothi and his colleagues rushed to put out the fire with a blanket. They were not only prevented but also threatened by the police and Hindu fundamentalist forces that they would face a similar fate. Habib Rehman was then torched to death. The injured Harris was then attacked and killed.
The Hindu fundamentalist forces then went into the premises with battering rods, aruvals, bayonets and other deadly weapons in search of Ayub Khan. Several patients, who were inmates at that time, confirmed seeing the crowd shouting and searching for “someone”. The terrorised Ayub ran from ward to ward, from ward to canteen and finally into the trauma ward to save his life. According to Ayub, some “BJP cadres” saw him at the canteen and chased him, calling him a naxalite and saying he should be evicted from the hospital.
In the trauma ward, a Hindu doctor protected Ayub by holding his bleeding head on the doctor’s table and attending to the wound. He told the “BJP cadres” that there was no one by the name Ayub and that he should be left alone to carry on with his work. When the cadres left, the doctor asked Ayub to escape through the back-door. Realising that it was not safe, ward boy Prabhu suggested that Ayub be hidden inside the medicine room and locked. Ayub gratefully recalled how the doctor and the ward boy, both Hindus, took a great risk in hiding him inside the room and providing him with food. Later in the night, by arranging for a Maruti van, Ayub escaped death.
Noor, who saw the events from the window of the Matador, hid himself under the seat. Later he jumped out of the van and rushed into the crowd. Some of the Hindu militants spotted him and chased him. He ran hither and thither pleading for help. One police constable cleverly hid him, and when no one was noticing, caught him by the collar and threw him over the compound wall, asking him to run away from that area. Thus he escaped the carnage.
Arif and his friend Sarfuddin came to the G.H. on a scooter to see what happened to his brother Ayub, who was shot at. They saw an auto being stopped before them. They then saw the Hindu fundamentalist forces rip apart the auto and attack and stab wounded persons inside. They stopped the scooter and rushed to save the lives of the auto passengers. Inside the grounds, Sarfuddin and Arif got separated. The fundamentalists caught hold of Arif, while he was rushing towards the G.H., beat him up brutally and burnt him alive. The injured Ayub, who was inside the hospital premises, witnessed this savagery. But he did not realise at that time that it was his innocent brother, who actually came to see him, who was being torched to death.
There was yet another case when two Muslims were declared dead and sent to the mortuary. The caretaker of the mortuary realised that they were alive much later and asked them to go out of the mortuary. These two Muslims were so much terrorised by the happenings that they begged the caretaker to permit them to stay inside the mortuary. Late in the night they were let out, thanks to the Hindu caretaker of the mortuary.
The humaneness and courage of the anonymous doctor and ward boy Prabhu, Dr. Chidambaram Jothi and the caretaker of the mortuary (all Hindus) were gratefully recalled by the Muslims. The PUCL team could not meet any of these people despite a visit to the hospital. The team’s attempt to meet the Dean also failed. Later, when contacted over the phone, the Dean said that he could speak only on permission from the Collector. The Collector was busy and the PUCL team could not meet him either.
INCIDENTS ON DECEMBER 1
The PUCL team met one Mustafa, (son of K.P.Aliyar), who was brutally attacked and shot at by police on December 1 around 7.45 p.m. He was an eyewitness to the brutal killing of his friend, Ubaidur Rahman, by the police.
By November 30 Rapid Action Force (RAF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel had arrived at Coimbatore. The next day TV and other media proclaimed that normal life had been restored in Coimbatore. Believing this, Mustafa along with his friend Ubaidur Rahman, owner of a typewriting Institute, started on a Yamaha bike to Majeed Colony to meet Rahman’s sister. Ubaidur Rahman was riding the bike and when they reached Vincent Road junction at Ukkadam, they were stopped by the police and checked. One of the policemen asked for their names and on knowing they were Muslims, he started attacking them brutally, shouting “These are Muslim dogs and should be beaten to death” (“ithu thulukka naingada, adichi norrukkungada”).
Mustafa got down from the bike and was beaten with rifles on his head, neck and chest. One of the policemen pleaded with the rest not to kill innocent people. While running away, Mustafa heard gunshots and saw Ubaidur die a short while later. The policemen fired at Mustafa four times and one of the bullets pierced his left shoulder.
LOOTING AND ARSON
Despite the presence of CRPF and RAF personnel, pre-meditated, calculated looting and burning down of many Muslim shops and households round Coimbatore went on. This was not only unchecked; it was abetted by the police. Many eyewitnesses told the PUCL that the RAF and CRPF were deliberately taken through another road while arson, looting and rampage took place on adjacent roads. It was also alleged that Hindu fundamentalist forces along with rowdy elements encouraged, guided and assisted by the police went on a rampage between the night of November 29 and December 1, destroying Muslim shops and houses selectively. Some of the eyewitnesses informed the PUCL team that police personnel participated in the looting. According to one Muslim organisation, the TMMK, the looting and burning of Muslim shops and houses resulted in a loss of over Rs. 500 crores.
There were several indications that the massacre, plunder and loot unleashed on Muslims were carefully planned and executed. The alleged motive seems to have been the decimation of the economic base. A senior scientist, a resident of Sukravarpet, who was a witness to the looting in the area, was categorical that even if Selvaraj had not been killed, some other reason would have been found to execute this violent attack.
Some highlights of the attack:
1. The property destroyed ranged from small platform shops through medium cycle and grocery shops to mega stores like Shoba. Several of these shops had been doing business for over three generations.
2. The execution was to a large extent clinically precise. While two Muslim shops separated by a Hindu shop were targeted, the Hindu shop remained untouched.
3. Many Coimbatoreans realised that shops like Pazhamuthir Solai, Top Notch, Zodiac and Popular Automobiles were owned by Muslims only after they were targeted. The Kovai episodes were not a mere expression of anguish over the death of a constable. In fact, they exposed the strategy of the perpetrators of these attacks and revealed the connivance between Hindu fundamentalist forces, police and perhaps several administrative officials.
4. Moogambigai Mani narrated an incident in which he had to intervene to stop the burning down of a building housing a Muslim shop. The building was owned by a Hindu. The looters removed the contents of the shop and set them on fire on the road.
5. Systematic rumours were spread that Muslims were coming in large numbers to attack Hindu establishments or household. Anxious and unsuspecting Hindus then formed a protection ring around the area. The Hindu fundamentalist forces along with kalasis or rowdy elements or hired goons then joined these protection rings and executed their planned strategy of loot, plunder and arson. The senior scientist at Sukravarpet was a witness. Several eyewitness accounts at the Poo Market also confirmed that such methods were used in that area too.
6. Several, otherwise well-meaning Hindus of Coimbatore and elsewhere seem to feel that the Muslim community deserved such an attack. But a sustained dialogue with them reveals they have no direct data or experience to back up their feelings. Many of them were shocked when they saw the photographic evidence of the gory violence unleashed. “The damage to the common man’s psyche was the worst part of the whole episode,” said the senior scientist. The PUCL team did find that spontaneous but discreet help was given by several Hindu neighbours to Muslims.
7. There is a striking similarity between the methods used in Coimbatore and those used elsewhere in India (for example, Mumbai and Meerut) to target Muslims economically, politically and psychologically.
Frontline / March 7-20, 1998.