As the country celebrated Holi, two villages in Madhya Pradesh's Raisen district saw a minor scuffle turn into a fatal clash between two communities – one dominated by Muslims and the other by tribals.
On 18 March, a Muslim girl was allegedly sexually harassed by a group of inebriated tribal boys when she was returning with her brother to her village, Khamariya Khurd, a Muslim-dominated region.
A fight ensued between the Muslim boy and the tribal boys, but locals intervened and pacified the two sides.
However, the tribal boys, along with other men from their village Chandanpur, then returned to Khamariya Khurd.
"It wasn't as big a fight as it became," said Yadram Mehra, a Dalit from Khamariya Khurd who witnessed the communal clash unfold in front of his eyes on the night of Holi.
Shops, Motorcycles were set ablaze amidst the communal clash in Raisen MP.
(Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint)
"There was a minor scuffle between tribal boys and members of the Muslim community. But it got escalated and blown out of proportion by the tribal community. When they came to Khamariya Khurd, they were not in their senses."
'Villagers of Khamariya Khurd Switched Off Lights, Opened Fire'
Twenty-eight-year-old Raju Adivasi from tribal-dominated Chandanpur was killed on that fateful night. Another tribal, Hari Singh, succumbed to his injuries a week later.
Raju Adivasi's brother Ramji Dhurve told The Quint that his brother had gone to rescue the other tribal youths who were allegedly beaten up by residents of Khamariya Khurd village.
"When we went to Khamariya Khurd, the fight had already started. Very few policemen were present. Even when they saw that the situation was escalating, they didn't do anything."Ramji Dhurve
"This is when Muslims switched off the lights and opened fire," he alleged, adding that his brother got hit by a bullet when locals from Khamariya Khurd fired shots.
Dalit Eyewitness Says Tribal Youths Were 'Not in Their Senses'
Yadram Mehra recounted, "The entire Chandanpur village had marched to Khamariya, demanding us to hand over the Muslim youths who had got into the fight with the tribal men."
"The people were so many in number, and they were so angry, how could we have given up the Muslim children to such an angry mob? We told them to go back home and enjoy the festival, but they didn't listen," Mehra said, adding that "The police asked us to go inside our homes hoping that the tribals will return once they were done with creating a ruckus. But they didn't go back. The mob kept swelling. They had blood in their eyes."
Gulabsha, whose sister was allegedly harassed by the tribal youth, added that the tribals were determined to "burn down the village."
"The tribal youth pelted stones and torched the shops and motorbikes owned by Muslims. They were determined to burn down the entire village," she added.
FIRs Registered, 16 Muslim Youths Arrested
In the wake of the clashes, two FIRs were registered by the police, one against each community.
In the FIR registered against the tribals, IPC Sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house) were invoked. In the second FIR against the Muslim community, IPC Sections 147, 148, 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 307 (attempt to murder), were invoked, among others.
Talking to The Quint, Amrat Meena, Additional Superintendent of Police, Raisen district, said:
"We have arrested 16 people as of now on the FIR registered on the complaint of the tribal community. Further investigation is underway."
On why there has been active action taken on one complaint and no action on the second complaint, Meena said that the sections under which the FIR against the tribals was filed were 'not that grave'.
In the days after the clashes, a Muslim man's shop and parts of another Muslim family's house were razed by the district administration of Raisen.