This is a guest post by BIJU MATHEW: The story is always the same, isn’t it? A perfectly ordinary day becomes extraordinary. A day when the daily tribulations of thousands of workers and small merchants is instantly transformed into tragedy. 15 dead, 5 still critical and over 100 others injured– some of them maimed for life – thinking of what recovery might mean. Ravinder, a farm hand from a Nalgonda village has lost a leg. His wife, Lakshmi might still yet lose her foot. Their 1 year old is missing. And they were in Dilsukhnagar for a hospital visit because the 1 year old has a congenital heart condition. There is no justice to be had here.
Mirza lies in his hospital bed where he is being given the third degree by the cops and the media. He is a shoe salesman, who goes shop to shop trying to get shoe vendors in the city to stock shoes. He made a mistake. On his way to the hospital he said that he was truly unlucky but also lucky. He had been close by when the Mecca Masjid bomb exploded in 2007 and received minor injuries. Yet again, he says he is thankful that he is not seriously injured. But the injury will come. The media and cops don’t like the coincidence. He is trying to approach this simply, but one can see the terror on his face. “Mere chachere bhai ka kapde ka dukaan hain yahan…,” he says, explaining that he was visiting his cousin’s cloth shop in DSN. “Chai peene nikal gaya tha, isi liye thoda door tha….” This is unlikely to convince the NDTV reporter however. She had already asked him the same question six times. I think we should ask her to join the police force.
Landscapes of the Instrumental
Dilsukhnagar… a quaint name. If you drove into it, you wouldn’t recognize it – at least not because of its name. Dilsukhnagar, Saroornagar, Saidabad, Madnapet, LB Nagar… are all part of a peri-urban landscape at the southeastern edge of Hyderabad. It’s what some call the “urban sprawl” – an area some might say, characterized simultaneously by rural and urban social relations. From DSN, which is the opening into this urban sprawl, if you swing away further southeast towards Saroornagar, within five kms you will see left over patches of agricultural land, now urban scrub – no longer under cultivation – waiting for the right price. When you travel from the eastern most entry point into the old city – the Chaderghat bridge, you reach Malakpet – what used to be the old gateway to the east for the erstwhile Hyderabad State. If you swerve due east here, you begin to pull away from the old city – Dabeerpura and Yakutpura – and enter the new peri-urban that has an entirely different look and feel to it – wider roads leading on to the Vijaywada/ Nagarjunasagar highway. This is the highway along which much of the coastal capital came in to dramatically restructure the city starting in the 80s. Dilsukhnagar itself saw little of the new prosperity. It became the place for new migrants, in the initial years just servicing the traffic – petrol pumps, repair shops, godowns… It became a space of tenuous existence where new migrants fought against odds and built new lives. The oldest residents of the Dilsukhnagar area were rural folk who turned urban working class or petty commodity producers using some of what they could carry into the urban economy. Sporadic vegetable markets. A highly dispersed dairy production industry. A little further down along the Saroornagar road, the longest stretch of poultry farms. And as these communities tried to settle in – the Hyderabad dream was theirs – at least they thought so. Dilsukhnagar has one of the highest concentrations of small badly funded colleges, private computer coaching centers and job training centers in the city. When you go to DSN you don’t try and get an autorickshaw to come back into center city. You jump into a bus because that’s what most people in the area can afford – and so there are always more buses than autos. In geographic terms it’s not far from the oldest part of Hyderabad. Due west from DSN, just three or four kilometers as the crow flies you would hit the famous Pathergatti stretch that leads to the Charminar. But these are two different worlds. The weight of settlement and life is etched into every corner of the old city whereas three kms away what one experiences is, as a sensibility, the tenuousness, bare concrete, visually and aesthetically decimated space. Mirza’s chachera bhai’s cloth shop is not the small shop in Laad Bazaar in the old city where cloth has a history, but it’s a store where basics are sold without pleasure. Ravinder and Lakshmi are not oddities in DSN but the normal – rural folk in need of city services who come to the place at its margins – both geographically and in terms of service. The hospital in DSN that they visited would be as bare bones as possible – chaotic and impersonal. Four kilometers away the Osmania General hospital where many of the wounded were taken would probably be dirtier but it’s still a space where junior doctors would kill for to work at as a stepping stone because it’s where the city’s prime medical schools train out of.
This is Dilsukhnagar. Why would this place be under attack? And who would want to attack it? And what do those who attack it hope to gain? I cannot tell you who did this. I cannot tell you whether it is the Indian Mujhahadeen (IM) or the Deccan equivalent (DM) or anyone else. But what I can outline are three intersecting histories of bombs and communal tensions – all part of the recent history of the city – that together create the possibility of judgment – thoughtful and reasonable approaches to the moment rather than the high pitch breathless shrillness that Rajdeep Sardesai brings on so easily.
Three Points of Departures: First the Facts
The Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat Bhandar Bombings: May 25th 2007. What has vanished from public memory is that there was a third IED defused that evening in Dilsukhnagar. Almost at the same place. The State has to date been unable to prosecute anybody with any degree of conviction. Within weeks of the incident the State trotted out a name – Nasir (allegedly IM) and arrested the individual – subjected him to the discredited narco tests and declared that he was the precise person who had planted the bomb at Lumbini Park. They said that it was just a matter of time before they found out who Nasir’s compatriot was who placed the bomb at Gokul and they would have it all wrapped up. Today, Nasir doesn’t figure on the list of the accused. There are seven accused as of right now. Three of them – Anique Shafique Sayeed, Akbar Ismail Chowdhari, and Sadiq Israr Shaik – are in Gujarat’s Sabarmati jail. Another – Farooq Sharfuddin – is in Mumbai’s Arthur road jail. Three others are absconding. None of them are Nasir. I don’t need to say much about any Muslim in a Gujarat jail. The revelations, even as the bombs were going off in Hyderabad, about that state’s encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan merely underscores Gujarat’s approach to the Muslim minority. Of the three absconding – two are by now famous – the Bhatkal brothers – one of who, Riyazuddin’s name gets dropped whenever, it seems, the government doesn’t know what to say. His name has already been announced to the media on the current DSN bomb blast and the media is happily lapping it up.
The Mecca Masjid Bomb Blast of May 18 2007: Again we were told it was the IM. Or was it the DM? And as it turns out it was Abhinav Bharat – an RSS outfit, headed by Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Col. Purohit. The same crew that was responsible for Malegoan, Samjautha Express and Sankat Mochan in Varanasi. The Abhinav Bharat crew is Maharashta based.
The Dilsukhnagar and Madannapet Temple descrations of Jan-April 2012: In early 2012 a series of incidents took place in DSN where meat of varying varieties were first thrown into temples and later into mosques. The most egregious of these was a rotting cow leg thrown into a DSN temple. Of course the story ran its standard course. The local Muslim community was first made the center of the investigation, till some secular forces did their own enquiries and tipped off the police. Four youth, connected to the Hindu right were arrested and at least one of them spilled the beans on the others after which the police decided to go soft on them. One of the youth who was arrested was a Municipal worker who had allegedly procured the cow leg from a dump site and embellished it with red color. The police claimed the kingpins were still missing and the BJP Corporator of the area – Sahadev Yadav – called and secured a local DSN bandh.
The Logic of Place, Motivations and the Politics of Polarization
If we take these local histories of bombs and communalism and weave it alongside the understanding of DSN, a new and more nuanced understanding of what is at play becomes possible.
DSN is what in Hindustani would be called “RSS ka ghad” – an RSS stronghold. In pre-47 Hyderabad, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS established itself in what was then the eastern edge of the city — Barkatpura/Kacheguda, Sultan Bazaar, Nimboliadda, Esamiabazaar and Malakpet. This was the heartland of the Marathi Brahmin settlement in the city, cheek by jowl with the first wave of Telangana zamindars coming into the city. Even today the Hyderabad headquarters of the RSS is in Barkatpura and the only Veer Sarvakar statue in the city is at Kacheguda chowrasta. The oldest RSS schools – such as Keshav Memorial – and their bookstores are all in these neighborhoods. As such then, as the city began its expansion in the 70s and 80s, DSN and Saidabad were the natural spaces of expansion. The demands on the new periurban that incoming coastal capital produced were met by a new set of migrants from close by Telangana districts. In the mid 80s as the BJP began to build a mass base in the city both for electoral politics and for breaching the control that the MIM exercised over the old city, DSN and the spaces immediately around were a natural home base. The insecurity of the periurban space – where land was under key contestation allowed for a peculiar brand of organizational building – one where gangs and small fiefdoms were the structure of governance. It was also the first moments, one could argue, of a caste revolt – as for the first time OBC populations were coming into their own in the city. This produced for the RSS/BJP a new dynamic and fast moving cadre that could see local gains if it consolidated into the political formation. The Congress was too deeply controlled by the Reddy-Brahmin elite and the BJP/RSS was a perfect space to start out from. In many ways we can see the Telugu Desam, the other 1980s party, also work the same caste logic for building its base in the city. Today then the DSN area is the single most important space for RSS ground troops and some of its new emergent leadership. Who, let us ask, will want to bomb such a space? And who, let us ask, will have the logistical capacity to do so? The first question tends to find an easy answer. It is possible that an ideologically positioned jihadi organization may see bombing DSN as taking the battle into the enemy camp. This would work well as an explanation that might even gather steam till we run into the cow leg problem where Hindutva forces toss cow legs into temples in their own localities. Can such an instrumental organizational base produce a bomb? Especially given the long history of RSS tactics? Through the pre independence period – this form of temple desecration etc., were standard RSS tactics. Those tactics – have more recently metamorphosed into Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sangh bomb making and deployment units. At another end is the Indian state’s constant and specific efforts at producing the sense of organized Jihadi groups (IM or DM – we can ask Praveen Swami what the current favorite is!) that it trots out with less and less evidence. The number of IM cases that have fallen apart should give us pause.
This is not to argue that there are no Jihadi outfits or groupings in India. There well might be, except everything seems to suggest that they could not be anywhere near as organized or coordinated as the government claims. This last point should especially be understood in the context of the fact that a large majority of the Muslim population is so beleaguered in this country (as the minority population that is most systematically targeted and is in class terms one of the poorest), that they can hardly be a possible support structure for a random set of Jihadis.
In summary then what is at stake and what is at play here are two curves – the descending curve of Muslim power and capacity in our society to engineer anything and a growing brazenness of Hindutva forces that wishes to ride the “war on terror” discourse. When these curves of social power settle into a local space like DSN with its own internal dynamics then we have a situation where the only thing that any progressive can do is to push back at the State and demand greater evidence and greater accountability. In the end we must recognize that these actions – bombs or cow legs – are based on a political strategy of polarization – a strategy most consistently mastered and deployed by Narendra Modi. He wants to be our next PM. Any move to play into this polarization will only help him and his campaign. Instead, we need to articulate a politics where the defense of minorities becomes the central plank for the advancement of democracy.
(Biju Mathew is on the Executive Committees of Lamakaan (Hyderabads Left-Liberal Public Education and Cultural Space) and Hyderabad Urban Labs (a research and advocacy center). He is also a co founder and organizer with the New York and National Taxi Workers Alliance in the USA.)