A day after the Ram temple was inaugurated in Ayodhya, 22-year-old commerce student Mohammad Tariq Chaudhary offered to help out his father, who runs a tempo transport service in Mira Road, a neighbourhood in the far north of Mumbai.

The regular driver was absent, so Tariq said he would deliver a cargo of empty plastic cans and scrap metal in the area.

Around 7 pm on Tuesday, as he was driving through the Shanti Nagar neighbourhood along with two workers, a mob stopped the tempo and assaulted the three men, all Muslim.

“The name Rashid Tempo Service on the body of the vehicle and a sticker of the moon and stars on the window pane revealed our Muslim identity,” said Abdul Chaudhary, Tariq’s father.

Tariq, who was in the driver’s seat, was the first one to be attacked. He told his father he was slapped by the mob. They then dragged him out. He was kicked and beaten with sticks and a belt. He had blood all over his head, back and hands.

The workers accompanying Tariq, Matiullah Shah, 21, and Deen Ali Shaikh, 45, were injured on the head too. Shah told Chaudhary that before the mob hit them, it demanded that they chant “Jai Shri Ram”.

Mira Road is part of the Mira-Bhayandar municipal corporation area, which has a sizeable Muslim population.

Communal tension had spilled over in the area in the run-up to the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, built on the site where the Babri Masjid once stood. The demolition of the mosque in December, 1992, had led to Mumbai’s bloodiest riots and prompted several Muslim families to relocate to neighbourhoods such as Mira Road.

On Sunday night, hours before the consecration ceremony in Ayodhya, a procession of cars and bikes with its occupants chanting “Jai Shri Ram” came under attack in a Muslim neighbourhood in Mira Road, residents and activists told Scroll.

This was followed on Tuesday by Hindutva groups taking out their anger on Muslims, their shops and vehicles.

Tariq had come face-to-face with one such mob. “They had swords, sticks, cycle chains, and something sharp tied to a belt,” Chaudhary said. “This was not spontaneous. It was all planned.” A video of the assault has gone viral on social media.

Tariq, Shah and Shaikh managed to run away, leaving the tempo behind. They later received stitches from a local doctor and underwent CT scans.

Only minutes before, young men in the mob, riding bikes, had flung large stones at Shamshed Alam’s clothing shop on Mira Road, as his son recorded the act.

The men smashed the glass display at Alam’s shop, Saba Boutique, at 6.54 pm. Mannequins were thrown to the floor. “The neighbouring shop owners, all Hindus, came out and defended us, which forced the bikers to go away without hurting us,” Alam said.

The bikers were carrying stones in their backpacks, he said. “They targeted our shop because of the name and because no saffron flag was hanging outside,” Alam added. Many shopkeepers, most of them Hindu, had hung pennants outside their establishments to celebrate the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Alam told Scroll that after the bikers damaged his shop, he saw them stop the Rashid Tempo Service vehicle and thrash the three men. A little later, he said, the mob turned on the driver of an autorickshaw. “A huge crowd was watching but nobody came to help them,” he said.

A pile of broken glass outside Alam's shop on Mira Road, which was attacked on Tuesday. Photo by Tabassum Barnagarwala.

Hours before the violence on Tuesday, bulldozers had rolled into the area as the Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation demolished 15 shops it claimed were illegal. All the shops were owned by Muslims.

Azam Khan, whose uncle owns a plot where demolitions were undertaken, said Muslims “were singled out to teach them a lesson”.

This was the first time that Maharashtra had experienced “bulldozer justice” – the practice adopted in several states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party in which the properties of Muslims are summarily demolished after incidents of communal violence. Indian law does not allow for such punitive demolitions.

The evening of the demolitions, Hindutva mobs held rallies on Mira Road, targeting Muslim shops and vehicles. The police are yet to assess the number of shops attacked.

“A little distance behind the men in bikes who attacked our shop was a police van,” said Alam. “But they did nothing to help us.”

Police commissioner Madhukar Pandey did not respond to calls and messages from Scroll seeking information about the incidents.

How it began

The situation in Mira Road had been tense for three days before the Ram temple opening on Monday, said activist Azeemuddin Sayed, a resident of the Naya Nagar neighbourhood. “There were rallies held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” he said.

On Sunday night, two processions of cars and bikes had passed through Naya Nagar, close to Mira Road station, with members of the Hindu community chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, said residents.

The clashes began after a third rally passed through the area at around 10.30 pm.

“The rally continued till late in the night,” said Sayed.

He said that the rally entered a lane where Muslims live and hit a dead end where a junior college stands. There was a mosque nearby. “Local residents thought the crowd was intentionally shouting slogans outside the mosque,” Sayed said. “That is when they intervened.”

The lane in Naya Nagar where the communal clash broke out on Sunday night. Photo by Tabassum Barnagarwala.

The residents objected to the chants being shouted and a clash ensued. It is unclear which group started hurling stones.

However, this version of events was contested by several leaders of the BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and other Hindutva groups.

BJP MLA for Mira-Bhayandar, Geeta Jain, told Scroll that six cars entered that lane accidentally. “There was no rally,” she said. “Families had only put saffron flags on their cars to mark the temple inauguration.”

Nagnath Kamble, who is in charge of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad unit in Mira-Bhayandar, said Naya Nagar residents attacked the car with sticks and stones, pulled off the flags, spit on them and hit the passengers. “They attacked at least five people,” he said. Among them were two women, a minor and two men.

Dilip Gupta, whose wife Archana sustained injuries, told Scroll that they had not provoked anyone.

Kunal Joshi, who volunteers with a charitable organisation, said he received a call from his friend about the clash at 11.30 on Sunday night.

Unlike Jain and Kamble, he said that a rally had come under attack. He reached Naya Nagar and found several people injured. “Mostly cars were attacked,” Joshi claimed. “We later found gunny bags with stones and sticks in the neighbourhood where this attack happened.”

He said they provided medical aid to those injured. “Those I met had injuries on their hands and faces,” he told Scroll.

However, a Hindu resident, who asked not to be identified as he feared for his safety, said that those injured on Sunday night were part of a large rally. “They were loudly chanting slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ late at night provocatively,” he said.

A first information report has been filed in Naya Nagar police station under sections of the Indian Penal Code that pertain to attempt to murder, wrongful restraint, outraging religious feelings, promoting enmity on grounds of religion, unlawful assembly, and rioting, among others. The police arrested 13 people by Monday.

“We will be making more arrests as we continue to see CCTV footage,” senior police inspector Vilas Supe told Scroll.

After the temple inauguration on Monday, a “Shobha Yatra” was conducted in the area. According to MLA Jain, some “miscreants pelted stones” at the procession. “The police did their best but the crowd went out of control,” she said.

In Naya Nagar, where the communal tensions first broke out on Sunday, five FIRs have been registered. “We have arrested 19 adults and three minor boys,” Supe told Scroll. “The minors have been sent to a juvenile home.”

Hindutva rallies

On Monday morning, BJP leader Nitesh Rane took to Twitter with a provocative message, threatening those involved in Sunday’s clash.

On Tuesday, he organised a rally demanding the arrest of those involved in the stone throwing and met the police commissioner.

Kamble of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad told Scroll that members of the Hindu community were also enraged by an abusive video recorded by a Muslim man, who made threats against those conducting rallies. The man has since been arrested.

By evening, Hindutva supporters conducted several small rallies. Videos that went viral on social media show a mob assaulting Muslims, attacking their vehicles and ransacking property. The tempo Tariq was driving was one of them. Violence was also reported from nearby Bhayandar West, Kashimira, Navghar and Naya Nagar.

Chaudhary, owner of the tempo, said the situation deteriorated after Rane’s rally at which he made comments about Muslims that were objectionable.

Several FIRs have been filed in a clutch of police stations and 19 arrested. Four FIRs are against members of Hindutva groups. Of them, 16 have been named as accused and three have been arrested. The number of Muslims arrested is around 15.

Late at night on Tuesday, Chaudhary went to Shanti Nagar to retrieve his tempo. He found the lane empty. “The window panes and headlights were smashed,” he said. “The door was damaged.”

He said it will cost him Rs 30,000 to repair his tempo. Alam estimates that a new glass display outside his boutique will cost Rs 1.5 lakh.

While the police filed a FIR in Chaudhary’s case, it only took a written complaint from Alam – despite CCTV footage of the attack. “We don’t want to get into a legal hassle and waste time running behind the police,” Alam told Scroll. “If we pursue this case, there may be another attack.”

The police and paramilitary forces patrol the streets of Mira Road. Photo by Tabassum Barnagarwala.

The demolitions

The demolitions that took place on Tuesday, two days after stones were thrown at a procession, were undertaken in Naya Nagar. That morning, shopkeepers in the area found municipal officials at their doors with demolition orders.

“No time was given to remove belongings or furniture from the stores,” said Azam Khan, whose uncle own a small plot in Naya Nagar’s Haidery Chowk, on which a garage has stood for the last 13 years, along with smaller grocery and hardware stores that came up over five years ago.

“The civic officials demolished the garage, and razed the sheds that extended out of the other shops,” Khan said.

A bulldozer flattens shops in Naya Nagar. Credit: Special arrangement.

A police beat house stands at one end. Khan claimed even the sheds used by the police were illegal but had not been demolished.

Apart from demolitions on Khan’s plot, several shops in the area belonging to Muslims were razed. Khan questioned the timing of the action, claiming that it was the result of the communal clashes. “Over the last several years, the municipality would come and not do anything,” he said. “They would ask for a bribe and leave. Why demolish selected structures now?”

Iqbal Khan, owner of Bismillah restaurant and a cloth store in Naya Nagar, said the structure abutting his hotel and cloth store was demolished by the municipality on Tuesday.

“We knew the situation was tense,” Khan said. “There was a large crowd. We did not protest. We let them demolish it.” He added that no notice had been served before the demolition. Iqbal Khan’s restaurant opened eight years ago and the cloth store three years ago. “The structure was not illegal,” he claimed.

Maruti Gaikwad, deputy municipal commissioner in Mira Bhayandar municipal corporation, told Scroll that the structures demolished either stood on footpaths or on drainage canals. He added that it was not necessary to issue notice for such illegal structures.

The action has not satisfied Hindutva groups. “Only a few shops were demolished,” said Kamble, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad member. “We want the accused to be punished. Their properties remain intact.”

Kamble said they will write to the police to take strict action against those involved in rioting on Sunday.

Muzaffar Hussain, the working president of Maharashtra State Congress Committee, and a resident of Mira-Bhayandar, told Scroll that he condemned Sunday’s incident, when stones were thrown at a rally. “The accused must be punished and the police should arrest those responsible,” he said.

Hussain did not comment on the mob violence over the next two days.