On 6th of April, 2017, a day after Ramnavmi celebrations, the evening bulletins of electronic media broke the news of communal tension in the municipal town of Bhadrak, which has a sizeable Muslim population. The next day, the print media carried the news. The trigger for the violence was stated to be some derogatory texts about Ram and Sita that had allegedly been posted by a Muslim boy in the social media on 5th of April. A section of Hindu youths from Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Bajrang Dal went to the Town Police Station to lodge a complaint against the alleged culprit, and demanded his immediate arrest. The police reportedly wanted three days’ time to apprehend the culprit as the matter involved a cyber crime. However, in the same afternoon, some Hindu youths blocked the National Highway (NH) 45 at Bant Chhak, near the Bus Stand, by burning tyres. Subsequently, a few shops were damaged and burnt in that area. Following this, the administration imposed Section 144 in the town, and convened a peace meeting on the afternoon of the 7th of April. However, arson and looting began in some parts of the town just after the peace meeting ended, by 4.30 p.m. The administration clamped curfew around 9 p.m.
Though Bhadrak town has a long history of syncretic traditions, it also has a history of communal violence. The town had experienced major communal violence in 1991. That was in the backdrop of the nationwide communal build-up centered on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. This time round, the BJP-led government in power at the centre has created an atmosphere of growing intolerance and communal tensions in many parts of the country. Added to this, the recent landslide electoral victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh (with a well known proponent of Hindutva becoming the chief minister) has greatly emboldened the Hindutva forces, creating a sense of anxiety among the minorities. It had its effect on this year’s Ramnavami celebrations at Bhadrak too. Against this backdrop, the communal violence broke out in the town.
A team from PUCL, Odisha visited Bhadrak in three phases to understand the situation on the ground, when the situation turned relatively normal, and day-time curfew was relaxed. The team met community leaders of the town, the riot affected people, members of the Peace Committee, noted personalities of the town, activists of the Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan, Superintendent of Police of the District and the Tehsildar of Bhadrak. This report is prepared on the basis of these interactions. It also makes use of newspaper reports and other available documents.
Read the full report here in PDF