An uneasy calm prevails around Bhainsa town in Telangana as the streets remain largely empty, barring the presence of police and other security personnel. Locals have grouped at the corners of streets or by 'chabutras' and speak in hushed tones.
It has been less than 24 hours, since clashes broke out in the town over a petty issue, which escalated rapidly and led to arguments between members of the Hindu and Muslim communities, followed by assault, stone-pelting and arson.
On the ground, locals from both communities have seen their vehicles burnt, homes vandalised, and in some cases, valuables looted. So what exactly happened?
The sequence of events
On Sunday evening, around 20-30 km between Bhainsa and Nirmal, a huge religious gathering was held. This was attended by members of the Muslim community from all parts of erstwhile Adilabad district and neighbouring Maharashtra as well.
That same night, few Muslim youths were riding their motorcycles and allegedly created a ruckus in Koraba galli, which led to a few Hindu youth stepping out of their homes. A confrontation ensued and soon violence broke out.
Soon, more people from both sides gathered as several calls were made. According to police sources on the ground, around 150 people faced off, and stone pelting took place.
It was also alleged that some plastic material and bottles filled with petrol were used to spark a fire, randomly targeting vehicles that were parked outside households.
The police said that the rumour mongering escalated matters further, as it spread to neighbouring areas including Mullah Galli, Panjeshah Masjid and College Road, where people from two communities began indulging in stone pelting.
Nirmal Superintendent of Police C Shashidhar Raju said that the police reached the spot as soon as they were informed of the first incident, but violence had broken out by then, as a result of which a few police officers including the SP, were also injured in the melee.
After security forces were deployed, the situation was brought under control in the wee hours of Monday, by around 4 am.
However, on Monday, though Section 144 of the CrPC, which bars the assembly of four or more persons, was in place, a skirmish broke out yet again. People from both communities were said to have indulged in violence ranging from stone pelting to alleged arson between 11 am and 3 pm, until things were brought under control by the security forces.
On the ground
When TNM visited the houses that had been damaged, the distrust between the two communities was evident, as suspicious glances were thrown before a single word was uttered by either side.
Sixty-five-year-old Babru Maharaj, a local temple priest in Bhainsa, said, "The matter began over a petty thing but unceremoniously escalated further. The violence can't be called one-sided."
Asked if the incident was a sporadic one or if tension developed in the last few days in the area, he said, "There is nothing as such. People were all calm and everything was good. There had been no such altercation in recent times either."
Nazeemuddin, Vice President of a Masjid Committee in Koraba galli claimed that miscreants had even hurled stones at the local mosque and indulged in vandalism, even as an election observer and police officials were visiting the area as part of arrangements for the upcoming municipal polls in Telangana.
Forty-year-old B Latha Chinna Reddy sat just a few steps away from where the initial petty fight took place. Some of her neighbours and relatives were picked up by the police for questioning and she says that they were only "standing up to bullying."
Another woman pips in and alleges that over a tola of gold and nearly Rs 20,000 in cash were looted by miscreants following the arson, as she shows this reporter around her vandalised house.
A little further, at least two houses of one of the communities were completely burnt and had been abandoned. An official from the Revenue Department told TNM that since the houses were completely damaged, they had gone to their relative's house for shelter.
As TNM along with a local reporter travelled further ahead, to a place called Mullah Galli, at least four houses were seen damaged to a large extent. Men in the households showed bottle pieces and stones that were lying on the floor.
Four people, of which two were brothers, claimed that while the Sunday violence was sporadic and spontaneous, the Monday violence which broke out afterwards, was "pre-planned."
One could also observe large stones scattered across the floor of a building with a cellphone tower in the area. Residents claimed that miscreants threw the stones intentionally and had planned the incident.
One resident claimed that he made several calls to 'Dial 100' but got a late response. The police failed to reach their place. Neither revenue officials nor police have visited our homes to conduct a panchnama, he alleged.
Here too, people's houses were damaged, and jewellery and money were allegedly looted.
People from both communities while speaking to TNM, claimed that many youth who were unconnected to the violence had been detained by the police for investigation. The police have said that they have registered cases and during the course of investigation, examined CCTV footage and detained 40 people from both the communities, in this regard. Internet services also remain disrupted in the area.
Ajay, a resident near Panjeshah Masjid in his 30s, said, "This kind of incident has never taken place. Everything started on Sunday night. Though the scene is calm now, an uncertainty is prevailing about what happens next"
As per a preliminary analysis, the police said that 13 houses and 24 two-wheeler vehicles were damaged due to the fire, besides one auto and one car, which was partially burnt.
Speaking to TNM, SP Shashidhar Raju said that the damage had happened on both sides and further investigation was underway.
As far as the people who were detained were concerned, the police official said, "Everything was done after careful examination of CCTV and prima facie evidence."
He also denied police lapses, stating that they arrived at the spot within no time, as the incident took place.
As of Tuesday, both communities were largely absent from the area. What is appalling is that the miscreants from both sides targeted innocent bystanders in the melee. It appears that the town, which is known for its communal history, is still battling against polarising forces that remain within it.