The village faced riots for days last year but was peaceful this year, after the police’s careful mix of enforcement and community partnership.

How Telangana cops prevented riots in Utkoor village a year after communal clash
news Policing Sunday, September 23, 2018 - 10:58

In a heartening incident, the village of Utkoor in Telangana’s Mahbubnagar district, which witnessed violent communal clashes last year during Ganesh Chaturthi and Muharram, conducted the two festivals peacefully this year.

Last year, according to the police, 145 people were arrested and 23 cases had been booked, as people from both communities clashed for days, before authorities could stop the violence.

Many videos did the rounds on social media, which showed people from both the communities pelting stones and indulging in violence, despite the police officials at the spot trying to control the situation.

Speaking to TNM, Rema Rajeswari, Superintendent of Police, Mahbubnagar, said that the clashes took place due to some miscommunication.  

While the region was communally sensitive in the past, we managed to hold it peacefully. This year, the whole department was extra cautious because people still had fresh memories of the incident. We worked closely with the local community. We took lots of inputs from community elders and also made a few changes in the way festivities were conducted,” she said.

Rema said that the police’s plan was a careful mix of enforcement and community partnership.

“We started identifying all people who had cases on them and took them into custody 3 to 4 weeks in advance. We used the opportunity to tell them that this was a good time to rewrite the history of the place, which had been in the news for the wrong reasons,” Rema narrates.

Utkoor is a relatively small village and one of the most remote places in the district. Every year, people migrate to areas like Hyderabad and parts of Maharashtra like Mumbai and Pune, for work.

“Many who came back home last year to celebrate the festival had cases booked on them. We assured them that we would work with them and correct and undo any mistake that the police may have done, while also giving them the opportunity to undo what they did last year,” Rema says.

The major area where the violence had broken out, was the Jama Masjid in the region. Every year, as the Ganesh procession passes, it would stop outside the mosque for a while, where people would play loud music and dance. This, even as the ‘Azaan’ (call for prayer) would echo from the mosque.

"We asked the elders of the Muslim community to cooperate with us during Azaan in the morning and kept officers in civil clothes at the spot by duly respecting their sentiments. The entire structure of Jama Masjid was covered in a white cloth this time. While they initially refused, we told them that we trusted them, but there was a chance that colour could fall on the white mosque as the Ganesh procession passed by and we wanted to be cautious, and they agreed,” says Rema. 

The police also trained around 100 young men from the area, including 6 from Utkoor, to allay the fears of locals that outside force may get deployed.

A poster asking the town to cooperate, as DJs have been banned to curb noise pollution

Another important step that the police took, was that they held several meetings.

“Two days before the incident, we called community elders from the Hindu and Muslim side and we called all the youngsters in the area. We explained to the elders that the kids were looking up to them and that they should lead the way and promote harmony for the kids and not violence. We told them that we would help and do it together,” Rema says. 

“We also gave them opportunities to vent out their feelings. In the run up to the festivities, we gave the locals a mic during the meetings and let them get out all the pent-up feelings that they had,” she added.

Taking the case of one local, who had a communal sheet on him, Rema says, "He was the one who led the riot last year. I gave him the mic for around 45 minutes and he gave a huge speech. At the end of it, he said that it was a matter of pride for him that he was promising publicly, that he would lead the people to peace this year.”  

The police also realised that a lot of trouble last year, was instigated by outsiders who were originally natives of the village but had come from Hyderabad and Maharashtra. This time, they kept border check posts well in advance and checked the identity of everyone who entered the region.

Thanks to all this, locals ensured that every Ganesh idol in the village was moved fast on Friday and passed the mosque before 4 am, something which has never happened in the history of Utkoor.

“We had exactly one hour before the morning prayers at the mosque and we couldn't find anyone near the structure. Our Muslim police officers also joined the prayers and everything was conducted peacefully,” Rema states.  

On Saturday morning, the entire village came to meet the police officers and were all praise for them. Some locals even felicitated the officers who had reached out to them before the festivities. 

Last year, when Rema was the SP, she had worked closely with the ‘joginis’ and provided them with a dignified means of livelihood. In the Jogini system, parents ‘marry’ their daughters to the village deity and are sexually exploited by the local males.

Rema worked closely with one Hajamma, the convenor of the 'Jogini Vyavastha Vyethireka Porata Samiti (JVVPS)'.

“The locals ensured that Hajamma was by my side throughout the event and then they called all of us and gave us all mementos. All police officers are equally elated that we managed to conduct the two festivals peacefully this time,” Rema concludes.   

 

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