West indian literature

“The Riot That Changed India Forever”

It was 1989. Nationally, Vice President Singh’s Janata Dal was riding the anti-Congress wave at the height of the Bofors scandal. On the other hand, the BJP had intensified the Ayodhya movement with Ram Shila pujan planned in several places across the country. The era of Mandal and Kamandal politics had begun and the Congress was struggling nationally as well as in Bihar.

And that year’s riots in Bhagalpur also changed India forever. Satyendra Narayan Sinha, then Chief Minister of Bihar, lost his job for not visiting Bhagalpur, which turned out to be the first communal hot spot after the saffron surge. The Bhagalpur riots in 1989 left Muslims completely disillusioned with Congress, which lost much of its main vote bank in one fell swoop, and heralded the rise of Lalu Prasad in Bihar.

“Karbala Dar Karbala” by famous Hindi and Maithili literati Gourinath in the genre of historical fiction is not only a reminder of what happened in Bhagalpur, known as Silk City, between October 24 and October 28, 1989, and beyond, but it also recounts the rise of the riots that left more than 1,000 dead. Gourinath weaved chilling facts with a dash of fiction, which he needed to avoid legal wrangling.

The book opens with a beautiful love story between a Hindu boy and his Muslim classmate, but the plot also has its share of gore. Years of social trust and camaraderie have been vitiated by a politics of hate. But the Mahabharata city of Angraj Karna and Vikramshila Buddhist University healed each time they were engulfed in the communal fire. Whether it was 1946, 1967 or 1989. Love survived. The protagonists, Shiv and Zareena too, but distant from each other, lacerated and separated.

Zareena loved Shiv, who was good at poetry but expressed his love more through his eyes than words. Her parents were initially wary of the hostile society, but let their relationship flourish until that fateful day when Shiv’s love had to leave Silk City, stained with blood.

The 256-page, 26-chapter book uses the brick as a symbol of faith and friction: “…gaon gaon se chali Ramshila ki pavitra eentien Bhagalpur mein is tezi se gir rahi hai maano eenton ki baarish ho rahi hai. Gharon par eentien lagatar baras rahi hai aur ghar bhabharakar gir rahi hai… (Ramshilas are brought to Bhagalpur from villages everywhere as if it is raining bricks. They relentlessly strike the houses, which fall like skittles…)”

The book mentions an IPS officer who ended up stoking the communal fire, and a local Hindu leader, whose arrest made him a “hero” in the eyes of his followers. The book also describes how students from different parts of Bihar lived in harmony in Bhagalpur before the riots.

Evidence of carnage at Laugai village, where 116 bodies were buried underground and cauliflower plants were allowed to grow on them, is the most chilling reminder of the Bhagalpur riots. Gourinath tells the story of an ADM and a DIG seeing through the cunning of police officers and local politicians, who never wanted the truth to come out. But the officers found a way out – the DIG brought in personnel from Patna to find out the truth, literally.

Part of the book reads: “…when Assistant Deputy Minister (Law and Order) AK Singh visited the village (Laugai), he saw vultures hovering around. He suggested hidden bodies. He wanted a quick investigation, but an assistant sub-inspector wouldn’t let him. Then he informed DIG Ajit Dutta, who on December 8, 1989, ordered the digging of cauliflower fields and dug up 116 bodies.

The author has narrated the events that unfolded in Bhagalpur in 1989 in lucid language, which at times reads like poetic prose. Even though the names of several characters have been changed to protect identities, the writer carefully refers to academic publications and riot commission reports and other published material to further his storytelling.

The book is a mixture of history and fiction. The description is cinematic and, needless to say, those who lived through the Bhagalpur riots will find the events chronicled in the book pretty close to the bone. It is a necessary journey into the past to find out what we have made of ourselves. “Tumne est zameen mein insaanon ke sar boye le, ab zameen khoon ugalti hai to hairan kyon ho (You have sown human heads here, why are you now surprised to find the earth spitting blood).”

Gourinath, which publishes the Hindi magazine, Baya, and the Maithili magazine, Antika, is known for his storybooks “Naach Ke Baahar”, “Maanush” and “Beej-Bhoji” – and his novel “Kosi Ke Kisan”. He is also known for his work Maithili, “Daag”.


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