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Riot-hit Marad goes off netas' radar

George Iype in Kerala | May 07, 2004 20:14 IST

Fear still lingers in Kerala's Marad village, where one Muslim and eight Hindus were killed in a communal clash last May 2.

The election season is on, but politicians avoid this fishing hamlet, which falls under the predominantly Muslim Lok Sabha constituency of Manjeri.

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Locals say it is fear that prevents them from coming.

"Everyone fears that one day there will be more massacres in our village. So nobody wants politics to play a part in our lives right now," says Hanif Mustafa, a fisherman.

"The Muslim League, the Left and BJP candidates have come here asking for votes. But they came without much pomp," Mustafa adds.

There are around 2,000 Muslims and 1,700 Hindus in Marad, situated on a sandy beach some 20 km from Kozhikode.

Last year, many Muslims fled the village after Hindus led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad pledged revenge for the May 2 killings.

The incident was said to be in retaliation to the violence a year earlier, in which five Muslims were killed.

Some compare Marad to Gujarat, where large-scale riots took place in 2002.

"The BJP wants to make Marad a little Gujarat. We will not allow that. We want peace, not communal riots here," says Indian Union Muslim League candidate K P A Majeed.

Majeed is sure to win the seat, not because of the violence, but because Manjeri is predominantly Muslim. Against him is Communist Party of India-Marxist candidate T K Hamsa.

The BJP's candidate is Uma Unni, a resident of Marad who local Hindus consider to be the Uma Bharti of Kerala.

The BJP picked her up after she came out in protest against the killings.

"I am a resident of Marad. Though it is one year since eight Hindus were killed, our community has not got justice so far because the Communists and Congress are protecting the Muslim extremists," she says.

She says the political situation in Kerala prompted the violence. "The Congress is helping the Muslim community to take up arms against Hindus in the state," she alleges.

But Unni says she does not want to talk "communal politics."

"I do not want to bring much of Marad into my campaigning. We do not want votes out of communal killings."

Most of the Muslim families that escaped from the village and lived for months in refugee camps have returned home.

Chief Minister A K Antony had entrusted the rehabilitation of the Muslim families not to political parties, but to a set of Gandhians.

The Gandhi Smaraka Nidhi, Sarvodaya Mandalam and Gandhi Peace Foundation have been working hard to ensure that there are no more killings in the village.

"Marad has all the tendency to become like Gujarat. So we are working overtime to ensure that the village does not go back to violence. Our approach to the village is non-violent communal conflict management," says P Sudhakaran, a Sarvodaya Mandalam volunteers.

According to him, the best thing about the rehabilitation process is the absence of politicians.

"If politicians had been entrusted with the job of rehabilitating these poor families, there would have been killings again," he says, adding, "there is communal harmony here now. We hope to keep it up forever."

The police arrested more than 60 Muslims, some of them from a local mosque, in connection with the violence. They also shut down the mosque, which has now been reopened. But it continues to be under heavy surveillance.

Hindu groups initially resisted the rehabilitation of the Muslim families. They demanded a hefty compensation for the Hindu victims and a central government probe into the attack as a precondition for resettlement.

Under the peace agreement, the government gave a compensation of Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) each to the families of the dead Hindus, Rs 500,000 for those who sustained severe injuries and Rs 300,000 to the other injured.

One member from the family of the dead would also be given a government job.

In appreciation of the Gandhian groups' efforts, Hindu activists cleaned unused wells and painted houses, some of them bloodstained, in Marad.

K Dasan, president, Araya Samajam, a local Hindu group that has been leading the agitation against the Marad killings and rehabilitation of the Muslims, says Hindus now want peace and harmony.

"Marad will be peaceful once again. We want Muslims and Hindus to go back to the sea together. Peace will come once they begin fishing together," Dasan points out.

Dasan says the fear in Marad is whether extremist Islamic groups will spread communal disharmony once again.

Hindus account for 57.2% of the 31.8 million people in Kerala, Muslims 23.3% and Christians 19.3%. The state also has a small number of people from other religions.

Kerala used to be considered a good example of communal harmony till the violence took place.

On May 2, the first anniversary of the carnage, Hindu organisations held a mass rally on the village beach. "It was the politics of Kerala that led to killings in Marad," well-known Hindu leader P Parameswaran, who heads the Bharatiya Vichara Kendram, said.

He said the massacre and the agitation thereafter have contributed to Hindu consolidation in Kerala. "If the Hindus don't want to become refugees in Kerala, they should organise above political affiliations," he added.

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