Contrary to the controversial letter sent to different districts by the office of Additional Director General (Special Branch), Bihar, J S Gangwar recently, seven years back it was a large number of Muslims who swung into action to rescue hundreds of Chhath devotees after the stampede following rumours that the wooden bridge had collapsed on the bank of river Ganga in Patna.
Officially, more than 20 people, mostly women and children, were killed in this tragedy on the evening of November 19, 2012 though unofficial sources said that the toll was much higher.
As Muslims form a substantial percentage of the population in the vicinity of the spot where the mishap took place, many of them, especially youth, rushed to the place of the occurrence to rescue women and children at Anta Ghat.
Though the incident took place just at the back of Patna Medical College and Hospital, there was hardly any ambulance and doctor available on duty at Bihar’s premier health hub. Most of the patients were rushed to the hospital on cycle-rickshaws, bi-cycles, two-wheelers and private vehicles. As PMCH was not at all prepared for such an accident, some of the patients had to be referred to private hospitals.
Muslim youths of Sabzibagh, Chik Tola, Darzee Tola, Jamun Gali etc were at the forefront of the rescue work. Some of them like Irfan, Raja and others actually jumped into the river to rescue drowning victims.
The media had then highlighted these facts.
Though Chhath has hardly witnessed any communal riots in Bihar, on October 23, 2019, the Special Branch sent a letter to the district magistrate of Madhepura and other districts warning the administration about possible tension and violence. The letter specifically mentioned the possibility of eve-teasing and harassment of women by Muslim youths. It also said that mischievous elements of the community may try to foment communal trouble during this festival.
The letter raised a storm in the political circle with the leader of opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav questioning the silence of chief minister Nitish Kumar.
It is on the basis of this letter by the Special Branch that the DM of Madhepura, Navdeep Shukla, issued the direction to his officials.
Though several Janata Dal-United spokesmen soon went into damage control mode, its alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party openly backed the police as well as Madhepura DM.
Curiously, Madhepura is one district of Bihar with a very small Muslim population and has seldom witnessed communal violence.
The repeated attempt by media persons to seek the opinion of Mr Gangwar proved futile as he refused to speak to them.
It is pertinent to mention that Chhath is one Hindu festival during which even hardened criminals do not commit crime. The crime level comes down on the eve of Chhath and people from all sections of the community cooperate in its preparation works. It is another thing that Patna and Hajipur were rocked by major dacoities hours after the completion of the four-day festival this year, during which property worth over Rs 60 lakhs was looted.
Like in the past this year too media carried stories of how some Muslims helped their Hindu brethren in cleaning up work on the occasion of this festival.
A couple of families of Phulwarisharif in Patna even observed Chhath.
The tone and tenor of the letter, according to the retired IPS officer, Ram Chandra Khan, was objectionable and exposed a total lack of professionalism. There is a general feeling that unlike all other festivals, Chhath has little scope for any violence. Yet official sources confirm, that the Police is well within its right to issue an alert. But never in any official letter the name of any community taken to say that they may cause trouble.