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Communal cauldron simmers in Kanpur

By Nistula Hebbar in Kanpur
May 03, 2004 17:39 IST
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As dawn breaks over the abandoned textile mills of Kanpur, once known as the Manchester of the East, the sound of marching feet can be heard coming from the city's streets.

Over the last few days, nearly 2,000 paramilitary troops have been holding flag marches in the city, which is prone to communal violence and election hooliganism.

Almost 1,085 polling stations, which is 20 per cent of the total booths in the Kanpur constituency, have been declared as 'sensitive'. The city has had a reputation of being communally volatile.

Kanpur is populated almost evenly by Muslims (17 per cent of the electorate) and Brahmins (15 per cent). Most of the Muslims are Ansaris or weavers by profession. They were thrown out of work when the textile mills in the city started closing down two decades ago.

"At one time, there were 2,50,000 weavers working in the city," said Mohammad Ansari, a resident of the Parade Area, which has almost turned into a Muslim ghetto.

"Superb mills like Resham Mill, Elgin Mill and Lalimli Woolens Mill all closed down and what remains of them is now on sale," says Ansari bitterly.

The city then got caught up in the heat of the Ayodhya movement. Hundreds were killed in the immediate aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. And again riots left deep scars after BJP corporator Kalabachcha was killed in 1994.

"Those were the worst riots the city has known. They were the precursors of the riots in Godhra and Naroda Patia in Gujarat," says Rafiq Siddique, a Congress worker.

Now, an uneasy peace reigns in the city, with tension simmering just under the surface.

"When CP Pathak, the city's additional district magistrate, was shot in 2001, riots broke out again," says Siddique.

What is disturbing is the fact that terrorist organisations like the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) have a strong base in Kanpur and find it a fertile ground for its activities. "What is happening is more sinister and under cover," says a senior police official.

The calm is deceptive.

"People have realised tha the Babri issue is just for garnering votes, yet the bitterness of the violence of the 1990s remains, waiting for yet another provocation," says Siddique.

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Nistula Hebbar in Kanpur