Bombay convulsed by riots

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THE HINDU and Muslim fishermen - who live in a shanty town just behind the big ferris wheel and the rowboats pulled on to the sand at Bombay's Mahim Creek beach - thought they had been spared the religious riots sweeping India.

Yesterday, the fishermen were proved wrong. Muslim extremists attacked with bombs and torches, and within minutes the shanty town of 20,000 people was blazing. Thura Yadu, a Hindu, leapt on to the rooftops with his Muslim neighbours and began passing water buckets to douse the flames. 'They had come before - outsiders. Hindus and Muslims both,' he explained. 'We were able to persuade them to leave us in peace. But this time, I don't know what happened. I don't think they like seeing Muslims and Hindus living together peacefully.'

This scene repeated itself a hundred times in Bombay during these days of sectarian bloodshed. Bombay, like many other cities in India, is reeling from the aftermath of last Sunday's events, when hordes of Hindu fundamentalists destroyed a mosque in northern India. One of India's biggest cities is suffering some of the worst riots since the Partition with Pakistan in 1947. Then, there was Mahatma Gandhi to bring peace to communities like the Mahim Creek fishermen. Today India's politicians are conspicuously short on spiritual and moral stature.

An anatomy of the riots in Bombay - where more than 160 people have died over the past four days, out of nearly 900 around the country - shows the violence spiralled when police fired into groups of Muslims demonstrating against the destruction of their mosque in Ayodhya, northern India. Next, the Muslims retaliated against the Hindus, stabbing and looting the easiest prey: those living within predominantly Muslim areas.

The Muslim rampage was answered by well-organised assaults carried out by gangs of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu extremist organisation led by Bal Thackeray. The Shiv Sena leader, who admires the techniques used by European fascists, can count on more than 100,000 militants in Bombay alone. He wants to re-cast India as a Hindu nation.

Across a wide estuary from where Mr Thackeray lives is the biggest slum in Asia, Dharavi. There could be up to 300,000 people in Dharavi, huddled inside this endless sprawl of tin shacks and open sewers. So far, the cohesion between Hindus and Muslims has not snapped. But a Shiv Sena mob has twice tried to set fire to the shanty town.

The Hindus of Dharavi know that the flames will not discriminate between Muslim and Hindus, so they helped to chase away the Shiv Sena. 'We don't trust the police. They're on Shiv Sena's side,' said Salauddin Khan, a Muslim. 'We want the army in to protect us.'

AYODHYA - The government yesterday banned three Hindu fundamentalist groups and jailed four top Hindu leaders until their trial, AP reports. State-run television said the banned Hindu groups were the Viswa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal. Two Muslim groups, the Jamait-e-Islami and Islamic Sevak Sangh were also banned, the television said.