The clashes on Tuesday had broken out following rallies organised by right-wing groups to create awareness for donation towards the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Damaged window panes, broken doors, walls scribbled with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and villagers scared to return to their own homes: this is the picture that Dorana village of Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district presents after a rally of an estimated 5,000 workers of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) marched the streets Tuesday with no effective intervention by the police.

A day before, villagers had petitioned the Superintendent of Police (SP) and sought protection, citing messages allegedly being circulated on social media which called all “Hindu brothers” to join the rally from Amlawad to Dorana village in large numbers with saffron flags.

Another message allegedly urged people to teach the “descendants of Aurangzeb” a lesson for having stopped a Hindu rally from passing through Dorana. An earlier rally on December 25 was stopped from playing loud music outside the mosque in the village by locals. But on Tuesday, some of those in the rally climbed the same mosque and put up saffron flags. These flags were removed by police personnel present at the rally.

Dorana in Mandsaur is one of the three villages in the communally-sensitive Malwa-Neemuch region, where the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has significant presence. It has 500 houses with about 82 Muslim families.

The clashes on Tuesday had broken out following rallies organised by right-wing groups to create awareness for donation towards the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. It came under spotlight after videos of a person climbing atop a minaret to put up a saffron flag went viral on social media.

The communal clash in Mandsaur is not a one-off incident in the state.

In the past week, clashes have been reported in Ujjain and Indore too during rallies organised by right-wing groups as these passed through Muslim-dominated localities. On the same day as Dorana in Mandsaur, a flare-up in Begum Bagh locality in Ujjain led to clashes with stone pelting by residents in response to alleged use of abusive language by those in the rally. On December 29, a communal flare-up was reported in Chandankhedi village in Indore too with stone pelting from both sides, and complaints of arson by the village residents.

Addressing an event in Indore, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan warned the stone pelters. “Law will take its course against the miscreants, whoever they may be. People creating disturbance will be dealt with strictly. We have to ensure Madhya Pradesh remains an island of peace,” he said.

The police have since arrested five persons and registered an offence against 58 others based on complaints by the villagers; another 30 in Indore, of which at least 27 are villagers; in Begum Bagh locality of Ujjain, 18 have been arrested with charges under National Security Act invoked on ten.

Siddharth Choudhary, SP, Mandsaur, told The Indian Express that with prior knowledge of the rally and understanding that it could take a communal turn, he had deployed a force of 100 men, six inspectors, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) under the Additional SP.

“We had given clear instruction to our force deployed in the village that nothing should happen to the masjid — which was ensured. The flag put up was immediately removed by the police personnel present there,” said Choudhary. While he denied there was any firing during the rally, he said a few men were carrying swords.

The police force ensured the men in the rally were confined to the main road and exited Dorana village as soon as possible. “It was not advisable to use force to control the situation and so we ensured that they exited soon. The rally was not allowed to gather at a nearby school as was planned earlier,” said Choudhary.

When contacted, Sohanji Vishwakarma, Regional Minister (Prant Mantri) of the Malwa region for Vishwa Hindu Parishad said, “Some unidentified people took saffron flags and joined the rally. VHP has no affiliation with them. We are trying to trace them (those who resorted to stone pelting). Ours was a peaceful rally called only to create awareness.”

When asked about the communal messages, he said, “It was perhaps done locally owing to some personal disputes… VHP does not have anything to do with it.”

Elaborating on the rallies, Jitendra Chouhan, VHP spokesperson for Madhya Pradesh said, “Various awareness drives were carried out from December 25-31 in different pockets of the state to make people aware of the significance of donation for the construction of Ram Temple.” Some resorting to stone pelting are maligning the image of VHP. “We urge our workers to ensure peace.”

The police personnel were outnumbered with more than 5,000 people turning out for the rally; many were in the age group of 15-25 years and had joined from the bordering state of Rajasthan.

A village resident, Shahid Hussain Mansuri, said he was asked by an Inspector of Nai Abadi Police Station which has jurisdiction over Dorana, to remove flags atop their homes and mosque and remain indoors on the rally day, and remain assured the police will take care.

Unsure of police action, the villagers, however, asked their women to stay put at an adjoining village on the rally day. Men stayed back to defend their property. The police personnel also inspected the village and ensured there were no stones on the terrace.

On Tuesday afternoon, over 5,000 men armed with swords, sticks and stones, and saffron flags, chanted slogans, played music on loud speakers and entered the village. They broke open houses and climbed the mosque to put up saffron flags, says 60-year-old Fakeer Mohammad, a resident of Dorana. The mob ransacked houses, parked cars, CCTV cameras and even hit the cattle tied outside, he said.

Nazar Mohammad Mansoori, a constable with the Armed Forces, who was deployed on duty in nearby Mandsaur district, said his house back home was ransacked, vehicles damaged, and his brother’s grain shop looted. “Residents were sharing the videos on Whatsapp group and all I could do was watch it helplessly despite being in the force myself,” he said.

Fakeer Mohammad, 60, said men in the rally chased several villagers including his nephew Abdul Hakim who ran for his life and returned only later in the night. Chased by a mob, Mohammad and six others were finally given shelter by a Hindu family.

Hakim’s two-storied house was one of the houses that suffered most damage with the glass balcony shattered. In the FIR, he claimed that cash and ornaments worth lakhs of rupees were stolen. The residents have registered four different FIRs of theft and damage to property following the rallies.

Some women who had stayed back also had to flee their homes into the fields. Shakira Bi claimed some in the rally fired a few rounds in the air after which many women who were hiding in the fields began running, only to be chased by the men. “The men chased us into the fields, but returned after following us some distance,” claimed Mumtaz Bi, 32.

On Thursday, an unsettling silence had engulfed the village with police taking stock of damage and clearing the streets of debris left from ransacked homes.

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