Between saffron and green, Hyderabad sees red flags
Posted: Apr 28, 2010
Hyderabad It’s been almost a month since Andhra Pradesh government moved to clear the city of all religious flags and buntings that were at the root of the recent communal riots which hit the state capital. But a tug-of-war has again started in the old city areas between Muslim and Hindu groups with green and saffron flags becoming the symbols of clout.
Since several days, small green flags put up by the MIM (Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) or Muslim religious organisations are being replaced overnight by saffron flags, only to be replaced again the next night by green flags. This flag contest has heightened tensions between the two communities with one accusing the other of trying to “usurp” areas which were traditionally dominated by them.
The trouble started a day before Eid Milad-un-Nabi when green flags with Islamic symbols and slogans came up all over the old city.
“Placing those flags was unnecessary and an act of disrespect towards the religion. It is for the first time in Hyderabad that thousands of green flags were found tied all around the streets. It is an insult because the flags had photographs of Mecca and Madina and when the they fell on the street, people walked over them. Even if they were tied for the festival, they should have been removed after the celebrations. It was not done and this encouraged the other community to put up saffron flags ahead of Ram Navami. The saffron flags were put up after removing the green flags and that is when the competition started,” says a religious leader, Hamid Mohammed Khan.
At the Shiva temple and goushala, caretaker K Tewari, who is living here since 40 years, says he has never witnessed such mobilisation of Hindu youths who went about replacing green flags with saffron ones with Om written on them.
“Thousands of flags came up overnight everywhere. I have never seen such a thing before. I do not know what prompted some people to attack the goushala and burn three animals alive. I believe it was in retaliation for the trouble that erupted elsewhere,” he says.
The presence of flags has slowly become an indicator as to who ‘controls’ a particular lane or area and this is causing tension between the two communities. After police and religious leaders intervened, the flags tied on government buildings were taken off, but they remain in other places.
Lateef Mohammed Khan, Secretary of Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee, says since the Muslims insisted that the flags put up for Eid Milad-un-Nabi will remain there till the next festival, the Hindu groups retaliated by wanting to keep their flags till Hanuman Jayanti. “Since then this is going on and all the main roads, streets and lanes are covered with flags,” he says.
Processions were never taken out in Hyderabad on Hanuman Jayanti, but this time Hindu groups took out a motorcycle rally and to promote this more saffron flags were put up.
Sources in the local Intelligence Bureau say the huge quantity and good printing quality of the green and saffron flags indicate that huge amounts are being spent on them. “None of the local people or even the businessmen has the kind of money spent on flags. Elements on both sides probably received enormous funds from those who wanted to start this trouble. The Muslims even organised biryani dawats on the main roads and it was free for all. Where did the money come from?” a source asks.
The areas which witnessed riots and where the flag contest is still going on have a strong presence of the MIM, Hindu Vahini and the RSS. Though the overall population of Hindus is 30 per cent and Muslims 70 per cent in the old city areas, there are many pockets where the population is in balance. Officials say religious groups are using flags to demarcate borders and a power struggle has started to retain control over particular areas.