Dhule, a town divided

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Last Sunday, a street quarrel in Dhule, 325 km north of Mumbai, escalated into riots, killing six people. Zeeshan Shaikh visits the city that was once a regional trading hub, but where people are now edgy and distrustful of each other

The street dividing Macchi Bazaar and Madhavpura in Dhule, with its charred houses and strewn belongings, has a post-apocalyptic emptiness to it. But before Sunday's riots that claimed six lives, the largely deserted street was where young people, bereft of a social life, would hang out and bond. Today, the street that demarcates the Hindu and Muslim sides of the city also cuts sharply through the hearts and minds of people from both communities.

The north Maharashtra town of Dhule, 325 km from Mumbai, lies on the cusp of two national highways. Thousands of trucks laden with goods that fuel the progress of economic centres such as Delhi, Surat and Nagpur zip through its highways, without stopping at the town. "Just as these trucks bypass the town, we have now started feeling that even development and harmony have chosen to give us a go-by," says Mohammed Jaleel who runs a hotel in Dhule.

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Dhule was once a strong regional growth centre, thanks to its position as an important trading centre for the villages around it. It also had a thriving textile industry fuelled mainly by the weaving skills of Ansari Muslims from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who left their homes after the 1857 uprising and set up bases in areas such as Dhule, Bhiwandi and Malegaon. Dhule is one of the few towns in the country where Muslims account for over 25 per cent of the population. Over the decades, as farming, textile and trading generated enough jobs, the city remained largely peaceful, even when the rest of the state erupted during the 1992-93 post-Babri-demolition riots.

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