Faizabad riot put out ‘flame of harmony’

For six years, the bilingual weekly Aap ki Taaqat, published from Faizabad, carried the slogan 'Hindu-Muslim do bhai, Hindi-Urdu do behen' on its masthead. The slogan could not save the weekly when communal riots flared up in Faizabad on October 24.

The newspaper's office on the premises of Chowk Masjid was gutted in the fire that also consumed 11 shops and godowns. Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Justice (retd) Markandey Katju on Tuesday set up a committee to probe the attack on the mosque and the weekly. The eight-page Aap ki Taaqat, with four pages each in Hindi and Urdu, had a small circulation, but was "a flame of communal harmony", said Iqbal Mustafa, who manages Faizabad Public School.

Manzar Mehdi, who launched the weekly on December 29, 2006 and ran it virtually single-handedly, said, "It survived on support from Hindu doctors, businessmen and leaders. I can't imagine why it was attacked."

The paper had reports on local events and special stories highlighting communal harmony in the twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad. "People used to read it with interest. We functioned from a one-room office on the first floor. There was never any threat to us. Nobody ever raised an objection to our reports," Mehdi said.

Mehdi said it was likely that people in the mob that ransacked the weekly's office and set it on fire were not rank outsiders. "I am sure they must have visited the office earlier and perhaps even had a cup of tea with me. But a frenzy overtook everything... Now I just go there, look at the charred remains and return," he said.

Despite offers of help, Mehdi is unsure whether things can return to normal soon. "An edition that was to be released on October 29 has been obviously delayed. It is tough to start again. People who used to read the weekly are contacting me with offers of help. The district administration is also very supportive but I am yet to sit at my desk," he said.

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