Abdul Hafiz Lakhani
AHMEDABAD – The Bharuch district of Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, witnessed serious communal flare up earlier this month. A communal riot broke out at Hansot lying between Vadodara and Surat on January 14. Hansot and Ambheta towns had been the chief target of the rioting by Hindutva groups with Muslims bearing the brunt. This week some prominent Muslims of Gujarat visited the ground zero and found some shocking truths about the extremist groups running amok with the connivance of police and administration. Senior correspondent and Editor of Gujarat Siyasat Abdul Hafiz Lakhani spoke with a cross-section of people.
There was an undercurrent of tension in the villages after a youth identified as Sunil Patel of Ambheta village had posted an offensive picture of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, on Whatsapp and circulated it among the villagers a month ago. About 25,000 Muslims of nearby areas had taken out a rally and submitted a memorandum to the district authorities to take action against Sunil. Sunil was arrested but was released a week ago on court orders the tension was building up in the area since then.
A ‘dharam parishad’ (religious council) was also organized about 15 days ago in nearby Katpor village allegedly by Vallabh Patel, brother of local MLA Ishwar Patel. Two Muslim families of Katpor village were reportedly asked by the local Hindus to convert to Hinduism or quit the village.
Muslim youths were frequently attacked whenever they happened to travel from one village to another for their daily works. He said that youths were sometimes stopped in presence of police when they could not be identified from their outer appearance and their driving licenses were checked. If they happened to be Muslims, they were roughed up. However, police deny these allegations. It is alleged that it was a “pre-planned” attack and that police encouraged the mob to attack Muslim properties.
All these villages fall in the Bharuch parliamentary constituency which is currently represented by Mansukhbhai Dhanjibhai Vasava of the ruling BJP. Congress leader and Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel also won four Lok Sabha elections from this seat.
A communal riot broke out at Hansot lying between Vadodara and Surat on January 14. The intensity of the riots in an area that had been in communal peace, even during the 2002 pogrom was a cause of serious concern. More disturbingly, the violence against Muslims involved tribals and Koli Patels. A delegation consisted of Jamiatul Ulema Hind Gujarat President Maulana Rafiq Badodvi; AIMMM Gujarat President, Maulana Habibur Rehman Matadar; Maulana Salman, Zidni Ilma President Prof J.S. Bandukwala, and the All India Majlis Tameer e Millat, Gujarat, organiser, Munir Kheruwala.
Hansot has a Muslim population of about 5000, out of a total of 11,000. The town was on the edge after Sunil Patel posted the image of the Holy Prophet on social media. This had led to tension. Muslims had organized a protest rally. Hindus arranged a counter Dharma Parishad, led by Vithal Patel. The trigger was a minor kite incident on Jan. 14.
A firm Police action could have saved Hansot. However, according to locals, Police Superintendent Bipin Ahire, actually directed attacks on Muslims. Any man with a beard and skullcap was roughed up, with police remaining a silent spectator. Over 200 hectares of standing sugar cane crop was burnt, in such a way that the adjacent farms owned by Hindus were not affected at all. Muslim businesses were looted and many burnt. Within a few hours, the losses accrued stood about to more than Rs 4 crores. Two people died of stabbings and a 33-year old tempo driver was killed.
The violence spread so fast that it appears to have been meticulously planned. The presence of a Federal Minister, Mansukh Vasawa two days prior to the riot appears suspicious.
About 25 Muslims have been arrested. But the police are most reluctant to arrest the troublemakers from the majority community. The principal culprit Vallabh Patel, brother of a local MLA, moves about town freely. About 200 BJP members have resigned from the party, protesting that the name of the brother of the MLA is not yet removed from the FIR. The other demand is that Muslims must not receive any compensation for the huge losses suffered.
Muslims protested the manner in which the Gujarat administration has been handling this sensitive case. Muslims have almost no voice in this government. In the interest of justice and to prevent a recurrence of such bloody riots, some suggestions have been made by the visiting Muslim delegation:
1) The Government machinery must be neutral and fair. The culprits must be arrested and the law must take its course.
2) Two mosques and one madrassa were vandalized. The Government must compensate for the same.
3) The property and business loss has been huge. The victims must get the full compensation.
4) The burning down of standing sugar cane crop must also be compensated.
5) Disciplinary action must be taken against Police Superintendent Bipin Ahire.