Neha Dabhade & Hozefa Ujjaini
Against the backdrop of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat’s Himmatnagar and Khambhat in April this year, a fact-finding team consisting of Neha Dabhade, Deputy Director at Centre for Study of Society and Secularism and Hozefa Ujjaini, social activist and Director of Buniyaad visited Khambhat and Himmatnagar from 25th to 27th July, 2022. This is an excerpt from their fact-finding report:
On 10th April, communal riots broke out in different parts of India including West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Gujarat on the occasion of Ram Navami. The occasion saw Hindu right wing organizations organize processions in these states. In the state of Gujarat, organizations including Ram Sena, Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad organized “Shobha Yatra” processions in Khambhat situated in Anand district in Central Gujarat and Himmatnagar situated in Sabarkantha district in North Gujarat on 10th April, 2022. It was reported in the media that the Hindu and Muslim communities clashed during the processions and Muslims indulged in stone pelting in which several people including police personnel were injured. One person, 57-year-old Kanhaiya Lal Rana, lost his life in Khambhat. Shops and vehicles were set ablaze during the riots and stones were thrown. The police had to resort to lathicharge and lobbying of tear gas shells for bringing the situation under control.
It is alleged by the police that the residents in Chhapariya/ Ashrafnagar locality dominated by Muslims threw stones on the two processions that took place in Himmatnagar. In Khambhat too, it is alleged that Muslims pelted stones on the procession. In Khambhat, the local administration ordered bulldozers to raze down the properties of those accused of stone pelting during the communal riots which took place in the minority dominated area of Shakarpur. The media reports quoted the police alleging “that the violence in Khambhat was a ‘pre-planned conspiracy’ hatched by a ‘sleeper module’ to achieve dominance of the minority community in the town (Times of India , 2022)”. Consequently, the police arrested 11 persons for their alleged role in the violence. According to some news reports, the number of arrested in Khambhat has reached 40.
Anand Collector M Y Daxini commenting on the demolitions said, “We have issued orders to remove all illegal encroachments. Miscreants had used the bushes and thick vegetation to attack the procession. The encroachments are being removed from government land based on government records. These are those encroachments which had come up on government land and against which notices were already issued in the past.” He said carts and stalls are also being removed to free government land.
Against this backdrop of communal riots and violence, a fact-finding team consisting of Neha Dabhade, Deputy Director at Centre for Study of Society and Secularism and Hozefa Ujjaini, social activist and Director of Buniyaad visited Khambhat and Himmatnagar from 25th to 27th July, 2022.
The team met in Khambhat Additional Commissioner of Police, Abhishek Gupta, Sarpanch of Shakarpur, Dinesh Balun, some of the Muslim residents of Shakarpur whose stalls were demolished by the local administration and some Muslim residents who were arrested in the case. The team also met Jayveer Joshi, leader of Ram Sena and member of BJP Yuva Morcha regional committee in Khambhat. The team met one prominent journalist and head of an educational institute who actively follows the local politics. However, they requested anonymity and thus their identity will not be divulged. In Himmatnagar, the team met residents of Ashrafnagar, Rafique Qureshi, resident of Hasan nagar and accused in Hasannagar violence, Chagan Vanjara along with other neighbours from Vanjaravas, members from Devipujak community living in Hasannagar and Kanak Jhala, leader of the Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad. The team gathered relevant material like copies of FIR, photographs and videos, posters from social media related to the incidents etc.
In Himmatnagar, the fact-finding team interacted with Muslim residents of Ashrafnagar locality. They told the team that Ram Navami is celebrated every year for the past for nearly 28 years. However, procession was always scheduled at 4pm in the previous years. The organizers were always the local Hindu residents. But this time, there were two processions. The first one was organized by the Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal and the second one was organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. None of the processions saw participation of local Hindus in large numbers unlike previous years.
The first one started at around 1pm from the Ram temple near Ashrafnagar. The procession had around 1200 to 1500 participants. Since it was approaching namaz time, some Muslim youth were standing near the mosque. The tractors had DJ sets on them with blaring music. When the procession came near the mosque, the participants in the procession started shouting slogans- “Hindustan mein rehana hoga toh jai shri ram Kehana hoga”. Thus, scuffle broke out between some of the Muslim youth and participants of the rally.
According to some of the witnesses who requested to be anonymous, the tractors in the procession were full of stones and arms. Stone pelting ensued. The participants of the procession were armed with swords according to Kanak Jhala himself who is the leader of the Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad. The participants of the procession burnt 18 stalls and two houses belonging to Muslims. Police were present and accompanying the procession. They didn’t do anything to stop the violence. In fact the police didn’t let the fire brigade come to douse the fire where Muslim properties were burnt.
One Muslim boy was injured in this violence outside his house in Ashrafnagar when a stone hit his head leading to severe injury to his head which couldn’t be treated in a local hospital. He was taken to the Ahmedabad Civil hospital and treated by a neurosurgeon. He was unconscious for a couple of weeks. He hadn’t participated in violence but had stepped out of his house to check why there was commotion.
The adverse impact of this violence and tensions was witnessed in another location of Hasan nagar in Himmatnagar where clashes took place between Muslims and Vanjara community of Vanjaravas (adjacent localities). In Hasannagar, the government has allotted houses to low-income groups under the Awaas Yojana or housing scheme in 2011. While earlier the Vanjaras were staying together in one area by themselves, under the Awaas housing they are compelled to live together since the buildings have mixed owners from all communities- Muslims, Vanjaras, Devipujaks etc. Often there are tensions in the locality on small issues- not communal in nature. The Vanjaras have been demanding from the Corporation that separate area to be allocated to them and segregate them from the Muslim households.
According to Rafique Qureshi, a resident of Hasannagar and Muslim leader, on 10th April, a couple of Vanjara residents of Hasannagar including Chagan Vanjara who had attended the Ram Navami procession in Ashrafnagar came back to Hasannagar and started abusing and beating up Muslims in the locality. Qureshi explained that he called the police to stop the violence. But the police instead of stopping the Vanjara residents, lobbied tear gas on the Muslims. Some of the Muslims were arrested by the Police and taken away. They were dropped back in the evening.
According to Vanjara residents of Vanjaravas, Muslims attacked their houses on 11th April. Two Vanjara houses were looted. Chagan Rupa bhai Banjara said he immediately called the police and police responded promptly. They came and brought the situation under control. However, the Vanjara community alleged that the Muslims threw petrol bombs on the Vanjara households at around 10pm and there was a standoff. One dargah too was burnt. The police was called again. According to the Qureshi, the police lobbied tear gas on the innocent Muslim residents and their houses.
The police brutally beat up Muslim women on their thighs and chest.
Police also beat up one Mr Zakirbhai Shabir Memon, 50 years old Muslim cancer patient who is a Bangi (one who gives the call for Azaan) in the mosque. They dragged him out of his house while the other residents especially women protested. Mr. Bangi’s son, 23 years old son, Gulam Sarvar who has 50 percent vision was also beaten up and arrested. The police also arrested other innocent Muslim residents including a doctor. Dr. Altaf Gulabnabi Menon is a 36 years old gynecologist and walking on Aman Park Hasan nagar road at night unaware of the riots. He reached his house and the police barged into his house and beat him up and arrested him. They were together detained for four days by the police and told in the hospital to not tell the judge about their injuries from police beating. They also shared with the fact-finding team that they were publically shamed by the police in the court premises where they were brought tied with ropes and ridiculed while the Hindu accused were discreetly taken to the judge.
In Khambhat similarly, the procession was organized by the Ram Sena and started at 3.30pm from the Ram temple at Shakarpur village. When the procession came near the mosque which is close to the Ram temple, the participants of the processions started raising slogans like “Jai Shri Ram”, “Jai ranchod miya Chor”, “Topi valo ko bulvayenge, Dadi walo ko bulvayenge Jai shri ram jai shri ram”. Some Muslim youth was standing to witness the procession and some were standing outside their stalls. Stone pelting followed some exchange of words. One Kanhaiya Rana, 57 year old man died during this procession. He was in an inebriated state and he was hit by a stone on his head.
The properties belonging to Muslims were attacked by the participants of the procession. The Muslim residents of Shakarpur believe that this riot was pre-planned. According to Babu bhai Abdul Kadar Malik from Shahpur locality of Shakarpur, the Sarpanch and other Hindu outfits had organized rickshaws with loudspeakers days before the procession to mobilize the Hindus in the village for the Ram Navami procession. During the procession, the participants started entering the narrow by-lanes of the locality dominated by Muslim households. The participants were carrying ‘dangs’- thick wooden rods with saffron flags tied to them. Malik explained that when the procession reached near the mosque, two Muslim youth were pulled into the mob and beaten. Muslims as retaliation pelted stones. Babu Bhai Malik was arbitrarily arrested by the police from this area as is the case with many others. He spent 2 months in prison.
The team was told by witnesses that when the procession came near the mosque there was some arguments between the participants of the procession and Razzak, the main accused. Razzak and a couple of them went with the police. This created fear and tensions and stones were pelted first by the Muslims. Dinesh Balun, Sarpanch of Shakarpur in his FIR has named 61 Muslims along with their full names as responsible for the violence. It is incredible that any human being can identity or remembers 61 names in a mob along with their full names! This hints at the deliberate attempt to implicate Muslims.
Demolitions in Khambhat:
The team spoke to the owners of one of the ‘galas’ or stalls that were demolished by the Municipal Corporation after the riots. They didn’t wish to be identified and thus their names are not revealed. They said that their ‘gala’ sold grocery and pan masala. Three other ‘galas’ along with theirs were demolished by Municipal Corporation. They said this riot was planned and this is the first time Ram Navami procession was organized in Shakarpur on this scale. Rath Yatra is more common in the region. They linked the violence to the aggressive attitude of the Sarpanch- Dinesh Balun who is partial towards Hindus. They pointed out that Jitubhai who was the Sarpanch before Dinesh was from the Dalit community and worked impartially and in fact had very good relations with Muslims in Shakarpur. They both were arrested by the police and slapped with charges of rioting and murder. They were given bail after 2 months and asked to live outside Khambhat for a month. They lived in Petlad for a month in a rented house which they rented for INR 2500.
Losses suffered in Communal Riots:
The following table depicts the losses suffered in Himmatnagar.
In Himmatnagar, apart from the losses mentioned above, 2 police vehicles were damaged and four police personnel got injured.
In Khambhat, four stalls belonging to Muslims were demolished in Shakapur. In Tower chowk, 4 shoe shops belonging to Muslims were damaged. One shop of Hindu was damaged by mistaken since it was assumed that it belonged to a Muslim.
Political one-upmanship in Khambhat:
Khambhat has emerged as a hotbed of communal conflicts. The smallest triggers including children from different communities quarrelling can lead to communal riots. The fact-finding team tried to understand why these conflicts took place in the past few years including the riots in April 2022. The team found that one of the precipitating factors in Khambhat contributing to communal riots is the factionalism within the ruling party and how it is manifesting itself even at the level of local self-governance bodies. According to a prominent journalist in Khambhat who didn’t wish to be named, said that this riot and brewing communal tensions in Khambhat can be attributed to the political dynamics in the region. Mayur Raval who is currently the MLA from Khambhat is perceived as cordial towards Muslims and as more neutral than Sanjay Patel, his predecessor. Raval doesn’t openly take sides or instigates hatred or violence against Muslims. Sanjay Patel is well known for his more hardliner stand against the Muslims. There is an apparent political rivalry between Sanjay Patel and Mayur Raval. Mayur Raval was offered the BJP candidature for MLA in 2017 instead of Sanjay Patel.
It appears that Sanjay Patel is influential and through his network of political patronage, emboldened Hindu right-wing organizations and Dinesh Balun to act against Muslims and foment violence. Dinesh Balun openly supported Sanjay Patel and believed that the region requires a “strong” leader like him to control communal violence. These riots are engineered and instigated by Hindu right organizations under political patronage with the aim to assert Hindu domination and also construct a narrative that a “weak” MLA being “soft” on Muslims is ineffective in controlling riots and Muslim fundamentalism in Khambhat. There is a deliberate attempt through these riots and engineering other communal conflicts to send this message to the Hindu electorate.
This politics and factionalism has penetrated into the grassroots politics and riots are used to settle political scores. The same above-mentioned journalist also explained how Razzak, the main accused in the riots has been close to Jitubhai, the previous Sarpanch and didn’t support Dinesh Balun, the current Sarpanch. Thus Dinesh Balun, in the FIR filed by him has named Razzak as the ‘mastermind’ of the riots. According to the journalist, the Muslims named in the FIR are innocent and not involved in the riots. Some of the Muslim names are routinely implicated in false charges.
Impact of inter-community relations:
In Shakarpur in Khambhat, residents of Shahpur have said that so far Muslims and Hindus lived in harmony. They went to marriages and funerals together. In fact, a couple of months before this riot, both communities had participated in the Urs procession and dined together. The society here has been closely knit. Initially though some Hindus believed that Muslims are responsible for the riots and opposed the Ram Navami festival and Muslims attacked the procession, now most of them understand that this is all a result of politics of hatred. But now there is some degree of distrust between both the communities. Though the members of both the communities acknowledge and greet each other, there are some ill feelings. The ill feelings are also owing to large number of arrests made from Shakarpur village which compelled the Muslim community to live in the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Also one diary refused to sell any products to the Muslims for a month. This also created some bitterness.
There is very little interaction between the Hindu and Muslim communities in Shakarpur. When the four stalls were operational on the road, the Hindus too came to buy their products and this was an opportunity for interaction. But now after these stalls were demolished, the owners are compelled to operate from their houses where small number of people comes to buy- none of them Hindus. Thus, spaces of interaction have gone. Interaction is possible now only in market places in the city. However, due to the strong and organic inter-dependence between Hindus and Muslims in the kite making and agate stone industry, interaction between them is inevitable.
In Himmatnagar, Muslim residents of Ashrafnagar said that they have been living amicably with their Hindu neighbours. The Hindu neighbours are not supporting or justifying the violence against Muslims. The Hindus have not held the Muslims responsible and realize that the riots were a result of politics. The two communities are doing business again and interacting every day in market places.
In Hasan nagar, the relationship between the Muslims and Vanjaras from Vanjaravas has hit a new low. The Vanjaras vehemently have expressed their desire to not live in the vicinity with the Muslims. The stereotypes against the Muslims are widely prevalent and very vehemently expressed by the residents of the Vanjaravas. Chagan Vanjara and his neighbours, Dushyant and Badu believe that Muslims are supported by their wives to marry multiple women. They believe that Muslims in India are getting funds from Islamic countries and thus they nurture separatist tendencies. They build schools and Madrassas to teach the children fundamentalism and so the Muslim children don’t socially interact with other children.
Permission to processions:
Ram Navami procession and Shobha Yatra processions have taken place in different parts of the country in the recent past with the tragic result of violence and targeting of Muslims. The police could have anticipated this violence and not given permission to processions organized by Hindu right wing organizations. The posters and invitations of the Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad and Ram Sena indicated that they are mobilizing on a large scale. The posters and videos also mentioned creating Hindu Rashtra by having such processions demonstrating pride. Kanak Jhala told the fact-finding team member that though the police hadn’t given permission for carrying arms in the procession, they verbally told him that he can carry arms at his own responsibility. This indicates that the police were aware that the participants of the procession were armed and planning to wreck violence. Yet the police did nothing in Himmatnagar. In fact, in Himmatnagar after the first procession turned violent, the police still allowed the second procession to take place! This indicates that the police were not serious about preventing violence which could be so easily anticipated. The processions were not organized by Ram temples or residents from that locality.
Failure to stop violence and act in a partial manner during riots:
The narratives from Ashrafnagar and Hasannagar in Himmatnagar and Shakarpur in Khambhat are unanimous in pointing out the partial role played by the police during the riots. The police in Khambhat and Ashrafnagar in Himmatnagar were present during the procession but did little to protect the Muslims. The police in fact were accompanying the procession in the Ashrafnagar and seem standing with the participants and hurling stones into Muslim locality. In Ashrafnagar Muslim owned shops, stalls, vehicles and houses were torched and looted by the mob from the procession but the police didn’t act against the mob to protect these properties. The Muslims urged the police to help but the police merely stood as spectators. The police didn’t let the fire brigade come to douse the fire in the Muslim owned properties. In Hasannagar, the police arbitrarily in one sided action beat up Muslim residents including women and senior citizens. Chagan Vanjara along with other Vanjara residents proudly pronounced that police have also been supportive towards them and responded promptly to keep the Muslims in check. In Khambhat too, the police couldn’t protect the Muslims from a massive procession.
Refusing to file FIRs of Muslims:
In Himmatnagar, the division A and B of Ashrafnagar police station have filed FIRs where only the Muslim have been named for rioting. In fact it says that Muslims had gathered with common intent to attack the procession and riot. However, though stone pelting took place from both the sides, the procession was armed and the properties of Muslims alone were torched, the FIRs mentioned fewer Hindu names than Muslim names. The police refused to file the FIRs of the Muslims who suffered damages. They were told to give applications and that all the complaints will be clubbed under one FIR. Subsequently, with the help of Muslim organizations, the Muslim complainants have filed writ petitions in the High Court to allow them to file separate FIRs.
In Khambhat too, the police filed the FIR of Dinesh Balun, the Sarpanch of Shakarpur blaming the Muslims of rioting. The Muslims were also slapped with section 307 due to the death of Kanhaiya Lal Rana. The other FIR was filed by Razzak, one of the accused and arrested. Initially, the police refused to file FIR of the Muslims. The FIR of Razzak merely mentions a mob of 1000 unidentified persons and identified four accused, making it vague.
No impartial probe:
The police after the riots have arbitrarily arrested Muslims who were either bystanders or happened to go near the procession to protect their properties. Some were standing even to welcome the procession. In Shakarpur in Khambhat, the police arbitrarily arrested 12 Muslims from Shahpur and this led to such an extent of fear that Muslim men fled their houses expecting arrests and only women were left alone to fend for the family for couples of months. In Hasannagar the police rounded up 16 Muslims. In Ashrafnagar, in total more than 50 Muslims were arrested.
No evaluation of Muslim property:
The residents of Ashrafnagar told the team that the police conducted ‘panchnama’ of the properties that were torched and looted but nobody came for evaluation of the damage and property. One showroom of ‘Royal Building Materials’ owned by a Muslim was burnt and his damage is worth 2 crores. However, the evaluation was pegged at only 22 lakhs. No owner has got compensation.
Demolition of Stalls:
He Municipal Corporation has used the pretext of riots and stone pelting to demolish the Muslim owned stalls. There was no notice served to the owners of the four stalls in Shakarpur or due process followed. Similarly, in Khambhat city, the establishments on the government land existed for many years. But selectively only the ones owned by Muslims were demolished without any due process. Not only did the Corporation demolish these stalls but filled the land with garbage and fill so that the stalls can’t be erected again. The place where the stalls were torched by the mob in Ashrafnagar in Himmatnagar is also filled up with garbage and landfill by the Corporation. The state is targeting the Muslims and their livelihoods in the form of collective punishment as is happening elsewhere in the country.
Role of the Hindu right wing organizations:
There is a strong presence of Hindu right-wing organizations in Khambhat and Himmatnagar. In the last few years, the Ram Sena is visible in Khambhat and Antar Rashtriya Vishwa Hindu Parishad, formed by Pravin Togadiya after breaking away from Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been active in Himmatnagar. The leaders of the two organizations, Jayveer Joshi from Ram Sena and Kanak Jhala from Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad had applied and got permission for the processions in Khambhat and Himmatnagar respectively. The team interacted with both to understand their activities and strategies in the region to mobilize the Hindus and also their role in the communal riots.
Ram Sena in Khambhat:
The social media content of Ram Sena and its leader Jayveer Joshi was very insightful in understanding the ideology and outreach strategies of the organization. Some of the videos on social media openly incite hatred. One video claim that making the enemy’s head bleed is synonymous with being Hindu. The sword is referred to as a queen and violence is glorified. The enemy is depicted with the images of Muslim men wearing traditional clothes and women wearing hijab. The imagery of Bharat Mata and Lord Ram with weapons is prominent. It is interesting that there is also an image of the Taj Mahal in the video which has saffron flags on its minarets, a Shiv idol on the front and it is named Tejo-Mahalay. In another poster on social media, the Hindus are exhorted to get organized and act against the Muslims. The video cautions that the ‘Mulle’ (Muslims) that came to India from Bangladesh in 1971 are compelling Hindus to leave West Bengal. If Hindus don’t show courage and stand up to this injustice, the Muslims will compel all the Hindus to leave India. This points towards that how hysteria and insecurity is created amongst the Hindus by depicting Muslims as ‘foreigners, and trying to take over India.
Ram Sena is an organization that is very active in Khambhat for the past few years. The fact-finding team member interviewed Jayveer Joshi, the leader of Ram Sena. Jayveer Joshi’s house where the interview took place offered an interesting imagery. There were saffron flags atop the terrace and pasted everywhere in the veranda. The living room had huge life size pictures of Ram, Sita and Hanuman. One wall was adorned by the picture of Bharat Mata holding a saffron flag. Another wall carried the pictures of K.B Hegdewar, founder of RSS and other deities. A big DJ sound set too was kept in one of the corners. While Jayveer Joshi himself was very calm, his mother was agitated with the presence fact finding team’s member and demanded to see her identification.
According to Jayveer Joshi, the cause of communal tensions and riots in Khambhat can be attributed to the change in the political scenario in the country. He said, “The Muslims can’t digest that this government has abolished article 370, the Ram Mandir is built and Kashmir Files is popular. That’s why to show their anger they are indulging in this violence”. When asked what happened in the Ram Navami Yatra on 10th April, 2022, he replied that they had organized the procession from the Ram Mandir as per tradition. However, when the procession reached the dargah (just opposite the temple), stones was pelted by the Muslims in Shakarpur.
He claims that the Muslims pose a threat to the Hindus due to their increase in number in Khambhat and also rise of fundamentalism in the community. “Foreign hand” is responsible for this rise in fundamentalism according to him. He alleged that Muslim organizations are getting finances from foreign countries to get organized here and unleash violence. In the specific context of Khambhat he said,” You must have heard of Maulana Saad, who was singlehandedly responsible for spreading Covid in India by organizing the Tablighi meeting in Delhi. He is supporting Muslim organizations in Khambhat. Similarly, M.G Gujarati who runs an organization in Anand is giving more than just financial support to anti-social elements in the Muslim community in Khambhat. Membad Yusuf Kanhya from Jambusar is playing the same role.”
In fact he believes that the Muslim community is being strengthened and that’s a cause of concern. And Hindus have to organize themselves under one big umbrella of ‘Hindu identity’. He was asked how this monolith identity can be forged given the caste divisions and identities. To this Joshi retorted that caste system doesn’t exist in India. According to him, Ambedkar also wanted a Hindu Rashtra. He cautioned, “When reaching out to Hindus, we should consciously not speak about caste differences or divisions especially the issues related to reservations.” Courtesy Maktoob Media