By Robin David, TNN | Dec 6, 2012, 03.54 AM IST

GODHRA: When chief minister Narendra Modi announced the Sadbhavana Mission in 2011, professor V K Tripathi could not avoid a wry smile sitting in his office in IIT, Delhi. After all, he has been running an organization with almost the same name for two decades before the poster-boy of Hindutva embraced Muslims under the glare of TV cameras.

Sadbhav Mission was started in 1990 after Tripathi, a professor of physics, and others were deeply moved by the Bhagalpur riots and wanted to find common ground between Hindus and Muslims. In December 2002, when Modi was still taking jibes at Muslims, the mission had organized special classes for 1,000 standard XII students of both communities.

Cut to 2012. Some 150 dalit children of different ages from a nearby slum gather at a Ram temple in Godhra and wait for their tutor. Enters Imran Pola, a young Muslim, and starts giving lessons even as idols of Ram, Sita and Laxman watch over this harmony. This is one of two classes the mission has been holding in the ground zero of the 2002 riots for the last few years. It is one of the rare bridges over the ever-widening rift between ghettoised Hindus and Muslims here.

The classes, running since 2008, were shut for a month recently after some people started harassing the Muslim teachers, but were restarted after parents of the children approached the Muslim teachers and promised them security. Don’t take away hope from the children, the parents insisted.

“A man who does not seem to believe in sadbhavana has started the Sadbhavana Mission,” Tripathi says sardonically. “I have been asking the state government to give access to central scholarships for minority children since 2008, but they insist they will not implement the scheme as it discriminates in the name of religion.” The children around Imran seem excited. “I could not even get 50% marks in standard VIII but then I came here and got 75% marks in standard IX,” says Priyanka Solanki, 15, one of the students. “Hopefully, I’ll get 85% in standard X this time and become a teacher one day.”

“I would fare badly until I came here,” says Kunal Garg. “This time, I know I will get good marks.” Parents of both children are daily wage earners. Well-known doctor Sujat Vali, who monitors Sadbhav Mission in Godhra, says, “Once a year, we take Hindu and Muslim children on a picnic around Godhra. It is moving to see kids of both communities together.”