By Our Representative
While the world watched how Delhi burned when President Donald Trump, on his two-day visit to India, was praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged religious tolerance, few noticed that when he was arlready addressing more than one lakh crowd, brought to Ahmedabad to “welcome” the US President on February 24, communal flare-up hit Khambhat in Central Gujarat.
Gandhian civil rights activists belonging to the Gujarat Lok Samiti (GLS), Neeta Mahadev and Mudita Vidrohi, who have returned to Ahmedabad following a fact-finding mission to Khambhat, have said, the widespread violence saw 80 Muslim houses burned to ashes. This, they added, is not the first incident. It was the culmination of three previous communal flareups, though of a smaller nature, this year alone.
In a short report, the GLS activists said, “This time the violence took a more severe form. On January 24, a month ago, there were incidents of burning houses belonging to Muslims. Several days before the violence took place on February 24, minor incidents such as stone pelting on the homes of Muslim families took place, following which many different groups appear to have been mobilized to shape and incite riots.”
Ahead of the February 24 riots, on February 11, the activists said, Muslim representatives gathered, and following the meeting, they sent a letter to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, copies of which were handed over to senior police officials of Khambhat and Anand district, as also the director general of police (DGP), Gujarat. They demanded police security and protection, “but no action was taken.”
On February 24, noted Mahadev and Vidrohi, “Hundreds of rioters gathered and started violence in Akbarpura and other Muslim areas in Khambhat. Many people were injured. Many left home to save their lives. Some people locked their doors, but the rioters broke them open, causing widespread havoc. Houses were looted, set fire and demolished. A tomb was also broken and burned.”
According to them, “On February 24, a large number of vehicles, machines and work materials being used in various businesses were burned down. Gas cylinders were exploded to set houses on fire. No policemen came to contain the violence. Three cops, who were present, stood there quietly, refusing to act.”
Gandhian activists met Muslim families, including those forced to move to a makeshift rehabilitation camp, as also Hindu families which suffered
They added, “In response, houses and vehicles of 3-4 Hindu families were also burnt in Bhavsar Vad of Khambhat”, following which “Hindu organizations organized a big meeting in the centre of the city.”In Khambhat on February 29, Mahadev and Vidrohi first met Muslim families, including those who were forced to move to a makeshift rehabilitation camp, set up by local organizations following the violence, in order to document what had happened in Khambhat.
Janisarbhai, who lost his father after suffering a massive heart attack on seeing his gutted house, took the activists to meet his family, including mother. Following this, they went to Bhavsar Vad and talked to Hindu families which had suffered during the riots.
Stating Chunara community people of Hindus and Muslims have been taken into custody, and they are not given remand despite repeated pleas, GLS activists said, “We were told even those who suffered during the riots are behind the bars and are being tortured. Those with fractures are not being given medical treatment. The same thing happened during an earlier violence in Khambhat about six months back.”Pointing out that most of those who have suffered during the riots belong to the poorer sections of society, they said, “There is a need to understand as to why such incidents happen so frequently. Civil society particularly come up with taking concrete steps to being about lasting peace and brotherhood in Khambhat.”
—All pix courtesy Gujarat Lok Samiti