MUMBAI: Hindus and Muslims fought pitched battles ostensibly over Rs 10 in Patan-Somnath town in Gujarat. A fact finding team found the situation to have been communalised and polarised raising worries that the real perpetrators of the violence might still be at large. The Citizen publishes excerpts from the report:
Patan is a small town in Southern Saurashtra. Patan and Veraval are under a joint municipal body called Patan-Veraval Sanyukta Nagar Palika. Somnath temple in Patan is well known for two reasons – 1) it is one of the Jyotirling of Lord Shiva and therefore auspicious for Hindus, and 2) in 1992 L. K. Advani, the then president of BJP commenced his campaign against Babri Masjid on a rath yatra from this temple town which ultimately led to the demolition of the Masjid in Ayodhya. The Hindu nationalists use Somnath temple as a symbol of “aggression of Muslims” over Hindus as Mohammad Gazni, a Muslim warlord attacked the temple several times for looting its wealth.
Total population of Patan is around 60,000 with Muslim communities constituting roughly about 25-30% of the population. The two major communities that inhabit Patan are the Ghanchi (Muslims) – about 1,000 to 1,200 houses and Koli (Hindu) – about 1,500 to 2,000 houses. Besides the Ghanchis, there are other communities as well. The other Muslim communities are Patnis, Syeds, Pathans, Sheikhs, Memons etc. There are about 14 Muslim Jamats (communities). The Ghanchi and Koli communities are backward educationally and socially. Literacy rates are lower than the national average and dropout rates high. Roughly on 5% of them complete schooling. There aren’t three professionals – lawyers, doctors or engineers in both the communities.
People of Patan live peacefully and share common culture and identity and participate in each other’s functions and festivals. The Hindu Muslim fabric was strong in this town but in the last couple of years the bonds seem to have weakened.
The Ghanchi community leaders told us that the community did not take political stance either way. Both parties – Congress as well as BJP had opened their electoral offices with the help of members of the community to campaign within the community. They gave liberty to their members to vote for any candidate of their choice. However, informally the leaders preferred to ally with the BJP, particularly as the BJP candidate was Jasabhai Barad who was formerly from the Congress. The Ghanchis, in order to get even their routine and easiest work done, have to align with the ruling party without which they have to suffer. Kolis and Ghanchis – both are politically with the BJP.
The Koli community leaders in Gujarat have been asserting and organizing themselves with the objective of increasing their political representation. The dominant community in Gir-Somnath and Junagadh Districts are Kolis. Until recently they were with the Congress. Their strong organization and political assertion led to bagging large number of tickets from the BJP. In the last state assembly election unprecedented number of Koli MLAs had been elected. The Kolis are demanding 95 tickets for their community members and should that happen, they would decide the Chief Minister of Gujarat, however, that does not seem probable.
The BJP for the first time gave a Lok Sabha ticket to a member of the Koli community – Rajesh Chudasama – elected in the 16th general election from Junagadh constituency in which Patan town falls. The renewed assertion Kolis is impacting on their social interactions. Every two or three months, there have been disputes between members of Koli and Ghanchi community over petty issues of payment to a rickshaw drivers etc. with potential of widening the conflict. However, the leaders of both the communities immediately intervened in the past and settled the dispute amicably. Mostly the Ghanchis would be made to pay some minor compensation.
The team did not find material difference in the narration of the incidence of communal violence that had occurred on 25th November 2014 by various people they talked to.
The ASI Babariya was present during the communal incidence on 25th November as the violence broke out near Shiv Police Chowki at about 8.30 am. The Police personnel of the Chowki had just resumed their respective duties when the violence occurred and they were completely unprepared. According to the ASIthere was a dispute about a Rs. 10 currency note belonging to a “Mohammedan” which was claimed by a Koli. According to Yusuf Kachara, Muslim passengers were sitting in an auto rickshaw being driven by a Muslim. A Rs. 10 currency note belonging to Muslim passenger fell down, but was claimed by a Koli. According to Suleman Kapadia, who owns several shops, including a cold drink shop, youth had written his cell number to pass it on to his girl friend for her to call him.
Girls are not allowed to keep cell phones with them so they exchange cell numbers in this way and use someone else’s phone to call. When the currency note was claimed by a member of Koli community, there was heated argument.In the scuffle, the Muslim passenger was hit by a tiffin box.This injured the Muslim youth and his head and started bleeding. Suleman Kapadia further informed the team that the wound was deep and there were three stitches.
The Ghanchi neighbourhood and the Koli neighborhood is separated by Veraval-Una Highway and the Shiv Police Chowki too is situated on the Highway. According to the ASI and all others the team talked to, elders of both the community intervened and separated those fighting. However, after about half an hour, the Kolis from Shanti Nagar reassembled and started pelting stones on Muslim neighbourhood across the highway. We observed the shop facing the road located on the Muslim side had been damaged. ASI further informed the team that the bikes on the road were also burnt.In the attack by Koli youth, one fruit stall, and two refrigerators of cold drink shop owned by Suleman Kapadia were damaged. They looted the chocolates, biscuits and other eatables in the shop. Suleman Kapadia claims that he suffered a loss of about Rs. 4-5 lakhs and has no insurance. One motorbike (pulled out from house by breaking doors) and two fruit stalls and a fruit shop were damaged in the attack led by the Koli youth.
Muslim youth too gathered and retaliated by pelting stones from the roof top. They burnt 8 motorbikes, damaged two fruit stalls and one fruit shop and 10 to 15 Kolis suffered minor injuries while 8-10 Muslims also were injured.
Yusufbhai informed the team that once every 2 – 3 months such scuffles happen over some minor issue or another, including payment of rickshaw fare. Elders of both sides intervene and do not let the violence escalate even if sometimes they have to compensate in order to settle the dispute. However, this time the Muslim youth did not listen to them. Yusufbhai along with the ASI and his team of two constables that were available at the time were trying to keep stone pelting mobs separate. The ASI was injured too as a stone hit him behind his right year causing swelling. Yusufbhai too was injured. The police team of three was hopelessly outnumbered and ill equipped, without even helmets for their protection. Half an hour later, police reinforcements came along with Dy. SP and Mamlatdar and they brought the situation under control. The police had to burst teargas shells near Vadli to disperse the Muslim mob. In the melee, someone snatched a mobile worth Rs. 500/- (five hundred only) of a policeman.
None from any community lodged any complaint with the police pertaining to the incident. Police suomoto registered an FIR. Later, the police arrested 42 Muslims and 14 Koli youth who were still in their custody. The police have charged all the 56 persons, amongst other sections for rioting, with S. 395 of IPC (dacoity) for loss of a mobile of the policeman.Ghanchi community members told the team that police arrested by-standers and innocents who happened to be there during the incident on both sides – Muslims as well as Hindus. The Ghanchi Community was taking care of all the expenses of the Muslims who were arrested and providing them food from a hotel. They also paid the family of the poor among the 42 who were arrested as their earning members were in police custody. The office bearers of the Patan Ghanchi Muslim Samaj were appreciative of the role of the BJP MLA Jasabhai Barad who promptly intervened when the police were arresting large number of Muslims. This stopped the police from being hostile to the community. Jassabhai Barad crossed over to BJP from Congress as he could not get any work done while in his former party. Jassabhai had polled votes from Muslims too.
A Hindu shopkeeper on the Muslim side of the Highway, who was sympathetic to RSS, talked to a team member but did not want to be identified. He derived satisfaction from the police action arresting large numbers of Muslims compared to Hindus.
Shops in the Patan area were closed on the day of the incident. However, the leaders of both the community met and decided to open their shops next day. Hindus were still afraid of opening their shops though Muslim shops had opened. Yusufbhai then called Kanabhai, leader of Koli community to open their shops as well. Similarly, the workers working in the GIDC from both the communities were afraid of getting out of their homes and travel to the GIDC area where factories are situated as they would have to negotiate “hostile” territories. However, here too, the elders of both the communities got together to persuade the workers to come out and go for work.
Findings and observations:
The communal riots in Patan seem to be spontaneous however, the root cause of the riots is continuous communal discourse in media and by communal organizations that is deepening communal consciousness. The Hindu communal forces have considerably succeeded in deepening Hindu communal identity based on “othering” of Muslims who are at best perceived as a problem to be tolerated and from time to time reminded that they are second class citizens living at the sweet will of Hindus.
It is because of this that smallest and most insignificant conflict of daily occurrence takes a communal turn and mobilizes non-Muslims against them. The Patan riots are an excellent example of that. Why should an ordinary dispute over payment of rickshaw fare or anything else become a cause for communal mobilization? The state and civil society both will have to do a lot neutralize these communal feelings, particularly, the “othering” of Muslims. Such propaganda are also an offence under s. 153A of IPC but the section has remained mute witness to offences committed against Muslims in Gujarat and indeed in India without being invoked ever. This time the riots could be easily controlled, but the violence may escalate and may be uncontrollable in future.
As we were tracking through the narrow lanes of Patan, on the surface peace seems to have been restored and everything normal. Women belonging to the Ghanchi community and Koli community were treading on the street together and conversing with each other. Women belonging to both the communities were sitting next to each and hawking fruits and vegetables. However there is a deeper division below the surface and communal divisions are widening with each such incident.
RSS affiliated organizations are active in the area resorting to communal discourse which “others” Muslims. Though the Muslims had voted for the BJP in the last elections, but as the BJP Taluka President SarmanSolanki told the team, they (the BJP) would not change their ideology and Muslims could not be trusted just because they voted for them. Solanki said he personally did not believe in casteism of communalism.
Though the police could control communal violence this time, their post riot action of arresting 42 Muslims and 14 Hindus seems to be arbitrary. We were told that the Muslims in custody were sharing their food with the Hindus. The real culprits may still be free on both sides. Police need to do thorough investigation of the incident and marshal evidence to see that the guilty of violence on both sides are punished as deterrence for future such escalations.
(The report was prepared by the Alliance for Peace and Justice and All India Secular Forum. The fact finding team comprised Irfan Engineer, Rafi Malek, Jagdish Bamaniya)