Text of the fact-finding report by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Vadodara, on recent communal violence in the city, submitted to the National Human Right Commission, Home Department, Gujarat government, and DIG, Gujarat:
Communal violence once again engulfed the city of Vadodara from September 25 to September 30, 2014. The city, hardly new to communal unrest, witnessed what was surely its most schizophrenic moment, as the walled or old city neighborhoods were engulfed by violence, while the rest of the city continued dancing unfazed to the tunes of garba in the Navratri season. The immediate trigger for the recent round of violence in Vadodara was were controversial and provocative images being uploaded on social media messaging platforms like, Whatsapp and Facebook on September 25, 2014. But as crime data shows this was in no way a sudden eruption of communal tension in the city.
As per the report in the Times of India, based on National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data there were 151 incidents of riots during the year 2013 in Vadodara where the rate is 5.1 (number of riot per 1,00,000 population), is more than Ahmedabad, Surat and Rajkot. All these incidents include clashes of all kinds in which more than 4 people are involved.
The isolated incidents of violent outbursts continued in 2014 before the May 2014 general elections but they did not constitute what is considered a law and order problem. After the general elections, it was clear that Vadodara was poised to go to the polls again following the elected representative Narendra Modi’s resignation favouring his Varanasi seat over Vadodara.
The communal tensions began to intensify from the month of May in the run up to the by polls for Vadodara Lok Sabha seat. Between May and July, at least 10 incidents of communal riots in three months from took place in Vadodara. Incidents of vehicle collisions, arguments at food stalls (lari) etc, became reasons for clashes between mobs of Hindu and Muslim communities. However, these skirmishes remained localised, and lasted for a few hours at the most, and did not escalate in magnitude to warrant police action. But they did fuel a momentum that aggravated communal tensions in the sensitive areas up to the by-election that took place on September 13, 2014.
Campaign for communal harmony by groups like Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan) in sensitive areas, small group meetings and distribution of leaflet to appeal people that accidents, arguments between individuals of two communities are individual issues and should not be converted in to issues between communities by creating mobs of supporters, had limited impact in face of rising communal feelings.
As elsewhere, the blatantly provocative campaign around communal and patriarchal issues like “Love Jihad” and call for restricting Muslim youth from Garba venues acted as spark to this aggravated communal feelings in subsequent months.
In August and early September just before the by-election, leaflets warning Hindu girls against potential abductions by Muslim youth and creating fear among parents were circulated physically and also through social media. Hate messages against Muslims were also circulating on social media. This was widely reported in the local Gujarati press and also in national media in early September just before the by-election but no action was taken.
With no effective action being taken against them, , these forces became emboldened and on 18September they went to give memorandum to the Commissioner of Police of Vadodara to prevent Muslim youth from participating in Garba.
A day before the beginning of Navratri (September 24), several women’s organisations and social organisations of Gujarat wrote an open letter to the Chief Minister and Home Department to stop this hate propaganda. The Home Department of the Government of Gujarat officially declared that, ‘no one can be prevented from participating in Navaratri in a progressive state like Gujarat’, but did not take any action against those who were pressurising Garba organisers to have various screening processes to exclude Muslims and also spreading hate messages through various media.
The letter clearly stated that if there are any incidents of violence or exploitation of women, the perpetrators must be punished by the government instead of communalising the situation. The propaganda in the name of “Love Jihad” is not about safety of women but treating women as property of their community and increasing patriarchal control on women.
Despite this pre-emptive action was taken by the Gujarat government and Police department to prevent hate propaganda through social and other media.
On Thursday, the first day of Navratri, on 25 September, a controversial morphed image was uploaded on social media by a Hindu owner of private tuition class which offended the feelings of his Muslim students and they objected and filed a complaint to the Police Commissioner. These youth while coming back from the office of Police Commissioner had a minor accident with a lawyer near the District court. This escalated into a clash between some lawyers and the Muslim youth. The repercussions were in the area of Fatehpura and Hathikana where the tuition class was located. The building of the tuition class in Panjrigar Mohalla was ransacked and houses of other Hindu people in nearby areas were also attacked by a mob. There was stone throwing by mobs of both the communities from Fatehpura, Kumbarwas, Koyali falia, and Ranavas.. Vehicles were put on fire and shops were attacked and looted.
Violence escalated on the second day, September 26. The slightest provocation became reason for mobs in the streets of the old city to throw stones and attack individual people from the other community. There were incidents of stabbing of individuals, from both communities. Stabbing of a Muslim youth took place hardly 100 m away from the Mandvi gate where there is heavy police deployment. Both Hindu and Muslim people, mostly poor or lower middle class, were affected by this violence. In all, 11 were injured, 11 rounds of bullets and 50 tear gas cells were fired by the police to quell mobs.
The Bar Association of Vadodara upped the ante by objecting to the statement by the Police Commissioner that the violence escalated after the attack by lawyers on the vehicle of a young person from the minority community. They called for a strike in the district court and asked for the resignation of the Police Commissioner.
The nature of violence changed after first two days and many other factors rather than spontaneous clashes between mobs were visible.
As per people’s perception, inaction slow or late actions by police were one of the major reasons for the spread of violence. On the other hand indiscriminate arrest of innocent youth in large numbers from both the communities eroded the trust of people on the law and order machinery.
On September 28, the Police Commissioner suspended mobile data, bulk SMS as well as wireless internet service across the city till September 30. However, violence continued up to the 30th, proving that a ban on social media and internet for all is not the solution. The government should have investigated from where messages on social media were emanating and taken action against individuals who spread rumours or hate messages which they did not. This led to violence spreading to newer areas outside the walled city areas like Nagarwada, Navapura, Ayurvedic Cross road, Memon colony etc. Many stabbings incidents also had other dimensions of personal revenge and in the low income area of Nawapura Mali Mohalla were also related to land issues with a section of the builder lobby involved in the violence.
Women from Yakutpura area called women activists to report about police atrocities and requested them to visit the area.
On September 27, 2014 a team of activists associated with PUCL visited the Yakutpura area.
The team was told that the violence was by police and not by any other community. People told them that there was no trouble in their area but police entered the area and in Minar Masjid falia, Patel falia-1 and Patel falia-2 they suddenly started breaking vehicles. They damaged each and every vehicle that was parked in these areas. About 70 vehicles including, bikes, cars, auto rickshaws were damaged by them. Police damaged vehicles, cars, auto rickshaws window panes and doors of many houses. They also beat some women with lathis. They were very abusive using the worst form of sexually explicit abuses. When the women questioned why they were indulging in violence on this scale, they pulled their dupattas and almost choked one of them. They did not spare even children; a boy from 10th standard returning from tuition classes was also beaten. They even beat up animals in their frenzy. Police also burst 20 to 25 tear gas shell and carried out 5 to 6 rounds of firing.
As per the complaint of the women they were just standing outside their houses and police came forward to beat them up. It was also reported that when they went to police station to lodge an FIR against this violence, they were viciously abused and driven out of the police station being threatened that that they are terrorists and they will be prosecuted under law.
Some 40 to 50 young men were reported to be picked up from their homes and locked up. The team met the Police Inspector in charge and he promised to release those who are not in video/photos in their possession.
People expressed the feeling that police has done this violence to terrorise and silence the community as they wanted to report the incidence of uploading of objectionable images about their religion on internet. As per their experience, the same pattern of violence as always is going on – communal violence either by police or by police accompanied by one community, or police watching and doing nothing. As in the 2002 violence, young Muslim men were beaten mercilessly and locked up in large numbers only because they belong to a community with no evidence against them, beating and abuse of women, burning and breaking of vehicles, shops and houses. According to local people, this is done to incite violence and then propagate further violence.
Initially people were very angry due to this violation by police without any provocation and wanted to take up the case of human rights violation through PUCL. But when some of the people along with their local leaders went to make representation about this behaviour of police to the Police Commissioner they felt that there is no point in complaining as they will not get justice. They are no more willing to take this up as a case of violation of their rights because they fear further violence by the police if they do so.
The PUCL fact-finding team went to the office of the district collector and gave our memorandum of appeal for peace and for Vadodara administration to act to restore peace and then met the Commissioner of Police Mr Radhakrishnan.
He was apprised of the violence perpetrated by the police in Yakutpura. He accepted that the crime branch police was at fault in attacking the citizens and would take appropriate action. The team requested the Commissioner to formulate a citizen police joint committee for spreading awareness and reducing communal tension which he declined and told us to act ourselves in our own localities.
He was in denial mode and said that there was almost no violence, saying that just one person throws a stone and everybody closes their shop and start spreading rumours. We told him that people close shops and don’t send their family members to work because they are afraid as there is insufficient protection.
In spite of the assurance by the Police Commissioner the brutal police attacks continued on the night of September 27, 2014.
Taiwada, near Sat Daragah Area
This incident did not take place in a so-called border area where areas from two communities face each other but an internal area surrounded by Muslim neighborhoods. As reported by the residents of a Mohlla near Sat (Sevan) Daragah, Taiwada area to the PUCL team on the September 28, on the 27th night, at 1.00 am, a few policemen came and made a round of the Taiwada area though there was no trouble in the area. At 2:15 am, 30-35 police came in with people in civil dress and slippers, some of whom had handkerchiefs on their faces, with steel pipes and started breaking the doors and picking up 5-6 boys after beating them with pipes and rods.
As reported by Ashiyana Abdul Latif to the PUCL team, Abdul Latif was not in his house as he was on night duty. In his absence, the steel bars of windows of his house were broken with instruments brought for the purpose and plain clothes policemen entered the house. Then they put on the light and broke the doors. They pushed Abdulbhai’s wife Ashiana bano against the fridge. They then went to the other room where their son Abdul Raheman (Aged 19) was sleeping, caught him by his private parts and dragged him out. When his sister cried to them to leave her brother, they turned their attention to the girls and tried to pull them even while the mother was trying to protect them. They beat the mother and the girls and tore the clothes of the daughter Amrin (aged 22). They told the mother to give them both girls if they wanted the boy free. The mother was beaten on the head near her eyes with a lathi, and the girls were also beaten with lathis. Amrin who is also a nurse in a state of shock, trauma and has started getting fits.
Her situation worsened and became unconscious so she was admitted in the Sayaji General Hospital in the morning of September 28, 2014. In the hospital she mentioned about assault by police as reason for her injuries and mental shock and also registered her complaint in the Police Station of the General Hospital. But the doctor mentions assault by “opposing party” in her case paper and she is not sure what police has mentioned in the FIR/Register. They are not given either copy of FIR. She was discharged at about 2.00 pm on the same day.
As per the complaint of the residents, they also broke windshields of 3 to 4 rickshaws and took out petrol and applied lighter flame to the petrol and later poured water on it and said it was burned by a petrol bomb to arrest the boys.
They broke doors of the house of Tahirabanu and beat her boy who is student in first year of college and took him. He has exams from October 7. Her mother says she had sold her gold jewellery to pay tuition fees for the boy and his one year will be lost.
Police entered the house of Kulsumbibi Adbdulrahim Pulaowala (aged about 50) and beat her on thighs and broke the cupboard and broke fixtures and glass all over the house. She was so much afraid that did not go to hospital to get treatment. Only with support from human right activists she was taken to hospital only on September 29.
On September 29 with support from human rights and women’s activists about 70-80 women from Taiwada area went to make representation to the Commissioner of Police about this brutal incident. The human rights activists wrote an open letter to the Commissioner of Police Vadodara, with a copy to the Home Department, Gujarat and National Human Rights Commission.
Fatehpura, Koyali Falia and Ranavas
As per the residents of the area the trouble started from 25th afternoon when a mob came to attack the tuition class located near their area. Along with the tuition class the houses and vehicles of other Hindu residents were also attacked by the mob. Shop keepers were forced to close their shops. Auto rickshaws, hand carts (laris) etc were also damaged. The trouble continued over the next few days. As per the compliant of the people several innocent boys were picked up by police.
Factors affecting riots in Vadodara
Various factors have contributed to this new wave of communal violence in the city of Vadodara. Some of these are:
- Growing influence of BJP and right wing Hindu groups over police and administration
- Nexus between Police , Politicians and Criminals
- The ascendance of powerful builder lobbies and the related issues around land and attempts to displace people from poor bastis.
- Disturbed Areas Act was imposed in sensitive areas of Vadodara. As per this act people cannot sell their property in those areas to person from other community without the permission of the deputy collector. The notification was ending on 30 September 2014. It is said that to get extension in the implementation of this Act was also one of the reason for Vadodara riots. The notification was extended up to 2019 on 30th September 2014.
- Settlement of personal rivalry in cases of stabbing
- Rivalry within BJP local leaders to sustain their hold on certain areas
- The lack of enough staff within police department
As per the complaint received by human rights activists, the minority community is suffering from an added violence i.e. brutal violence by police. Many a time plainclothes police also known as D staff whose movements are not recorded officially, have entered the Muslim dominated neighborhoods after midnight and arrested young boys indiscriminately. There are reports of police abusing verbally and physically assaulting women in very similar pattern as witnessed during the 2002 riots.
It seems that on the political front the bogey of development is no more effective in keeping people under its and influence and the BJP government is intent on communalising the situation and elements like VHP and Bajrang Dal are being given a free hand. On the other hand police officers who are facing charges in cases of encounter, politicians like Dr. Maya Kodnani who are accused in 2002 riot case are out on bail giving an impression to the communal trend within police department that blatant communal behavior will not create problem for them.
Not only this incident but also growing incidents of communal violence and the apathetic role of police and administration is evident in the case of a communal clash in Ahmedabad in which one youth died on Eid ul Zuha eve and other parts of Gujarat. The growing influence of right wing Hindu groups who have taken to aggressive posturing, influencing and infiltrating police and administration ranks are actively creating an environment that is detrimental to communal harmony and peace.
All those who believe in Democracy, Human Rights and Communal Harmony need to act urgently and sending a clear message that crimes against humanity will never pay.
Fact-finding team: Ashok Gupta, Reshma Vohra, Kamal Thakar, Tapan Dasgupta, Yusuf Shaikh, Shaukat Indori, Trupti Shah, Hamida Chandol, Sabiha Hakim, Naginbhai Patel, and Hardik Rana. Written by Trupti Shah, Ashok Gupta, Reshma Vohra with inputs from others of the fact-finding team. Following photographs taken by the fact-finding team suggest attack on women, housebreak, and damage to property: