01, Apr 2000
By Teesta Setalvad
Forced ethnic segregation, calculated violence and the blatant misuse of government machinery throttles democracy in Gujarat
Muslims and Dalits, masjids and the kachrapeti (the garbage dump), are the symbols of the clear communal and casteist segregation of space in urban Gujarat, be it in Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Surat, Rajkot, or elsewhere. The Muslimvaas has now joined the Dalitvaas as a clearly defined area (residential) beyond which the community cannot move.
Even after 53 years of Independence, Dalits have remained confined to segregated areas; now Muslims and even Christians in some parts of Gujarat have been forced into similar segregation. While the slow and systematic ghettoisation in Gujarat can be traced back to 1989–90, accentuated by the euphoria over LK Advani’s rath yatra, the recent bomb attacks on the homes of Muslim families in the Paldi area of Ahmedabad (February 5, 2000) led by BJP corporators marks a first even for Ahmedabad and Gujarat.
On Friday, February 5, in broad daylight, a mob of about 40 persons, led by two BJP corporators, attacked the newly–constructed Tulsi apartments within the Vishwakunj society, blasted the lift with detonators and also tried to blast the electric metres. The home of two Muslim families was vandalised. The police have made no arrests so far. The reaction of deputy commissioner of police, Bisht, to the media, is interesting: “This being a Hindu–dominated area, the locals got angry at the entry of two Muslim families. It’s as simple as that.” No comment on the legality or illegality of such actions!
Instead, the individual Muslim families and builders of Samay and Tulsi apartments in a housing complex in a pre–dominantly Jain locality have been threatened by VHP-BJP leaders to sell off property at one-fifth the market price and scam. The police have made no move to provide effective protection to the victims. Overnight, filthy graffiti targeting Muslims and other minorities appeared on the walls of buildings in the Paldi area, obviously aimed at provoking retaliation.
A writ petition filed before the Gujarat High Court on behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), by senior advocate Haroobhai Mehta, has sought the intervention of the Court in protecting the fundamental rights of an Indian citizen that include the right to equality, right to settle and reside anywhere in India (Article 19(1)(d)) and the right to life which includes the right to shelter.
Naved Siddique, the young builder of one of the above mentioned apartment complexes is a shaken man. “What do they want to do with us? This kind of thing cannot be countered, not even with money. What do they want to push us into? Maybe I should just migrate.” A harsh choice for individuals, not for the entire community of Muslims in Gujarat who constitute around eleven per cent of the population.
On Saturday, February 19, thirty hit-men of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad vandalised the office of the mayor of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, a BJP corporator, Malini Atit, demanding the immediate reconstruction of a temple near Uttamnagar garden that had been demolished by it.
Despite the fact that public property had been destroyed, the mayor refused to lodge any complaint with the police saying, “This was our internal matter, we do not need the police!”
On January 3, this year, after Gujarat chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, lifted the ban on government servants joining the RSS — a decision that he was compelled to revoke a month later, after the nation-wide outcry on the issue — the RSS held its massive sankalp shibir on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, at which 30,000 persons participated. Patel was flanked by union home minister, L.K. Advani, while eight state cabinet ministers participated and 5,000 government officials also attended. The 5-acre farm–plot was spruced up for the occasion with the state government providing free public amenities, including transport, water and electricity. The police were not allowed to enter the ground. Only on the insistence of some officers was a get–in–and–get–out “Z” security check allowed because of Advani’s scheduled presence.
“Gujarat today presents the most depressing picture with 40–45 per cent urbanisation and a most appalling backwardness,” Girishbhai Patel, senior advocate and the man behind the Lok Adhikar Manch told CC. “With 15 per cent tribal population, eight per cent SCs, 39 per cent OBCs and 11 per cent Muslims, we have 70-80 per cent of the population that is poor and backward with low literacy. Women and Dalits continue to be subjected to unspeakable atrocities. In this scenario, aggressive communalism has segregated public spaces. Every day members of the BJP and sangh parivar make blatantly provocative speeches, yet no action is taken against them.”
Girishbhai has been responsible for a spate of writs, on the Dalit and minority issues, among others, actions for which he is dubbed ‘Maulana’ Girishbhai within the precincts of the Court. “I know of the infiltration of RSS functionaries even within the judiciary. But I will continue to fight. I want to disturb their sleep. I want these cases to haunt them.”
Way back in 1989-90, when Gujarat was still under Congress rule, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had proudly circulated a map with saffron-green demarcators that declared its intention: to purge the upper middle class areas of the miyas; if they dared buy property out of their own ghettos, they were to be brutally pushed back. Cleverly utilising the heightened temperature of a city when communal violence broke, in July 1989, the general manager of Indian Oil Corporation, one Mr. Khan, was thrown down from his flat to meet a gory death in the posh Navrangpura locality. The shocking misdeed helped send out the warning loud and clear. Couples who inter-married also suffered the same fate.
For middle class Muslims, and now for Christians, too, buying a house through the open market in the more plush, ‘cosmopolitan’ areas is simply not possible. Hanif Lakdawala and Sheba George, senior social activists from the state, have suffered the targeting of their home in Ahmedabad on one gruesome occasion during the frenzied atmosphere of 1992. They have had to re–locate the office premises of their NGO, Sanchetana, after neighbours objected to a Muslim and Christian couple working in a pre–dominantly Hindu locality.
Another young couple recently suffered pain and humiliation when scouting for a flat. After spending two hours with the developer, a casual question on whether he saw any problem in a Christian buying property from him brought a candid response: he would have to investigate the prospective client’s antecedents before proceeding any further. The response left no scope for the couple to add that the wife of the Christian looking for a house was a Muslim.
This has happened in far too many cases. The result? Most Gujarat cities are today divided on communal lines. In Ahmedabad, Kallupur, Dariapur, Jamalpur, Johapura, are the Muslim colonies that have grown as a result of a decade of systematic terror unleashed by goon squads owing allegiance to the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagran Manch or the Dharma Raksha Samiti with the silent connivance of the police.
The difference in the past decade has been the transformation of Gujarat from the ‘soft saffron’ of Congress rule that witnessed misdemeanours to today’s full blown, lived fascism under a BJP dispensation that means blatant and defiant violations of the law and its partisan use on a day to day basis. Within the system, a section of the police force is uncomfortable and bewildered but is unprepared through training and orientation to resist political pressure, least of all the systematically directed, partisan kind.
These and other systematic measures are part of a well–laid out game-plan to repeatedly break the law (see accompanying Secret Hindutva Document), vitiate the social climate through pernicious propaganda through leaflets and pamphlets each of which violate basic Indian criminal law. Communalism Combat is in the possession of over three dozen such leaflets and pamphlets — the police has not taken any action on even one of these.
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has cancelled most non-Hindu holidays. It was forced to restore the Good Friday holiday last year after an outcry from the Christian community. Muslim children studying in several schools in Ahmedabad city, (The Vishwabharati, Naujeevan, Karmasheela, JP High, B.R. Somani and Prakash High schools are some examples) have to routinely give examinations on the day of Ramzan Id or Bakri Id; Muslim teachers, too, are compelled to remain present for invigilation! At the Hindu-managed V.R. Somani and Bhakta Vallabh schools, where 95 per cent of students are Muslim but teachers are Hindu, the teachers have adopted a unique technique of getting at their students: they just do not teach.
Bakri Id on March 17 this year was used, as it has been over the past couple of years, by the BJP-RSS-VHP squads to provoke the Muslim minority by deliberate emphasis on the Cow Protection Act. The commissioner of police and the municipal commissioner issued a joint appeal to all citizens asking them to be mindful of the provisions of the act. The VHP and Bajrang Dal members decided to act as informants of the police.
Despite a clear message from the state government that the question of dealing with any violation of the law be left entirely to the police, VHP men in Ahmedabad forced nakabandis on Muslims taking animals for slaughter. In one such incident on the night of March 15, a young Muslim narrowly escaped the swords and lathis of the VHP. But another Muslim boy, Yasin Mohammad, was attacked by the VHP team with knives and swords, simply because his domestic servant, the pillion rider on the scooter was carrying a bundle of grass. Yasin Mohammad collapsed on the spot. Policemen present on the spot did nothing to prevent the murder. It resulted in a Muslim and Hindu mob gathering at Dariapur and communal tension growing. Rajendra Vyas, a VHP worker, was present when the murder took place.
The same night, similar incidents of the VHP-BD squads taking law into their own hands, took place in the Narode area of the city, at Muthia village and near Nana Chiloda. In these instances, too, it was the Bajrang Dal and VHP members assaulting Muslims in the presence of the police and no action being taken against them. Due to the intervention of some police officers, FIRs naming the accused (from the VHP and BD) were lodged. No sooner is an FIR lodged against an activist of the VHP or the Bajrang Dal that the police station concerned receives a ‘show cause’ summons from the state home minister, Haren Pandya, clearly illustrating how these outfits function in tandem with the BJP government in the state.
Confidential meetings between top police officials and the home minister followed the spate of incidents around Bakri Id this year, meetings at which senior bureaucrats questioned some senior police officials about “why the police appeared hesitant in taking action against members of the VHP.” Police officials, it is reliably learnt, had communicated “their confusion over the state of affairs in Gujarat — ‘are we supposed to initiate action against the VHP-BD who are supporters of the BJP’s own ideology or not?”
The state home minister, Haren Pandya, it is reliably learnt, has consistently interfered with the functioning of the police in an over-zealous desire to protect members of the sangh parivar.
Members of the RSS–BJP–VHP combine have deliberately raked the whole issue of slaughter on Bakri Id, since 1997. Waljibhai Patel, the doyen of the legal struggle for Dalits and minorities through the Council for Social Justice (CSJ), told CC, “ Jains are barely 0.2 per cent of the population but are extremely wealthy and influential. Hence the hue and cry around Bakri Id that also falls close to Mahavir Jayanti. Digambar Jains have a fortnight of observance of Paryushan.”
Three years back, Jains demanded that the slaughterhouse be closed for two weeks in consideration of their sentiments. “Seventy–eighty per cent of the population that includes SCs, STs and the religious minorities are beef-eating, how are they expected to survive?” asks Waljibhai. We challenged this move in the High Court challenging the state’s right to tell us what to eat and what not to eat? They even tried getting restaurants to shut for a full month during the month of Ramzan in 1997 on the ground that the smell of non–vegetarian food offends their sensibilities!”
The writ petition in 1997 resulted in a Gujarat High Court order directing that the slaughterhouse be re-opened. But the influential Jain lobby again voiced the same demand the very next year — this time with the BJP in power. Once again the CSJ approached the court and the HC directed the slaughterhouses to remain open for the entire fortnight, barring the first and last days.
Two days after Bakri Id came Holi this year. Until evening the atmosphere within Ahmedabad remained peaceful. At about 9 p.m. that day, Harshad Gillatwala, a Bajrang Dal worker complained to police inspector, Desai at Kallupur that during a marriage ceremony at Mansuriwad, Muslims were throwing mutton pieces and eggs in the adjoining Hindu locality. Desai, who reached the spot immediately, investigated the charge, talking to the SRP personnel stationed there and members of both communities. He found that the charge was baseless. Encountering Gillatwala in the area, the police officer warned him that spreading motivated rumours would only vitiate the atmosphere. Moments after the police officer left, stone pelting began in the area.
Gillatwala, an accused in the attempted murder of a Muslim last year, had been released on bail only a few days before Holi.
In July 1999, in the outburst of communal frenzy following the Kargil conflict, two Bajrang Dal activists, Gillatwala was one of them, had set fire to the Muslim–owned Bhagyoday restaurant in Hindu-dominated Memnagar area. In the process, both the owner of the restaurant and the two offenders had received burn injuries. The communal riots of July 21–22, 1999 are also a study in systematic provocation by members of the sangh parivar. In the FIRs lodged at Gomtipur police station — FIR number 167/99, under sections 143, 147, 120–B, 395 IPC — names of BJP and VHP workers are mentioned. Similarly, in the case of FIR number 160/99 at the Dariapur police station, investigations by the local police have revealed the active involvement of VHP and BJP workers. The state government instituted an inquiry into these riots but the parameters for the inquiry were not properly drawn up.
The flashpoint took place in the midst of the Kargil conflict, with the Muslim minority in Ahmedabad being humiliated and targeted as bodies of the jawans who lost their lives at Kargil were brought in.
The BJP’s Yuva Morcha painted slogans at a prominent crossing in the communally sensitive Vejalpur area of Ahmedabad: Ab to nagara baj chuka hai sarhad pe shaitan ka; Nakshe per se naam mita do papi Pakistan ka. Another slogan seen by this writer on the walls was: Khun se tilak karo, goliyon se aarti; Pukarti hai yeh zameen, pukarti ma bharti.
Ostensibly directed at Pakistani, the location of the slogans were an obvious taunt to Muslims, their loyalty to India being questioned as always. No action was taken against these provocations. On the contrary, the death in Kargil of an army man, Mukesh Rathod from Meghaninagar, was used by the BJP MP from the city, Harin Pathak and the Union home minister, L.K. Advani (who would also contest the parliamentary elections from Gandhinagar a month later) to lead rallies throughout the city, shouting anti-Pakistan slogans that eventually deteriorate (according to police records) into filthy abuse of Indian Muslims.
This happened on July 7 and 11. Soon afterwards at a meeting called by the state home minister, Haren Pandya, top police and intelligence officials informed him of the role of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal in constant provocations. The home minister assured officials that he would convey this to the VHP–BD. However, the flare–up on the night of July 20 was not averted. Muslims, constantly abused for weeks, were agitated at the teasing of a mentally challenged boy by Hindus and demanded that an FIR be lodged on the incident by the police. Instead of leaving the matter to be settled between the police and Muslims, the BJP–VHP brought their own mob which resulted in a full–fledged riot at Dariapur, Dabgarwad, Vadigam, Kallupur etc.
The presence of senior functionaries of the RSS and the VHP at the chief minister’s meeting with top police brass a few days later, establishes the writ that these outfits enjoy under the current political dispensation. At the meeting, in the presence of the chief minister and the police, VHP members abused all Muslims, with Rajendra Vyas, a VHP leader, openly claiming credit for instigating the stone–throwing at Vadigam “to save the police from attack.”
The second phase of these riots that began on July 23 had been cleverly planned. One Muslim was stabbed that evening near Dariapur gate and another stabbed to death near Gheekanta area. During the rioting in the Gomtipur area, BJP and VHP leaders, including the city convenor of the BJP, Parabatbhai, actively participated in the violence. In the FIR lodged at the police station (number 167/99) their names clearly figure.
Yet another incident reveals the subversive tactics that these outfits employ. A Hindu boy went to the Kallupur police station to lodge a complaint of being attacked by a knife. On detailed interrogation, the police found the complaint to be fake: the boy had been set up by the BJP ex–MLA, Bhupendra Khatri. Muslims were sought to be falsely implicated in a self–inflicted injury. Another FIR number 60/99 filed at the Dariapur police station of the same period indicts BJP leader, Atul Khamar, who was arrested.
Gruesome and gory tales dot the landscape in Gujarat under saffron raj as the sangh parivar seeks to realise its Hindu rashtra dream. It is a tale of blatant defiance of the law after which social, legal and political parameters have got re-drawn. Living in Gujarat today is living with these re–defined parameters where basic freedoms — of movement, association and expression — are no longer available to some sections of the population. This denial is clearly on communal and caste lines. The right to be treated as equal, the right to equal protection from the law machinery, the right of freedom of religion are all being snatched away daily.
The year 1998 saw numerous violent attacks on the Christian community while Muslim families of some villages in Randikpur and Sanjeli were forced to flee for over two months (CC, Oct 1998, Welcome to Hindu Rashtra). A virtual curfew during Christmas at the Dangs in south Gujarat in 1998 was a shameful travesty of the Indian Constitution. In December 1999, too, despite protests and preparations, Christians in the area had to suffer curfew and terror as Janubhai Pawar of the Hindu Jagran Manch — accused as the criminal behind the violence of 1998 — was allowed to roam free after a token detention. None of those guilty for any of these acts have been punished, no compensation paid to the victims of the violence. The victims included individuals, schools and churches whose property was vandalised by government–backed hit-men.
In October 1998, the DGP of Gujarat, C.P. Singh had told CC in a telephonic interview that the VHP and Bajrang Dal were behind recent attacks on the minorities. He also said the police had no evidence of any forced conversions, by Christians or Muslims, as was being alleged through frenzied propaganda.
Repeated delegations by members of the Christian minority to the state police, warning them of the vitiated atmosphere following pernicious pamphlets with slogans like ‘Awake and arise Hindus to drive out all Christians from your land’ circulated by Hindutva outfits fell on deaf ears. ‘Destroy Christians, Kill Them,’ is another one. The chief minister, Patel, when confronted by these actions in The Dangs in 1998 and again in 1999 simply muttered: “We have to look at the issue of conversions.”
In December 1999, tribals were taken forcibly from Ghoghli and surrounding villages to the garamkhud (hot springs) at Unni (The Dangs) by the goon squads of the BJP–VJP–HJM for shuddhikaran (purification). Thereafter, they were taken for a forcible re-conversion ceremony to the Swami Aseemanand’s ashram at Wagai. Statistics belie the charge of mass forcible conversions — The population of Christians according to the 1991 census in the Dangs is 7,824 out of a total of 1,44,091, that is a mere 5.43 per cent.
The atmosphere in the far-flung rural areas of Gujarat for Christians and Muslims is terror-stricken. In Surat city, in January this year, Bajrang Dal activists forced a Christian boy and a Hindu girl, who had married ten days earlier through a civil ceremony, to perform an Arya Samaj ceremony.
Accompanying these assaults on the ground, are attempts to enact executive and legislative measures that directly infringe on fundamental freedoms as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. In August 1998, the state government issued a notorious circular directing the Gujarat police to set up a police cell to “investigate each and every case of inter–community marriage” since “conversions were the alleged motives for such marriages”. No better evidence of the blatant intrusion of the state on personal space.
A recent enactment (Bill Against Religious Conversions) that envisages three years rigorous imprisonment of any person guilty of conversions by coercion has been temporarily shelved because of the nation-wide outcry.
Last January, Girishbhai Patel, Lok Adhikar Manch in the Gujarat High Court, challenged a census directed specifically at Christians and Muslims. Though it has not been formally withdrawn, the government was compelled because of this intervention to stop the census.
Through successive measures in the state assembly, executive action and action on the ground, the BJP-led government continues to violate the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution. How much more evidence do we need to make the case that this government has lost the constitutional and moral right to continue in power?