Report by CSSS
Introduction : The media reported that on March 30th, on the occasion of Ram Navami, stone pelting took place on the procession in Kumbharwada-Hathikhana area of Vadodara, Gujarat in the evening. According to media reports, communal tensions prevailed in the afternoon earlier that day too when another procession- Shobha yatra was taken out from the Panjrigar Mohalla. The police in the reports claimed to have “diffused” the situation in Panjrigar Moholla in the afternoon. A dargah and mosque were attacked during the violence according to reports. However, the police conducted a combing operation and arrested 23 persons, including six women, initially after a FIR was filed at the Vadodara city police station. The FIR has been filed against a mob of about 500 persons, who “pelted stones during a procession of Ram Navami”.The accused are believed to be Muslims according to the police (Indian Express, 2023). Against the backdrop of these reports, in order to study the communal riots and unearth the truth, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) undertook a fact finding in Vadodara between 7th to 9th May, 2023.
The fact-finding team consisting of Irfan Engineer, Director of CSSS and prominent author, Neha Dabhade, Deputy Director of CSSS and Hozefa Ujjaini, Director of Buniyaad and prominent social activist visited the affected areas in Vadodara. These included Panjrigar Moholla, Kumbharwada and Hathikhana areas. The team also collected the media clips which showed glimpses of violence and also videos of the arrests from the combing operations conducted by the police. There are also videos which captured the hate speech given by Rohan Kamlesh Shah.
The team met with the following:
1. Residents – both Hindus and Muslims – from Hathikhana, Kumbharwada as well at Panjrigar Mohalla.
2 Some of the persons and family members of those who were arrested by the police.
3. To understand the legal action taken, the team met advocate Shaukat Indori and ACP M.P. Bhojani.
4. Prof. Bharat Mehta from the department of Gujarati of the M S University to understand the initiatives taken by civil society in promoting democracy and peace.
5. Adv. Ajay Joshi, VHP leader in Vadodara.
6. Adv. Niraj Jain, lawyer and VHP activist, handling cases involving interfaith marriages.
7. Chirag Shaikh, Congress leader in Vadodara.
Though the team tried to meet Manisha Vakil, MLA from Vadodara City, she didn’t respond. Similarly, the team tried to meet the victims – those residents who suffered serious injuries during the riots and combing operations, but they were unwilling to interact with the team.
Context/Background of Vadodara:
The key to understanding the Vadodara communal riots that took place on Ram Navami is to understand the process of communalization that has unraveled in Gujarat over the decades. These processes of communalization effectively demonized the Muslim community and helped construct a majoritarian state which aided polarization along the lines of religion in the society. The political developments in Gujarat at different points in time have shaped the communal violence, the inter-community relations and the response of the state to the same. Thus, it will be informative to have a brief glance at the political historiography of Gujarat.
Gujarat was formerly the part of the Bombay province and became a separate state like Maharashtra in 1961. Right from its inception, the Congress was politically dominant in Gujarat enjoying support of the upper castes, the powerful Patidar caste or the Patels, the Muslims and the Adivasis. Though the Congress enjoyed political and electoral success in Gujarat, the RSS has been active at the grassroots. Right from the 19th century there has been nationalist thought expressed in Gujarati literature which highlights the glory of Hindu religion and attack on Hindu religion by Muslim rulers. This Gujarati literature also explores the idea of Gujarati ‘asmita’ or Gujarati pride as expressed by different authors. In fact, one of the memories that this ‘asmita’ is built on is the destruction of Somnath Temple by Mohammad Ghauri. This shapes the collective public memory and demonizes the Muslims in Gujarat as elsewhere in India(Lincoln, 2016).
Post-Independence trajectory of communal violence in Gujarat is interesting. The period from 1950s to 1970s witnessed political and social upheavals. According to Ghanshyam Shah, in Ahmedabad alone, violent incidents such as protests, demonstrations, processions, strikes, bandhs, dharnas and riots increased 15 folds from 1951 to 1970. The period from 1963 to 1968 particularly saw increase in the intensity of communal riots(Shah, 1984). In the 1960s, Gujarat was boiling with the Navnirman movement which against inflation. The movement turned communal after the ABVP, a student wing of the RSS, intervened in the movement. Other factors too contributed to communalization of Gujarat.
Gujarat which is close to the Pakistan border was affected by the horrors of partition and the partition contributed to the anti- Muslim sentiment. Subsequently, when India went to war with Pakistan in 1965, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat was killed when his plane was shot down by Pakistan.The anti-Pakistan feelings intensified and manifested in anti-Muslim expressions. The narrative that Muslims are disloyal to India and pro-Pakistan gained traction. There were rumours that Muslims in Gujarat are spies of Pakistan and engaging in espionage. The Muslim government officials were especially targeted. This was also the phase when the anti-cow slaughter movement was strong and Muslim became target of hatred claiming that they are beef eaters. The Hindu right wing in the state came up with a slew of religious kathas (stories), religious journals and magazines to spread these ideas and “unite the Hindus”.
Sadly, some of the moves of the Muslim community too contributed to the demonization of the community. In 1968, Jamait-ul-Ulema held a massive conference in Ahmedabad and passed sixteen resolutions, some of them demanding special facilities for Muslims government officials offer namaz on Fridays and opposing change in the minority character of the Aligarh Muslim University. These demands were perceived by the society, including those who were secular, as athreat to the Hindus. The conference was followed by a big rally by the RSS shortly. Similarly, a huge protest organized by the Muslims against the Al-Aqsa Mosque demolition which didn’t go down well with the part of the Hindu society.They questioned,how can demolition of a mosque in a foreign country matter to Indian Muslims.
The above conditions were ripe for communal riots in the state. Against a communally charged atmosphere, on 18th September 1969, thousands of Muslims had gathered for a yearly pilgrimage at a shrine adjacent to the Jagannath Hindu temple, in the Old City in Ahmedabad. Clashes occurred with sadhus (ascetic Hindu men) for a minor reason. Thirteen of them were injured and the glass facade of the temple was damaged. Further troubles erupted in the city after a series of pamphlets and inflammatory speeches spread rumors about the incident. The local media played a despicable role in the events. On the night of September 18, large Hindu crowds looted and set fire to Muslim properties and religious places, with the police refusing to intervene. The situation worsened on September 19. A Muslim youth was burned to death for refusing to chant “Jai Jagannath!” (“Long live Jagannath”). Large numbers of women were raped, and even children were not spared during the violence. One hundred Muslims were murdered in Amraiwadi. On the night of September 20, four trains were stopped and 17 Muslim passengers trying to leave the city were killed. On September 23, when the government imprudently lifted the curfew for a few hours, forty persons were murdered. Violence spread to nearby districts as well between September 20 and 30. In the nearby city of Baroda, around ten persons were killed, and six thousand families lost their properties; thus, becoming refugees. The arrival of the army (belatedly) defused the situation, but incidents of stabbing continued intermittently for almost a month. The P. Jaganmohan Reddy Commission Report published evidence that most of the attacks had been carefully planned. Voters’ lists were used to identify Muslim households. The Reddy Commission blamed the police and the Congress-led state administration for their incompetence and delay in imposing curfews. It also denounced the RSS and the Bhartiya Jan Sangh– the earlier avatar of the BJP – for their active involvement in the riots(Graff & Galonnier, 2013). The riots saw the involvement of middle classes in Ahmedabad. The industrial workers too participated.
While this hatred was being churned against the Muslims at the social level, the political parties were in a state of flux, stitching together its own social alliances for electoral dividends. In the 1970s and late 60s, the Congress was facing infights and split. At the same time, the Hindu right was on the rise. The Congress was gradually trying to project itself as pro-poor. For instance, at a time when the Congress was facing declining public support because of its authoritarian measures during the Emergency, Jinabhai Darji forged a pro-adivasi agenda. One of the examples of such policies was that he advocated the abolition of halipratha, the system of providing bonded adivasi labour to upper caste Patels. There was a political move to include more of the marginalized sections. In that sense, Darji’s experiment was a frontrunner of the coalition that Madhav Singh Solanki put together in the mid 1980s.
Solanki formulated the coalition or alliance widely known as ‘KHAM’ coalition. It was to target the Kshatriyas (40%), Harijans (7%), Adivasis (14%) and Muslims (8.3%) that constituted 69.3% of the state’s population. This electoral formula also strived to include within itself the backward communities that were named in the Bakshi Commission of Gujarat (1976) and were recognized as OBCs. With this, the Congress party for the first time provided a space for political mobilization of the backward classes as well as Muslim minorities. This coalition paid tremendous dividends for the Congress in the 1985 assembly elections where it won an overwhelming majority. Out of the 111 KHAM candidates put up by the Congress for the 182 seats, 96 got elected. With this huge win and new-found success in the KHAM formula, Madhavsinh Solanki, who hailed from the Kshatriya community, was sworn in as Gujarat’s CM.
However, this win cost the Congress its future in the state. The KHAM coalition alienated the Hindu upper castes especially the traditionally powerful Patidars that were pushed to the fringes of Gujarat’s politics for the first time. It was this disgruntled class that was to become the new power base of the BJP in the 1990s.Before we turn towards the political mobilization of the BJP, it is important to bear in mind that caste has been a significant institution in the Gujarati society. In 1980s, with the Bakshi commission giving more reservations to the OBCs, there was also a strong anti- reservation movement in Gujarat society. The issue of caste and reservation had the powerful potential to exacerbate the existing fissures in the Hindu caste ridden society in Gujarat. The response of the BJP to this explosive moment in history was twofold.
The BJP was aware that reservation was a matter of social justice and that the issue is divisive for the Hindu community. The BJP at the same time saw opportunity in this moment by mobilizing the disgruntled Patidars and extending support to them. The Patidars or Patels were traditionally powerful having huge influence on the economic, social, educational and political institutions. However, that still left out the majority of Dalits and kshatriyas out of the influence of the BJP. The BJP needed an electoral formula and a narrative to unite all of these social groups having different and opposing demands. The portrayal of Muslims as a threat to the Hindu society was handy to unite all Hindus in spite of their caste-based stratification. By projecting the Muslims as a common enemy, the BJP sought to unify all the other social groups under the “Hindu” fold. Thus, BJP altered the KHAM alliance to what is known as PAKH alliance –i.e., alliance of the Patidars, Adivasis, Kshatriyas and Harijans. By adopting religious nationalism (Hindutva) as its core strategy and identity project in Gujarat, the BJP attempted to break the political alliance among lower-castes which underpinned the Congress Party’s developmental and welfare of the poor model, and replace this with a new alliance that drew together upper castes, Dalits and Adivasis against Muslims. This entailed repeated communal violence, persistent propaganda and community organizing, and the use of religious processions through localities where Hindus and Muslims lived in close proximity.
For instance, violence occurred in the communally sensitive city of Baroda (or Vadodara), Gujarat. Tensions began in September 1981 when nine persons lost their lives in a small-scale riot. From that point on, people lived in constant fear of communal troubles until October 1982 when large clashes eventually broke out. The underlying cause of the riots was the ever-present economic rivalry opposing Muslims and Kahars (a Hindu Scheduled Caste community) within the illicit liquor business. In addition, in 1982, the Hindu festival of Dussehra and the Muslim festival of Muharram (celebrated by Shias) coincided, further antagonizing the two communities. The stabbing to death of a youth in the Navapura quarter on October 22 triggered off riots. Hindu and Muslim processions marching in the same street clashed. The police had to open fire and a curfew was imposed. A fresh bout of violence occurred on October 27 when a tazia procession (brandishing miniature mausoleums to celebrate Muharram), passing through a Hindu locality, discovered the dead bodies of two Muslims. Profiting from the social disorder and relying upon their close links with some police officers, Hindu criminal elements from the liquor industry ransacked Muslim shops. The stabbing of a Hindu on October 29 also led to violent police operations in Muslim areas. The violence claimed seven lives and left 55 injured(Graff & Galonnier, Hindu-Muslim Communal Riots in India I (1947-1986), 2013).
In September 1990, on the occasion of Ganesh Visarjan, Vadodara saw the worst- ever riots in the walled city. Shops belonging to Muslims in the walled city and Raopura were broken open with the aid of gas cutters, looted and burnt. The destruction took place in broad daylight, in the presence of the police. Elected leaders of the BJP directed well-planned attacks on the property of Muslims on the main road. The Jumma Masjid near Mandvi was also attacked. It was soon after this riot in Vadodara that Advani’s rath yatra began. Stray incidents of violence continued for months after this incident(Outlook, 2022).
This orchestrated violence along with the polarization and hatred brought along by the Ram Janma bhoomi movement, paid dividends when the BJP came to power all by itself in the 1995 assembly elections for the first time. Though the government was formed by Keshubhai Patel, a power struggle began in BJP and soon the unquestioned control came to rest with Narendra Modi. To hang on to power in the face of a possible defeat, the 2002 Gujarat riots were orchestrated. The riots went on for days and spread to many parts of the states. Vadodara was had appalling memories of the gruesome “Best Bakery” case during the 2002 riots. One of the worst cases of 2002 communal carnage. Besides it, a total of 597 offences were registered at different police station in Vadodara City between February 27, 2002 and May 31, 2002, with 49 persons getting killed and 285 injured.
The 2002 communal riots in Gujarat consolidated the power of BJP and more importantly of Modi in Gujarat. Though communal politics was the core of the ideological prism, the Modi led Gujarat government projected itself in two major terms – development and Gujarati sub-nationalism or ‘asmita’. While communal violence did bring in the polarization and subsequent votes, the discourse of development and Gujarati ‘asmita’ brought legitimacy and broader acceptance across the spectrum of social groups. The “development” that was sought to be promoted was lop-sided, top down and worsened inequalities. Emphasis was on building massive statues, big projects of dams and highways that evoked sense of pride in the Hindu-Gujarati culture. It was argued that these factors made Gujarat an attractive destination for investment. This lop-sided development came at the cost of marginalization of the Dalits and Adivasis and other vulnerable groups. These so-called big development projects displaced Dalits and especially the Adivasis from the forests and gave the state greater control over forests and other natural resources. The human development indicators pointed towards growing malnourishment among the most marginalized sections, higher drop-out rates etc. These were also steps towards creation of a centralized state controlled by a one leader alone. By dubbing himself as ‘vikas purush’ (development man), Modi rhetorically combined the ideal of masculine strength with a steely determination to bring prosperity, order and technological progress to every Gujarati. This discourse, as Jaffrelot argues, “banalized” Hindutva and linked regional pride (Gujarati Asmita) with ‘development’ to form an interlocking signifier that reached across castes, classes, and political borders, also drawing in the Gujarati diaspora.
Gujarati ‘asmita’ and nationalism played a big role in cementing the place of BJP in Gujarat for over two decades. This pride and sense of nationalism was evoked through language, the narrative of investment, tourism etc and most importantly, the use of Hindu religious icons and symbols. There was a deliberate meshing of Hindu symbols and Gujarati ‘asmita’ to project how Gujarati asmita was deep rooted in “Hindu” culture and religion. This also worked to exclude non-Hindus from the paradigm of development and nationalism. The narrative that Muslims and Christians are outsiders gained traction. The state allowed non-state actors in the form of Hindu right-wing groups to strengthen and indulge in violence and spreading hatred. Non-state actors became emboldened to claim that Gujarat is a Hindu Rashtra and boards welcoming into Hindu Rashtra were erected at the entrance of different villages in Gujarat. During this period, organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and their affiliated entities received steady support. These groups played an instrumental role in disseminating anti-Christian propaganda and perpetrating acts of violence. Furthermore, appointments within the bureaucracy, police, home guards, and educational institutions were increasingly filled by individuals subscribing to a communal worldview.
It is essential to understand that one of the important aspects of this development narrative was also to depict Gujarat as a “peaceful” state. The state sought to promote the narrative that there are no communal conflicts in Gujarat and no riots after 2002. However, that is not the reality. The 2006 Vadodara riots also known as the 2006 Dargah riots occurred on 1st May of that year in the city of Vadodara in the state of Gujarat in India. The riots were caused by the municipal council’s decision to remove the dargah (shrine) of Syed Chishti Rashiduddin, a medieval Sufi saint. The shrine was between two and three hundred years old. The dargah was first mentioned in a municipal survey carried out in 1912, when Vadodara was the princely state of Baroda and was ruled by Sayajirao Gaekwad III. The city Mayor, Sunil Solanki, had said that the council were removing illegal buildings as part of a road widening programme and that they had already removed 20 temples and three dargahs. The Supreme Court on 4 April ordered a temporary stay on demolition of illegal religious structures, due to the situation being volatile. The commissioner for police, Deepak Swaroop, had requested caution on the issue. But Solanki insisted on the demolition citing that the shrine was in the way of development. He reportedly said, “If the police and the corporation will not do it, our boys in the Bajrang Dal will do it.” The incident resulted in six to eight people being killed and forty-two injured, 16 of these were from police firing. The police were criticized for its high-handedness in responding to the situation by resorting to excessive force on a Muslim mob, which was protesting the demolition(Wikipedia).
After the BJP consolidated its hold on political power in Gujarat post 2002 and at the Centre in 2014, the nature of communal riots changed. The communal riots as opposed to earlier were more sub-radar and at a smaller scale, more localized and took place even in rural areas. The newer triggers to communal riots included objectionable posts on social media, festivals and processions and bogey of “love jihad”. The exclusion of Muslims from festivals like garba and demolition or attack on syncretic shrines were one of the outcomes of this violence, adversely affecting traditional spaces of composite heritage and inter-community relationships.
In Vadodara alone, communal riots took place in 2006, 2014, 2018, 2019, 2022 and 2023. These were controlled riots and not allowed to spread to larger geographical areas or allowed to continue for more than a day or couple of days. But they were successful in deepening communal identities and polarization. For instance, in 2014, the violence reportedly broke out after the images of Hindu Goddess Maa Ambe and Lord Ram super imposed over Mecca’s religious shrine went viral on the internet. Over a dozen were severely injured and are being treated in city hospitals. Police arrested 150 people in Vadodara after more than a dozen were severely injured during communal clashes in the city. The Fatehpura, Panjripole, Kumbharvada and Yakutpura area was affected in the riots. The violence coincided with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US. Police in Vadodara arrested Muslim cleric Maulana Mehdi Hasan who had reportedly called Navratri a “festival of demons”. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) asked the state government to issue a directive preventing Muslims from entering the places where garbas are organised. The VHP even stated that if the BJP government did not pay heed to it, the outfit would on its own initiate action to ensure Muslims did not attend garba events.
One of the important characteristics of sub radar communal riots is also how the most trivial issue is enough to trigger off a riot. While religious icons and festivals are used to deepen communal identities, even banal inter-personal arguments or incidents have the propensity to flare up into a communal riot. This points out to the deep-rooted polarization and persistently churning of communal hatred. For instance, in 2018, on the first day of Ramazan, two communities clashed after a group of Hindu boys had a quarrel with a Muslim soda vendor. This resulted in mobilization of a group of Hindu boys and consequently, a Muslim mob also gathered soon resulting in riots. The stone pelting and destruction of properties started. In 2018, in another incident, Karni Sena carried out the procession to mark the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap. As per FIR, members of the procession allegedly shouted slogans against a particular community. They also allegedly attacked a shrine and damaged its glass window resulting in riots. It was also an occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, some elements pelted stone which soon aroused communal tension and mob from both the communities gathered.
Other examples of banal situations turning into communal riots are when a road accident described in reports as “minor” snowballed into a communal clash in Vadodara city on April 17, 2022. Police arrested 22 people. According to the Karelibaug police, clash broke out following a road accident involving two-wheelers belonging to people from two communities in the city’s Raopura locality. The matter escalated and in no time people from two communities gathered and hurled stones at each other in the Karelibaug locality, neighbouring the Raopura area. Crowds allegedly threw stones, vandalised a shrine and damaged two autorickshaws and two two-wheelers on April 18. Indian Express reported that some parked handcarts belonging to street vendors were destroyed and three persons were allegedly injured.
In another incident in October, 2022, a clash took place at a vegetable market in Savli town in Vadodara district. According to the police, a Muslim festival was coming up, owing to which a local group had tied their religious flag on an electronic pole. There was a temple nearby. A clash broke out after another local group went to convey how their religious sentiments were hurt. Stone pelting resulted in damage to nearby vehicles. A FIR was filed and accused from both sides were arrested. As many as 40 people were arrested.
Recently in 2023, an altercation between people of two faiths over bursting crackers during a wedding procession sparked communal riots in Samiyala village near the city around midnight on 10th March, leaving at least people injured and a few vehicles gutted in arson. When the procession was passing near a religious place, some people living there objected to bursting crackers. Cross complaints were registered at the Vadodara taluka police station with both sides blaming each other for the rioting. The first offence states that when participants in the procession were asked to stop bursting crackers, they entered into an argument with members of a community staying around the religious place. It was alleged that those in the procession threw brickbats. Three auto-rickshaws and two vans were gutted as arson broke out. In all, 19 people were named in FIR besides four to five unidentified men. 25 people from both communities were arrested(Times of India, 2023).
One of the issues used by the Hindu right is the conspiracy of “love jihad”. This issue is being used to incite the Hindu community and trigger violence. In 2019, in Vadodara at the Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) campus, an anti-ragging protest took a communal turn when one of the groups protesting against the anti-ragging protest – mainly a group consisting of Muslim students was accused of luring Hindu women in romantic relations with Muslim boys and termed it as “love jihad”. Clashes broke out between both the groups. The VP of the students’ body who led the anti-ragging protest and the police have been accused of anti-Muslim bias since 8 names mentioned in the FIR are all Muslims.
This also brings the focus on the shrinking democratic spaces in Gujarat as also in Vadodara. Civil spaces including universities and other educational institutions. Universities and colleges should encourage critical thinking and scientific temper amongst students. However, the universities and colleges are increasingly being controlled by political appointments. Permissions are required to organize seminars and talks and permissions are often denied if discussions are related to critical topics including democracy, freedom of religion etc. There is tight control to muzzle any critical thinking amongst the intelligentsia in the state.
Vadodara, also known as Baroda, is the third-largest city in Gujarat. It serves as the administrative headquarters of the Vadodara district and is situated on the banks of the Vishwamitri River, 141 kilometres from the state capital of Gandhinagar. It is famous as the cultural capital of Gujarat as well as a centre of educational activities, it pays respect to the Sayaji Rao Gaikwad, a Maratha ruler. Vadodara name is derived from ‘Vad’ means Banyan trees. Vadodara is popular as ‘Sanskari Nagri’ the city does have rich cultural tradition. However, Vadodara also has a chequered past. While there are examples of strong syncretic traditions and shared culture, the social and political landscape of Vadodara has been scarred with communal riots as seen above. Most of the communal riots that took place in Vadodara can be seen around festivals. Festivals and places of worships have come under attack at different times and triggered communal riots.
Population break up:
Delimitation and shrinking prospects for non-Hindu candidates in the electoral politics of Vadodara:
Vadodara is dominated with the BJP which has been sweeping elections for almost the last three decades. While speaking to the residents of Hathikhana and Congress leader Chirag Shaikh, the team was told about the delimitation processes in the city and redrawing of constituencies. Since 1999, Vadodara hasn’t had even a single Muslim corporator. While the ruling BJP doesn’t give opportunities to Muslim candidates to run for elections, the communal politics has forced other political parties including the Congress to not have any Muslim candidates. The polarization in the society is so sharp that a Muslim candidate doesn’t stand any chance of winning. This is also made possible largely by the delimitation process which divide Muslim dominated wards and merge them with other wards having sizeable Hindu population in order to greatly dilute the number of Muslim voters in every ward. Chirag Shaikh, Vice-President of City Congress, gave the example of Chandaliya ward which had Muslim majority and where from Muslim corporators have been elected in the past. Chandaliya was divided into three and each ward was merged into three other Hindu dominated wards in such a way that Muslims were minority in all three wards. Similarly, Mughalwada, Jahangirpura, Bawamanpura, Taiwadi and other wards were all Muslim majority wards having potential to elect Muslim candidates. But all of them were divided. This is a deliberate strategy to prevent emergence of any Muslim leadership and Muslim representation in legislative processes or power. It is not surprising that the civic issues of Muslim community including education, health and infrastructure remain un-redressed. Private education is expensive and unaffordable. This leads to high drop out of Muslim children from schools. One example of this is the demolition of Kavi Sundaram School that was situated in Panjrigar Mohalla. The administration demolished a Municipal school promising to build a new bigger school but it has been almost two years and there is no sign of construction. This has forced the Muslim children to discontinue their education. The Muslim pockets don’t benefit from the corporator, MLA or MP development funds. The biggest challenge is livelihood. Most of the Muslims are poor and engaged in hawking and working on stalls. They are always in a precarious situation as they are removed from their place of vending by the Municipal corporation under the pretext of encroachment. The condition of women is especially appalling as there are no schemes for their upliftment. Some of the residents of Panjrigar Mohalla suspected that the riots were engineered to continue the application of the Disturbed Areas Act, which is an instrument to ensure perpetuation of communal segregation of localities, as it does not allow property of a Hindu to be sold to a non-Hindu and a Muslim property to be sold to a non-Muslim without the permission of the District Magistrate.
Love Jihad and communal propaganda adversely affecting agency of women:
The first case under the “Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act 2021” was filed in Vadodara. In 2021, Divya, a Dalit woman visited Gotri police station to complain against her husband who, she claimed, abused her. However, the police manipulated the entire case and booked Divya’s husband, Sameer under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, alleging that Sameer hid his religious identity (Muslim) from Diyva and fraudulently married her. The police alleged that he even converted her into Islam forcefully. Divya in an affidavit and in the court denied all these allegations and stated that she knew Sameer was a Muslim before her marriage and she hadn’t converted to Islam. She expressed her desire to live with Sameer.
The case of Divya is not an isolated case. Many Hindu women are facing harassment when they choose to marry Muslim men. It is claimed by the right-wing organizations and BJP ruled state governments that Hindu women are “lured” by Muslim men who marry them to convert them into Islam. This conspiracy theory has no basis since there is no data to prove this. However, this narrative and fear psychosis is used exponentially to create hysteria in the society. The parents of Hindu women are reached out to by the right wing organizations, including the VHP and they are intimidated or brain washed into opposing their daughter’s relationship with a Muslim. In effect the agency of the women is undermined.
Niraj Jain, VHP leader and lawyer, claimed that he brought out 5000 Hindu girls who had married Muslim men back to their parents in the last 7 to 8 years. He claimed that Hindu women had no brains and it is easy to seduce them.He attributed the gullibility of the Hindu women to their “sanskars”. He said that Hindu women were hungry for love and could be attracted for any man who declares his love to them. He also went on to say that Hindu community by nature is not aggressive. They don’t stand up against wrong. They have allowed Muslims to dominate the Hindu community. That’s why organizations like VHP are important to put the Muslims in their place. He said, “Kisi bhi Hindu ladkiko patina bahut asan hai. Do minutes bhi nahi lagte. Wo pyaar ki bhuki hoti hai. Koi bhi do shabd pyaar se bol de toh uske paas jati hai. Unke sanskar hi ghar mein aise hain. Hum Hindu gharon mein aurton ko pyaar karna sikhate hai”.
However, when asked how many cases were filed against Muslims under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Amendment Act, Niraj Jain answered, “not many. Only 10 to 12 cases”. It is ironic that when the right-wing organizations claim that “love jihad” is so prevalent in the society, there are such miniscule number of cases filed under this law which was ushered in by the state government citing the worrying number of “love jihad” cases. Upon being asked what can be done to stop the cases of “love Jihad”, Niraj Jain said, “Iska solution ek hi hai. Parents ne unke ladki yon ko control karna chahiye. Unpe nazar rakhni chahiye- who kisse batein karti hai, kisse milti hai”. He said that Hindu women should be made aware of this conspiracy by the Muslim community. He said the VHP is trying to create this awareness and bringing back Hindu women.
It is interesting to note that such restrictions against women’s mobility and choices are prevalent not only in Hindu community but also the Muslim community. There is a similar trend in Muslim community where it is believed that Muslim women are “lured” away by Hindu men who then mistreat them and abuse them. According to one of the women the team interacted with in the area of Bawamanpura, “I received a whatsapp message. It said that around 10,000 Muslim girls in Vadodara married Hindu men. There is a need to protect Muslim girls. Due to this trend, Muslim girls are forced to drop out of colleges and schools. They don’t work outside. Now the Muslim organizations have also made groups who accompany the Muslim women to the college in order to protect them.” The team saw some videos where Muslim girls are hounded by vigilantes from their own community who shame the women for walking with their male friends or talking to male friends who are Hindu. Communalism is adversely affecting the women from both communities where their choices and opportunities in life are restricted.
The Hindu right-wing leaders are reportedly delivering hate speeches throughout the country. On Ram Navami, Hindu right wing leader Kajal Hindustani infamous for incendiary speeches against Muslims, gave a hate speech in Una in Gujarat. Her speech had triggered off communal violence in Una. She was also arrested under sections 295A (acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 153A (promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, language, etc.) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of these Indian Penal Code (IPC). She is heard listing the “benefits” that Muslim women will enjoy if they marry Hindu men. These include not having to reproduce many children or having to face the husbands having more than one wife etc essentially repeating the stereotypes against Muslim community. Her speech has strengthened the fear amongst the Muslim community about the Muslim women marrying Hindu men. Subsequently, the community is restricting the movements of Muslim women that is adversely affecting their agency and decision making. Hindustani’s speech is derogatory towards Muslim women as it objectified them.
Context of Panjrigar Mohalla:
Panjrigar Mohalla is situated in the heart of Vadodara. The area consists of Panigate- Mandvi gate to Lehripura on one hand which is a stretch of 800 meters spanning east to west. Similarly, the area spanning north to south is from Champaner to Ramraj hotel which covers one kilometer of area. Both these roads form a “T” intersection. And this intersection is the epicenter of communal riots usually. The area is made up of small lanes and by lanes which causes traffic congestions and snarls. The roads are lined up with shops and eateries and has many shoppers. According to ACP Bhojani, any small issue can lead to an altercation in the area. There are instances of sudden provocation and spontaneous violence. He pointed out that Mandvi gate is historical to the city. In fact, every year, more than 1200 processions pass from Mandvi gate or stop there. According to Bhojani, stone pelting is common in this area but it doesn’t result in any serious injuries. People go back to work as normal after 24 hours. Majority of the population in the area is Muslim. Interestingly these most of these Muslims belong to the Maule-Salaam Garasiya community which converted to Islam not very long ago. Thus the members of the community may have Muslim sounding names but still retain Hindu surnames. Most of the Muslims are engaged in daily wage labour or have small stalls of food or have small businesses.
According to the residents of the area and Chirag Shaikh, the area is volatile during Muslim festivals. The residents claimed that the Muslims welcome Hindu religious processions like Shivratri yatra and Ganesh Visarjan and they pass off peacefully. In fact, the Narsiji ka Varghoda ends in Tulsiwadi in fatehpura every year. However, Tazia procession and other Muslim festivals give rise to tensions and some small incidents of violence. But overall, the relationship between the communities is cordial.
Reconstruction of Communal Riots:
On 30th March, Ram Navami, one procession called “shobhayatra” was organized by VHP and Bajrang Dal. This procession started from Harni circle Panch Hanuman Mukhi temple at around 10am. The procession usually arrives from Karelibaug, passes from the Fatepura main road, leading to Champaner and then it moves forward. This time the procession crossed Gadda circle, Motnath temple and came to Sangam intersection. However instead of carrying on straight towards Champaner, the procession went towards Panjrigar Mohalla. The residents of Panjrigar Mohalla insisted that this was not the route of the procession. ACP Bhojani however, said that the route was predetermined and the procession had the necessary permission. Ironically, the journalists and media report insisted that the procession didn’t have the necessary permission. The procession came near the Panjrigar dargah around 1.30pm. Since it was namaz time, very few Muslim youth were on the road. The participants from the procession shouted anti-Muslim slogans. The residents hadn’t objected to the procession coming into the Mohalla. According to the police FIR, the altercation between the Hindus and Muslims started due to the traffic jam caused by the procession on the narrow road. While the FIR pegs the number in the Shobha yatra at 500 to 550, the residents said there were about 1500 persons in the procession.
According to the residents of Hathikhana and Panjrigar, the procession took a violent turn when the participants from the procession attacked a Muslim youth standing on the road and beat him up after some altercation took place with the members of the procession and they started pelting stones on the houses of the Muslims according to the residents of Hathikhana. The women in the houses came out and objected to this stone pelting. Some of the participants subsequently started kicking the gates of the Hazrat Kalu Shahid– Balu Shahid Dargah and throwing stones inside as was narrated by the residents and verified from the videos seen by the team. The procession had large DJ music system playing. According to the Muslim residents, the participants had come with stones in the tempo. ACP Bhojani denied this, though he did not deny that the members of the procession were also throwing stones.
In the videos seen by the team, it is evident that some of the participants had swords in their hands. The stalls selling food, rickshaws and vehicles belonging to the Muslim residents were vandalized. According to the police, 3Eco four-wheeler cars and one Maruti Suzuki vehicle was damaged. The team interacted with some owners whose vehicles were damaged. Shabbir Sindhi owns an Eco Winger. The mob vandalized the front and rear windshield of the vehicle causing a loss of Rs. 16,500/-. Another Eeco Star, owned by Mohammad Rafi, was also vandalized causing damage of Rs. 15,000/-. A pan masala stall owned by Mohammad Rafi was also vandalized. Anis Majid Shaikh owns an Eeco van and its glasses were smashed by a stick. Aziz Arab owns a Hyundai Accent and its glass was broken. Mohammad Mehmood Miya Shaikh owned an Eeco van and its glass was damaged at near Sarkari Petrol Pump.
The team was told by the residents of Panjrigar Mohalla that the organizers of the Shobha yatra wanted to return from the same route. This indicates that the members wanted to indulge in more violence and vandalization. However, the police prevented that and forced them to terminate the yatra. Thus the residents suspect that some of the members of the Shobha yatra joined the second procession that started in Kumbharwada in the evening at about 5.30 pm.
Rohan Shah, VHP leader, gave a hate speech after the Shobha yatra that fueled the tensions further. He said, “Bhai Panjrigar Mohalla par amari bhavya Shobha Yatra jyaare pasaar thai rahi hati. Aa Musalman kaayar kom ae amara upar dhabha parthi paththar fenkya chhe. Amari Gaadio ne nukshaan thayu che. Ane police ae eke dhabha par point nathi rakhyo. Aa baaju camero karo aa baaju thi paththar aavya che. Ane sau-pratham biji vastu ae ke amara Vishwa Hindu Parishad na ek pan karykarta ni dharpakad thai toh yaad rakhjo amaro koi vank nathi. (2002 Gujarat nu yaad apavi daishu). Aakha Vadodara ne gheri vali shu. Samjhe shu eni jaatne. (Paththar maaro aa masjid maathi chaalu thayo che Paththar maaro Jyaare gaurakshak ni rally ahi..aapni rally ahi lag pahochi).. Aa Pakistaan nathi.. Aa pakistaan nathi.. Aa Bharat chhe- Hinduo nu Bharat chhe. (Bandobast ek pan nohato) Aa bandiyao ne kadhi kadhi ne marishu. Samjhe chhe shu eni jaatne. Police ni Hajri ma thayu chhe; police ni hajri ma police ne kehvaa mangu chu Gujarat police ne karnavati maa dodai dodaine marya hata bhulsho nahi. Karnavati maa tamari police ne dodai dodai maari chhe. Mutton biryani, chicken biryani na vyavaharo bandh kari do haramnu khavanu bandh karo. Aa sunnato ni aulaadnu khavanu bandh karo. Ane amara ek pan karyakarta ni dharpakad thai to aakhu Vadodara bhadke balshe.
(When our shobha yatra was passing across Panjrigar mohalla, these Muslim coward community threw stones at us from the roofs. Our cars have been damaged. And the police did not keep a single picket. Turn the camera this side – stones came from this side. And first of all, the second thing is that if any Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist is arrested, remember, we are not at fault, (we will remind you of 2002 Gujarat). We will surround the entire Vadodara. Stone pelting started from this mosque, stone pelting on our rally of Gau rakshak; here, our rally reached here.. this is not Pakistan.. this is not Pakistan.. this is India, India of Hindus,(there was no police deployed) we will take out these bandiyas(a derogatory term for Muslims) and kill them. In the presence of the police, I want to tell the police that the Gujarat police were chased and beaten up in Karnavati (Ahmedabad), don’t forget that you, police, were chased and beaten in Karnavati. Stop eating mutton biryani, and chicken biryani (from Muslim). Stop taking illegal bribes (from Muslims). And if even one of our workers is arrested, the whole of Vadodara will burn.)
The second procession which was organized by Ganesh Yuva Mandal began from Kumbharwada and ended by Mandvi gate. It began at around 5pm. According to the police FIR, the procession when it reached the Dhuldhoyawad Mosque, the Muslim residents started pelting stones from the Mosque and the adjoining houses on the procession to avenge the violence by the first procession. The FIR claims it was a planned conspiracy to “disturb the peace” of the area and avenge the violence in the Shobha yatra earlier that day. The mob attacked the police to prevent them from carrying out their duty. The mob as per the FIR damaged stalls by overturning them and the board of the shop named Gora Poultry was vandalized. The mob damaged the glass of the ATM kiosk of SBI and the vehicles. However, the residents of Hathikhana and Panjrigar narrated that the procession followed its usual route but when it came to near the Dhuldhoyawad mosque, the members of the procession pelted stones on the mosque. It was time for namaz and the Muslim devotees were offering evening namaz during the month of Ramadan. They shouted slogans, “Hindustan mein rehna hoga to jai shri ram bolna hoga” and “hum aayenge toh nazar niche Karni padegi”. Stones were pelted near Mandvi gate on Muslim owned shop- ‘Paramount Perfumes’. The residents of the Panjrigar Mohalla narrated that some policemen too pelted stones on the Muslim shops. Some policemen too vandalized four-wheeler vehicles, bikes, and stalls. The police ruthlessly beat up Rashid who tried to stop the police officer from beating him with his gun. His thighs are severely injured. According to the residents, 8 to 10 persons from the Muslim community are severely injured. They added that stones were pelted on three mosques- Dhuldhoyawad, Khajuri and Champaner. 12 to 15 Hindus were arrested after two to three days.The police used four rounds of tear gas to disperse the mob. According to the police FIR, in this stone pelting, the official present on duty – Police Sub Inspector A. B. Mishra (Varsiya Police Station) sustained injury on this left wrist, Police Constable Dhirabhau Hurmabhai was injured on his left cheek, FOP Ansari of Varsiya Police Station was injured on his head, N.D. Bhagora Police Sub Inspector of the city police station sustained minor injury on the right-hand thumb.
The residents of Panjrigar Mohalla told the team the CCTV camera captured the high-handed action of the police. The police brutally had beaten 4 to 6 people in the Masjid. One person suffered 10 stitches on his head. However, the DVR of the CCTV recordings were taken away by the police immediately. The injured are scared and do not want to file statement against the police.
The residents of Hathikhana told the team that this was the first time that two processions were organized on Ram Navami. Every year, only one procession takes place – the one organized by the Mandal from Kumbharwada. The residents of both the areas –Hathikhana and Panjrigar said that the members of the processions were not from their areas and were outsiders. In fact, the residents of Panjrigar pointed out that across the street from them, the Rana community lives for many years. But they never had any tensions or violence between them. The Muslim residents at Hathikhana informed the team that every year during the Ram Navami procession organized from Kumbharwada, the Muslim residents welcome the procession with cold drinks. Most of the shopkeepers in Hathikhana are Hindus while the residents are Muslims. The team interacted with some of the shopkeepers who explained that Hindus and Muslims in this area stay in harmony. The shopkeepers said most of their clients are Muslims and they have good relations with them. Mahesh Manodra owns a ration shop opposite the Muslim Panch office in Hathikhana from the last 25 years. He told the team there is a history of peaceful coexistence between the Hindus and Muslims in the area.
Around 7pm, the police started its combing operations in the area of Panjrigar Mohalla. The police, around 400 in number surrounded the whole area as per the residents of Panjrigar Mohalla. The police forcibly entered the houses of the Muslim residents during the time of Iftaar and kicked their food. They hit the Muslim residents who had not indulged in stone pelting or violence in either of the processions. The police went into the house of Madhuben Usman bhai Rathod. Madhuben narrated how on 30th March, the police barged into the house just before 7pm. It was time for iftaari and the family had laid out the food. Her four boys had just come running home seeing the violence outside. This made the police suspect that they had participated in the violence. The police broke the door of her house. They picked up her four sons and her two daughters in law and one daughter. Her oldest son, Ismail, 25 years old, is into transport business. Sahil (21) and Riyaz (23) work together in wiring of air conditioners in four-wheeler vehicles and the youngest Ayaan(19) is still studying. There were no women police while arresting the women in the house. The women were beaten up. The 7 arrested were kept in detention for 22 days. Rathod said that her sons are very hard working and were not part of any mob or didn’t pelt stones. Isak Ibrahim Solanki was arrested too. He was shooing away the mob from the second procession. He is innocent and didn’t indulge in any violence. He owns a chai stall. He is slapped with rioting and other sections under IPC. He is left on bail. The police arrested two men who are differently abled and one youth under PASA for grabbing the gun of a police officer.
The videos in circulation in social media show the police officials without women officials roughing up the women and hitting them. One woman on the video also pointed out to how the officials tore the sleeves of her kurta. Women from the area were visibly upset with the way the police arbitrarily were beating up the men and women from the area and didn’t even let their families break their fast during Ramadan. The women fearlessly gave interviews to the media to bring to light the high-handedness of the police personnel. The police during this combing operation arrested about 23 residents including six women- all Muslims. Four FIRs were filed- one in Vadodara City Police Station, second one is for hate speech against VHP leader in Karelibaug, third FIR against circulating video of the violence and fourth one against a youth for grabbing the gun of a police official.
According to Adv. Shaukat Indori and Chirag Shaikh, the administration in Vadodara was mulling demolition of Muslim houses in Panjigar post the violence. Chirag Shaikh told the team that a delegation of Muslims – Imran Khedawala, MLA from Ahmedabad, MLA Ghyasuddin Shaikh, ex-MLA Javed Peerzada, Chirag Shaikh himself and other leaders went to meet the DGP to prevent such action. According to Adv. Indori, after the arrests of the Hindus, the demolition was put on hold.
Processions to signify domination:
The Ram Navami processions from the past couple of years are used as a pretext by the Hindu right-wing organizations to assert their domination over the Muslims. The icon of Lord Ram enables mobilization. The Hindu right-wing groups are getting increasingly emboldened to deliberately enter into Muslim majority areas with the intention of provoking the Muslims by chanting derogatory slogans and accompanied with arms. They seem to be testing the extent of subjugation of the Muslim community. Even a mild resistance from the Muslims is enough to trigger off communal riots. In this case too, there has been a deliberate attempt to assert their domination and demonstrate the patronage of the state that they enjoy. When there was an argument over traffic and fight with a Muslim youth, it was enough to trigger off riots. The narrative that is carefully constructed by the state and the Hindu right wing is that the Muslims are resentful and intolerant towards Hindu festivals, and therefore they deserve the “backlash” of Hindus and an appropriate (read – disproportionate) collective punitive action from the state. The Muslims are labeled as “stone pelters” and criminal action is initiated against them. This is increasingly becoming a standard operating procedure for the Hindu right wing organizations to trigger off riots, and invite the state to use excessive and punitive force in order to teach the Muslim community a lesson, wherein the helplessness of the community becomes obvious to them. Religious processions during festivals are used as a pretext to target the Muslims.
Stone pelting was started by the members of the procession:
According to ACP Bhojani, who reached the trouble spot within 5 minutes, both sides threw stones on each other. The videos and the narratives of the residents of the Hathikhana and Panjrigar clearly indicate that the stones were pelted by members of the procession also. The Hathikhana residents admitted that some of them too threw stones. It is difficult to determine who threw stones first. But what is clear is that the members of the procession can be seen in fearless aggressive demeanor whereby they are pelting stones on the Muslim households and the Dargah. The Muslims didnot object to the procession coming into Fatehpura. Infact they were caught unaware. Thus, the narrative that is spread that Muslims don’t want Hindus to celebrate their festival and are intolerant towards their festival is false.
Niraj Jain when asked: how he saw the violence on Ram Navami, he replied that the fault lied entirely with the Muslims. He further said, “the Muslims all around the world are fundamentalist and want to create an Islamic state. They assert their dominance. Ram is a universal god and omnipresent. Why can’t the procession go into Muslim areas? Why do we need permission to go there? India is Hindu Rashtra and we are free to go anywhere we want. The Muslims are intolerant towards the Hindu festivals. Though the police played a good role, the state has to take more stringent actions like the Uttar Pradesh Government –i.e. demolish the homes of stone throwing Muslims with bulldozers. Demolish their properties. Gujarat requires stringent implementation of laws against the Muslims.” Similar views were expressed by Ajay Joshi, VHP leader. Joshi went on to say, like Jain, that the only solution to prevent such violence was that the Muslims should give up their religion and accept the dominance of Hindus. When asked how he looks at the hate speech given by Rohan Shah, Niraj Jain replied, “what wrong did he say? He is right. Maybe his language was aggressive but he was not wrong. The Muslims deserve what they get.”
The videos of the processions show that the participants in the procession were carrying arms during the procession. The team saw a video in which one processionist was carrying a sword while some others were carrying staffs. The team was told that the processionists were also carrying trishuls. The intent was clearly to intimidate and target the Muslim community. Religious festivals and related festivities should not be armed and the police should not give permission to armed processions and if this permission is flouted then strict action should be taken against the organizers.
Role of the elected representatives/ State:
The role of the elected representatives in Vadodara as well on the state level has been partial. MLA from Vadodara city constituency, Manisha Vakil, was present during the procession which went through Muslim dominated Fatehpura and indulged in violence. As an elected representative who has taken oath under the Constitution to uphold rule of law and treat all citizens equally without fear or favour, the MLA participated in an armed procession organized by right wing organizations having history of violence. The MLA wasn’t seen asking for calm or law and order. According to Chirag Shaikh, the presence of Sayajiganj BJP MLA, Keyur Rokadia fueled the violence. He instigated the police to act against the Muslims.
Gujarat Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi’s statement after the processions acted as a cue for the police to take rough arbitrary action against the Muslims in the form of the combing operation. He in a media clip is seen saying, “Ram Navami ki yatra me jobhi logo ne paththar dale hai wo bhavishya me kabhi paththar ke taraf dekhenge nahi ese sakt kadam lene me aayenge”. This clearly hinted at strict and oppressive action against the Muslims which condoned the role of the organizers of the procession and their instigation of violence. The state elected representatives were not neutral in protecting the innocent or undertake an impartial investigation into the violence.
Role of the Police:
While the police diffused the shobhayatra at 1.30 pm in Panjrigar Mohalla, their role seems partisan in the second procession which was taken out at about 5.30 pm from Kumbharwada. ACP Bhojani informed the team that the police had given permission to the procession organized by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. The permission this time was given for a different route than usual, allowing it to pass through Fatehpura, a Muslim dominated area and prone to tensions. The police were present during both the processions but couldn’t do anything to stop the stone pelting or vandalization of property. The police are seen initially trying to control the riot and didn’t let it spread to other areas. ACP Bhojani claimed that the police action was swift. The communal violence was stopped in a few hours and the mob was dispersed. The Home Minister announced that stringent action would be taken against the stone pelters. The statement of the Home Minister may have been seen as a cue by the police to target the Muslims. The police then targeted them and swung into action, combing Muslim areas and randomly arresting members of the Muslim community at about 6.30 pm, when the Muslim homes were preparing for iftaar. The policemen are seen in videos pelting stones on the Muslims. The residents of Panjrigar also corroborated this by pointing out that some stalls belonging to the Muslims as well as vehicles were damaged due to stones that were pelted by the police officials. The police as part of the state was supposed to protect the innocent and protect their property and lives. But in this instance, the police acted as rioter itself by pelting stones and attacking the Muslim community. The action henceforth was only one sided and blatantly high handed.
The police during the combing operation hit women and damaged houses belonging to Muslims. Only Muslims were arrested randomly and arbitrarily, without sufficient cause or proof. The police kicked food during iftar and were insensitive about Ramadan. In one night around 23 persons were arrested and by the time the team visited the city, approximately 80 persons were arrested- only 15 to 16 were Hindus and rest all are Muslims. Their conduct with women especially was appalling. There was no woman official while the Muslim women were arrested, thereby violating their rights and safeguards for women. The members of Hathikhana and Panjrigar told the team that women went to the police station but their complaint was not taken down by the police. In fact the police arrested the women of the community. It seems like the arrests were more as a punishment against Muslim women for resisting the violence of the Hindu right wing during the procession and the arbitrary action of the police combing operation. It didn’t appear plausible to the team that Muslim women were involved in stone pelting on the processions. They resisted the violence by voicing up against it. They were forced to do so given the tendency of the police and members of the procession to beat up the men and arresting them. The women are forced to voice up and assume some sort of leadership in the community. The police reacted to this by arresting the Muslim women.
The residents of Hathikhana and Panjrigar claimed that the Muslim residents and especially women had gone to the police station to complain about the targeted violence but they were driven away and their complaint not written down. Some residents of Panjrigar told the team that the police have asked the arrested to submit their passports at the police station and they are confiscating the same. This has raised fear in the community about the future career prospects of their youth. The partial action of the police has disappointed the Muslim community. On the other hand, the VHP leaders, Ajay Joshi and Niraj Jain said that the police’s action was satisfactory and the police did everything to restore “peace”.
Role of right-wing supremacist organizations:
The VHP and Bajrang Dal have history of inciting violence. Last year, they were organizers of the Ram Navami processions in Khambhat and Himmatnagar in Gujarat where communal riots and similar incident of stone pelting took place. Despite this knowledge, permission was granted again to these organizations. The organizations due to the impunity it enjoys is emboldened and indulges in violence brazenly. These organizations have deliberately weaponized symbols related to Ram and use Ram Navami to target Muslim community. Niraj Jain, stating that India is indeed a Hindu Rashtra said that the Hindus have a right to go in any area and show the Muslims their place. Infact he didn’t find anything objectionable in the speech of Rohan Shah. He thinks it’s all true. Ajay Joshi also said that the only way there can be peace in India is if the Muslims give up their religion.
Impact on women:
Communal politics in Vadodara like in other parts of India is affecting the rights and conditions of women adversely. The Muslim women especially are bearing the brunt of the same since they come from a location of double marginalization – gender and religious identity. The state is targeting the Muslim women in a number of ways – the atrocious police action against the Muslim women in the combing operation is one of the manifestations of this targeted action. Due to lack of strong leadership in the Muslim community along with repressive state action of state, including arbitrary arrests of the Muslim men in orchestrated violence, the Muslim women are forced to raise their voices and fight for their rights. The long detention of men in the family and overall insecurity owing to a hostile state is leaving them in a vulnerable position. They are forced to assume leadership. However, this new position is also putting them at the risk of oppression by the state directly in the form of arrests and violence as seen in these riots and aftermath. The attempt is to silence Muslim women as seen even in the ShaheenBaug movement.
Marginalization of the Muslim community:
The condition of the Muslim community is overall appalling where it is marginalized in all spheres- economic, political and social. The structures of power and political representation are manipulated in a way to render the Muslim community powerless and without any political representation. Vadodara has no Muslim corporator sine 1990s. There is no space for leadership to emerge within the community. No political party is giving representation to Muslim candidates. The lack of representation in decision making is depriving the community of civic rights like education, health and livelihoods. The worst affected are the Muslim women.
1. Impartial probe of the Violence
The investigation so far in this violence has been one sided targeting the Muslims. However, there is a need to investigate impartially into the attack by the members of the procession on the Muslim residents and places of worship. The guilty irrespective of their religious identity and political patronage should be brought to justice.
2. Punitive and disciplinary action against police personnel complicit in the violence:
It is clearly seen in the video that the police were pelting stones on the Muslim houses and shops. In this communal riot, the police turned rioter instead of protecting the innocent and upholding law and order. The complicit police officials should be brought to justice by initiating punitive and disciplinary action against them.
3. Compensation for damages suffered by victims in terms of damage to property and injuries:
The victims who suffered injuries and loss of property in terms of vandalization of vehicles and stalls should be appropriately compensated.
4. Mistreatment of Muslim women should be taken up by State Women’s Commission:
The state women’s commission should look into the violence at the hands of the police of the Muslim women and make appropriate recommendations to the government.
5. Videography of future Processions:
Knowing perfectly well the emerging trends of provocation and violence by the right-wing organizations, the police and state should video graph the processions when permissions are granted to such processions. This coverage can serve as evidence.
Report prepared by Centre for Study of Society and Secula