Why Muslims in Gujarat are living in fear once again
With Assembly polls approaching and the communal temperatures on the rise, there is a palpable fear among the Gujarat's Muslims. The BJP and other Sangh Parivar affiliates like the Bajrang Dal and VHP have gone on overdrive to achieve their target of at least 150 of the total 182 seats in the state Assembly. Muslims are worried over the recent developments and the pattern that is emerging.
Emboldened by the landslide victory in the recent Uttar Pradesh polls, elements within the Sangh Parivar have upped the ante across Gujarat.
“One is once again hearing the slogans on Ram Mandir. Overnight graffiti appeared on the walls in prominent localities asking Hindus to be wary of 'Love Jihad'. It is all aimed at keeping the communal temperatures simmering that would help in polarisation,”said a senior mediaperson based in Ahmedabad. Such graffiti was recently seen in prominent localities of Ahmedabad.
Social activists among the Muslims point at the series of instances that have taken place in the last few days across the state. After the violence against the Muslims in Vadavali village in Patan district came the violent clash in Savarkundla town in Amreli district of Saurashtra. Sources say that while the riot was triggered by a trivial altercation between students from Hindu and Muslim communities, the one at Savarkundla started with some Hindu youths targeting a Muslim youth who was sitting with a Hindu girl.
These activists told Catch that people in the villages are scared of any small fight or skirmish assuming a communal colour and leading to loss of life and property.
“We have been telling the community members not to get provoked by the jibes and react to them. The youth are being told to ignore the barbs coming from the majority community and keep to themselves. Provocation turning into violence suits those who want polarisation,” says social activist Rafi Malek.
All the recent instances of violence emanated from petty fights. A small skirmish leads to stone pelting which is followed by arson on a large scale. “This is the pattern that had emerged ahead of the 2002 polls as well when the Muslims were caught off guard. Thankfully now they can read into what is happening,” said Waqar, an activist from Ahmedabad. Waqar was in the Modasa area to investigate after receiving information that villagers from Vadgam fled to take refuge with their relatives after a fight broke out between groups from two communities over an alleged eve teasing incident. He also pointed at the alleged instance of a mobile shop being ransacked by a group during Ram Navami celebrations in Himmatnagar.
Social activists point out that the Bajrang Dal and VHP activists have become active on the ground and are going around involving 'Sant Sammelans' in the rural hinterland. “Such speeches are laced with vitriolic content against Muslims. The strategy is very clear. They get 'saints' from various cults having following among different castes and classes to come together on a single platform. The villagers cannot avoid going to the event under social and peer pressure. Then they start with talks on Hindu unity and end with a communal diatribe against the Muslims. This is a pattern visible in village after village. They have recently organised programmes in Dhansura, Dehgam and many other places,” said an activist.
Another activist pointed to a rally organised on Ram Navami in Bardoli in South Gujarat where activists from Hindutva organisations kept on playing recordings of a poetry recital on Pakistan and Kashmir to provoke Muslims. Incidentally, South Gujarat was the theatre of the 'Gharwapsi' drive of the VHP some years ago.
“Cow protection is another issue that is being whipped up to polarise Dalits and Muslims and finish off their interdependence,” pointed another activist.
“I won't say that that there is fear but yes there is concern. Because I fear the day when Muslims are compelled to fear for their survival because in such a situation anyone can retaliate and this would not be good. There is nothing new in what is happening. It is only that they now have executive powers which they are trying to use to serve their agenda. The main issue is what we can do and how much we can do to counter such things?” points out Shakeel Ahmed, a community leader and former head of the Islamic Relief Committee. He is critical of the 'secular' politicians who have displayed opportunism to go and join Hindutva organisations.
The main reference point for the recent polarisation was the VHP rally at GMDC grounds in Ahmedabad in March end, in which its international working president Dr Pravin Togadia re-ignited communal rhetoric in Gujarat. The event saw Togadia coming out of 'hibernation' after almost a decade as he continued spewing venom against Muslims.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), an outfit affiliated to the RSS recently opened its office on Relief Road amid a faux pas. The map of India that it displayed on its signboard reportedly had a large portion of Jammu and Kashmir missing from the map of India. Reports say that this is the the northern part of Jammu and Kashmir which is beyond the Line of Control (LoC). They replaced the board promptly when the error was pointed out.
“The talk among both the Hindus and Muslims in the villages these days is about the approaching polls, the growing instances of violence and the communal atmosphere being allowed to simmer. Minorities at different places are a worried lot,” pointed social activist Mukhtar Ahmed.