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Carnage in Gujarat: Citizensí Initiative for Justice & Peace
Update September 23, 2002
 

PRESS RELEASE

 IT REQUIRES A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO STOP THE VIOLENCE IN VADODARA

The statement made by the Chief Minister Narendra Modi and repeated by the Police Commissioner of Vadodara, that Abu Salemís arrest led to the attack on the Ganesh procession reflects an utter lack of respect for this basic principle.

The PUCL team strongly condemns such irresponsible and partisan statements which clearly indicate the dishonest and fascistic methods being used by Mr Modi to subjugate the Muslim community in Gujarat. The violence that took place in Vadodara city following Ganesh visarjan procession on Friday 20th September 2002, claiming at least 4 lives including two in police firing, has once again raised issues of restraint and communal approach on the part of the authorities, particularly the police. A sizeable number of people from both the communities were injured. Members of PUCL-Vadodara met residents and eyewitnesses from the area to investigate the incident. At around 2 p.m. on Friday, Muslims in Fatehpura Masjid were about to complete their namaaz when a Ganpati procession arrived from Dhuldhoya Lane.

Muslims claimed that they had requested the processionists to tone down the noise of crackers as
they were at prayer. This led to a heated exchange of words. The police rushed to advise the Muslims to withdraw and go away. Irked by this, the Muslim youths protested to the police, who in turn used force to suppress them.

However, the procession passed peacefully, though some of the processionists hurled abuses against Muslims. Some stone throwing also occurred on both sides. There are claims and counter-claims in the area about the details of the incident.

Angry youths later saw an ambulance coming to the street bound for Halol. It appears that they
ventilated their anger by attacking the ambulance. The Hindus in the ambulance were brutally attacked and injured. The ambulance was also damaged. Soon rumours spread in the city like wildfire without much factual information. This caused considerable tension. As was the case with all Muslim localities in the city, a meeting had been organised with the police commissioner the previous day, making a working arrangement for peace. Muslims voluntarily offered to
observe "Janata Curfew" by remaining inside their houses. They made a request to the police chief that, just as they had cancelled their Tazia procession in the interest of peace in the past, they would observe curfew for the same cause, but they pleaded that this time the police assure them safety and preserve their property and religious places. As per this understanding with the police, the Muslims stayed in their houses, with police guarding their street corners. The areas were "heavily guarded" by policemen, with vans and jeeps in full strength.  

However, when the Ganpati procession arrived in Yakutpura, the processionists in their frenzy shouted anti-Muslim slogans, hurled abuses and said that all Muslims must be packed off to Pakistan. They later sprinkled gulal on a Dargah, damaged its canopy, and crackers were thrown very close to it, damaging the chaddar. News of this incident spread in the Yakutpura area. This prompted an excited reaction from Muslims and was followed by stone throwing. Tempers ran high and several incidents of stabbing took place in the city. In Yakutpura one Hindu youth died in stabbing. The police immediately resorted to firing in the air
but failed to prevent mob rushing into the Mosque, which shares a common wall with the police chowki of the area. The berserk mob broke into the Masjid and ransacked the things inside, tore up a copy of the Quran and broke lights, fans etc.

The whole area at this time was crowded by processionists with the police helplessly watching.
It did little to defuse tension and rein in the frenzied mob. The police force which felt helpless to
handle the mob on the street unhesitatingly rushed inside the Yakutpura lane and resorted to a brutal lathicharge, ransacking rickshaws and other vehicles, and resorted to targeted firing in which a 16 year old Muslim youth was killed.

On Saturday, the police cracked down in Yakutpura area at 3.30 am, broke open many house-doors and arrested sixty five persons, mostly youths. They were booked under the Explosives Act. Police sources admitted to the PUCL team that the processionists had first attacked the Dargah and admitted that the incident could have been averted if this had not happened. They said that around 35 persons from Ganesh processions were also arrested.

In Machhipeeth, the Muslims welcomed the Ganesh procession with flowers. However the situation took a turn for the worse as in the evening. Around 7:30 p.m., the lights went out due to a short circuit in a marriage pandal, and the people informed the GEB to come and repair the lines. The people were waiting at a street corner on the Raopura side for electricity. The D staff policeman pressed them to go back. There was a heated exchange between the police and the
residents. The processionists from the opposite area assumed that the Machhipeeth people were attacking the procession. This led to stone-throwing, in which some Muslim youths were injured. This aggravated the situation. The police fired several rounds in which two Muslim youths were injured and one of them died.

The people of Machhipeeth and Yakutpura feel particularly frustrated because they had voluntarily observed curfew to maintain peace and yet they had lost their men to police bullets. The forty Hindus staying in Machhipeeth claimed that they had no problem with their Muslim neighbours. In two other incidents in Nagarwada area, the procession was detained in two places where stone throwing occurred. As in Yakutpura as well as Raopura areas, several hand-carts (laaries), shops, were damaged, a bakery shop was burnt down and hoarding-boards of some shops were removed and thrown on the road.

Had the police shown more foresight in planning the bandobast for the procession, the violence could have been prevented. If the police had assured Muslims of safety and security, it was imperative on their part to impose meaningful restraints on Hindu processionists. If any religious festival is to pass off peacefully and with dignity, rowdy elements must be warned that taking the law in their hands will be dealt with sternly. Stone throwing has become a regular feature with violent mobs. It has to be checked effectively.

It appears that the police was soft towards arrogant and violent processionists, some of whom behaved like hooligans. On the other hand, they behaved in a  high-handed manner towards ordinary Muslims, the majority of whom were keen to maintain peace. This discriminatory attitude of the police has led to demoralisation among Muslims, and has emboldened those elements who are creating tension in the name of religion.

The local intelligence branch of the police must have a proper assessment of the mood of the people participating in festivals as well as of the other communities and must be prepared for any eventuality. A strong signal must go out to the public at large that nobody is above the law. Failure to do so will only lead to a breakdown of the authority of the police and administration.The number of Ganesh images, their sizes, and people joining the procession have to be regulated and controlled. Otherwise total police force will be left with only bandobust duties for peace all the time.

The PUCL and Shanti Abhiyan strongly condemn the attack on the ambulance, and the violent incidents which followed. We demand strict action against all those involved in the wanton violence against ordinary people, and urge ordinary Muslims to condemn the attack on the ambulance as a heinous crime. The administration and police in situations of strife and violence should conduct itself in a manner such that all communities feel that they are equal before the law, and that the law does not offer partisan protection to any particular community. The statement made by the Chief Minister Narendra Modi and repeated by the Police Commissioner of Vadodara, that Abu Salemís arrest led to the attack on the Ganesh
procession reflects an utter lack of respect for this basic principle. Such statements only serve to create insecurity among Muslims, while emboldening others out to attack them. The PUCL team strongly condemns such irresponsible and partisan statements which clearly indicate the dishonest and fascistic methods being used by Mr Modi to subjugate the Muslim
community in Gujarat.


KIRIT BHATT ROHIT PRAJAPATI JAGDISH SHAH
ISSAQ CHINWALA SOBHA SHAH
MANSOOR SALERI THKORBHAI SHAH
JEHANARA RANGREZ SURYKANTBEN SHAH

Peopleís Union for Civil Liberties and Shanti Abhiyan

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