(Extract from the PUCL fact-finding report on Vadodara)
The importance of the Machchipith event lies in the fact that by March 14, 2002, Vadodara was limping back to normalcy. There were a significant number of areas where no untoward incident had taken place till then. The event at Machchipith was used and reported by the media as an unprovoked attack by Muslims on peacefully passing ‘rambhakts’, almost on the lines of the Godhra event, to trigger the second round of violence in Vadodara.
Machchipith, in the old city area, is inhabited by middle and lower middle Hindus and Muslims. Many of them run businesses and some are in the service sector. About 40 Hindu families and 400 Muslim families reside in the area. Although Machchipith is regarded as a communally sensitive area in local memory, even in 1985 and 1990-92, no significant instances of ‘rioting’ occurred here, though there are reports of minor scuffles during these periods. The claim is substantiated by the fact that no instances were reported in this area after the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid.
One of the major factors in maintaining communal harmony in the area in the past have been the police initiatives of holding peace meetings during religious festivals or when rallies were planned by either of the communities. For example, at the last peace meeting held before Bakri-Id (February 23), Muzzafar Khan Pathan (Mojubhai), social worker and vice-president of Tazia Committee of Vadodara, represented the Muslim community and took measures to ensure that no untoward event took place. It is significant that no such peace meetings were initiated by the police before the March 15 rally or thereafter.
In the aftermath of Godhra, too, harmony had prevailed in Machchipith, despite instances of ‘rioting’ in the immediate vicinity. For example, between February 28 and March 1, a mosque and madrassa were burnt in Tulsibhai ki chawl; 14 houses and 4 shops were burnt and a mosque blasted by means of a gas cylinder in Salatwada; 12 houses and several larri gallas were burnt in Haribhakti ki chawl; and 2 lorries were burnt just outside Machchipith on the main road. Though these events took place within walking distance of Machchipith, the area itself remained calm till March 15.
On March 15, the VHP and Bajrang Dal gave an all India level call for prayer and ‘Ram dhun’. In view of the prevailing tension, Tuteja, the Commissioner of Police, Vadodara, imposed section 144 in the city. In contravention of the above order, a 500-strong rally, comprising totally of outsiders, reached Machchipith naka at around 3.10 p.m. About 6-7 police personnel also accompanied the rally, on the left flank, on foot, with a police van bringing up the rear. The rally was quite unruly in that many Muslim-owned shops (including Indian Boot House and Tower Shoes) en route were burnt and looted.
On reaching Machchipith, some of the rallyists rushed into residential lanes with trishuls and swords. All were shouting provocative slogans ("Bandiao, go away to Pakistan," "Babar ki aulado, Hindustan chhod do," and the like.) Some even took off their pants and danced around in the lanes. Such was the scene that confronted resident Muslims coming out of the mosque after Friday namaaz. The situation worsened with stones and bottles being thrown by residents and the rally people. Shortly, while the pelting of stones and soda-bottles was going on, police reinforcements arrived in about four jeeps. They immediately began firing with service revolvers and sten-guns. The police fire, which lasted about 25 minutes, was exclusively directed at the residents of Machchipith only. Some tear gas shells were also lobbed into Machchipith.
Army personnel reached the spot after about 15 minutes of police firing and the situation was brought under control. While the residents took shelter in houses, the rallyists disappeared. Thereafter, till about 4 p.m., the police conducted ‘combing operation’ in Machchipith. Abusing the residents, they barged into various houses and indiscriminately arrested 34 Muslims. 23 of those arrested were from Machchipith, 11 from Rain Basera. Three 15-year-old boys (2 of them were to appear in the forthcoming SSC examinations), and a 68-year-old TB patient were among the people arrested and manhandled by the police. There was relative calm between 4.00 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. in the area.
During the evening namaaz at the mosque, small crowds chanting VHP and Bajrang Dal slogans gathered on the terraces in Mama ni Pole. About 15 persons were on RK Roadlines’ terrace, about 20 on the terrace of Kalyan building and about 30 on the Uday Apartments’ terrace. Ajay Dave, the municipal councillor of Manjalpur, NK Rathod, PI of the Ecocell and Niraj Jain, president of the Vadodara chapter of Bajrang Dal, were present on the RK Roadlines’ terrace. Stones were pelted at the Muzzafar Khana mosque from the RK Roadlines’ terrace at about 7.30 p.m.
About 20 rounds were fired from the RK Roadlines’ terrace towards the mosque and in the general direction of Machchipith. Bullet marks are evident on the structure of the mosque, and not on any other structures in the vicinity. Police combed the Machchipith area after this and rounded up 12 Muslims from Bagh-e-Habib Apartments. Of the 12, Sajid Khatri, an advocate, was released immediately. The others were released on bail only on March 21, along with the 34 Muslims arrested earlier. The 45 arrested, all Muslims, have been charged under section 307.
Though the area was still under curfew, on the evening of March 24, SRP personnel had to lob tear gas shells in order to curb the belligerence of the crowds gathering on the terraces mentioned above.
March 15 rally
The rally of March 15, which began at Amba Mata ki Mandir, Mandvi at approximately 2 p.m., reportedly, split into two. Many of the rallyists of the group that moved towards Machchipith (significantly no local residents took part), wore saffron bands; several carried saffron flags borne on sticks and rods. Ajay Dave, the municipal councillor of Manjalpur, Baka Brahmbhatt, factory owner in GIDC, Makarpura and Milind Ambegaonkar, of Shikshan Samiti, VMC, were leading the rally. A video clip of the news broadcast by Siti News (in their evening bulletin on the same day), substantiates the above. Milind Ambegaonkar is seen to direct the police to fire upon the Machchipith area, and Ajay Dave is an active presence during the rally as well as during most of the combing operations that took place that day.
Property looted/destroyed: A mosque and madrassa burnt in Tulsibhai ki chawl; 14 houses and 4 shops burnt and a mosque blasted in Salatwada; 12 houses and several larri gallas were burnt in Haribhakti ki chawl; 2 lorries were burnt just outside Machchipith on the main road. Muslim owned shops including Indian Boot House and Tower Shoes burned and looted on March 15.
Policemen indicted: Despite section 144 being in force, the police, apart from an overall intelligence failure, made no attempts to control or disperse the rally of March 15 before it reached Machchipith, covering a distance of nearly one km. Apart from the municipal councillors and other local leaders involved (see above for details), various police personnel were explicitly named. They are 1) MS Patel of Raopura police station; 2) Bhagirathsinh Jadeja, PI of Goonda squad; 3) PI Rao of Karelibaug police station; 4) Kanu Patel of Karelibaug police station; and 5) Fatehsinh Patel of Karelibaug police station. No action has been taken against them.
The accused: The police, VHP and Bajrang Dal, Milind Ambegaonkar (Shikshan
Samiti, VMC), Baka Brahmbhatt (factory owner in GIDC, Makarpura), Ajay Dave (Municipal councillor of Manjalpur), NK Rathod (PI of the Ecocell) and Niraj Jain (President of the Vadodara chapter of Bajrang Dal).