March-April  2002 



The area around Vadodara city that falls under the Vadodara rural district saw unfortunate attacks by the instigated adivasi section of the population, who have been influenced by the BJP and VHP systematically over the past years. Kanwat, Tejgadh, Panvat and other villages in this region have been virtually wiped clean of any minority population. Shops and homes have been looted and destroyed and then burned, often in the presence of the police.

Place: Tejgadh, taluka Chhotaudaipur, Vadodara district
Khatri Abdulkader Nishar Ahmed and others.

(Have lodged an FIR against DySP, Chhotaudaipur, collector, Vadodara, Police chief, Vadodara. CC received a copy of the same on March 20.)

FIR: The complainants are Khatri Abdulkader Nishar Ahmed, Khatri Usmangani Daudji, Khatri Daudji, Massombhai V., Khatri Mahmedji Umerji, Khatri MY Khatri Ahmed Ahmedji, Fakirmohammed, Khatri Yusuf Umerji, Kuresi Amjadali Ali, Khatri Abdul Majid A Kadar, Khatri Shabbirbhai M, Khatri Abdul Kader Mahmoodji Syyed Mahboobali Husseinmiya, Khatri Daudji, Khatri Suleimanji Usmanji, Khatri Abdul Karim Usmanji, Khatri Ahmedji Usmanji.

With this, we the undersigned, belonging to the minority community and inhabitants of Chhotaudaipur, Vadodara district, are lodging our complaint as follows, and in this connection, we request you, from the humanitarian viewpoint, to carry out the necessary investigations and take the necessary actions as per the basic rights given to the minorities by the Constitution.

On the day of the Godhra train killings, there was complete peace in our village. The next day, the traders of the majority community, including the sarpanch and the deputy sarpanch, had requested us to shut our shops in response to the call of Gujarat bandh. To show their opposition to the inhuman killings on the train, the minorities had closed their shops all over. Next day, on hearing about Bharat bandh, the minorities again kept their shops closed to show their opposition to the train killings. On the third day, all the shops in the village had opened as usual.

After that, due to the uneasy peace prevailing, in order to protect our area and our lives and property, we minorities started staying awake. On March 2, the village sarpanch came to our area. While he was there, a person from the minority community, Khatri Yusufji Daudji informed the sarpanch that in order to maintain peace in the village, we should call a meeting of the Peace Committee so that through an exchange of confidence in each other, we can maintain peace. The sarpanch informed us that there was no need to call a meeting of the Peace Committee and do not be worried about it.

But we suspected that there was some scheme being evolved in the village and four families of the minority community living in the Limdi market came to live in the village on March 1. But on March 2, when the atmosphere worsened, the four families took their household belongings and came to live in the area where the minority community lived. On March 3, around 10 o’clock at night, the sarpanch came to our area and told us that we should not sit around in groups but stay in our houses, otherwise he will invoke section 144 and arrest us under it.

We told him that if we stay awake to protect our property, that cannot be a crime and no law can prevent us from protecting our property because at that time there was only one jamadar and three police constables at the village outpost, who were not enough to protect the village property. And that, keeping this in mind, the minority community had identified four points in our area and had arranged to stay awake all night. In this way, we spent the night of March 3 with an uneasy peace.

On March 4, through an inhabitant of the village, Abdul Latif Rehmanji Khatri, we had informed the leader of the BJP, Ashwinbhai Rawal (village Chichod) that as the condition of the village was not good, he should use his position to contact the zilla police chief and get more police. To this he replied that he was going to Chhotaudaipur right then to make appropriate arrangement.

But up to the evening of March 4, no additional police was seen. Around 11.05 that night, minority community farmer, Yakubji Daudji’s shop was set on fire. Fifteen minutes later, the shops and buildings of the minority community situated in Limdi market were also set on fire, even as eight persons of the minority community were present at that spot. They saw with their own eyes that a crowd of 150 to 200 people was screaming and howling and making the atmosphere frightening.

People of the minority community who were present told the jamadar on duty to stop the crowd from arson. He replied that as the place had already been set on fire, he was going to the police station to call the fire brigade on the wireless. Saying this, he left the place with his staff. But on the spot was Home Guard commandant, Arvindbhai Desaibhai Patel, who was performing his duty.

Meanwhile, on noticing the minority community members, the crowd rushed towards them. The latter ran into their area to save their lives. Just then, the telephone and electricity connections in the minority community area went off. Half an hour later, the water tanker of the fire brigade arrived but the unruly crowd did not allow the brigade to do its job because of which the fire continued raging.

In the meantime, more police arrived from Chhotaudaipur, who started firing teargas shells. As this was having no effect, they started firing in the air. When even that was not effective, they thought it their duty to fire into the crowd. Meanwhile, the houses and shops of the minority community in the Limdi market continued to burn. Then, from a rear approach road to the market, on Kikawala Road, there came another mob, screaming and howling, to set fire to the houses of the minority community. They were also shooting arrows.

In Limdi market, PSI Pandya who was performing his duty started firing tear gas shells. This had no effect on the crowd and a cabin which was near the bus stand was set on fire. As the violence continued, the police had no alternative but to start firing in which, as per our knowledge, 4 to 5 persons were injured. The crowd took the injured people and ran away with them.

At that time, the mamlatdar of Chhotaudaipur and the DySP arrived on the spot. The whole night was spent in great anxiety. In the morning, members of the minority community went to meet the PSI on duty, Pandya. The PSI informed them that the previous night, he was given orders to fire on the crowd but now he had instructions from above not to fire and so he will act accordingly. He added that one person had been injured in the firing the previous night and his condition was serious. If he dies, the police was apprehensive that the adivasis of the surrounding villages will attack Muslims during the funeral procession. He, therefore, advised the minority community to leave the village in order to save their lives.

In view of this, 210 people left Tejgadh village, to save their lives for Bodeli, where they took shelter with their relatives, and acquaintances. The report of these 210 people was given to the Bodeli police station. Right now, we are still sheltered in Bodeli. After we moved out, till today, the shops and houses of the minority community are continuously being first looted and then set on fire. And the people in power have not even taken the trouble to call the fire brigade. In addition, though more than 15 days have passed, to our knowledge the police have not performed a combing operation or made arrests to locate the stolen goods.

In the above-mentioned incidents, at least 65 properties (40 houses and 25 shops) were looted and burnt down. The estimate of this damage is about Rs. 1.5 crore. We went to talk to those in power about the incident in Tejgadh. But they have not accepted our complaints or application. We have right now taken shelter in Bodeli and are living here in very bad conditions.

Afterwards, we went to Tejgadh to get our belongings and the goods in the shops, but whatever little was saved was also looted and burned in the following days. We went there, to get whatever that was saved, at great risk to our lives. We humbly request you to make arrangements for our rehabilitation and make sure that our above-mentioned complaints are noted and appropriate steps are taken against those responsible for this.

Property looted/destroyed: At least 65 properties, 40 houses and 25 shops which were looted and burnt down. Losses estimated at about Rs. 1.5 crore.

The accused: Sarpanch and adivasis from villages nearby.
Policemen indicted:
PSI Pandya, senior police officials and district collector.

Place: Kanwat, taluka Chhotaudaipur, Vadodara district
Rajesh Mishra, social activist working with Arch Vahini

(Has filed an FIR. CC has a copy.)

FIR: I the undersigned Rajesh Mishra, son of Shri Jagdambaprasad A. Mishra, presently residing and working with non-governmental organization (NGO), Arch Vahini, at village Mangrol, taluka Rajpipla, dist. Narmada affirm on oath that:

I was present at my native village Kanwat, taluka Kanwat, district Vadodara of Gujarat state between March 10 and March 18, 2002. On March 12 and 13, in Kanwat, more than 250 houses and shop establishments of Muslims, including Bohra community, were looted and then set on fire by mobs of tribals of surrounding villages. Most of the houses belonging to Muslims have been totally destroyed and their business is completely ruined. There were 185 Muslim and 52 Bohra households living and conducting their business in Kanwat. Even elders cannot recall when and from where the Muslims came and settled into this interior village Kanwat.

Some of them had their traditional businesses like cycle selling and repairing, automobile garages, fruit vending, grocery shops, poultry and goat farming etc. Some of the Muslims were also engaged in services in shops and business of other trading communities of the village. For the last few years, some of them were diversifying into new enterprises like building construction, contractors, building material supplier, rural transport business with tempos and jeeps, second hand vehicles trading etc.

All the 185 Muslim households have lost all of their belongings. Their houses and business premises have been looted, burnt and destroyed. Out of 185 households, 38 had pucca RCC structures and the rest were kutcha structures. They have lost property worth Rs 3.50 crore approximately, in their shops, garages, cabins and lorries and vehicles. They are homeless and have become paupers, taking shelter in Vadodara and Chhotaudaipur with relatives and Muslim jamaatkhanas.

Fifty-two Bohra community households were well-to-do traders of Kanwat. They were settled in Kanwat for more than 100 years and had developed business in varied spheres and on a big scale. Besides their traditional business of wholesale grain trade and grocery shops, bakery, printing press, soft drink manufacturing, rural transport business were some of the new areas where the enterprising Bohra had stepped in for the last 2-3 years. Even by very conservative estimate, they have lost property worth Rs. 7 to 8 crore.

From March 1 onwards, Muslims were receiving threats and threatening calls from various sources, which had made them tense and anxious. They were constantly requesting the local administration, the mamlatdar and police authority to provide protection. As the tension mounted, they also demanded deployment of Border Security Force (BSF), or Rapid Action Force (RAF), or State Reserve Police (SRP) in adequate numbers.

Their fears were not unfounded, for the sarpanch and other village leaders had cancelled the traditional weekly market (haat) scheduled for March 4 and March 11. Cancelling of the haat was most unusual and extraordinary decision because haats are almost never cancelled. This indicated the gravity of the situation and the danger loomed large over the law and order situation. The target was obviously the Muslim community.

The local MLA of Chhotaudaipur personally confided to me that for that whole week, he was pressurising and persuading the district administration to employ BSF/RAF or SRP personnel, minimum 40-50 in number, at Kanwat. He even informed the Home Secretary and the DIG of the state of the looming threat. But the administration did not respond to the requests.

On March 10, in a nearby village Panwad, 12 kms. from Kanwat, the houses, shops and cabins of Muslims were looted and set on fire by mobs from the surrounding villages. Prior to looting and setting fire to the houses and other establishments, the mobs had set on fire the tempo trucks that were parked inside the Police Station compound for safety and security. The incident took place on the very day on which the SRP and the BSF forces were withdrawn from Panwad.

As the report of incidents in Panwad reached Kanwat, the Muslims desperately urged the local administration to provide them security or else they would be ruined and their life was in grave danger. The Muslims in Kanwat panicked because they knew that it was their turn next, for the stories were constantly pouring in from all the sides during the past ten days that the mobs would first target Panwad, then it will be the turn of Kanwat.

I phoned the district collector the same day and informed him that prior to the attack on Panwad, the tribals were constantly threatening that Panwad would be the first, followed by Kanwat. The local BJP leader, who was trying to keep peace in Kanwat, had also sensed the impending trouble. He was also constantly imploring the district collector and the police authority to provide adequate police, BSF protection to Kanwat to avoid the great tragedy that could overtake Kanwat.

In the next two days, I made several calls to the collector and the DSP and pleaded with them to provide security to Muslims and Bohras of Kanwat. I constantly argued with them to deploy BSF/RAF/SRP in Kanwat. All that the district administration had done before this was to organize a Flag March of the security forces in Kanwat. I argued out of desperation that this was no use. Kanwat is an interior village. The Hindu community of Kanwat was not threatening the Muslims. In fact, the Hindus also wanted security forces because they, too, feared the mobs from the surrounding villages.

But the administration claimed that they had limited army personnel. I was informed that there were only 106 jawans at their disposal for the area. If so, I argued, that they should be divided in three parts and take positions in three sensitive localities, Chhotaudaipur, Panwad and Kanwat. I even argued that since Chhotaudaipur was a bigger town, may be Kanwat and Panwad may be assigned 20-24 jawans along with thirty SRP. A Flag March lasting for 10-30 minutes, without a constant presence of the jawans, would serve no purpose, I kept on arguing. My pleadings, along with the pleadings of the other leaders, fell on deaf ears.

I made representations to the NHRC in Ahmedabad, local activists and many senior citizens about the situation in Kanwat. The army unit did not arrive till the night of March 11. In the early morning of March 12, at 3.30 a.m., 135 households, consisting of 990 people of Muslim community, were shifted under police protection. On the same day, Bohra Muslim families took shelter in the Kanwat police station in the after- noon. Later on in the night, these families, too, were shifted under police protection from Kanwat to Dahod town of Gujarat. They left their houses and property exposed.

On the morning of March 12, I was informed by some activists that an army platoon had left for Kanwat and would reach Kanwat anytime and that it would stay put up to March 16. The army unit did arrive on March 12 in the morning, staged a Flag March and left in about 30 minutes. While the army was conducting Flag March, I was told by one of the traders that soon after the march was over, the unit would leave. I panicked and called the district collector and informed him about this. He seemed surprised and said, "This should not happen, I will call the DSP."

It is a fact that the unit did leave. Later, I also sent a fax message to the collector and the DSP that the army had left and the people and property were left exposed. The property of Muslims and Bohras was looted in the daylight of March 12 and 13. The police was merely a spectator. It was not that the mob was violent, it was unarmed and consisted of young children and women, but the fact was that the police had not taken any action to prevent the mob from looting and the administration had not deployed enough force.

Even simple measures like tear gas or firing in the air were not resorted to by the police, to prevent the mob from looting and setting fire to Muslim and Bohra property. On March 13, the looting and burning spree started from early morning and went on till late afternoon. Suddenly at about 3.15 p.m., police imposed curfew and within minutes it drove away the looting mobs. I was wondering why the police did not act in this manner the previous day and earlier that day. Within an hour, the mystery was solved and we came to know that the collector and the DSP were visiting Kanwat. I was asked to see the collector. I went and told him that if the administration was willing to bring the situation under control and protect the Muslims and Bohras of Kanwat, it could have easily done so.

Given the circumstances under which the Muslims and Bohras had to flee and their properties were looted and burnt, the panicked communities are not likely to return to Kanwat for a considerable time. And when they return, it is imperative that a sizeable SRP force be stationed in Kanwat for a fairly long period. It is also imperative that the communities which lost all its properties should be appropriately compensated so that they can restart their lives.

Arch Vahini, At & Post Mangrol, taluka Rajpipla, 393150, Gujarat.

Property looted/destroyed: More than 250 houses and shops looted and then set on fire. All the 185 Muslim and 52 Bohra households have lost all of their belongings. Estimated property losses are Rs 3.50 crore and between 7 and Rs 8 crore respectively.

The accused: Adivasis from neighbouring villages.
Policemen indicted:
District collector and Police chief, Vadodara district.

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