Bhavnagar in Saurashtra, central Gujarat
had never experienced a communal riot in the past. This time, large
properties belonging to Muslims were targeted and destroyed.
The attack in Bhavnagar was launched on
March 1, 2002. Vile and unsubstantiated reports published in local
newspapers about the local madrassa, Darul Uloom Kakor Nagar led a
manic mob to blockade it They were threatening to burn alive 455 innocent
Muslim children boarding there who were trapped inside.
The role of the SP Bhavnagar, Rahul
Sharma, is indeed worthy of note. Sharma fired on a mob that was trying to
set the madrassa on fire, and put all its leaders behind bars. By
his prompt arrival, leading his men and firm action, 400-odd young lives
The surrounding area was engulfed by
fire from all four sides. The road outside was piled with burning tyres, 2
ft. high, making escape impossible. The entrapped children described their
brush with death thus: "We had lost all hope and thought our last moment
had arrived. In anticipation of death we started reciting the Kalimah
(Word of God). In the meanwhile we saw SP Rahul Sharma drive through the
fire, and approach our building, calling us out to get into the truck. We
promptly obeyed and he drove us through 2 ft. high flames of burning tyres,
saving all 455 of us. He did not appear to care for his own life then. We
were later transferred to Ibrahim Masjid."
On the evening of March 1, when mobs
were prowling the streets, the Bhavnagar police, who had never faced a
riot before, seemed, momentarily, to lose confidence. "Sensing that my men
were hesitating, I got out and fired the first round and they immediately
joined me. We managed to disperse the mob and did not allow them to
regroup," Sharma told the media at the time. For this, Sharma had to face
the heat from political ‘bosses.’
On March 1, SP Rahul Sharma broke up a
rally led by a Shiv Sena leader and VHP activists. When leaders in the
rally including SS leader, Kishore Bhatt and 21 VHP activists raised
inflammatory slogans, the SP issued instructions for their immediate
arrest. This brought the situation under immediate control. The BJP MLA,
Sunil Oza, called up Sharma, accusing him of stirring up trouble by
arresting Sena and VHP leaders. The MLA, in fact, threatened the police
saying that if they were not released, it would cause a serious law and
order problem. But the policeman refused to give in. For several days, he
resisted pressure from BJP MLAs, minister of state for home, Gordhan
Zadaphiya and others. Oza then reportedly exerted pressure on the DGP’s
office, but after considering the case, the DGP’s office chose not to
pressurise Sharma. Then they tried to instigate riots to get Sharma into
trouble. Suddenly 22 incidents were reported from his district. That is
when the police decided to use force. The Bhavnagar police were on their
toes, opening fire wherever and whenever necessary. By March 2, the number
of incidents had trickled down and by March 3, there was nothing to
report. When the Army eventually reached Bhavnagar, it had little to do.
But the interference did not stop here. Zadaphiya called up the Bhavnagar
city police and told them not to register cases against those injured in
police firing. The police refused to oblige. Sharma paid the price for his
uprightness. The officer was transferred as DCP (Control Room).
In Bhavnagar town, an ice cream factory
belonging to Ibrahim Bhai was reduced to ashes, causing losses of about Rs.
1.25 crore. The bone factory belonging to Abbu Bhai was also burnt. Hotel
Polo and White Rose where 18 foreigners were lodged, and were evacuated by
the police well in time, were completely destroyed. The loss of business
and properties in Bhavnagar was estimated at Rs. 3 crore. Many wealthy
Muslims of Bhavnagar have been reduced to a state of penury.
Three men were brutally killed in Rajkot,
another prominent town in western Gujarat that has been historically free
of communal violence. However, over the past four years a series of
incidents have taken place.
At Rajkot, the Sunni Masjid Yateem Khana
was completely gutted. Wakaner Morji Madrassa was demolished and a statue
was built in its place, atop which a flag continued to fly for several
months. The Tribunal received unconfirmed reports of the gang rape of
three Muslim girls.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi was elected from Rajkot,
through a by-election held in February 2002, barely a week before the
Godhra incident. Statements of witnesses placed before the Tribunal stated
that during his election campaign the community of Dawoodi Vohras had
contributed generously, in lakh of rupees, to his election fund. The Bohra
community had felicitated him and wished his political career well. Young
Muslim girls had fed him ice cream. These gestures were only repaid by the
targeting and burning down of all the major Bohra owned factories in
Rajkot, amounting to a staggering Rs. 300 crore.