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Gujarat's Hansot communal clashes on January 14 were "provoked" by right-wing forces: PUCL

By Our Representative
A People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) fact-finding team has found that the communal clashes in and around Hansot taluka of Bharuch District in Gujarat, which led to the death of three innocent persons on January 14, 2015, the day of Uttarayan Festival, was “not a sporadic incident” but “a gradual build-up that started on December 9, 2014, which the local administration failed to anticipate.”
While Hansot has a sizable Muslim population, communalism is a recent phenomenon has begun only in recent years, it said. For example, during the 2002 riots the area did not witness major untoward incidents. Things have reached such a point now that “both the local people and the authorities tend to perceive any dispute between two members of different communities as communal conflict”, it added.
Those who consisted of the PUCL team included academics and activists – Prof Ghanshyam Shah, Dr Trupti Shah, Sofia Khan, Rafi Malek, Krishnakant Chuhan, Reshma Vohra, Sharif Malek, Mariyam Agarbattiwala, Hiren Gandhi, Rohit Prajapati, and Dr Sarup Dhruv.
“The violent turn of events began on December 9, 2014 when Ambheta resident, Sunil alias Sajan Patel, circulated abusive messages about Prophet Mohammed and Muslims on instant messaging app, Whatsapp, the report said, adding, “On December 10, 2014 offended Hansot Muslims called for a bandh and police arrested Sunil on December 10, 2014. On December 11, 2014 more than 5,000 Muslims participated in a protest rally at the district headquarters in Bharuch”.
The rally – a show of strength – “triggered a spate of retaliatory incidents in surrounding villages, including telling Muslims to convert to Hinduism in Katpor Village, forcing them to leave their 95 bigha farm land, home and property on December 24, 2014”, the report said.
In retaliation, on December 21, 2014, at Sajod Village, a Dharma Jagran Manch rally was attended by local BJP leaders. This was followed at Ilav village's eight Muslim families being “forced to leave their homes, shops, and properties on December 24, 2014”. And, in Hansot, “a Muslim-owned farm was burnt on January 5, 2015”.
Things culminated on January 14, 2015, when a “minor dispute” led to a Muslim youth being beaten by a Hindu youth, which flared into communal clashes that swept across the villages. In a retaliatory attack Muslim youths from Hansot took to violence, which egged on Hindu mobs turning in communal clashes leading to three deaths”, the report said, adding, “All the three youths who died in the Hansot clashes were innocent bystanders, with no part in the rioting Hindu-Muslim mobs.”
Meanwhile, “in surrounding villages retaliatory violence continued with Muslims fleeing their homes, shops and farms, their properties looted and burnt”, the report said, adding, “Many who fled to Surat and nearby safer places did not returned to their homes and farms when the fact-finding team visited the region.”
The team said, “Though there exists a tradition of sharing food, participating in each other’s festivals, visiting Dargah, helping each other in religious gatherings, the increasing presence of rightwing Hindu groups is putting a strain on the shared traditions.”
It added, “While we did not observe a complete break of social and cultural ties, there is definitely a trust deficiency between the two communities, which blames the other for `high handedness’. Partisan role of local elected leaders, which are usually from the BJP and that of the local authorities during any conflicts, tends to aggravate further relations between the two communities.”
The team further accused the “authorities” of failing to “check the right-wing mobilization that has been happening for a long time in the villages by groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, amongst others. We cannot also deny that the presence of fundamentalist Muslim elements in the region, which find their raison d'etre due to growing assertion of right wing Hindu groups.”

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