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New phenomenon? Communal violence "being taken to" Gujarat villages, small towns

The signboard calls Halwad a town of Hindu Rashtra
By Our Representative
A "fact-finding" report by a Gujarat-based minority civil rights organization, Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch (AAM), involving 13 communal incidents in 2018, has suggested how, following the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which more than 1,000 persons, majority of them Muslims, died, the saffron brigade has allegedly changed its tactic by seeking to spread of communal hatred and violence in rural areas and smaller towns.
Suggesting that this trend has intensified during the last couple of years, the report shows that of the 13 incidents chosen, 10 took place in the rural areas and smaller towns such as Chhatral, Khambat, Himmatnagar, Idar, Kalol, Kheda and Halwad. It underlines, these areas did not witness intense communal violence during the 2002 carnage.
This new phenomenon, claims the report, coincides with BJP coming to power at the Centre, insisting, "The resulting polarisation can be gauged from signboards welcoming travellers into villages stating ‘Welcome to Hindu Rashtra’, placed by the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad."
"Such signboards are grim reminders of similar boards which were erected during the elections of 2007, mostly at the city level in different areas of Ahmedabad and Vadodara. However, from 2017, they are erected mostly in interior villages, blocks and towns", the report says.
In the 13 communal riots examined, 33 persons were injured, out of which 24 belonged the Muslim community, while nine were Hindus. The total number of persons killed was three; one was Muslim while two were Hindus.
In terms of the loss of property, in most cases, the Muslim community bore the brunt, the report says, adding, out of the 13 incidents only in one incident, in Sanjeli village, Dahod district, there was an equal amount loss suffered by both the communities.
Out of 13 communal incidents, seven took place during religious festivals (Ganesh Chaturthi, Eid, Bakr Eid Maharana Pratap Jayanti), processions and rallies, two under the pretext of inter-religious romantic relationships, one due to alleged eve teasing of a Muslim woman and another due to inter-religious marriage between a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl, the report says.
Rest of the two communal riots were results of inter-personal petty disputes between individuals, which was given a communal hue, and resulted in violence between the two communities.
Contending that the "unambiguous visual presence of Hindu supremacists, including RSS, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, has played a pivotal role in spreading hate among Muslims and in provoking Hindus against Muslims", the report regrets, religious festivals are being used as arenas for political mobilization along communal lines, which wasn't the case earlier.
"In the past, religious festivals were bonding factors where residents, irrespective of religious identities, participated", it says.
Noting that "increasing conflicts due to inter-religious relationship are rapidly growing, and both Hindus, including Dalits, and Muslims are aggressive", the report says, despite the basic right of choosing a partner, the choice is politicized and turned into ‘love jehad’ to target the Muslim boys who have any relationship with Hindu girls in order to demonize the community.
Pointing towards how "Hindu supremacists" play a very important role in these cases, with photo copies of notices issued in special marriage courts being made viral on various WhatsApp groups, the report says, this results in either in communal riots or pressurizing the families of the couple to stop the marriage and get the girl back to her parents.
It regrets, "Both communities react more or less similarly in this."
Suggesting that the impact of "small scale riots has been intense", as they seek to "achieve polarization of society along religious lines, increase intolerance, while creating an image that communal riots are not taking place in Gujarat", the report says, this has happened also because Congress and other opposition parties in Gujarat are "completely marginalized" and the Muslim vote "has been rendered irrelevant, having little bearing on elections."
According to the report, instead of the earlier KHAM (Kshtriya, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims) theory which sought to bring together marginalized communities during 1980s, there is now the hegemony of dominant castes to formulate a Hindu vote bank.
Coming to mob lynching, the report says, cow vigilantes have triggered "a new form of communal violence in Gujarat", as the rest of India. Gautankwad, a portmanteau of the Hindi words for cow and terrorism on social media, has taken place in 19 of 29 Indian states, it says, with Uttar Pradesh (10), Haryana (9), Gujarat (6), Karnataka (6), Madhya Pradesh (4), Delhi (4) and Rajasthan (4) reporting the highest number of such cases.
"After cow vigilantes attacked Mohommad Ayub of Ahmedabad in 2016, many other incidents took place across Gujarat. In 2018, AAM monitored five incidents of mob lynching. These include two related to cow vigilantism, two to suspicion of theft and one to child lifting, in which tribal, Dalit and denotified community individuals were lynched to death", the report says.
In two cow vigilantism cases, three individuals belonging to the Muslim community were attacked and beaten up, but fortunately they survived after long medical treatment, it notes.
Yet another form of communal violence is socio-economic boycott as a potent tool for forced displacement of Muslims from villages in Gujarat, the report says, insisting, Muslims are compelled to live as secondary citizens. They are isolated by refusal to engage with them in trade or interact with them socially.
Instances of socio-economic boycott were reported from Kherda, Sherpur, Vaktapur and Chhatral, where Muslim families were forced to get out of their villages, the report notes. Out of 70 Muslim families from Vaktapur, 10 had to rent houses in Himmatnagar in Muslim ghettos. Twenty-two families stayed in Himmatnagar for three months, and after the tension was diffused to some extent they returned back to their village.
Then, 40 families from Kherda fled from the village after the riots to Verakhadi village and lived for a month in a relief camp, run with community support. "Fortunately, due to relentless efforts of AAM, the families were able to return to their village, though their loss in terms of children’s education, farming, livestock and mental stress was significant", the report says.
Similarly, the four families living in Sherpur were forcibly displaced and boycotted after a Muslim boy married a Dalit girl. After one month, the families returned to the village with police intervention but felt very hurt and wanted to move out of the village by selling their properties.
And in Chhatral, Muslims were forced to close their small businesses, farming, auto rickshaw driving for a week and bore huge losses. They had to keep women and children at safer places. This damaged the social fabric.
Coming to the police role, the report says, Muslims have had to not only bear the brunt of losses in terms of property and lives, the law and order machinery too has treated them with discrimination: As many as 129 Muslims were arrested compared to 62 from other communities.
FIRs prominently includes the names of Muslims in the list of the accused which forces Muslim victims to give up the pursuit of justice and move towards compromise, the report says. In one incident, of Vadali, though the arrest involved equal number of Muslims and Non-Muslims (each side 11), the police put all 11 Muslims boys to task by ill-treating them.
The fear of further violence keeps such police brutalities unreported, it adds.
In Sherpur village, communal forces pressurized police to slap charges under the Protect ion of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, against a Muslim boy. After getting the boy and the girl back to the village, the village panchayat called a meeting.
Members of local RSS, Bajrang dal and VHP felicitated the police for doing fabulous job in getting back the girl in this inter-religious romantic relationship, says the report.
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Click HERE for details of 13 incidents

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