On 10 April, violence against Muslims erupted in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Goa and Mumbai when Hindu groups took out processions to celebrate Ram Navami – many of those processions were intended to incite anti-Muslim strife in Muslim-majority areas.
What happened in Himmatnagar?
On Sunday, at around 1:30 pm, a Hindu rally of around 500-600 people entered the Muslim-dominated neighbourhood in Chhapariya’s Ashraf Nagar area of North Gujarat’s Himmatnagar. According to the locals and the videos accessed by Maktoob, people in the rally played provocative songs, while brandishing swords in front of the Ashraf Nagar Mosque.
“When the rally arrived in the neighbourhood, they stopped near the mosque and began playing loud provocative music, they were dancing with swords in their hands – Muslim women were on their terraces, the people in the rally were abusing to which the women objected, our Muslim brothers then came out of the mosque and requested the rally to move forward, the opposite side began misbehaving, turning into a violent altercation,” a resident of Ashraf Nagar who does not want to be identified stated.
Locals told Maktoob that permission was granted to hold one Ram Navami procession at 4:00 p.m., but the Hindu group also held a procession at 1-1:30 p.m. without permission.
“They knew that at 1:30 Muslim men will be in the mosque praying, they intentionally played anti-Muslim songs and raised slogans,” told a resident.
According to residents of Ashraf nagar, a jeep carrying 7-8 people got down and got into a tiff with the residents.
“They had swords in their hands, they were abusing, they even had sticks and swords in the jeep they were travelling in, the police was also present on the scene but they didn’t object, those people got down from their jeep and were provoking the Muslims,” one witness told Maktoob.
After the heated altercation, both sides calmed down – the rally moved forward.
The Ram Navami procession began heading from Chhapariya’s Ramji temple towards Ashraf Nagar again at around 4:00 p.m., brandishing swords and shouting anti-Muslim slogans. Muslims in the area objected to the provocation and requested them to deroute, but the mob began abusing and attacking Muslims.
“This time too the police were with the rally, they didn’t stop the provocation – the altercation started after the rally kept on provoking the Muslims in the area,” a witness told Maktoob.
Soon, the Hindu mob which was allegedly led by the members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal arsoned Muslim shops and two houses and vehicles.
The Hindu mob is seen raising Jai Shri Ram (Hail Lord Ram) slogans and hurling tear gas shells in videos that have been circulating on social media. The mob is also seen being surrounded by police.
One of the locals told Maktoob that the Hindu mob set fire to a Muslim owned tile showroom in Sahakari jin, Chhapariya area.
“These people set fire to the entire showroom; there were 4-5 shops in that complex, all of which were arsoned,” a resident said. Locals say that the rioting was a well orchestrated, the mob knew about the Muslim owned businesses and houses.
Takia Masjid which is located in Ashraf Nagar was also arsoned and vandalised. This masjid is located around five metres away from Himmatnagar BJP MLA Rajendrasinh Chavda’s office.
A dargah was set on fire allegedly by the Hindu mob.
A young Muslim boy Fareed was injured in the attack when he was hit by a stone – he is currently admitted in Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, a resident told Maktoob.
Three FIRs filed in Himmatnagar violence
On 11 April, Gujarat Police registered three cases in connection with the violence that erupted in Chhapariya. According to the sources, over 30 people have been arrested.
“Police have filed an FIR against a mob, and they are picking up people randomly. One boy who came for a job in Gandhinagar was also picked up today,” one of the sources confirmed.
As per a Wire report – the first FIR cites “illegal group to carry out a pre-planned conspiracy” by setting fire to a dargah and vandalising and setting fire to vehicles.
Another FIR was lodged by Police Sub Inspector S.J. Chavda against Aspak Khan and a mob – it states that the accused used stones, sticks, and glass bottles as weapons. A third FIR was lodged with A Division police – as per the FIR violence erupted between 1.30 and 7 p.m. at Imamwada Chowk, Ashrafnagar town, Chhapariya, and other locations in Himmatnagar.
“The Ram Navami procession arrived at Chhapariya Ramji Mandir at around 1.30 p.m. with a tractor, open jeeps, a DJ, and 300 people, according to the complaint. During this time, accused Aspak Khan prepared to carry out a criminal conspiracy,” reported the Wire.
“Muslims in Gujarat live under fear”
One of the locals states that the entire violence was planned and the police knew about it.
“Even if the permission was given for a rally at 4:00 pm, then why at 1:30 all these people came with swords and played provocative anti-Muslim songs? Why didn’t the police stop them,” asks a local.
The videos that are being circulated shows that the alleged Hindu mob brought oil barrels and could be heard saying in Gujarati “set it on fire”.
Locals also claim that the police didn’t take any action against the Hindu mob, the mob was dancing with swords in hands and the police stood like a mute spectator.
Such violence was also reported from Khambhat town in Gujarat which is 167 kilometres away from Himmatnagar.
Last week in Gujarat’s Petlad town which is around 83 kilometres away from Ahmedabad similar incident happened – a Hindu group took out procession outside a mosque and played loud provocative music – the Muslims objected to the music, which led to a scuffle between the two communities – the police had to use force to defuse the tension.
“Muslims in Gujarat don’t feel safe, we don’t want to be named anywhere- it will become difficult for us to stay here, we can’t leave Gujarat,” one of the locals told Maktoob.
A case was filed against 100 people from two communities under Indian Penal Code sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 337 (rash and negligent act endangering lives), and 504 (insult to provoke and break public peace), among others (IPC).
Similar incidents have been reported in other states, indicating the same pattern.
Muslims in the Himmatnagar area claim that there are 500-600 Muslims in the Ashraf Nagar area and over 2,000 Hindus – retaliation occurred, but the Hindus outnumbered the Muslims, and the police supported the Hindus.
“We anticipated the violence, it was planned by Hindutva organisation, it happened in other states, it was bound to happen here, we didn’t do anything, we don’t want to get in trouble – the atmosphere here is very critical, the police are picking up Muslims, we can’t even do anything about it,” a local said.
In 2017, BJP won Gujarat’s Himmatnagar and Khambhat constituencies with a victory margin of less than 2,000 votes.
The state is set to go to polls later this year.
Arshi Qureshi is an Independent journalist based in Mumbai.