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Surat left to burn

VHP-sponsored Gujarat bandh led to large-scale violence in Surat claiming several lives, eight according to an estimate. The loss due to the riots has been estimated at ten million rupees. Though indefinite curfew was clamped in the textile city, the news of wide-spread arson and looting have been reported.

Ahead of the whole country, the VHP called bandh in Gujarat on 3 August to protest the killing of Amarnath pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir which were allegedly caused by CPRF and Kashmir police callousness as well as lax security provided by the authorities. The city bore the brunt of mob fury, with miscreants on a stabbing spree leaving one dead and 14 injured even as police fired 10 rounds in the air in the sensitive areas of Chowk Bazar, Ved and Katargam on the eastern outskirts of the city. A Muslim beggar was killed and two Muslim women were injured in Trishul attacks on 3 August just ten feet away from Navapura police station.

VHP and BJP workers forced shopkeepers to down their shutters. They went on rampage in Muslim areas where they set shops and houses on fire and injured many in the days that followed. Several religious places had also to face the wrath of VHP’s cadres. Several mosques and dargahs were destroyed in the goonda attacks.

It were not only the members of saffron organizations who attacked Muslims and burnt their business houses. News emanating from the riot-affected Surat shows the discriminatory role that the law enforcing agencies played. In some instances cops not only protected culprits but also attacked Muslims themselves in what reminds one of the earlier role of the police in UP, Bihar and Maharashtra.

The picture took a definite turn for the worse when the State Reserve Police, a hark back to the hated Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) which had gained notoriety in the north during the eighties and nineties, jumped into the communal fray. Muslims in Gujarat perceive the State Reserve Police as a provocateur rather than a saviour. As the PAC was seen to be more than inclined against the minorities, the same can be said of the SRP in Gujarat, especially now that the saffron brigade holds sway there.

SRP men reportedly went on rampage in the guise of VHP cadres. In some other areas law enforcers went berserk and violated every law of the land. In some Muslim-dominated localities, like Ranghavdoot Society on Rander Road, they harassed Muslims and accused them to have jeopardized the security of the whole country. They blamed the minority community for the troubles in the country..!

In some Muslim-dominated areas they asked Muslims to chant the controversial Vande Matram if they wanted to live in the country. This is exactly what Shiv Sena has been doing in Mumbai for more than a decade. Two innocent Surat residents, Muhammad Shakir and Nadim, who were beaten up for refusing to chant Vande Matram, say that they started beating us when we refused to obey and called us names. They also accused them to be ‘Pakistanis.’

The orgy was repeated on 7 August in Modasa where Muslim businesses and shops were targetted. Muslims in Lamaria, Baroda and Kher Brahma were also targetted by saffron goons. 

Muslim business houses were specially targeted. It was similar to what had been done in the past. During the 1992 riots following Babri Masjid demolition the same was done with Muslims. Their looms and shops were targetted and set on fire. One Haji Bhai Kapadia, a resident of Pakeeza Society who owns 40 looms, said that 20 of his looms were set on fire. His locality was targetted by rioters. Ten workers are employed in every loom. With the destruction of 20 looms, 200 people will be rendered jobless. It is not lone case. Instances of this sort are scattered everywhere. 

There is another face to this fire of communalism. People say that big business houses sometimes hijack these riots to use it to their own favour. It may be an attempt by big business houses to kill the thriving small-scale handloom and powerloom sector. This sector is controlled mainly by Muslims in the city and its suburbs. 

Gujarat has been a hotbed of communal tension, especially since BJP came to power in the state. Incidents of violence against Christians are fresh in memory. Gujarat is portrayed as a model of the Hindu state the Parivar strives for!
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