Changed route, provoking Muslims: Ram Navami procession followed a familiar pattern in India’s Gujarat
New Delhi/Vadodara: “’Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’ echoed in our vicinity as our dargahs and mosques were being attacked, our sons being beaten,” said Feroz, a local from Vadodara’s Fatepura.
On March 30, Ram Navami day, like several other parts of the country, Vadodara was also embroiled in hate as tensions escalated at Panjrigar mohalla around 1 pm — right around the time of afternoon prayers for Muslims — when a Ram Navami procession lead by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was passing by the area. This religious procession that happens every year took a different route this year to be able to pass both a mosque and a dargah on its way.
According to locals and the videos they shared with The Wire, revellers in VHP’s Shobha yatra vandalised the Dhuldoyawad Masjid and Hazrat Kalu Shahid Dargah in the area. While the city police were able to deploy forces in time, vandalism and violence triggered tensions as multiple processions made their way through the old city area.
Also read: The deadly religious procession
On March 31, in the evening, Madinabibi had laid out her dastarkhwan awaiting iftar with her family, like every other day. Minutes before the announcement for iftar a loud thud broke the iron gate of their home in Fatehpura. Police entered their home and took away seven members of her family, accusing them of rioting and pelting stones at the yatra.
“They dragged my sons, my daughters-in-law, and my daughter out of our house. They emptied my home during iftar. I shouted, I begged and shrieked only to be met by their deafness,” said Madinabibi, a local from the Kumbharwada-Hathikhana area of the walled city.
FIR names 45 Muslims as accused, others counted as ‘mob’
On April 3, in a press release, the Vadodara Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) announced the arrest of 12 more persons for rioting and stone-pelting, after the initial arrest of 23 persons from the Hathikhana-Kumbharwada area. The DCB said that the 12 persons were arrested after being identified through CCTV footage, which also included a man who was seen wielding a sword.
As of April 4, at least 60 locals from both communities were arrested in connection with violence and vandalism.
On April 13, four out of seven of Madinabibi’s family members and a Muslim neighbour were released on bail, along with a Hindu reveller from the yatra. Hamidaben Sattarbhai Rathore, 53, Madinabibi’s neighbour, was released on regular bail under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on April 13, after being in judicial custody since March 31. The City Police Station under complaint No.11196006230108/2023 charged Rathore under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code: unlawful assembly (143), rioting (147), rioting armed with a deadly weapon likely to cause death (148), every member of an unlawful assembly guilty of the prosecution of the common object (149), voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant in the discharge of his duty with intent to prevent or deter that person from discharging his duty (332), assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty (353), voluntarily causing hurt by the use of a dangerous weapon or means (324), voluntarily obstructing any public servant in the discharge of his public functions (186), mischief causing damage (427), and criminal conspiracy [120(b)].
According to advocate S.M. Indori, who is appearing for the accused, while 45 Muslims have been clearly named, identified and addressed in the FIR, no Hindu has been named in it.
“It has been difficult for us to get bail for the accused. We were denied bail at the JMFC court. We then applied for bail at the sessions court for the women and a student who is to appear for his exams on April 18,” Indori said.
Also read: The wrath yatras of Ram Navami
Mosque, dargah targeted, vandalised
Mufti Anas, a local cleric, has been the Imam at the Dhuldoyawad Masjid for 15 years now. “In my tenure, or even before that as a local, we have never seen the yatra pass by the mosque, leading to the dargah. It is not the route they follow. And even if they decided to follow it, was there a need to vandalise our religious spaces to celebrate their religious festival?” asked Anas.
Usually, Anas said, the yatra arrives from Karelibaug, passes from the Fatepura main road, leading to Champaner and then it moves forward. But this time, he said, it appeared to be planned to create chaos and not celebrate their festival.
“We were praying when stones were being pelted at the mosque, when we were offering namaz, we could hear our windows cracking. Later, vandals also trespassed into the mosque, beat many namazis and caused damage to the inside area as well,” Anas told The Wire.
According to Kherunnisa, a local from the area, the rally celebrating the Hindu festival entered her area during the afternoon namaz and turned violent after the revellers pelted stones at their homes just as they pelted stones at the nearby mosque and a dargah. Kherunisa said that the rally had no business in the area as no temple stood there and there is no Hindu population living in that area.
“It is just becoming an everyday act of provocation now; they will deliberately enter Muslim areas for their festivals. Around 1:30pm, they put on loud music and the Hanuman Chalisa right outside the mosque, and when they reached the dargah, they could be seen throwing stones inside the dargah premises,” said Kherunisa.
Locals said that though the Police arrived to maintain peace in the area, it was too late to undo the damage. Anas and Kherunisa both also recalled that the procession was timed to sync with the afternoon and evening namaz. Once at 1:30pm and then again at 5:30pm, yatra revellers were in the area being provocatory.
Pattern of provocation and violence
Locals from Himmatnagar and Khambhat look at the violence in Fatepura as a mirror image of what unfolded before them on Ram Navami in 2022.
Neha Dabhade, the deputy director of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, views the violence in Vadodara as a “continuation of the trend in violence: which was witnessed in Gujarat and other states even last year on Ram Navami. Dabhade explains, “The Hindu festival is used as a weapon to provoke the Muslim community deliberately and create a situation wherein the administration can implicate the Muslims into criminal cases.”
Dabhade, who undertook ground visits for her fact-finding report on the communal riots that broke out in Gujarat’s Himmatnagar and Khambhat towns during Ram Navami in 2022, says, “Here 500 persons are named as unidentified giving the police a free hand to detain innocent for questioning. The arrested are all Muslims, including Muslim women.”
She said that the state has also indicated that they will act against the Muslims by stating that ‘they will not tolerate violence’. “The attempt is same as last year where narrative of where Muslims were rioters and being against Hindu festivals was manufactured by the state,” she told The Wire.
A local from Himmatnagar, Ruqiya Bano, said that when they in their district learnt that the Ram Navami yatra in Vadodara took a different route, it pained her heart and head. “I could already understand what the plan of the yatra would be, which community would walk free and who would suffer in jails,” she said.
A detailed report by the Citizens and Lawyers Initiative looked at the communal violence around Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti in 2022, and found that the violence was “systemic”, including the “nature of instigation”, “tactics of mobilising the majority” and “the administrative response as collective punishment”.
This article originally appeared on The Wire on April 18 and has been reproduced with permission.