Kheda, Gujarat: Indravadan Patel is the sarpanch of Undhela village in Gujarat’s Kheda district, where an uneasy calm has set in after some Muslim men were publicly flogged by local policemen for hurling stones at a garba event on 3 October. Speaking to ThePrint, he says that he stands by his decision to organise a garba event at the village chowk for the very first time, and that he holds the Muslim men responsible for the incidents that followed.
A vocal BJP supporter (“Yes, I support the BJP and BJP supports me.”), Patel says that the chowk where the stone throwing took place has a Tulja Bhavani temple, and that he had gotten the necessary permissions to hold the garba event there. “I had taken a mannat (vow) that on the auspicious eighth day of Navratri, I will organise a garba in that chowk. What is wrong with that? I even had permission.”
ThePrint has seen the request for permission the gram panchayat sarpanch had sent to the Mamlatdar office, which in turn asked the police to take the matter forward. The police, however, did not confirm to ThePrint whether they had granted permission.
The matter is being probed by Investigating Officer (IO) V. N. Solanki, deputy inspector of Kapadvanj. When contacted, he said, “I am being asked to submit a report of the incident. I am doing my job and I don’t need to leak any of it to the media. I will only give it to the concerned person and not even to anybody else in the department.”
Earlier, the families of the Muslim men flogged at the same village chowk had told ThePrint that they blame sarpanch Patel for the entire incident. Muslim villagers said they had asked the garba organisers to ensure that their event doesn’t impede Eid preparations at a mosque near the chowk.
However, when they requested that the garba music be turned off while their prayers are read, the event organisers refused, sparking an argument, the Muslim villagers had claimed.
Also read: School empty, cops at every corner as police probe flogging of Muslim men in Gujarat’s Undhela
‘They asked us not to play DJ music, threw stones’
On 3 October, during garba celebrations at Undhela’s Hussaini Chowk, an incident of stone throwing had led to the arrests of at least 13 people — all Muslim men — on the complaint of sarpanch Patel.
The next day, at the same chowk, a few of those arrested were publicly flogged as a crowd — purportedly comprising mostly Hindu villagers — watched and cheered, as seen in a video that went viral.
Patel was elected sarpanch last December. Although he fought the poll independently, he tells ThePrint: “BJP supports me.” His political views, he adds, are also “one of the reasons” why the village’s Muslims are accusing him.
According to Patel, there was a DJ who was playing garba music and the arguments started at around 11 pm.
“Their (Muslim) boys were sitting there. They asked us not to play the DJ and garba music and started to leave. But suddenly they began throwing stones,” says the sarpanch.
Meanwhile, Muslims residents of Undhela said that about 10 days before Eid-e-Milad (8-9 October), they usually have a recitation at the mosque.
“The recitation was being done on a microphone at the chowk around the same time, and the DJ was playing, so we asked them to not play garba until we are done. We normally get done by 11.30 pm, but the argument heated up and the stone throwing started,” says Mahjabin Bano, whose husband and father are among those arrested.
‘They won’t call us, we won’t call them’
At Undhela’s Hussaini Chowk, apart from an existing temple, a second one, which will face the mosque, is under construction.
The Hindus in Undhela — about 6,000 out of an 8,000-strong population, according to estimates by sarpanch Patel — live on one side of the chowk, while the Muslims live on the other. Following the stone throwing and flogging incidents, the tension between the communities is thick.
Villagers from both communities ThePrint spoke to said that for many decades, Hindus and Muslims have coexisted in Undhela peacefully.
“There was no major tension in our village earlier but now we don’t go on that side, they will not call us, we won’t call them,” says resident Jiten Patel.
Tusif Miya, in his 20s, who lives on the Muslim side of the village, feels things changed after Patel became the sarpanch. “Barring 2002, our village has been very peaceful. The last time any major incident happened was back then. But now, since Patel became the sarpanch, everything has changed.”
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)
Also read: Why it’s easier to call Kheda police violence ‘Talibanisation’ than ‘Hindutvaisation’