Kheda: On 4 October, 25-year-old Sadiq was asleep when the police came to their house, his grandmother Mehmooda Bibi told ThePrint. It was 2:30 am and 8-10 policemen barged into their home in Undhela village and took him away.
“He was sleeping upstairs with us in our room. I tried to tell them that my grandson had come from work and he was tired. He’s not at fault but they didn’t listen to me — they pushed me aside and dragged him away,” said Bibi.
Sadiq was one of the 10 men who were flogged publicly in this village in Gujarat’s Kheda district on 4 October. Accused of disrupting a garba event, the men were tied to a pillar and beaten by cops. The incident drew widespread condemnation.
At least 13 out of the 43 people named in the First Information Report for stone pelting have been arrested. Gujarat’s Director General of Police Ashish Bhatia has ordered an inquiry has been ordered in connection with the flogging.
Bibi says she didn’t know that her grandson had been taken to the chowk the next morning.
“We saw the video when it came on the mobile and then realised it was our grandson. We cried a lot then,” she says, sobbing and wiping away her tears.
A week after the public flogging, the tension between Hindus and Muslims in the village is palpable.
“Our children are scared. We are scared. If the police come into our houses, [the] women get scared,” Anjuman Malik, a village resident, told ThePrint. “We can still face women police but we’re scared of the men.”
Muslims in the village blame the village’s sarpanch, Indravadan Patel, for the clashes. When he became sarpanch in December, Patel took a vow to hold garba at Hussaini chowk.
The chowk has Tuljabhavani temple as well as a mosque nearby, and never before has garba been organised there, villagers told ThePrint.
“When I had become sarpanch, I took a vow that I will play garba on the eighth day of Navratri, and accordingly garba was played on [the] eighth day [3rd October]. [We] informed villagers two days in advance about the garba,” Patel says in a First Information Report he filed on 4 October.
Muslim villagers told ThePrint that they had asked organisers of the garba event to ensure it doesn’t impede Eid preparations at a mosque that’s a stone’s throw away from the chowk.
The request was allegedly not heeded, leading to scuffles and later, stone pelting.
Some villagers claim that the sarpanch was present when the Muslim men were being flogged and even encouraged it.
ThePrint asked Patel about the allegations, but he simply walked off without speaking.
Police meanwhile said they were holding meetings with both communities ahead of Eid-e-Milad (on 8 and 9 October).
The clashes also came just before the Gujarat assembly elections, due later this year.
Also Read: Why it’s easier to call Kheda police violence ‘Talibanisation’ than ‘Hindutvaisation’
What happened that day
Police claim the village has about 450 Muslim houses and 800 Hindu houses.
Villagers claim that before this, ties between Hindus and Muslims were always cordial, although communal lines were always clearly drawn.
“They had their own area and we stayed in this part of the village,” Malik Waris, whose father was among those arrested and flogged, told thePrint.
In his FIR, Patel accused Muslims of provocation. They didn’t want garba to be played near their mosque, Patel claimed in his FIR.
“More and more Muslim men gathered near the mosque and started an argument. [They asked] to stop the garba and even abused the ladies who were playing and started stone pelting,” said Patel in his FIR.
Muslims, meanwhile, accuse the Hindus of casting the first stone.
Mehjabin Bano, whose father-in-law Zakir miyan and husband Nazir miyan were among those arrested in connection with the violence, claims that on 3 October, the sarpanch, Patel, called Zakir miyan, a village elder and a community leader, to ensure that nothing happened to the garba event.
The family has been living in the village for 3-4 generations now, but never before has garba been played at the chowk.
Since it was just before Eid and there was a religious programme that was underway at that time, “my father-in-law told the boys to let [the Hindus] play garba”, she said.
“[Our only concern] was that some of them were drunk and they [could] play with gulal. [We told them] that our mosque should be [unharmed],” she said. That’s when the stone pelting began, she claims.
“And our boys turned back but they [The Hindus] started pelting stones. Then there was pelting from both sides,” she claims.
Zakir miyan was arrested the next day while he was working in the fields.
Mehjabin wonders why there were brought back to the village after their arrest.
“The courts are responsible for giving out punishment. The police’s job is to take them away. Then why bring them back? Who gave these people the right to publicly beat up our boys,” Mehjabin says.
Haji Abbas, Sadiq’s grandfather, told ThePrint that the sarpanch was around when policemen dragged his grandson out of the house.
Waris, quoted above, believes the violence was pre-planned and aimed at stoking communal fires.
“They used to play garba in their lanes. This time it was their conspiracy to create communal tensions and so they played garba in our lane. They played in their lane for seven days, but why did they come to our lane on the eighth day?”
“People were cheering when they were being beaten up. What kind of behaviour is this?” he asks, outraged.
Many of the village Hindus refused to speak to ThePrint about the incident. One, however, told ThePrint that “this was a game of chess”.
“They are using bal (strength) while we are using our buddhi (intelligence),” he said, not wishing to be named. “The rest, make what you will of it.”
Fear in the village
On Saturday, Kheda Superintendent of Police Rajesh Gadhiya visited the village.
“We held a meeting [with both Hindus and Muslims] ahead of Eid,” Deputy Superintendent V.R. Vajpayee, adding that police have registered a case under various sections, including rioting and attempt to murder.
Gulrez, an advocate representing the Muslim “victims” in the case has demanded an independent inquiry headed by a retired judge of the Gujarat High Court.
“The investigation is biased,” Gulrez told ThePrint.
As for the villagers, several people have already left, Anjuman Malik, quoted above, told ThePrint.
“They’re threatening us. Where is the law?” Malik said. “Many families have left in the last four days. Police are catching Muslim men. Why would anyone want to stay here?” she asks.
But there are some others who are determined to stay.
“Why should we leave the village? Everything is here,” Zarina Bano said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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