Gujarat Police officials hit accused with sticks before they took them to the police station. | (Photo: Screengrab)

In April, processions during Ram Navami sparked communal conflagrations across the country. Leading up to Navratri on September 26, communal tensions returned. This time, they were focused on garba events – the traditional dance function held during the nine-day festival.

In some parts of Madhya Pradesh, Hindu supremacist groups checked identity cards to ensure that Muslims did not join the celebrations. In another instance, viral videos from Gujarat showed the local police publicly flogging Muslims who had allegedly thrown stones at a garba pandal.

The coverage of such incidents on television news channels may have heightened tensions.

For instance, Aaj Tak news anchor Sudhir Chaudhary devoted a whole episode of his show “Black and White” on September 30 to the “garba controversy”. Why did Muslims want to attend garba events when their own religion prohibited dance and music, Chaudhary asked.

“Is love jihad the motive behind this?” he speculated, referring to the conspiracy theory favoured by the Hindu Right that Muslim men have launched a campaign to court Hindu women so that they can force them to convert to Islam after they are married,

Chaudhary drew a parallel between the garba events and the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, led primarily by Muslim women. Attendees at the protest had to show identity cards as well, he claimed. “Why was ID card being checked not an issue then?” he demanded.

Republic Bharat had a 40-minute episode on October 2 entitled “Gair Hindu naam, garba ka kya kaam?” – Do you have a non-Hindu name? Then what are you doing at a garba?” .

Anchor Himani Naithani also speculated about “love jihad” and claimed Muslim men were hiding their identities to steal into garba events.

On October 2, a News Nation show called “Rashtramev Jayate” spoke of “garba jihad” as an established fact. Bajrang Dal members were interviewed and asked to outline the contours of this alleged conspiracy to invade garbas. These accounts were not questioned, nor were any of the Muslims who wanted to take part in the garba interviewed. tracked four communal flashpoints in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Besides these incidents, there were also several instances in Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain and Indore, where Bajrang Dal members beat up Muslim men who wanted to enter garba pandals.

Madhya Pradesh demolitions

In Surjani village, part of Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district, the properties of three Muslim men were demolished by the administration on October 4. The three men were accused of throwing stones at a garba venue days earlier.

“In Surjani village, there was a conflict between two sides, during which stones were pelted on a garba mandal,” Mandsaur Superintendent of Police Anurag Sujania told reporters on October 4. “Today, through the help of the administration, the property of three of the accused, which were illegal, were acted upon.”

He added that the homes of the three men were spread across 4,500 square feet and cost over Rs 4 crore.

Raju Khan’s home being demolished in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district. (Photo: Special arrangement)

A police complaint had been filed on October 3 by a man named Shiv Lal Patidar. According to the complaint, trouble had started brewing on October 1, when Patidar had observed a neighbour, Salman Khan, whiz past a temple where a garba function was held. Patidar claimed he then went to Salman Khan’s father, Aktu Khan, and asked him to rein his son in.

On October 2, an argument reportedly broke out between Patidar, who was accompanied by two friends, and Aktu and Salman Khan. More men from each sides reportedly joined in. As matters heated up, Patidar alleged, Aktu Khan hit him with a stone, injuring him in the eye. During the course of the scuffle, Patidar alleged, his companions as well as the site of the garba were pelted with stones.

According to Sujania, of the 19 accused in the FIR, seven had criminal records. They had been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including attempt to murder, rioting and volunatarily causing hurt.

Thirty-eight-year-old Firoz Habib Rehman, the brother of one of the accused, Raju Khan, said a petty fight between young people had been misrepresented as an attack on the pandal. “There was something about Salman overtaking and driving fast and it led to a fight between two groups,” he said. “They have however made it bigger by adding allegations that the pandal was attacked. That never happened.”

By 7 pm on October 3, Rehman said, there were notices from the local panchayat announcing the demolitions. The next morning, the bulldozers arrived to demolish three homes. According to Rehman, Raju Khan’s house was not named in the notices but was demolished anyway.

This story was originally published in . Read the full story here