Since Ram Navami Violence, Gujarat’s Muslim Women Wage A Silent Battle, Allege State Bias

On 10 April, Ram Navami processions passing through Muslim dominated neighborhoods in Khambhat and Himmatnagar, cities in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Gujarat, triggered communal violence that ended with the police arresting many more Muslims than Hindus—a pattern repeated in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Two months later, Muslim women alleged a biased response and violence by the state police, while they battled for survival as husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons were jailed or fled to escape arrest.

Saeen Parveen Bano, 35, whose husband Liaquat has been in jail ever since the Ram Navami violence in Himmatnagar./PHOTOGRAPHS BY SABAH GURMAT

By KAUSHIK RAJ & SABAH GURMAT / Article-14

Himmatnagar/Khambhat, Gujarat: Saeen Parveen Bano, a 35-year-old domestic worker and a mother to four boys, said the policemen who beat her husband, Liyaqat Ali, a scooter mechanic, mocked her when she tried making a video of the attack that she alleged took place at one in the morning on 11 April in their house in Hassan Nagar.

“Ask your wife to record now,”  Parveen recalled the policemen saying, as they continued beating them and dragged him to the police jeep, while saying nothing to the Hindu sword-wielding men standing nearby, in the town of Himmatnagar in the northwestern district of Sabarkantha in Gujarat.

Explaining that her husband had a problem in his legs that made it difficult for him to stand for more than 10 minutes, and that he needed treatment for his injuries after being beaten that night, Parveen alleged the police told her to pay Rs 5,000 to get him treated in the hospital.

“The police didn’t show me a warrant or any document,” she said, at her home in a housing society built under a government programme of subsidised housing, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Prime Minister’s Housing Scheme). “They just told me that Liyaqat is accused of bringing men and weapons from outside.”

The day before on 10 April, Parveen said she saw a Hindu mob of over a dozen men, including their neighbours, part of a celebratory procession for Ram Navami, march into Hassan Nagar, wielding swords and provoking the Muslim residents of the mixed locality by throwing stones and forcing them to chant Jai Shree Ram, triggering a clash between the two groups.

“I saw people with swords. They tried to pelt stones on my 11-year-old son. When I asked them why they were beating us, they told us to say Jai Shree Ram or they would beat us.  They said they were ordered from above to beat Muslims,” she said. “I saw their faces and can recognise all of them.”

About 169 km away from Himmatnagar in the Khambhat city in the southerneastern Anand district, a different Hindu mob of around 5,000 men part of another celebratory procession (‘Shobha Yatra’) for Ram Navami marched into Shakarpur, brandishing swords and shouting communal slogans.

Daadhiwaala bhi bolega Jai Shree Ram, topiwaala bhi bolega Jai Shree Ram” (Those with beards and skull caps will also say Jai Shree Ram),” was one of the slogans, triggering a clash that left a Hindu man called Kanhaiya Lal dead  and four cabin shops (kiosks), one showroom shop, a building, a home and a dargah, belonging to Muslims, burnt.

The pattern of Hindu mobs using the Ram Navami celebrations to provoke violence in Muslim-dominated areas and mosques would be repeated in other states including Madhya PradeshGoaBiharRajasthanJharkhand and Delhi.

In the coming days, the state police in Khambhat district arrested at least 47 people out of 62 named accused in Shakarpur, all of them Muslim, similar to the response of the police in other states that pinned the violence on the minority community including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. At the time of publication of this story, 18 Muslim men remain in jail while others have been granted bail.

Muslim Neighbourhoods Emptied Of Men

For close to two months, Shakarpur and Hassan Nagar were emptied of their men, as those who were not arrested, fled, leaving behind the women, who spoke with Article 14 about living in fear, barely making ends meet, while they waited to hear from fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, but did not  dare call, fearing the police may track them down.

When Article 14 visited Khambhat and Himmatnagar between 9-13 May, they alleged a biased police response to the communal violence. Four women in Hassan Nagar that we spoke with, Saeen Parveen Bano, Farida Mohd Shahid Sheikh, Fakhrunnisa Salman Shifai  and Tanuja Malik, alleged they and four other women were beaten by the police on the night of 11 April.

After studying the six FIRs (first information reports) registered in connection with the communal violence in Himmatnagar and Shakarpur, we found that many more Muslims than Hindus were booked and arrested. While the investigation in Shakarpur is more one-sided, Himmatnagar residents spoke of more police violence including against women and fractured relationships with their Hindu neighbours.

Five days after the violence, orders were issued to bulldoze “illegal encroachments” in Shakarpur and kiosks owned by Muslims were demolished.

Advocate Iftikhar Yamani, based in Khambhat city, said that a petition seeking damages for the losses and for transferring other probe from the Gujarat police to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or state’s Central Investigation Department (CID) were filed before the Gujarat High Court on 29 April 2022.

Superintendent of police (SP) of Anand district Ajit Rajiyan on 27 May 2022  told us that the rally in Shakarpur “was taken out with permission” and the “investigation is going on”.

On allegations of police beating up Muslim residents in Shakarpur, Rajiyan said, “We have not got any representation. If something is brought to our notice, then we will take action.”

The SP in Sabarkantha district, where Hassan Nagar is located, Vishal Vaghela, told us that the “investigation is going on and we are arresting the accused accordingly”.

On the allegations levelled by women that police beat them in Hassan Nagar, he said, “I cannot comment on this.”

Banojyotsna Lahiri, who has researched on communal violence and mob lynchings with Centre for Equity Studies, pointed out that most of the victims of the violence are from extremely poor families.

“In most cases, they were also the main and only earning members. After suddenly one day, the news of their death or arrests reached their families, it devastated the women not just mentally but also financially. Women face constant intimidation to withdraw cases, social ostracization and are left to themselves to manage their households and children as well as fight for justice,” she said.

Beaten By The Cops, Unable To Get Treatment 

Fakhrunnisa Salman Shifai, a 30-year old domestic worker and mother of one child, who was in her fourth month of pregnancy in April, said when the Hindu mob came into Hassan Nagar and started pelting stones at 10:30 pm on 11 April—the day after the Ram Navami procession—the policemen arrived fifteen minutes later and lathicharged the Muslims living there.

“We said that you have no right to hit us, and they said, ‘Humein upar se order aaye hai miyan bhai ko maarne ke liye’”. (We have received orders from above to beat Muslims).

Sharing a photo of her injuries with Article 14, Shifai said she was hit with a police baton on her back and tailbone. When we met her in May, she had been unable to secure treatment or check the health of her foetus due to financial constraints.

Her family, including her husband and his first wife and children, have been dependent on her earnings as a domestic worker since the violence broke out on 10 April.

“My husband did odd jobs like driving, but since Ram Navami most of the men here have been lying low and finding jobs has been hard for them,” said Shifai. “With my earnings we are barely able to make ends meet.”

Explaining that the nearest government-run hospital was “too far and not well-equipped”, Shifai said that she does not have money for a private one. “I couldn’t get the sonography test done and check the condition of the foetus,” she said.

Tanuja Malik, 32, a mother to a three year old,  told us that when the police arrived after the stone pelting,  they started hitting the men in Hassan Nagar. “When we women protested, they just lathicharged us,” she said.

Parveen told us that she ensured all the women who were hurt in the police violence took videos of their injuries. Despite them writing a letter to register a case against the policemen who were violent,  Parveen said, “They refused to register our complaint of being beaten up, and told me to focus on Liyaqat’s bail instead”.

Another resident of Himmatnagar, Farida Mohammad Shahid Sheikh, a homemaker in her forties, described the night of 10 April as “Qayamat ki raat” (night of doom) and said that “15 women of the neighbourhood slept in one house that night due to fear.”

‘We Have No Clue Of Their Whereabouts’ 

When we met Najma Bibi in May, the 48-year-old homemaker and mother to four children, was waiting to hear from her husband, Shahid Hussain, who fled when the state police started rounding up Muslim men in the aftermath of a clash between the two groups.

Two of her sons, stone masons, also fled Shakarpur, fearing arrest, leaving behind Najma and her 21-year-old daughter Mahrufa Bano.

Her husband, Najma said, was a local worker with the BJP’s Anand district unit, who suffered from tuberculosis, and he was trying to placate the crowd when the violence erupted.

“Ever since he found out his name was in the FIR, he has been out of reach,” she said. “We have no clue of their whereabouts.”

Mahrufa, a student at a local nursing college, is worried about her future after she stopped going to classes in the aftermath of the violence.

“Ever since my father and brothers have fled, we have been making ends meet purely through the goodwill (charity) of others,” she said. “We don’t even want to try contacting my father and brothers via the phone because it can be tapped and police will arrest us too.”

Recalling how the Hindu mob came with a DJ and started dancing outside the dargah while chanting Jai Shree Ram slogans and refusing to move, Mahrufa said, “I saw with my own eyes that the mob filled up water jugs and matkas (pots) with stones”.

“Of course some people must have gotten provoked and then thrown some stones,” she said. “I’m not denying it was wrong, but the provocation happened from the procession. If a crowd comes outside your house and tries to disturb you, would you not get provoked?”

For 19-year-old Muskan Faisal Malik, the late-night arrest of her husband, 21 year old Faisal Malik, on 10 April has meant “massive mental and physical harassment”.

Malik, mother to an infant, said the police entered their basti (neighbourhood) at Reem Farid in the Shakarpur locality while they were sleeping, picked up her husband,  promising to only take him in temporarily and release him the next day.

“They said we will leave him, but they didn’t,” said Malik. “He was taken to Nadiad jail, which is in another district. His name wasn’t even in the FIR, we don’t know why he was arrested.”

Her husband was a labourer with the region’s agate industry, and  Malik now finds herself relying on the goodwill of her brother-in-law, an auto driver, and charitable organisations.

“I don’t have parental support. My daughter is just 2.5 years old,” said Malik “During Ramzan, breaking our fasts itself was a struggle. We are making ends meet on whatever little people send us through their goodwill.”

Meanwhile in Himmatnagar, worried about the health and education of her four sons, Parveen told us that she has not been able to receive the exam results of two of them because she could not pay the school fees—Rs 15,000 annually— due to their family’s financial struggles since her husband’s arrest.

“All my kids are in school. How will I pay their fees now? How will I pay for my electricity bill?” she said. “We have no earning members. How will I pay for anything now? We are somehow managing to eat through ration kits donated to us.”

In Shakarpur, No Hindus Arrested 

In Shakarpur, two FIRs (first information report) were registered on 10 April 2022 in Khambhat City police station.

The first FIR, with eight sections of the Indian Penal Code 1860 or ‘IPC’, including 143  (unlawful assembly), 147 (punishment for rioting), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 302 (punishment for murder), named 62 Muslims along with 150 unnamed persons.

The second FIR, with four non-bailable sections 143 (unlawful assembly),  147 (punishment for rioting),337 (causing hurt by endangering life or personal safety), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace, named five Hindu organisers of the Ram Navami rally.

At the time of publication, 18 out of 62 Muslims named in the first FIR continue to remain in jail, but none of the Hindu men named have been arrested so far.

Advocate Iftikhar Yamani said only after members of the  Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, a collective of Islamic scholars and activists who follow the Deobandi origin, wrote to  director general of police (DGP) Ashish Bhatiya and put pressure, the FIR added section 436 IPC (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy).

Yamani said they have also asked the DGP that sections 153-A (promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth etc) and 295-A of the IPC (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) sections be added to the second FIR. To date, the sections have not been added.

“Police have not taken any action on them (the Hindu side),” he said.

Yamani, who has filed a Right to Information Act  (RTI) query inquiring  into the terms and conditions of the police permission for the rally organised by the ‘Ram Sena’, and whether they were violated, said the prime accused, one Jayveer Joshi, from the organisation, was absconding, but the police were not pursuing him.

Yamani, along with district’s Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind members had also asked the police to check CCTV footage to take action against those who burnt shop-cabins and looted properties.

In Himmatnagar, one FIR with eight sections of the IPC including section 307 (attempt to murder), 332 (voluntary hurt to deter public servant from duty), 353  (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from duty), was registered against mostly Muslims, naming 33 men.

Three other FIRs, registered against 42 Muslims and 40 Hindus invoked at least 21 sections including 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly), 147 (punishment for rioting), 153-A (promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth etc) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) IPC.

At the time of publication, three Muslims and one Hindu are in jail, while the rest have been granted bail.

A local activist affiliated to the Gujarat Nagrik Adhikar Manch (formerly ‘Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch’) Mir Khan in Himmatnagar said a committee sought action from the district police and administration, to be told that the investigation was ongoing.

Neighbour Against Neighbour 

Gulnar Pathan, an activist based in Himmatnagar associated with an organisation called Sarvodaya Mahila Jagruti Seva Trust, told Article 14 that the town’s Ram Navami procession was taken out in two areas of Himmatnagar, namely Chhaparia and Hassan Nagar.

The Hassan Nagar area, home to most of the women affected, has houses constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY scheme) and the residents are from mixed groups, including Muslims, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) Hindus and Vanjaras (a denotified tribe).

Women from the Hassan Nagar area alleged that the mob consisted of their neighbours after which they were beaten by male policemen. There has been a massive breakdown of trust between the Muslim inhabitants of the PMAY houses and their Vanjara neighbours.

Farida Mohammad Shahid Sheikh, a homemaker from the PMAY colony in Hassan Nagar, said that at around 9:30 pm in the night on 10 April  she saw Vanjaras running towards, “our side of the locality with stones, sticks and swords”.

“They started pelting stones at us. Then police came and started firing tear gas and beat Muslims who were coming out of the Raza mosque. Those Vanjaras who attacked us were standing by the police and laughing,” she said.

Sheikh said the mob raised provocative slogans like “Hindustan hamara hai, hum hindustan lekar rahenge” (Hindustan is ours, we will claim Hindustan), and “Hindustan mein rehna hai toh Jai Shree Ram bolna hoga” (If you want to live in Hindustan, you will have to say Jai Shree Ram).

The Vanjaras accuse their Muslim neighbours of fomenting violence.

Shardaben Sardarji Vanzara, who runs a small kirana store in Hassan Nagar, said that her husband has been under arrest since the day of the violence on April 10.

“Local Muslims pelted stones and destroyed my wares,” she said.

Mangilal Vanzara, a wage labourer living in the PMAY housing locality, said the picture was unclear.

“We do not even know what happened that day, some stones were pelted, maybe the people from the procession itself pelted it or maybe it was them (Muslims),”  said. “One cannot say.”

Activist Gulnar Pathan,however, pointed out that a bulk of the damages in Hassan Nagar and Chhaparia in Himmatnagar and Shakarpur in Khambhat was to properties owned by Muslims, and most of those arrested were also Muslim.

Even as the women await the return of their husbands, and those released on bail await closure, justice remains elusive.

“These are government-scheme constructed houses not limited to any religion,” said Pathan, who has now embarked on the task of “community building exercises” between the residents of Hassan Nagar. “All of the residents of this area are poor, working class people. We have seen incidents before in the past as well, but this Ram Navami was something else. Who is benefitting from this?”

This article first appeared on article-14.com

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