FILE IMAGE: A policeman near a burnt vehicle as police try to control the situation after a communal clash during the Ram Navami procession, in Himmatnagar, Sunday, April 10, 2022. Photo: PTI

By Tarushi Aswani / The Wire

New Delhi: A recently released fact-finding report on the communal riots that broke out in Gujarat’s Himmatnagar and Khambhat towns during the Hindu festival of Ram Navami on April 10, 2022, places the responsibility for the violence squarely on the Hindu community. The report claims that the violence was anti-Muslim in nature, planned by the Hindu community and took place in the presence of the police.

The report is based on interviews conducted by the fact-finding team of Neha Dabhade, the deputy director of the Centre for Study of Society & Secularism, and Hozefa Ujjaini, a social activist and the director of the NGO Buniyaad, who  visited Khambhat and Himmatnagar between July 25 and 27, 2022.

As The Wire had reported on April 11, on the afternoon of Ram Navami in Himmatnagar, some Hindus reportedly celebrated their festival by wielding swords as part of their processions. When the processions entered Ashrafnagar, a Muslim-dominated area located between two Hindu localities, Shakti Nagar and Mahavir Nagar, the Hindu men apparently provoked the local Muslims, leading to communal violence.

While the incident appears to be random in nature, the fact-finding report shows that the violence had been planned by the Hindus in the procession. The report also dismantles the modus operandi employed by the Hindus to create the sense of communal tension as the Ram Navami procession entered Ashrafnagar area.

‘Timed terror;

When the fact-finding team interacted with locals in Ashrafnagar, they learned that while the Ram Navami festival in Himmatnagar has been celebrated with processions for close to three decades, this year it was planned differently.

For one thing, the locals told the team, the procession, which had usually been scheduled for about 4 pm over the past 28 years, was scheduled this year for 1 pm, about the time for the Muslim zuhrnamaz.

There was another change this year. In the past, the organisers of these processions had always been local Hindus. But this time, there were two processions, one organised by the Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal and the other by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, both right-wing Hindu organisations.

The processions this year also had a large number of non-local participants, unlike in previous years. Witnesses of the violence told the fact-finding team that on April 10, 2022, at least 1,200 to 1,500 Hindus had arrived at around the time of namaz, with tractors carrying speakers that blared Hindu religious songs and the participants of the processions chanting slogans like “Hindustan mein rehna hoga, toh Jai Shri Ram kehana hoga (If you want to stay in India, you will have to chant Jai Shri Ram)!

As the processions neared a mosque in Ashraf Nagar, these provocative slogans were chanted louder, the witnesses said. Given the fact that the processions had arrived during namaz, the slogans instigated a scuffle between the two communities.

According to some of the witnesses who were quoted in the fact-finding report, the participants of the procession, many of whom were armed with swords, according to Kanak Jhala, leader of the Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad (ARHP), began pelting stones at the locals. In the violence that exploded, 18 stalls and two houses, all belonging to Muslims, were set aflame.

The report suggests that the police had been present when the violence broke out and had in fact accompanied the processions. Witnesses claimed that the police personnel did nothing to stop the violence. Further, the report says, the police did not allow the fire brigade to douse the fires that burned Muslim properties.

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