Sandesha is a village in the Anand taluk of Anand district. Hindus in Sandesha – including the valiant Motibhai and Sonubhai – saved Mustafabhai Umerbhai Vora and Mohammadbhai Umerbhai Vora, traders and shopkeepers in this village, from a bloodthirsty mob. Soon after the tragic mass arson at Godhra on February 27, 2002, rumours started circulating that riots would take place here too.
However, local Hindus dismissed these stories and tried to convince the Muslim residents that nothing would happen. Mustafabhai recalls that one Govindbhai Patel even avowed that he would chop his own head off if there was any trouble in the village. However, the Voras were not convinced and as a precautionary measure, sent their families to stay with their sister in Napa. Two days later, a mob of 2,000 came for the Muslims. Govindbhai Patel himself was now tragically a part of this mob. The attack was sudden, unexpected, and vicious.
Mohammadbhai was at his shop in the village when he realised that there was trouble. Motibhai saw him and realised his predicament. He asked Mohammadbhai to step inside his house – Mohammadbhai took refuge in Motibhai’s house and survived. Five hours later, when the police arrived, Mohammadbhai left for Napa in the police van. Mustafabhai was at his house when he heard the mob. Across the road, Sonubhai’s family also heard them. His daughter-in-law, Roopabehn, remembers that it sounded so menacing that her children and even she herself got scared and started crying.
Sonubhai’s immediate thought was for Mustafabhai’s safety. The mob attacked Mustafabhai’s house from the rear. This gave Sonubhai the opportunity to help Mustafabhai escape through the front door and take him to his own house. Realising that Mustafabhai had escaped to Sonubhai’s place, the mob followed him there, demanding that Mustafabhai be handed over. Sonubhai and his family refused to yield to the hate mob. The mob then turned on Sonubhai’s family and threatened to burn their house, burning the shed outside. Even then the family refused to give in and threatened to leave the village along with Mustafabhai until, finally, the mob turned away. Five hours later, when the trouble subsided, Sonubhai took Mustafabhai out of the village in his own car and dropped him off at Napa.
What does it take to stay so valiant in the face of imminent mob threat and violence when you and your family are identified and scarred with almost the same hate as the victims? Similar was the experience of about 75 to 80 Hindu families living among 2,000 families in the Machchhipeeth, Rifaiya Dargah area, in the old city of Vadodara that held out against the hatred that the rest of the city fell prey to. None of them thought of moving out to “safer” areas.
“We did feel slightly scared, but we trusted the Muslims in our area. Our relatives asked us to come and live with them, but we refused to move out,” said Truptibehn, a resident of Machchhipeeth. The Muslims went out of their way to make them comfortable, and Hindus were assured that they would not be targeted. Most Hindus in this area were poor and worked as daily wagers. They were badly affected by the violence in the town. Their Muslim neighbours pitched in to provide them with groceries and other necessities whenever possible. Within the mohalla, the Hindus felt safe enough to go out for their daily chores. In the areas where they felt insecure, the Muslims went and did their chores for them.
On their part, the Hindus pitched in whenever a Muslim neighbour needed anything from the Hindu-dominated areas nearby. Here, both communities helped each other and maintained peace and harmony within the area. Most major incidents that affected Machchhipeeth took place on the main road, between its Muslim residents and either the police or Hindu mobs from outside. Within the mohalla, there was no communal tension.
Similar tales flowed to me from the Mehboojpura area of Vadodara where Rameshbhai, a former politician in the erstwhile Congress government in the state, took charge and organized regular meetings of elders and influential members of both communities (there is a 50:50 ratio here) who would sit together in the chowk of the mohalla till late at night. They also talked to people from their communities and tried to control the fringe elements. By sitting together, they managed to quash all rumours and clear any misunderstandings as soon as they occurred. Though sporadic incidents of stoning did take place, the residents did not allow this to deteriorate further.
On the night of March 3, 2002, around 10.30 pm, the Congressman got a distress call alerting him to the fact that the Rifaiya Dargah near Machchhipeeth was attacked. He was a regular faithful at this dargah and had very good relations with the caretaker, Baba Syed Kamaluddin Ahsamuddin Rifai. When calls to the police did not get him help, Rameshbhai decided to go there alone in his car. On the way, he saw several armed mobs.
At the dargah, Baba refused to leave the shrine, but he wanted his family to be moved to the safety of their family home at Tandalja. With the help of Baba’s driver and another disciple, Rameshbhai took about a dozen members of Rifai’s family to Tandalja, through the curfew and the mobs on the streets. This man, a beacon of humanitarian values, was also available for any kind of help, 24 hours a day. He managed to rescue many Muslims trapped in hostile conditions either on his own or with police protection as and when it was made available to him.
Excerpted with permission from “Gujarat 2002: A Heritage of Humanity” by Teesta Setalvad, from The Peacemakers, edited by Ghazala Wahab, Aleph Book Company.