On the first day of the nine-day Navratri festival on October 13, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad put up warning banners at more than 100 garba venues in Gujarat. The banners declared that “this festival is for Hindus only” and ask non-Hindus to keep away from garba grounds.
Earlier this month, the Hindu Sangathan Yuva Morcha from Mandvi, Kutch, reportedly banned all six garba organisers in the taluka from allowing Muslims inside and insisted that Hindus, too, enter only after sprinkling cow urine on themselves.
Last year, the VHP and organisations affiliated to it had sent notices to garba organisers in Godhra and Vadodara asking them to deny Muslim youth entry into the grounds where Navratri is celebrated for nine days. In pamphlets that the VHP allegedly circulated in Vadodara, Hindu women were warned against “seduction” by Muslims who could convert them or lure them into prostitution. Even though the Gujarat police ensured there was no discrimination on religious grounds during Navratri dance celebrations, some Muslim organisations responded by asking the community’s youth to stay away from garba venues themselves.
‘A minority even in Gujarat’
The extremist fear-mongering around garba and love jihad, however, has garnered little support from Navratri enthusiasts in Mumbai, home to a sizeable population of Gujaratis and big-ticket garba events.
On the first night of garba on Tuesday, Borivli’s Kora Kendra ground – one of the most popular open-air Navratri venues in the city – was packed with several hundred revellers dancing to live music. Although the organisers and the police had made provisions for tight security, their focus was on bag-checks and ensuring crowd control.
Among the garba dancers, most youth were dismissive of Hindutva threats to Muslims trying to attend Navratri celebrations in Gujarat. “Only religious-minded people would think of such a thing, and they are a minority even in Gujarat,” said Nirupa Chandhad, a housewife in her 20s who was at Kora Kendra with her family. “There are loads of people here who have come with friends from all communities, including Muslims.”
Pujan Zobalia, a 22-year-old businessman, described Navratri as an “eco-friendly” celebration. “Look, this is an eco-friendly festival – no divisions based on caste or religion,” he said. “Everyone should be welcome, and in Mumbai, they are.”
Older attendees like Baldev Limbachiya, a businessman in his 40s, believe that Hindutva groups should not fear Muslim youth now that Hindu youth themselves are not religious about Navratri. “In my day this festival was about praying and the dancing was not so vulgar,” he said. “Now the youth come here only to dance, so how does it matter what religion they belong to?”
‘Muslims celebrate all our festivals’
In the vast crowds swinging to garba beats in Mumbai on Tuesday, there seemed to be just a handful of dissenting voices.
“There is definitely no problem of love jihad at garba venues in Mumbai. No one checks identity cards or prevents Muslims from coming in, and that is fine,” said Jyotsna Nerurkar, 25, an interior designer from Goregaon. “But yes, if a group of Muslims were to suddenly appear, I would be a little scared – what with all the terrorism and everything.”
After a few minutes of considering the matter, Nerurkar added, “Well, if a group of Muslims were to enter this garba ground, it would be fine. Here, we are still the majority.”
But away from the dancing crowds, a group of middle-aged women surveying the party from wooden viewing stands were as carefree as most of the youth around them. “Those banning Muslims in Gujarat are not doing right,” said Mayuri Bhatt, a housewife from Borivli. “Muslims celebrate with us during all our festivals, so what’s their problem?”