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Gujarat: 1 Dead in Violence After Ram Navami Processions Through Muslim Majority Areas in 3 Districts

Multiple incidents of communal violence were reported in a day in poll-bound Gujarat, despite heavy police deployment.
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Communal tension engulfed three districts – Sabarkantha, Anand and Dwarka -- of poll-bound Gujarat on April 10 as Ram Navami processions ended in violence in Sabarkantha and Anand. FIRs have been lodged in all three districts.

In Himmatnagar, Sabarkantha, two processions of Ram Navami were scheduled, one organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and another by Antarashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), an organisation floated by Praveen Togadia, former head of VHP. At around 1 p.m on April 10, the procession organised by VHP, passing through Chhaparia, a Muslim-dominated area of Himmatnagar, was allegedly pelted with stones, following which it turned into communal violence.

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Three companies of State Reserve Police (SRP) and local police forces from Ahmedabad, Aravalli, Anand and Mehsana were rushed to Himmatnagar on orders from Ashish Bhatia, the Director General of Police, Gujarat (DGP).  At around 5 in evening, stones were pelted and fire crackers were thrown on police personnel and the rally from roof tops injuring at least three police personnel in Himmatnagar.

Later, in the day, there were incidents of stone pelting on a dargah and a car showroom. Police had to lob tear gas to disperse the crowd and Section 144 was imposed in the city barring gathering of more than three people at a place.

Within few hours of violence in Himmatnagar, a saffron flag was burnt in Dwarka district and one person was arrested following the incident.

Notably, Anand police, which had left for Himmatnagar, had to rush back to the district as another incident of communal violence was reported from Khambat, a coastal town of Anand. Even as Himmatnagar remained communally tense, a Ram Navami rally with loud music passing through Shakkarnagar, a Muslim-dominated area of Khambat, was objected to by the local residents. Soon, the situation escalated into a communal clash.

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“Heated arguments between two communities resulted in a clash within seconds. But the situation is in control as of now,” Ajit Raijan, Superintendent of Police, Anand told the media.

The police lathicharged and lobbed tear gas shells to control the situation. One man, unidentified so far, suffered serious injuries in cross stone-pelting and succumbed to injuries late night on April 10. On April 11, VHP claimed the body of the deceased old man as a Hindu and took out a procession amid heavy police presence.

Notably, Khambhat has emerged as a hot spot for communal tension since 2002. As per Buniyaad, a minority rights organisation based in Gujarat, in February 2012, a dispute over the construction of shops on land under the Waqf Board in Khambhat ended up in large-scale riots. The mobs used acid bulbs, petrol bombs, stones and torched six homes.

In November 2016, a minor incident of a Muslim autorickshaw driver colliding with the motorcycle of a person from the Ravar community in Pith Bazar area turned into a riot. The riots, which began with members of both communities pelting stones at each other, spread to neighbouring areas of Rana Chakla, Madai and Vasdavad in Khambat.

Five houses belonging to Muslims, a temple, a Masjid, a Dargah and six shops – five owned by Muslims and one by a Hindu – were burned down. Four persons were severely injured in the clash as were three police personnel.

In the years 2017 and 2018, Khambhat saw sporadic incidents of communal tension. Subsequently, the state government imposed the Disturbed Areas Act in the town that bars sale of property between two religious communities without prior permission from district authorities. However, that did not stop incidents of communal clashes in Khambhat.

In February 2019, a petty feud between two children over flying kites in Akbarpura area turned into communal violence. The police fired seven rounds in the air and lobbed teargas shells to restore order.

In the same month, a small communal incident broke out over a social media post about the Pulwama attack in another part of Khambhat.

In February 2020, Bhavsarwad, a Hindu-dominated area, was looted, following which an Anand-based Right-wing outfit called Hindu Jagran Manch organised a rally and raised provocative slogans, urging Hindus to oust Muslims from the town. Sanjay Patel, BJP leader from Khambhat and a former MLA and Pinakin Brahmbhatt, the city unit head of the BJP, were among those who raised provocative religious slogans.

Three days after the rally, riots broke out in Khambhat, leaving around 13 people injured while more than 30 shops, 10 houses and several vehicles were torched to ashes. It took local police and the Rapid Action Force about two hours to quell the mob. Seven FIRs were registered following the riots in which Patel and Brahmbhatt were named alongside several leaders of the Hindu Jagran Manch and a few local councillors.

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