BHAVESH Patel, one of those convicted of the Ajmer Sharif shrine blast, lived in a neighbourhood with a mixed population of Hindus and Muslims, next door to a prominent mosque in Hajikhana. In the 10 years since he was arrested for the blast, one detail has struck: locals say he called Hajikhana ‘Hathikhana’. During the 2002 riots, police say, he had attacked the mosque with a bomb and spent the next two years behind bars.
The Patel family home, a freshly painted two-storey bungalow, stands out among the dilapidated terracotta-tiled houses of Undai area of Hajikhana. A handwritten banner saying ‘Rooms to let’, written in Gujarati, hangs from it. A little distance away hangs a banner with a picture of a goddess and slogans on it such as ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and ‘Hathikhana Hindu Yuva Manch’.
Neighbours say the Patel home was in the same state as the others near it until 2002, when it was rebuilt. It also used to be abuzz with visitors.
Patel’s parents Arvindbhai and Madhuben live there now with their elder son Hitesh and his family, including two children. Hitesh looks after his father’s television repair shop. Bhavesh once worked as a technician in a local TV news channel.
Hitesh says they came to know of Bhavesh’s conviction through news channels. “My parents were very upset and kept crying. My brother is innocent and became a victim of political conspiracy. He had devoted himself to social and religious activities in our area. We will challenge the conviction in the Supreme Court,” Hitesh says, adding that Bhavesh remains confident of being cleared and returning home one day.
Neighbours remember him as “very aggressive” and an active participant in religious activities. The Patidar family started avoiding social events in Undai after Bhavesh’s arrest, they say.
Speaking about the attack on the local mosque in 2002, A F Sindhi, then a police inspector with A Division in Bharuch town and now retired, says, “The incident took place on February 28 evening, after the Godhra train carnage. Bhavesh Patel and two others threw a bomb in the mosque. While there was nobody inside, the glass windows and tiles were damaged. We arrested Bhavesh, but two others were not identified, as a result of which we could not arrest them. He remained in jail for two years.”
A neighbour adds that after Bhavesh was held, “a Shanti Samiti meeting was organised between Muslim and Hindu leaders of Hajikhana area. Both the parties agreed that peace and communal harmony in their areas should not be disturbed”.