Asif Patel, a Muslim realtor, was a member of a group organising a garba in Bharuch, Gujarat, as part of Navratra festivities. The event, however, had to be called off after pressure from Sangh outfits, which wanted Muslims barred and Patel’s name taken off publicity material
1.What drove you to organise the Navratra event?
We are in the real-estate business and my partners, Jasu Patel and Jaydeepsinh, and I had planned to organise the garba event to promote religious unity between people in Bharuch district. Last year, two Hindu leaders, Shirish Bengali and Prathmesh Mistry, were gunned down by gangsters and the incident had caused communal tension.
2. What had you planned to do with the money generated?
We were not doing this for profit; the money generated was to be used to provide facilities for pilgrims visiting the Chitra Mata temple located on the banks of the Narmada river in Bharuch.
3. Have you or your partners organised Navratra events before?
No, this was the first time. Over a dozen Bollywood celebrities had signed up to attend our event, Raas-e-Bharuch. We wanted the people of Bharuch to witness something they had never seen before. Our entry tickets were priced between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,500 for all nine days, which was reasonable.
4. Why did you give in to pressure from these outfits?
We didn’t think there would be opposition, but some organisations took out rallies and handed over a memorandum to the Bharuch district collector. With their pressure growing, we decided to keep Muslims out of the garba ground by checking identification documents. But seeing the protests by the VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and other organisations, and the reluctance of the district and police administration to grant us permission, we decided to call it off. Also, had we got permission and had something gone wrong on the garba grounds, we would have been held responsible. All of us partners will now the bear the loss.
5. What losses have you suffered?
We have lost crores of rupees as we had booked the ground from September 10. We had also paid a Mumbai-based advertising agency. Partial payments were made to Bollywood celebrities Jackie Shroff and Zarine Khan. Partial payments were also made to security agencies of Ahmedabad and Bharuch.