A DAY after red cross marks had appeared on the walls of some residential societies in Ahmedabad, alarming Muslim residents, the city police said these were not a work of mischief but a “crude” job by an agency that had been tasked with identifying houses for a garbage collection project. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation said that the agency, which it had engaged for identifying the houses, was not supposed to have painted those marks and should only have put stickers on the houses identified.
The crosses had been painted on walls in Paldi, a mixed neighbourhood of Muslims, Jains and Hindus. Marked outside the homes of Muslims and Hindus, these were whited out Tuesday.
Alarmed Muslim residents of Delight Flats, Paldi, had written to the Election Commission as well as the Ahmedabad police commissioner Monday. “Such marking has left many in the Muslim community in shock and fear as it is done by some unknown element, and shows clear purpose of identifying Muslim areas,” they said.
Police released a report Tuesday following a spot visit by officials. The report said lower-ranked officials of the agency had marked the houses in a “crude manner” to identify them for garbage collection.
“I gave a report to the police commissioner after a detailed probe,” joint commissioner of police (Sector 1) K L N Rao told The Indian Express. “Prima facie I didn’t find any mischief by anyone. The houses were marked by low-ranked officials of an agency involved in door-to-door garbage collection. There is a marking system to identify the houses but these officials marked the cross in a crude manner.”
Deputy municipal commissioner (west) Arjav Shah said: “We called a meeting today and sent a showcause notice to the agency involved in the entire confusion. They are not supposed to put cross marks on houses. They have to put numbers and stickers.”
For the election authorities, collector Avantika Singh said, “The situation came to my notice yesterday and today I have asked for a report. We are looking into it. I know it was done as part of the garbage collection process of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.”
Shah, the deputy municipal commissioner said the agency has been taking door-to-door collections for six months all over the city. “We started putting stickers and a geo-fencing exercise six months ago. The idea is to mark houses from where drivers have to collect garbage,” said Shah. “A supervisor decided to put a cross and we have asked for an explanation. We are holding a series of meetings on this. We understand it is a mistake but there is no communal reason behind it.”
Shah said the agency will give a written explanation Wednesday.
The joint commissioner of police said the crosses had “created misunderstanding” among locals.
What had added to the scare was a poster that had reportedly been spotted at the Mahalaxmi crossroads in the area. Pictures of the poster purportedly put up were circulating on WhatsApp over the weekend; the images read, “Save Paldi from becoming Juhapura”. Juhapura is a neighbourhood which Ahmedabad’s highest concentration of Muslims.
“There is no reason to panic. We are probing the poster too,” said inspector V S Rabari of Ellisbridge police station, whose jurisdiction includes the area where the crosses came up.
About the crosses, city police commissioner A K Singh said, “The matter has been clarified by the AMC and the issue resolved and explained to residents of the locality to their full satisfaction.”
Delight Flats had been targeted during the 2002 riots. There are 16 flats, five of which belong today to the family of Zafar Sareshwala, a BJP leader and businessman who is currently chancellor of Moulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.
His younger brother, Uves Sareshwala, is one of the complainants. “Marking Muslim houses has a history in this country. Since elections are round the corner, we all panicked,” Uves said. “Only after we apprised the authorities were we informed that the marking was done by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.”
Paldi is part of Ellisbridge assembly constituency, a BJP bastion. Haren Pandya, who was shot dead in 2003, used to represent Ellisbridge.