A DAY after Farnaz Saiyed, 33, died in Ahmedabad’s VS Hospital, days after he was beaten up by a group of youths, allegedly owing allegiance to the Bajrang Dal, half-a-dozen policemen stood deployed outside the family’s home in Chhatral, a village in Kalol taluka of Gandhinagar district, on Tuesday. More than a dozen men in uniform patrolled elsewhere in the village, most of them deployed near a dairy office, located close to the schools and panchayat office. “There is tension in the village but the situation is under control,” a policemen said.
There is a reason for extra deployment outside the dairy office. It lies in the “Hindu area” of the village, residents said. Mohammad Hussain Saiyed, 70, a farm labourer, and Farnaz’s father, said he sold his eight buffaloes over the last two months due to the festering tension between the communities. He has also stopped going to deposit milk at the milk collection centre — it is in the Hindu area, and he is scared, he admitted.
In the attack on the morning of March 5, Saiyed’s wife Roshan Bano, in her sixties, was also beaten up – three of her fingers were chopped off. She is still in hospital. Like Saiyed, almost everyone from the Muslim community has stopped selling milk at the collection centre, a fact confirmed by a policeman posted outside the dairy office.
There are about 250 to 300 Muslim households and nearly 2,000 Hindu households in Chhatral, situated on Gandhinagar-Mehsana Highway. Due to the tension many Muslim children have stopped going to school, as both the primary and the higher secondary sections are in the Hindu area. On Monday, the first day of the Board examination, 13 students from the minority community reached A L Zaveri High School escorted by the police to sit for their papers.
“We heard there is tension and that’s why we have made all arrangements for their safety. They appeared in the exams on Monday peacefully,” school principal Mahendra Bavariya said. “There has been a decline in the number of Muslim students’ attendance but meritorious students never skipped classes.”
“We have completely stopped going to the Hindu locality which has the village’s schools, post offices, dairy and panchayat offices. Although there is no obvious threat per se, we don’t send our children to school out of fear,” said Fakruddin Saiyed, 43, who lives close to Farnaz’s house.
In the last two weeks, 13 youths have been arrested —- seven of them Hindus, including children of sarpanch and deputy sarpanch, booked for murder, and six Muslims, including son of a businessman, accused of attempt to murder. Senior police officers said tension between the communities stems from a case of atrocity lodged in 2014 against one Akram by Ankit Nadia, who was among those arrested from Goa on Monday. There have been attempts to withdraw the case when it came up for trial but the negotiations turned violent due to involvement of the sons of community leaders, locals said.
With many houses in the Hindu and Muslim neighbourhoods sharing walls, residents said there was no tension in the past – that they lived peacefully even in 2002 post-Godhra riots. There are misgivings galore since then. Muslim residents alleged that there is a “surge of activities of Bajrang Dal and VHP, which has led to the current situation.” Hindu villagers, however, said these organisational activities have always existed.
Muslim residents claim that the ongoing bout of tension started following a Bajrang Dal procession in the first week of December last year, allegedly to commemorate the Babri Masjid demolition. They said it performed a deeksha celebration where trishuls (tridents) were distributed.
But Bajrang Dal leaders said they have organised this event for several years. “Ankit Nadia was beaten up by Akram and others in 2014 and last year the case came up for trial. Since then, Nadia is being harassed to withdraw the case. We are supporting Nadia, who is a Dalit…he is poor,” said Piyush, a young man associated with Bajrang Dal who refused to disclose his surname.
The animosity between the communities have so far resulted in at least four FIRs —- cross-complaints, most of them —- since December 2017. Nadia’s family members, booked for killing Farnaz, have left the village fearing police action. By Tuesday, all seven accused were caught and produced before a local court. Gandhinagar SP Virendra Yadav said, “The situation is under control. There have been talks between leaders of the two communities, and more than two dozen policemen are deployed in the village to tackle any situation.”