The Nanavati Mehta commission in its report has mentioned the past history of communal violence in Ahmedabad and Vadodara dating back to 1714, suggesting that a sense of mistrust had grown between the communities in the wake of prolonged history of violence and that the Godhra train burning incident acted as a catalyst for the Gujarat riots in 2002.
The two historic cities of Gujarat – Ahmedabad and Vadodara – faced the worst violence during the 2002 riots, with a total of 442 and 49 people getting killed respectively over a span of three months.
The Commission while presenting its report has cited 11 instances of riots in Ahmedabad between Hindus and Muslims from 1714 to 1993.
“The first communal riot that happened in Ahmedabad was in 1714 as a result of sprinkling of gulal, a red powder, on a Muslim by a Hindu named Hariram while celebrating Holi festival with his friends at his residence. It was strongly protested by the Muslims and a mob had assembled near Jumma Masjid under the leadership of Sunni Bohra Mulla Abdul Aziz. The mob was joined by Afghan soldiers and it thereafter looted shops of Hindu and set some shops as well as houses on fire,” the report stated, drawing largely from the testimony of then additional chief secretary, home, Ashok Narayan, who was among the key witnesses in the Commission.
The report then goes on to mention the riots in 1715, 1716, 1750, 1941, 1946, 1965, 1969, 1985, 1990, 1992 and 1993 in Ahmedabad claiming that acts of looting of shops, cow slaughter, demolishing of temple, ruckus during yearly Rath Yatra, murder of Sikh autorickshaw drivers, agitation against reservation policy and Babri Masjid demolition (not in that order) acted as catalysts for the outbreak of violence.
The report in the preface section claims, “as a repercussion of the Godhra train incident, large number of incidents happened in Ahmedabad.”
The report also observes that is was due to numerous riots which gave birth to the creation of ‘pols’ and ‘Mohallas’ in Ahmedabad where people started to reside with those of their community out of fear. The Commission report further states that it was the particular pattern of structure of houses in ‘Pols’ and ‘Mohallas’ which facilitated the rioters in fleeing from police.
“The distrust and disharmony created between these two communities got widened and safety and security became matters of paramount interest for them. They therefore abandoned the neighbourhood of each other and started residing with the members of their own community. This was more due to fear than hatred for each other. As a result of this, the Pols and Mohallas assumed the colour of religion and with the passage of time, they became exclusive localities of the communities. The composition of Pols and Mohallas facilitated the miscreants in indulging in riots and then to elude the police very easily and disappear in the labyrinth of Pols and mohallas,” said the report.
For the violence in Vadodara during the 2002 riots, the report mentions, “it is relevant to note that Vadodara did not have any history of communal riots before 1969 and in that year, in Vadodara city a serious communal riot broke out and seeds of communal hatred were sown between Hindus and Muslims. Thereafter, sporadically incidents of communal violence have taken place in the city. Some parts of the city have become very sensitive and even a small incident involving two persons is likely to lead to a communal riot. “
Here as well, the Commission observes that the train burning incident in Godhra acted as a catalyst, which resulted in large scale violence in the city. “As a result of the Godhra incident, Hindus in the city had become angry and highly aggressive and that had along with other circumstances led to situation for which the police force was not prepared.”