SINCE the September 28 arrest of a 19-year-old for allegedly raping an infant, at least half-a-dozen factories hiring migrant workers have been attacked across northern Gujarat. One of the first to be run over by mobs was the ceramic factory where the accused, who belongs to Chhapra in Bihar, worked.
While Alpesh Thakor, the Congress MLA and president of the Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena, said their anger was directed at the government and industry for “not complying with the rule to employ 80 per cent locals in factories”, police officials who refused to be named said that in at least one of the attacked factories, Himalaya International Pvt Ltd in Vadodara, of the over 500 workers, “not more than 100 were from outside the state, mostly UP and Bihar”.
Inspector General of Police, Gandhinagar range, Mahendrasinh Chavda said the rape had brought to the fore “long-suppressed sentiments”. “The locals had been dissatisfied with the factory owners and were looking for an opportunity.”
Officials said that soon after the news of the rape, messages circulated on social media appealing to members of a particular community to “unite and chase non-Gujaratis away”. Officials believe this provoked the more than two dozen incidents of violence in north Gujarat, in which 180 people have so far been arrested.
A day after the 19-year-old was arrested for allegedly raping the 14-month-old, two factories located in Himmatnagar and Prantij of Sabarkantha district were targeted. On October 2, another two were attacked, in Vadnagar and Vijapur towns in Mehsana district, including Himalaya International, a food processing plant inaugurated in 2012.
According to Vadnagar town police, a mob of over 200 people gathered outside the factory and demanded that “till the 14-month-old rape victim gets justice, migrants from UP/Bihar be removed from job, else they would be killed….”
The police report states the mob threw stones at the company’s building and tried to force their way in. Manager Shyamlal was badly beaten up, hit on the head with a stone, and had his shirt torn off. Twenty people were arrested, all belonging to nearby villages and to Thakor community.
Apart from rioting, the accused were booked for allgedly promoting enmity between groups and for acts prejudicial to harmony.
A police officer said, “Our investigation has found that at least five of them used to work in the factory and were sacked for different reasons. The rape incident gave a chance to them to mobilise and attack the company.” Police and locals also say that migrants comprised no more than one-fifth of the work force at Himalayan International.
The attack on Jay Prabhu Cotton Mill, in Kotadi village, happened the same day. A police report, in Gujarati, says 150-200 people from “Thakor members of the Kshatriya-Thakor Sena” got together “with a common intention… to create unlawful assembly and create ruckus”.
The report says the mob forced its way into the mill, pelting stones and beating up workers. All the 23 arrested for being part of the mob are Thakors.
In another incident, at Unjha town, an FIR has been lodged against 100 people for “promoting enmity between different groups and committing act prejudicial to maintenance of harmony between different groups”.
The Mehsana district has been the worst affected in the violence. DSP Nilesh Jajadia said, “Till today, 15 FIRs have been lodged, out of which two are related to spreading rumours on social media. The rest 13 are related to law and order issues. We have arrested 100 people so far.”
Ahmedabad too has seen attacks on migrants, with an incident of a mob threatening them to leave Gujarat reported from Changodar in Ahmedabad rural early last week. On Friday, a group of people hit a worker, Dashrath Sodha, on the head in Odhav industrial area of Ahmedabad. Police said Sodha was attacked when he questioned the group for forcing people to shut shops, while threatening non-Gujaratis to leave the state. Twenty people were arrested in the case.
IGP Chavda said they were trying to bring peace by talking to village heads, factory owners, community leaders.