HUDDLED UNDER Ahmedabad’s Chanakyapuri flyover with their bags and small children, they waited for a bus that would take them on a backbreaking 24-30-hour journey home to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
From Ahmedabad and its neighbouring districts, Hindi-speaking migrants who have lived in Gujarat for years, are fleeing — driven by fear after mobs, seemingly angry over the alleged rape of a 14-month-old girl, started to attack “non-Gujaratis” earlier this week.
In some cases, landlords had asked them to leave, said some of the migrants waiting for a bus in the afternoon sun Saturday. At least 180 people had been arrested in the districts of Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Sabarkantha, Patan, and Mehsana for targeting migrants, especially those from UP and Bihar, police had said Friday.
“My children were playing in the lane outside our house when the mob attacked on Thursday night. They are still in shock. I took my four-year-old son to the doctor to calm him down that night,” said Rajkumari Jatav, 30, waiting for a bus to return to her village in Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh.
Migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh leave for their villages from Ahmedabad after the alleged rape of a 14-month-old girl triggered revenge attacks against “non-Gujaratis”. (Source: Express video by Javed Raja)https://t.co/yAW7MgEESa pic.twitter.com/SPsSSCT3Hj
Rajkumari’s three children and her husband, who does paint jobs to sustain the family, live in Mahadev Nagar, a colony of migrants in Ahmedabad’s Chandlodiya area. Several other migrant families who are their neighbours, are fleeing too — in their seven years in Gujarat, none of them has ever felt a fear like this, Rajkumari said.
Dharmendra Kushwaha, who too is from Bhind and lives in Mahadev Nagar, said some 1,500 UP, Bihar, and MP migrants may have fled from their homes in the colony over the last few days. “Two hundred people left today,” said Kushwaha, 20, a labourer who works with painters, and arrived in Ahmedabad two years ago after spending seven years in Surat. He said masked men had told him to “leave Gujarat before 9 am” Saturday, or he would be dead.
Some 20 buses, each packed with more than 80 passengers, left for UP, MP and Bihar Saturday. Normally, no more than a handful of buses leave on these long-distance routes every week.
“A bus would leave for UP, Bihar, or MP once in two days, with perhaps 25 passengers. But now, I am having to accommodate 80 or 90 people in each bus. And 20 such buses are leaving every day,” said Pintoo Singh of Satyam Tomar Travels, an agency that has been operating private buses on these routes for several years.
Krishnachandra Sharma, a 42-year-old building construction contractor who says he has lived in Ahmedabad for the last 22 years, cannot recall having witnessed seen a situation earlier. “There have been Hindu-Muslim riots, but never something like this. The news spread like wildfire on Facebook and WhatsApp, which everyone has on their phones,” he said.
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Manju Singh (27), who does paint jobs in Gandhinagar, said his bike was stopped by a group of seven men on Thursday evening. “They asked me where I was from. Sixth sense told me to lie, and I said I was from Rajasthan. When they probed further, I mumbled the name of a district. They let me go only after they had satisfied themselves I was not from UP, MP or Bihar. Immediately after I left, they burnt a vehicle at that very spot,” Manju Singh said.
Manju Singh and several others left for their homes in Madhya Pradesh Saturday. All of them are painters, and this is peak business season for them, with Gujaratis painting and decorating their homes ahead of Diwali.
Waiting for a bus to Jalaun district in UP, Urmila Devi, who has been living in Kalol in Gandhinagar district for the last two years, said she did not know why people from her state were being attacked, or who was targeting them.
“Some 50-60 people stormed our settlement, shouting, ‘Sab bhaiyya log nikal jao nahin toh mar-peet karenge’,” she said. “They set all the pani puri stalls in the lane outside our homes on fire. My son-in-law now has a fractured arm. Our landlords asked us to leave as soon as possible,” Urmila said.
Mannbhai Prajapati (26), who has been selling pani puri in Visnagar in Mehsana district for the last 11 years, fled home with his family and reached Ahmedabad Friday morning. On Saturday, he said he was boarding the first bus he could get for his village in UP, along with his wife and three children, ages eight, two, and one.
“We do not know why they are doing this to us. We have locked our rented rooms and left with only our clothes. What else could we do? We do not know when we will be able to return. We never thought we would have to run away like this,” he said.
Meanwhile, the child whose alleged rape by a man from Bihar on September 28 in Sabarkantha district triggered the violence against Hindi-speaking migrants, was discharged from hospital in Ahmedabad Saturday. Her condition was stable and she was out of danger, a senior official of the hospital said. The alleged rapist had been arrested on the same day.
Both the BJP and Congress have appealed for peace and harmony in the wake of the violence and exodus of North Indian migrants from Gujarat. State BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya said Saturday that “what happened is a black spot on our society”, and asked people “not to give political or caste colour” to the incident. “I condemn both the rape of the minor as well as the subsequent attacks on migrants,” Pandya said.
State Congress president Amit Chavda said “anger was building among youths owing to rising unemployment” and “the rape of the minor girl provided the trigger for the attacks on migrant workers”. However, Chavda said, an entire community could not be held responsible for the actions of one individual. “What has happened, cannot be justified. But it is the responsibility of the state government to protect the life and property of citizens,” he said.