The Gujarat police Friday said that at least 180 people have been arrested across five districts for targeting migrants, particularly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, in violent protests across the state. With the protests continuing unabated since Wednesday, several migrant workers have reportedly left the state in fear.
Protests erupted in the districts of Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Patan, Sabarkantha and Mehsana after the arrest of Ravindra Sahu, who hails from Bihar, for allegedly raping a 14-month-old girl in Sabarkantha district last week.
Director General of Police Shivanand Jha said that “following the case of rape…people from a particular community have targeted non-Gujaratis.” The victim belongs to the Thakor community, which, according to police, has targeted migrants since the incident.
Congress MLA and AICC secretary in charge of Bihar, Alpesh Thakor, who is also president of the Thakor Sena, which has been blamed for the attacks, has demanded, within 72 hours, the withdrawal of cases against members of his community who were “innocent”.
Thakor told The Indian Express Friday: “I appeal for peace to all those behind these incidents. There could be members from our community and Sena but no such instruction (to launch attacks) was given out from our side (Thakor Sena). This is to only defame us and the Sena. We are only aiming at peace and employment in the state.”
He said that their target was the “state government and companies”, not individuals or a community or caste. “Despite the rule of employing 80 per cent locals companies do not follow this. The state government should ensure its proper implementation”, Thakor said.
According to Thakor, those not involved in the violence should not face police cases. “How can you name somebody in the FIR who was not there at all? We are demanding police withdraw cases against all these persons within 72 hours,” he said, warning that he would take “legal recourse” if the demand was not met.
The Thakor Sena claims that cases were registered against nearly 500 people named in around 50 FIRs across six districts and Ahmedabad city. Police security was also placed outside industrial units which employ migrants after Thakor said his outfit’s anger was against the government and the companies, not complying with the rule to employ locals in factories.
According to the police, more than a dozen videos targeting migrants from Bihar and UP have circulated on social media. One such video that allegedly originated from a village in Gandhinagar, shows a group of people threatening migrants from Bihar asking them to leave Gujarat for good.
Mahendrasinh Chavda, Gandhinagar Range IG that covers four districts, said that “till Friday evening 23 FIRs have been registered for rioting, damage to public and private property. And 170 people have been arrested.”
Police said that most people being targeted are factory workers and vendors. “They are being targeted by design. In industrial areas, the attacks have been reported when factories are about to open or close,” said a senior police officer. In north Gujarat’s affected districts nearly 20 State Reserve Police (SRP) companies have been deployed for security.
“All the SPs, deputy SPs and supervisory officers have been asked to increase patrolling to ensure safety. We are in constant touch with factory owners to build their confidence since some factories have been targeted in Sabarkantha and Mehsana,” said Chavda.
On Friday, when The Indian Express went to the home of Kedarnath Angrehi, a migrant from UP who was attacked on October 3, it was locked, the autorickshaw that he rode for a living, parked outside, damaged.
On the basis of Angrehi’s complaint, an FIR was registered after violence broke out Wednesday night in Chandlodia area of Ahmedabad after locals from one community came out on the streets protesting against ‘non-Gujaratis’ after the arrest of a Bihar migrant factory labourer in the alleged Sabarkantha rape.
Neighbours said that “Angrehi and his brother Manish have fled in fear, perhaps back to their village in Uttar Pradesh.”
In front of Angrehi’s house lives Ramsevak Kushwah with his wife. Kushwah is from Gwalior and came to Ahmedabad a year ago. The windows and door of their house were damaged by attackers. Ramsevak said, “We didn’t see anyone as we had locked our door. They were shouting, abusing and threatening Hindi speaking people to go back. We were scared.”
“I fear coming home from the bazaar at night. These people roam on motorcycles and keep threatening us. All Hindi speaking people are scared. We know the attackers who live nearby,” said Anand Rathore while pointing to his handcart, which was damaged by protesters on October 3 while he was on his way back home in Chandlodia in Ahmedabad.
Mehsana is the worst affected district where 10 FIRs have been lodged followed by Sabarkantha where eight FIRs were lodged.
On Friday, migrants were also targetted in Sabarmati and Odhav police station areas. Police said that “bike-borne men attacked handcarts vendors and other shops belonging to non-Gujaratis.”
National President of the Uttar Bhartiya Vikas Parishad Shyamsingh Thakur said that several migrants have started fleeing Gujarat. He said: “Such an incident has never happened in Gujarat. Migrants from North Indian states are so scared after attacks on their settlements that hundreds have returned to their states in the last two days. Whether they have the money or not, they are fleeing from Ahmedabad.”
Thakur’s organisation claims to comprise 32,000 members of which 22,000 are in Ahmedabad alone.
The Ahmedabad cyber cell has also identified 70 Facebook profiles which are allegedly spreading rumours related to the rape case and inciting people to attack migrants. Cyber Cell ACP Rajdeepsinh Zala said, “We have arrested one person Mahesh Thakor, a resident of Maninagar, Ahmedabad and a minor for spreading rumours and hatred.”
In Surat, the Uttar Bhartiya Community gave a memorandum to the Surat Police Commissioner and Surat district collector requesting legal action against those spreading hate messages on social media against North Indians.
A member of the Uttar Bhartiya Samaj, Alok Upadhyay, whose father is a labour contractor in the dyeing and printing mills and hails from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, said: “The Uttar Bhartiya people are staying in Surat for a long time and they have made Surat and Gujarat their home and workplace. We are responsible citizens of the city and it is not good that anybody makes derogatory remarks against us.”
“For a crime of one individual why should an entire community be held responsible and by putting out such hate messages on social media, it will create a rift between the community and people in the city.”
(With inputs from Kamaal Saiyed in Surat)