Vadavali (Gujarat): Smoke still billows from Vadavali. Days after it was razed in a mob attack that left two dead, the village in Gujarat’s Patan district stands deserted. The only people in sight are the police.
Charred shells of houses and vehicles, along with the smoke still billowing two days after the incident when this reporter visited, underline the violence that took place in the Chanasma tehsil village on March 26. The Muslim villagers have fled, many taking refuge in a neighbouring hospital.
The mob attack was triggered by a fight between two students – one from the Thakor (Darbar community) and the other a Muslim – on March 25.
The next day, a group of people belonging to the Darbar community, mostly from the neighbouring village of Sunsar and two other villages, attacked the Muslims residents of Vadavali. About 80-100 dwellings were ransacked and burnt, food grain was set afire and three shops gutted along with 10-12 vehicles.
The dead included a 50-year-old villager, Ibrahimbhai Lalbhai Belim, and a youth who was grievously injured and later succumbed to injuries. About 25 people were injured; five of them are in a critical condition.
“The madness continued for about an hour and half. If the police hadn’t arrived, more would have been killed,” said Yasqulbhai, a 72-year-old villager, now homeless with his family. “We tried to intervene and not let the violence escalate, but they did not even listen to the village elders.”
“The local (Chanasma police station) police did not help us much. They didn’t even pick up the injured. My father got badly injured and fell down and was left lying there for a long time. I had to run, they attacked me too,” said the son of Belim, the man who died. He himself has a fractured leg and sword injuries on his forehead and right hand and is hospitalised.
“They did not just attack. They also looted every house, burning them down. Many households had jewelry for upcoming marriages next month. And they looted our cattle and grain,” said a woman of the village.
“I was cooking lunch, I had to run for my life as they attacked,” she added.
March 25, a resident pointed out, was the day of board examinations. “After the exams, students of Class X were coming out of the examination centre when one Darbar boy bumped into a Muslim boy. The Darbar kid happened to fall off a staircase. This is all that had happened on Saturday,” recounted Narendrabhai Vankar, a teacher in a local school in Chanasma.
Vankar, who was in Patan when the attack took place, returned to see his village in ashes.
“I still can’t believe that a minor scuffle over a petty issue between teenagers turned into a communal clash in Vadavali,” he added.
Complaints and counter-complaints have been filed by the people. A complaint by a man identified as Maharsinh Zala alleged that a Muslim boy from Vadavali pushed a girl from Sunsar village, leading to a fight. In another complaint, a Vadavali resident, Rehmanbhai Mallick, blamed the Thakors or Darbars for the violence. In his complaint, Mallick stated that agricultural produce worth several lakhs of rupees was either looted or destroyed during the attack.
Multiple FIRs have been filed under the Chanasma police station by villagers of Sunsar and Vadavali against more than 40 people. The FIRs have been filed under IPC Sections 302 (murder), 147, 148,149 (rioting armed with deadly weapons and unlawful assembly of a group of people), 395 and 397 (robbery), 435 and 436 (mischief by fire).
“Fourteen people have been arrested so far. They have been booked under several Sections except Section 302. Thirty-one people have been booked under Section 302 as well as other Sections,” CP Sadiya, police inspector of Chanasma police station, stated. “Those arrested so far are mostly from Sunsar and Dharpur villages,” he added.
Vadavali, about 100 kilometres from Ahmedabad, has a large Muslim and Dalit population. It has a ‘Samras’ gram panchayat, a government scheme under which a village chooses its ward members and sarpanch through consensus and not an election. Gram panchayat elections are scheduled to be held elsewhere on April 8.
Vadavali’s Muslim sarpanch, Sultanbhai Khumia Qureshi, was among those injured.
According to the villagers, early in the day on March 26, 10-15 Darbars from Sunsar village came to Vadavali and left after abusing and threatening them. In the afternoon, a mob estimated at about 5000 people attacked the residents of Vadavali. Most women and children had taken shelter in a mosque in the village by then. Some of the men, including Qureshi, decided that they would leave the village only after all the others had left, an eye witness said.
“The injured are all residents of Vagjipara, an extension of Vadavali village which has about 1200 Muslim households,” says Vankar, who is a Dalit resident of the village and has been arranging food for Muslim villagers left homeless.
This is not the first time that communal violence has broken out in Patan district. On November 25, 2014, a clash over Rs 10 led to violence between Muslims and members of the Koli Patel community.
Following the clashes, security has been beefed up in and around Vadavali.
“A combing operation is being carried out in Vadavali, Sunsar and Dharpur and about 150 personnel from Patan district headquarters and Banaskatha district have been sent to Vadavali to maintain peace. The situation is peaceful as of now and we are trying to identify the accused,” AG Chauhan, Superintendent of Police (SP), Patan, said in a statement to the media.
Police from Mehsana and Patan were the first to reach the spot. More forces were sent when the situation worsened. Ten fire engines went from Mehsana, Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad to Vadavali to control the fire.
The police had to fire seven rounds of bullets in the air. They carried out a baton charge and fired dozens of rounds of tear gas shells to curb the violence.
Gujarat Director General of Police (DGP) PP Pandey has ordered an officer of inspector general rank from Gandhinagar to be present on the spot.
He also ordered the deployment of two companies of the State Reserve Police.
But despite the presence of the police, the Muslim residents have left their village. Many who have been left homeless have taken refuge at the Dharpur hospital, located on the Patan Unjha state highway. Some of the residents have moved to other villages.
However, tents were erected in Vadavali on March 28 and some Muslims families who had taken refuge in the Dharpur hospital were able to shift to these tents.
“It was one day that our kids had finished the first examination of their lives and the next day when we lost everything,” Yasqulbhai lamented. “What is to happen to our lives now?”