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Gujarat riot victims refuse Rs 10 lakh bribe, face boycott

Mahesh Langa (April 22, 2006)

On February 28, 2002 — a day after the fire in coach S-6 of Sabarmati Express in Godhra killed 59 people, mostly karsevaks returning from Ayodhya — a crowd consisting mainly of Patels and Brahmins collected in Kuha, a village of 5,000, 30 kilometre from Ahmedabad, intent on creating mayhem aimed at the 30-odd Muslim families in the village.
Within half an hour, 20 houses belonging to Muslims were burnt down. To save life and limb, the hapless Muslims fled from the village the same day. A Thakur family gave them shelter for nine days, giving them food, clothing and some money. They were then taken to the Bapunagar relief camp in Ahmedabad. After spending three very difficult months there, the refugees returned to Kuha to start from scratch — for they had nothing left after their houses had been set ablaze and destroyed.
When the Muslim families returned to Kuha, the village leaders, mostly Patels, organised a public function ‘to create harmony’ between the two communities. BJP leader Uma Bharti was invited and, in her presence, it was agreed that Hindus would compensate those Muslims whose houses and belongings had been burnt down by ‘some anti-social’ elements in the village.
After this compromise, the Muslims decided not to pursue the police case on rioting and destruction of property in Kuha, which had been registered at Kanbha police station. The case was filed by a fellow villager belonging to a lower caste. The police closed the case and all 12 accused, who belonged to the Patel and Brahmin community, were acquitted.
In August 2004, the Supreme Court ordered the reopening of 2,108 cases relating to the Gujarat riots that had been closed by the Gujarat police. The Kuha case was reopened. Investigations began and, on March 24, 2006 all the 12 accused, along with five witnesses — Muslims who suffered at the hands of the mob — were summoned to the police station so that their statements could be recorded.
February 28, 2002
Twenty Muslim houses burnt in Kuha village, 30 km from Ahmedabad. The Muslim families move to a relief camp for three months.

June 2002
Uma Bharti presides over a ‘harmony meeting’. The Hindus, mostly Patels, agree to ‘COMPENSATE’ and help rebuild the Muslim homes burnt by ‘ANTI-SOCIAL’ elements. The police closes the case.

August 2004

The Kuha case is reopened after a Supreme Court order. The accused offer Rs 10 lakh as ‘SILENCE MONEY’. An NGO activist is offered Rs 50,000. Both refuse.

March 24, 2006
The police call the accused and the Muslim witnesses to record fresh statements. A board is put up outside the village temple calling for a ‘BOYCOTT’ of Muslims.

April 2006
The boycott continues. Muslims not hired as labourers, not allowed to sell vegetables or firewood.
The same day, just outside the police station, the witnesses were offered Rs 10 lakh by the accused to not name them in their statements. Sharif Mallik, a young volunteer working with Nyayagrah, a movement aimed at bringing justice to the Gujarat riot victims, was also offered a Rs 50,000 bribe.
But the witnesses wanted justice, not money — they refused the bribe. This has led to the social and economic boycott of Muslims in Kuha by upper-caste villagers. “Today no one is allowed to do any business with Muslims in the village,” said Sharif, who has been following the case. Babubhai Yusufbhai is a vegetable seller. He has no land or any other source of livelihood. He has been badly hit by the boycott, because most of his customers were Patels. “Now they don’t come to buy anything from me. My business has gone down by 60 percent,” he said. According to Babubhai and other Muslims, a board was put up in the village temple asking all Hindus to boycott Muslims.
“After March 24, a board was put up which was removed later. But Rasikbhai Patel (husband of the village sarpanch and one of the accused) went house to house along with others, asking people not to do any business with us. This is how they want to punish us for our insistence on justice,” said Babubhai. “We refused money because we have faith in the courts. Whatever the court decides will be acceptable to us. Even if the accused are acquitted, it will be acceptable to us,” said Nasimbanu. Her husband Ahmedbhai is one of the witnesses in the case. Their two-storey house was razed during the riots.
Akbarmiya Kalumiya Mallik owns a tempo and sells firewood. The tempo now remains parked because villagers have stopped hiring it. The vehicle was hired for transporting farm produce. “But presently, thanks to the boycott, it remains idle in the harvesting season. Nobody even comes to buy firewood now. Business is almost gone,” he said. Kirit Patel, one of the accused, had threatened him earlier to keep quiet and not pursue the case.
Muslims in Kuha were engaged in occupations like agricultural labour, animal husbandry and, selling vegetable and firewood. “Patels have even stopped hiring Muslims as labourers. They don’t allow us to walk through their fields. It’s a total boycott by Patels and Brahmins,” says Sarifabanu, one of the witnesses.
The Muslims of Kuha — as in many other villages in Gujarat — feel helpless and don’t know who to turn to. “They don’t threaten us because we can complain to the police. The boycott is ideal for them because we cannot do anything and it serves their purpose. This way they can cripple us financially, and or in any other way they want to,” Sarifabanu added.
The upper-caste villagers, mostly Patels and Brahmins, are circumspect and refuse to talk openly. But they confirmed that money was offered when the reinvestigation began. Says Rasikbhai Patel about the Rs 10 lakh offered to Muslims: “It was not a bribe. We want to compromise with them and therefore we offered some money to compensate the damage they have suffered.
Whatever happened is unfortunate. We want to forget it by healing the wounds of Muslims who are our brothers and sisters.” He seems to have forgotten that he had led the mobs which inflicted the wounds in the first place.

Landelijke India Werkgroep / India Committee of The Netherlands - April 24, 2006