'Welcome to Hindu Rashtra'

In the last six months the saffron brigade has unleashed a reign of terror in the land of the Mahatma. The targets: Christians and Muslims

Gujarat today, is under a pall of dreadful darkness. Obliterated churches, burnt Bibles, shattered chapels, broken statues of Jesus and Mother Mary, and the voices of men and women of a shocked and frightened community are entrapped below this gloom. They are no longer safe in the land where, for centuries they have lived and worked. And then there are those whose only fault was to be born as Muslims. Their houses are being burnt, their homes are being attacked, and they have no one to turn to. Who is responsible for this and why? These are some of the questions that a fact�finding group of independent journalists and street�theatre activists from Delhi tried to find answers to. We toured the region � from Zankhvav to Bardoli to Vadodara to Ahmedabad to Saurashtra � from August 23 to 29. What follows is a gist of what we found.

We began our tour from south Gujarat�s famous trade�city, Surat. On our way to the town, we passed several villages where we found large hoardings proclaiming, �Vishwa Hindu Parishad welcomes you to Hindu Rashtra�s village�. In fact, a memorandum to The National Minorities Commission delegation visiting Gujarat (from Aug.10 to 12), by the Movement for Secular Democracy had mentioned the fact. However, seeing the actual hoardings in front of our eyes was altogether different. Suddenly, it seemed that the Preamble to our Constitution, declaring that we are the citizens of a �Secular� state had been run over. It will be pertinent to know that such hoardings have been placed in 1200 villages and at 350 places in the cities.

In Surat, we found the Muslim community feeling quite insecure following about 20 separate cases of assault on auto�rickshaw drivers plying at night. The targets in all these cases that occurred after the communal violence in Bardoli in June, were Muslims. They were brutally beaten up and robbed off their cash and other belongings. One of the victims, aged 20, Asif Abdul Sattar Badshah, stabbed all over his body, succumbed to the injuries. His father, Abdul Sattar alleged that the police was trying to shield the culprits.

We also visited Bardoli, which is 35 kms from Surat. This place has been in the news for the past three months, because of severe communal clashes centring around an inter�religious marriage. A Muslim boy, Hanif and a girl, Varsha got married. The VHP, Bajrang Dal, and RSS alleged that Hanif manipulated Varsha into eloping with him. They organised a rally to condemn inter�religious marriages and to boycott the Muslim community. The leaders alleged that en route, the rally passed a masjid from which stones were hurled at them. What followed was a riot in which scores of shops owned by the Muslims were looted.

Rafiq Memon, the brother of Hanif and Hamida Farid Ghazia, his sister, informed us that they were being continuously threatened by the VHP and said that the local Hindu population is least bothered about inter�religious marriages.

Perhaps, the most startling incident of religious intolerance in Gujarat, occurred at Rajkot, the ancient capital of Saurashtra. On June 20, about 300 copies of the New Testament were burnt by a crowd of over 150 persons, inside the I.P. Girls Senior Secondary School � a 103�year�old Christian Missionary institution. This is what Joshi Nehal, a Hindu student of class 12 of the school, told us: �Our class was in progress on June 20. Suddenly, at quarter past eight, the school bell rang. We were alarmed since this was not the specified time for the bell. Our teacher asked us to stay in the class and bolt the door from inside. There was some commotion outside. She went down to the principal�s office. Then we heard loud slogans, �Jai Shri Ram�. One of us opened the door and we saw around 25 people approaching us. They told us to vacate the room and go home. They said, �Tell your parents that they should pull you out of the school. This school is forcing you to adopt Christianity. They will force you to marry Christians. Go back�. When we refused, they threatened to burn us alive. They shattered the windows of our class�room. Some of us fainted. We were so scared.� Nehal�s classmate, also a Hindu, Zala Aruna, continued the narration: �They snatched the Bibles from the primary kids and stepped on the books. They danced on them, shouting, �Jai Shri Ram�. Then they sprinkled kerosene and put the books on fire. I just couldn�t believe it. If it had been the Geeta, would they have done the same thing?�

A Hindu teacher of the School, Geeta Behn Joshi, said, �I cried when this happened before my eyes. I couldn�t eat my food at night. It was so shameful and sad. I can never forget the unfortunate incident. Never.� It would be pertinent to know that more than 90 per cent of the students of this school are Hindus. The school has been in operation for over a century, and this trend has continued. We interviewed Ila Behn Mehta, who passed out from the school in 1960. She said, �We were told about Christianity, but we were never asked to adopt it. We were never forced to become Christians. I was a Hindu when I entered the school and I was a Hindu when I left it�.

This incident was followed by the tearing of church literature, including copies of the New Testament at a city�fete, allegedly by some VHP activists, and the disruption of the opening ceremony of a school started by the Catholic Mission of India (CMI). The Bishop of Rajkot, Reverend Father Gregory Karotemprel (CMI) said, �We are no longer safe here. Our sisters who come all the way from Kerala to work in the institutions run by us are very disturbed and fear that our work might suffer because of the recent incidents�.

In Ahmedabad, we came into contact with the St. Xaviers Social Service Society. The Society is a part of the St. Xaviers Trust which provides educational, health, and other services in various parts of the city, especially the slum areas, and to the economically weaker sections. As we were talking to some workers of the organisation, a man came running in. He informed that some Shiv Sena activists had entered a piece of land owned by the trust and were busy erecting their board in it. We rushed to the spot and found the board staring at us.

Another incident requires attention. In Sanjeli, we found that on August 15 � Independence Day� more than 35 shops of Muslims were looted. Their houses were destroyed and stoned. A Father from the town church tried to stop the attack. His intervention earned him the wrath of the culprits. They also destroyed a statue of Mother Mary in the church.

In all the places we visited, we found an active circulation of literature announcing: �When Hindus Rise, Christians run away�. We gathered several leaflets and hand�outs saying, �Jai Shri Ram. We all are Hindus. Let us unite and stop the bloody tendencies of the Christians�. There is no dearth of such literature against Muslims, too.

The above are only a few of the many incidents of religious intolerance in Gujarat. We have mentioned only the major incidents to give an idea of the degree of communal frenzy in the state. Besides, many incidents go unreported, and therefore collecting information on them becomes difficult.

Whatever is happening in Gujarat today is part of a well�laid strategy of �religious cleansing� of the minorities in the state by the forces of Hindutva. Persecution of the minorities at the micro level in Gujarat is being experimented in order to extend the experience at the macro, all�India level later.

The Sangh Toli and its leaders are not so naive as not to know that Muslim boys marrying Hindu girls (on an average it does not exceed one marriage in a population of one million), or that the last nine hundred years rule by the so�called Muslim and Christian rulers did not make this nation a Muslim or Christian majority state. In fact, the Sangh Toli is out to fulfil its declared agenda of turning this country to a Hindu Rashtra. The formation of the Hindu nation requires that the religious minorities must be so terrorised that they submit to the whims of Hindu zealots and accept the fate of second class citizens devoid of any kind of human rights.

M.S. Golwalkar, the well�known theorist of the Sangh Toli wrote that Hindu Rashtra had two major internal threats � one were the Muslims and the second were Christians. The religious cleansing of minorities in Gujarat is in fact the fulfilment of the dream of M.S. Golwalkar.

(Shamsul was a member of the Fact�finding team of the Nishant Theatre group, Delhi)

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