On any given day, especially during Navratri, it would take not less than 20 minutes by a two-wheeler to cover the one-km stretch of Mandvi-Fatehpura in the walled city area of Vadodara. Not on Wednesday. It hardly took five minutes to cover the distance on Wednesday, as the street was almost deserted. The stretch, predominantly known for its garment market, was very different from its usual ambience, given the ongoing Navratri festival.
The recent communal violence has completely altered the atmosphere here. While the administration has managed to restore calm, locals and shopkeepers are edgy.
“Not that it is something new for us. But this time the violence quickly escalated. There have been minor clashes almost every year, as the city is polarised, compared to other cities in Gujarat. The recent riots somehow brought back memories of 2002,” said Kanubhai, an employee of SSG Hospital who stays in the Fatehpura area of Vadodara, from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi – then chief minister of Gujarat – contested and won the general elections. He vacated the seat later, chosing to represent Varanasi in Parliament.
It took five days, 150 arrests, as well as foot and vehicle patrolling by at least two companies each of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and the State Reserve Police (SRP), and scores of city police personnel to restore calm in Fatehpura, Yakutpura, Panigate, Wadi and Adaniyapul and other localities in the walled city. These localities are known to be communally tense, given the mix of Hindu and Muslim pockets, segregated by narrow lanes.
The riots this time were mainly triggered by a Facebook post that had allegedly morphed an image of a Hindu goddess with that of an Islamic religious symbol, police said. Apparently, the person who allegedly circulated the image runs a tuition centre in the Rawat Sheri locality of Fatehpura, where 90 per cent of his pupils were from Muslim families across the road. The accused was arrested last Thursday, and is yet to get bail. But the riots have caused personal and business losses to many, including a differently-abled Parmar couple who runs a paan shop in front of the accused’s locality.
Heavy stone pelting, arson and even incidents of stabbing were reported on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Police had to resort to firing in the air and teargas shelling to disperse the mobs till Sunday, before the frequency of violent incidents subsided. Close to three dozen two-wheelers and several three-wheelers were set ablaze. Some shops were also burnt. Many bore losses because of looting.
Locals are rueing not only the lost business during the peak festive season, but also the inconveniences caused due to a ban on SMS and mobile internet services. For instance, the Nava Bazaar lane, one of the biggest and prominent markets in the walled city for the chaniya choli (traditional dress worn for garba dance during Navratri) lost business worth Rs 25 lakh in the past five days.
“We lost Rs 40,000-50,000 daily for five days since Thursday which otherwise are the best time to do business during Navratri. We kept the shops open on all days hoping the riots would be over soon but in vain,” said Rajubhai of Sona Collection in Nava Bazaar.
In some cases, salaries got delayed; employees of some companies did not receive SMSes of salary transfer or bank notification, ahead of the festivities .
While the public blames the police for late action – state police chief P C Thakur had to hold a 2-am meeting on Monday before calm was restored – police say they did their best.
“We immediately arrested the accused and lodged cases against him under Sections 153A and 295A, along with Information Technology Act. Patrolling by security personnel was increased and we held local and city-level meetings. Patrolling is still on and the locals are feeling secure due to the police presence,” said A F Sindhi, assistant commissioner of police, ‘C’ Division of Vadodara police.
Vadodara Commissioner of Police E Radhakrishana declined to comment.
Police are planning to install CCTV cameras in all the affected localities. “We have got one set of cameras installed in the Champaner Gate area, and we working on replicating the same in other areas,” Sindhi said.