Monday, 27 March, 2023
HomeOpinionNewsmaker of the WeekGujarat Garba threats had been building up. But the 'ruined' celebration was...

Gujarat Garba threats had been building up. But the ‘ruined’ celebration was unexpected

VHP and Bajrang Dal have been passing diktats against Muslims' entry at Garba venues. But things didn't change much on the ground—until police and politics got involved this year.

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Communal clashes, violence, brawls, politics, flogging and demolition drives — Navratri in Gujarat this year was nothing short of a battleground. Garba, the dance of devotion, was marred with disruptions and diktats, weeks after it was nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. Gujarat’s ‘Khelaiyas‘ (dancers) had a new assortment of music, from songs on Ram Mandir to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s life and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s promises. Predictable, one would say, with Gujarat going to polls soon. Comedian Munawar Faruqui, who last year spent more than a month in jail after complaints filed by Hindu groups, was also seen dancing at a Garba event.

But what was unforeseeable was the manner in which dissent translated to violence during festivities and how vigilantes openly indulged in issuing threats. It didn’t end there. On Navami, the last day of Navratri, videos of some policemen in plainclothes flogging young Muslim men accused of throwing stones at a Garba event surfaced. Images of these men tied to an electric pole at the chowk of Undhela village and brutally caned by policemen has overshadowed the vibrant Navratri in Gujarat.

And that’s why Gujarat’s Garba is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

Also read: ‘Lesson taught, we got msg to come watch’ — Gujarat villagers say after Muslim men caned by cops

Past threats, today’s violence

Around 46 kilometres away from Ahmedabad, Kheda still wears an uneasy calm. Two incidents of communal clashes broke out in the district on consecutive days, one reportedly at the BK Patel Arts & Commerce College on 1 October and the other in Undhela. Violence was also reported in Vadodara, Anand, and Porbandar during Garba events. And then, then there were the vigilantes. Videos of Bajrang Dal members thrashing Muslim men in Ahmedabad for allegedly trying to enter a Garba venue were widely shared on social media.

But is this a first for Gujarat? Haven’t diktats, violence and threats by fringe not been a part of the festival for years?

Since 2014, VHP and/or Bajrang Dal have been coming up with their diktats almost every year — ‘No muslims should be allowed’, ‘Check the ID cards’, ‘Ban Muslim singers and artistes’. But that didn’t change much on the ground. Yes, there were isolated incidents. Yes, the troublemakers did what they were best at. But it didn’t stop communities from being part of the one festival Gujarat takes pride in. So what has changed this year?

Ghar Aangne dushman Garba ramva aave to pan swagat kariye, ladai ane jhagdo Garba maan na hoy, ae che aapdu Gujarat (Even if an enemy comes at our courtyard for Garba, we welcome them. Fights and animosity are forgotten in Garba, that’s our Gujarat),” Indravadan Patel, the sarpanch of Undhela village told me. According to him, the bitterness between Hindus and Muslims in the village has been leading to flashpoints, but no one had expected Navratri would be “ruined”. “Stones were thrown at us, lathis and hockey sticks were used to attack us,” Patel alleged. The sarpanch said that while the disruptors “should not go unpunished”, the police “may have gone overboard” by publicly flogging the accused as hundreds of villagers assembled to watch the public beating and cheered as policemen rained lathis on the Muslim men one after another.

The aftershocks of both events — the alleged disruption on 3 October and mob punishment by the police a day later — were evident in the narrow lanes of Undhela days later. The primary school in the village had zero attendance on 6 October, villagers claimed Muslim men—including those who were beaten up—have fled, and while a probe is on, there has been no action so far against the policemen who publicly thrashed the Muslim men.

Also read: One thing was distinctly rotten about 2002 Gujarat riots: use of rape as a form of terror

A political tool in MP, Gujarat

In the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, police officers acted against Muslim youth and rounded them up from Garba events in Indore, at the behest of the Bajrang Dal. Identity cards were reportedly checked at some venues in the state to stop Muslims from entering.

In both Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, Garba has become a political tool.

While the Madhya Pradesh government asked Garba organisers to check ID cards of people seeing entry inside the pandals, state home minister Narottam Mishra accused Muslim men of “hiding their identity” and asking people “of any faith” to organise Garba events separately “if they wish to worship Maa (Durga)”.

In Gujarat, the Congress has been sharpening its attack on the BJP government led by CM Bhupendrabhai Patel, demanding action against the police officers involved in Kheda flogging, even hinting at a political conspiracy before the assembly elections, dates for which are likely to be announced later this month. It is no surprise that political parties tried to use Navratri to send out their messages. It wasn’t limited to songs released by political parties. Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chadha and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann — both members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — were seen at an event in Rajkot, Kejriwal attended a Kodaldham Garba event, and Modi visited Ambaji temple and performed the Maha aarti at Gabbar tirth.

Amid the politics and violence, Gujarat’s Navratri was celebrated after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Muslims in a lot of villages are still a part of the ‘Garba Mandli’. Singers and dancers from all communities participated. In the walled city of Ahmedabad, everyone in the ‘pol’, irrespective of caste and religion, was present in the ‘Sheri Garba’. The most heard phrase during the nine nights of Navratri would safely be ‘Ae Halo’ (Come, let’s play..’Garba’), but it’s about time for the people of Gujarat, its authorities, enforcement agencies and politicians to say ‘Ae Roko’ (let’s stop) to anyone giving the dance form a bad name.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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