Human compassion above everything else

Chhaganbhai Jhala, BJP worker, Nainpur village, Kheda

Nainpur has a sizeable Muslim population. As was common in villages with mixed populations in Gujarat in March 2002, a few days after Godhra, rumours started circulating. People talked of neighbouring villages where communal riots had taken place and members of their community had been slaughtered. Chhaganbhai Jhala received phone calls asking him to avenge the death of Hindu kar sevaks in Godhra. Some of the Hindu villagers were swayed by this talk. Local Muslims heard about the communal tensions throughout Gujarat and were worried about their future in the village. Rashid Khan Karim Khan Pathan, a resident of Nainpur, recalls that the news of communal riots in other parts of the state was disturbing but somehow he could not bring himself to believe that similar incidents would occur in his hometown. Fortunately, he was proved right.

Chhaganbhai was very clear in his mind. As long as he was alive, he would not let communal forces take hold of his village. He first called a meeting of the Hindu residents where he stressed that there should be no communal tension in their village. Some residents talked about the neighbouring villages and the situation throughout Gujarat but Chhaganbhai told them that these things would pass. After some time the tension would ease and the riots would stop. But relations between the two communities, once broken, would take several decades to mend. Hindus and Muslims of the village live side by side and have adjoining fields. They have to live together, come what may. By giving in to a momentary phase, they could be inviting trouble for years to come.

Thus he was able to convince the Hindus of the village to maintain peace. Next, he talked to Muslim leaders and assured them that they would not be harmed in any way. He did not stop t that. Every day, he went all over the village on his motorcycle, ensuring that the village was trouble free and reassuring the Muslims with his presence. He also informed the police about the threat to the village and the police patrolled the village at regular intervals. The Hindu villagers also prepared themselves to face any mob that might enter their village and create trouble. But once word got around that the Hindu villagers were willing to defend their Muslim neighbours, the mob left the village alone although threatening phone calls and other means of intimidation continued.

The Muslims residents felt safe in the village and even rejected a police offer to take them to a relief camp. "What about our land and property, which would be left behind?" reasoned Rashid Khan. In fact, Muslim refugees from Kanij and other neighbouring villages were given shelter in Nainpur. The tension finally eased after about 90 days and today the relations between the Hindus and the Muslims of Nainpur are as cordial as ever. Interestingly, Chhaganbhai is a member of the BJP. When asked about his party affiliations and the BJP’s role in the Gujarat genocide, he said that his party membership was only for the purpose of getting votes. It did not interfere with his response to the call of humanity.

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 2004 Year 10   No. 98, Cover Story 9



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