May his tradition live on forever!

Rajendra Singh Jaidev Singh Dabi, farmer, Ghodasar village, Kheda

Muslims of Ghodasar village in Memdavad taluka, Kheda district, firmly believe that it was fate that brought Rajendra Singh to their rescue in February-March 2002.

Rajendra Singh belongs to the royal family of the erstwhile princely state of Ghodasar. His uncle, Mahendra Singh Kesar Singh Dabi is the sarpanch of Ghodasar village. Their forefathers came from Rajasthan and brought Muslims with them to work on their lands and in their houses. It is believed that the village did not have any Muslim residents before that. This relationship of total trust and loyalty continues to this day.

Rajendra Singh’s mother, Bhanu Kunwarba avers that she trusts the Muslims of the village completely, perhaps more than the other residents of Ghodasar. It was perhaps this relationship, nurtured over the years, which made the Muslims turn to Rajendra Singh for help on March 1, 2002.

In Rajendra Singh’s own words, he was in Ghodasar on that day "by accident". He was at the time working in a hotel in Udaipur but he also managed the family’s land and crops. He came to Ghodasar on the morning of February 27, 2002, for just a day, in order to sell the cotton harvest. He had booked his return journey for February 28. That, however, was not to be. And Rajendra Singh stayed behind to save over 150 Muslim lives in the village.

On February 28, Rajendra Singh realised that the situation in Ahmedabad was tense so he decided to stay on in Ghodasar for an extra day. The following day, the situation worsened and there was no question of his going back. While Ghodasar had remained calm on February 28, there had been incidents in neighbouring villages where Muslims had been targeted. Muslims in Ghodasar also started feeling insecure and vulnerable. Rajendra Singh, however, could not imagine riots ever taking place in his village and assured the Muslim villagers that he would see to their safety. He made regular rounds of their colony and spent time with them to reassure them.

On March 1, communal strife reached Ghodasar. In the afternoon, a mob of around 200-300 persons collected at the bus station outside the village. It looted some stalls and shops owned by Muslims and then set them on fire. When Rajendra Singh heard about this, he rushed there and tried to dissuade the mob but they were intractable. This incident rattled the Muslims of the village. Despite Rajendra Singh’s assurances, they felt increasingly insecure. He advised them to hide in the fields and told them that they were free to seek shelter in his house if necessary. Most of the villagers hid in the nearby fields but three families, a total of 18 Muslims, took up his offer and sought refuge in his house. He brought them home at about 9 p.m.

After dinner, he made another round of the now deserted basti, to ensure that things were fine. He was sitting outside the mosque with Nizam Khan Nawaz Khan Pathan, a family retainer, at about 10.30 p.m. when a mob of 200-300 people, perhaps the same mob which had collected at the bus station, came to the basti. There were no Muslims around and this angered the mob. They wanted Rajendra Singh to tell them where the Muslims were hiding.

Normally, Rajendra Singh always carried a firearm with him but that night he had no weapon. Yet, not only did he refuse to reveal the whereabouts of the Muslims, he also spoke up against destroying the mosque. The mob was in no mood to listen to reason. Frustrated in its thirst for blood, it turned on him. People started screaming for his blood and wanted to burn him alive. Such was the mood of the mob that for a few moments Rajendra Singh thought that this was the end. However, he was not about to give up. He went for the leader of the mob. He caught him by the collar and told him that if he had some personal scores to settle with him, he should do so without involving innocent people. This aggression was unexpected. The leader was disconcerted and without a leader to egg it on, the mob soon calmed down. Rajendra Singh managed to get them to turn back and he walked them out of the village to the bus station.

At about 9 p.m. the next day, Rajendra Singh got a call that some Hindus had been killed near the canal outside the village. He went there and found that it was indeed true. However, he was unwilling to believe that it was a communal attack and tried to reason with the people there that there could be more to it, some other purpose behind these murders. However, he soon felt that the mood was turning against the Muslims and that he would no longer be able to protect them. He called up his mother and asked her to inform the Muslims hiding in the fields that they were no longer safe here and should leave for the nearest safe village.

Nizam Khan recalls that the Muslims were gathered around the well in the field, when they received Rajendra Singh’s message at about 2 a.m. on March 3. Realising that there was no other option, the Muslims started walking towards Jinjar, the nearest Muslim majority village. However, about 14 Muslims, mainly old people, who were unable to walk the distance over an uneven terrain, decided to remain in the fields, convinced that no one would ever harm them since they were so old and had no enemies. These people, about whom even Rajendra Singh did not know, became easy fodder for the mob the following day. The brutality of the killings of these old and innocent residents whose bodies had been mutilated and maimed beyond recognition remains ingrained on all those who witnessed the violence in Gujarat 2002 to this day.

Hearing about the three Hindus who were killed, a mob of about 3,000-4,000 people then collected at the bus station outside the village. Rajendra Singh stayed with the mob, trying his best to keep them away from the village. At the same time, he was worried about the safety of the 18 Muslims hiding in his house. Someone in the mob found out about the refugees in his house and approached Rajendra Singh, offering to take these Muslims to safety. Rajendra Singh erred in trusting him. As they approached the house, Singh stopped and asked him to wait there. Though the Muslims were reluctant to leave, Rajendra Singh convinced them that this was the best course of action for them. He dressed them up as Hindus and brought them out.

In his anxiety, he did not notice the crowds that had collected some distance away. As the Muslims stepped out, the crowd started shouting, baying for their blood. Rajendra Singh realised his mistake and immediately, took the Muslims back. He decided that come what may, he would not sacrifice these people for the safety of his family. They were in this together, for better or for worse.

The crowd waited outside the house, shouting slogans and asking for the Muslims to be handed over to them. There was considerable personal danger but Rajendra Singh’s mother and sister supported him completely. His mother, Bhanu Kunwarba says that she was willing to pick up the gun herself to protect those who had sought shelter in her home. "Being a Rajput woman, I am not afraid of dying," she affirms. But ultimately, Rajendra Singh’s perspicacity and the traditional respect his family commands saved the day for them.

The crowd stayed where it was and did not approach his house out of respect and fear. However, Rajendra Singh realised that this could not last. Although he had a few firearms for protection, a solution had to be found. He hid the Muslims in the basement and then insisted that two or three leaders from the mob themselves come and see that there were no Muslims in the house. The leaders entered the house but were completely overawed at entering a house that they had never dared step into before. They were willing to take Rajendra Singh at his word. Yet he took them around the house, but they did not dare to look too closely or to confront him directly. After this, the mob melted away but there was still danger in the air. On the way back, they looted the Muslim basti and attacked the mosque. They also discovered the 14 Muslims hiding in the fields and set them on fire.

Rajendra Singh had been in touch with the SP, asking the police to take the 18 Muslims in his house to safety but no help was forthcoming. Finally, he gave them an ultimatum saying that he was no longer sure of the Muslims’ safety. At about 4 a.m. on the morning of March 5, a police jeep with seven policemen came to his house. A mob of about 100-150 men was still assembled in the village, waiting for the Muslims who, they were sure, were still at Rajendra Singh’s place. The policemen were unwilling to take the Muslims with them, fearing an attack by the mob. Also, though Singh had asked for a van, only a jeep was made available. Finally, Rajendra Singh made the Muslims lie on the floor of the jeep, piled one on top of the other. Armed with a gun, he then escorted the jeep to the village boundary and ensured that the Muslims reached a relief camp safely.

Despite Rajendra Singh’s best efforts, 14 Muslims were burnt alive in Ghodasar. However, he still managed to save over 150 Muslims in the village. A modest man, Singh was surprised that someone wanted to ask him about what he did in March 2002 because he genuinely believes that he did nothing out of the ordinary. "Anyone else in my position would also have done the same," he protests.

Today, most of the Muslims families have returned to the village but stay about one km away from their former basti, in newly built houses provided by the Islamic Relief Committee. However, three or four families have returned to their old houses in the basti, confident that in case of any trouble, Rajendra Singh will always be there to help them. He still visits them regularly and insists that they should not leave their lands and homes to move to a new place. The Hindu villagers are still angry with him for helping the Muslims and no longer consider him to be a Hindu but he says that this does not bother him in the least.

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



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