Shining example of mutual co-existence

Machchhipeeth, Rifaiya dargah, Vadodara

Machchhipeeth is a Muslim predominant area in the old city of Vadodara. Here, about 75-80 Hindu families live in the midst of over 2,000 Muslim families. While the rest of Vadodara fell victim to the communal virus, Hindus in this area, who were in a minority, believed they were completely safe. None of them thought of moving out to ‘safer’ areas.

"We did feel slightly scared but we trusted the Muslims in our area. Our relatives asked us to come and live with them but we refused to move out," says Taraben Mohanbhai Patel, a resident of Machchhipeeth. The Muslims went out of the way to make them comfortable and Hindus were assured that they would not be targeted.

Since the Hindus in this area are mainly poor and work as daily wagers, they were badly affected by the violence in the town. Their Muslims neighbours pitched in to provide them with groceries and other necessities whenever possible. Within the mohalla, the Hindus felt safe enough to go out for their daily chores. In the areas where they felt insecure, the Muslims went and did their chores for them. On their part, the Hindus pitched in whenever a Muslim neighbour needed anything from the Hindu dominated areas nearby. Here, both communities helped each other and maintained peace and harmony within the area. Most of the major incidents that affected Machchhipeeth took place on the main road, between its Muslim residents and either the police or Hindu mobs from outside. Within the mohalla there was no communal tension.

Even today, the Hindu families continue to stay in Machchhipeeth and good neighbourly relations between them and the Muslims of the area continue.

Near Machcchipeeth, the Rifaiya dargah is visited by several devotees, Hindus and Muslims, every day. It is surrounded by Hindu localities on all sides. While there is a Kahar basti in front, Marathi Hindus live behind the dargah. During the period of communal violence, there was considerable tension in the area. However, the Kahars assured the caretaker of the dargah, Syed Kamaluddin Ahsamuddin Rifai or Baba as he is popularly called, that nothing would happen to the dargah, not even a stone would be hurled at it. Even the Marathis were alert to the possibility and determined to prevent any such incident.

However, on March 3, 2002, about 14-15 armed men managed to reach the back door of the dargah, which opens into the kitchen, and tried to set it on fire. They were chased away by those who were inside. The Marathi residents helped to chase them away. After this incident, Baba sent his family to their family home in Tandalja with Rameshbhai but he himself refused to leave the dargah. The Kahars and Marathis also decided to sleep within the compound to guard the building and any further incidents were prevented.

Three months after the violence started, the annual Urs was to be celebrated at the dargah. Usually this involves a huge procession that passes through both Hindu and Muslim areas of the city. In 2002, Baba wondered whether that would be a good idea and whether he should scale down the celebrations in view of the prevailing tension in the city. However, the Hindu leaders insisted that the procession should go on along its usual route and that Urs should be celebrated on the same scale as in previous years. Even the police agreed with them. Baba complied with this request and the Urs celebrations were conducted with much fanfare.

Everything went off peacefully and there was an overwhelming response from the Hindu community as well. Many Hindus felt that this event proved that the violence was finally behind them and helped to bridge the gap between the communities.

Similarly, during Ganeshotsav, the Marathi settlement behind the dargah usually installs a Ganesh idol for worship. When it is taken out for immersion, it is customary for the visarjan procession to stop in front of the dargah, as many prominent Hindus in the visarjan procession offer chadars at the shrine. On their part, Muslims offer sherbet to all the faithful in the visarjan procession. This custom was observed even in 2002, thus proving that the dargah remained immune to the communal virus sweeping through the town. Even today, the dargah attracts followers from both faiths and is a symbol of the age-old pluralistic tradition of Vadodara city.  

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 2004 Year 10   No. 98, Cover Story 13



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