‘Sticking his neck out for a friend among ‘enemies’

Rai Singh Parmar, Kavitha village, Anand

Rai Singh Parmar lives in Kavitha village of Borsad taluka in Anand district. Parmar and his friend Shamshuddin Allauddin Malik are banana traders. Kavitha has about 70 Muslim families and over 2000 Hindu families. Rai Singh’s eldest brother is the deputy sarpanch of Kavitha.

Hindus and Muslims in Kavitha have had very good relations and have been living like brothers for generations, says Malik. However, on March 1, 2002, three or four Muslim houses in the fields were set on fire. Muslims were surprised at the turn of events but believed the sarpanch and other Hindus when they assured them that nothing would happen in the village, that they were safe there. The sarpanch even went with Rai Singh to lodge an FIR at the Borsad police station.

At the police station, the police was not very helpful. When they asked for police protection, the taluka vice president told them that the police was not going to interfere. According to Rai Singh, this was a signal to the Hindus that they were free to do as they liked without any fear of punishment. The Hindus had been waiting for just such a signal.

On March 3, a mob of about 2,000, consisting mainly of Hindus from the village itself, started attacking the Muslims. It set fire to a Muslim-owned cabin on the outskirts of the village and moved towards the Muslim locality. Rai Singh rushed to Malik and told him that it was time for them to leave the village. Malik called his friends in other towns and discovered that the only safe place for them was Napa, about seven or eight km away. He asked the Muslims of the village to pack and get ready to leave.

A truck that had arrived in Anand town on February 27 to transport some bananas was stranded because of the violence. The driver contacted Malik and then drove to Kavitha to wait until the trouble subsided before going back. Both the driver and the cleaner of the truck were Hindus. Malik pressed this truck into service to transport the Muslims of the village to safety. Afraid for his life, the truck driver refused to drive but luckily, a Muslim bus driver came forward and the Muslims boarded the truck to make their escape. As the Hindu mob armed with kerosene, petrol, diesel and soda bottles moved forward along the main road, sure that any escape vehicle would have to pass that way to get out of Kavitha, the driver found a route through the back-lanes of Kavitha and took the Muslim residents to the safety of Napa — all but 11 of them, including Malik and his family, who were to follow in Malik’s car. But before these 11 people could leave, the mob was upon them.

By now, it was late evening. The mob realised that most of the Muslims had escaped and this made them all the more determined to get the 11 who remained. They stoned Malik’s car and set it on fire. Next, they attacked his house. Malik jumped over the terrace wall of his house and sought refuge in his neighbour’s house, a Patel. His wife, who has mobility problems, was also brought there in a similar manner, as were the others. The mob realised that the 11 Muslims were hiding in Patel’s house and asked Patel to turn them out. From there, the fleeing Muslims were forced to move to another house before Patel could invite the mob leaders into his home and convince them that no Muslims were hiding there. However, the mob soon discovered the Muslims’ new hiding place and targeted it, forcing them to move again. In this manner, Malik and his family shifted 6 houses that night.

Meanwhile, the Hindus were certain that Rai Singh knew the whereabouts of the hiding Muslims and kept an eye on his movements. Rai Singh tried to find a way out for his friends. He asked the sarpanch for help. The sarpanch promised help and asked Rai Singh to go home but he did not provide a tractor to take the Muslims to safety. Finally, Malik was able to call on influential friends in Borsad and a few BSF vehicles arrived in the village. They asked Rai Singh to take them to the stranded Muslims. From a distance, Rai Singh showed them the house in which the Muslims were hiding. He wanted them to park their vehicles some distance away and take just one vehicle closer to carry out the rescue in an unobtrusive manner. However, seeing the large mob still hanging around waiting for the Muslims to come out, the BSF felt that it did not have the wherewithal to carry out the rescue and went away. They dropped Rai Singh off at the other end of the village. As Rai Singh walked back through the village, the mob again followed him and tried to find out where exactly the Muslims were hiding. Here, Rai Singh told a neat lie, that the Muslims had been rescued by the BSF and were already out of the village. Everyone had seen Rai Singh with the BSF and had no reason to disbelieve him. The mob realised that there was no more action to be had and soon melted away. At about 5 a.m. on March 4, after the mob had disbanded, Malik contacted a friend who sent him a tractor, which took him and the other 10 Muslims to Napa, to safety.

Rai Singh stayed behind to face the wrath of the villagers. His brother, the deputy sarpanch, was particularly angry. An hour or so after Malik and others escaped, Rai Singh was asked to swear on Ganga Jal that he would never interact with Muslims again. Rai Singh refused, saying that he would never ever betray a friend, Hindu or Muslim. For this, he was severely beaten up by his brother; a beating that stopped only after the neighbours intervened. But Rai Singh still stood firm by his friendship with Malik and his belief in what was right. He filed an FIR on the incident and also gave evidence in various investigations. He visited Malik regularly, first at Napa and later at Borsad, where he stayed before returning to Kavitha.

Even today, the Hindus of Kavitha do not interact with Rai Singh but his friendship with Malik is stronger than ever.

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 2004 Year 10   No. 98, Cover Story 17



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