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Peace brigade planned in Ahmedabad to beat communalism

Sukrat Desai

Thursday 3 July 2003, by DESAI*Sukrat

Article paru dans The Hindustan Times, ?dition du 5 juillet 2003.

Optimistic of the support of sane voices for amity in this main city of Gujarat that has witnessed mindless sectarian violence, a group of activists plans to raise a "peace brigade" to counter communal hatred.

(Indo-Asian News Service)

"We are in the process of forming a peace brigade in Ahmedabad to resist communalism," Shabnam Hashmi, coordinator of the NGO Act Now for Harmony And Democracy (Anhad), told IANS.

"We strongly believe that if this city has produced killers, it also has its share of those who are always ready to lay down their lives for peace and harmony."

This new effort for peace is drawing inspiration from two friends — one Hindu and the other Muslim — who sacrificed their lives in the 1946 communal violence in Ahmedabad for peace and harmony.

Vasant Rav and Rajab Ali, popularly known as Vasant-Rajab, were freedom fighters. Vasant was from this city while Rajab was born in Karachi — now in Pakistan — but brought up in Gujarat. They became friends while studying at a college in Bhavnagar in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region.

As the winds of hatred were blowing through the country amid growing demand of India’s partition in the mid-1940s, communalism reared its ugly head.

On July 1, 1946, violence erupted in Ahmedabad on the occasion of the Hindu festival of Rath Yatra, during which a chariot procession is taken through the city.

It was the first time violence visited during the Rath Yatra. Since then unrest on the occasion has unfortunately become a common occurrence in this city.

On that day in 1946, mobs of Hindus and Muslims flooded the streets of the walled city in Ahmedabad’s old quarter.

Vasant and Rajab heard that a Hindu area in Jamalpur was under attack. The two friends rushed to the spot and stood in front of the frenzied crowd. As both were known to have stood for communal harmony in the past, some turned away.

But most of the attackers remained and told the duo to clear the way. Vasant and Rajab chose to lie on the road and be lynched by the mob, thus saving hundreds of lives.

"Every era has its own Vasants and Rajabs," said Hashmi, who was here to participate in a cultural programme Tuesday to commemorate the two heroes on their death anniversary.

"We want to reach out to the present Vasants and Rajabs of Gujarat. It is an attempt to provide a platform to the silent majority which believes in peace but does not know how to express itself," she said.

The activists behind the "peace brigade admit change in the communally cleaved society of Ahmedabad is difficult, but they say it is not impossible.

"Change is a difficult and gradual process, but it has to be brought about. Many lives may be sacrificed in its process," said Stalin, a documentary filmmaker.

Added Saumya Joshi, a lecturer at the HK Arts College here: "Secular minded people have to be as diehard as those who preach hatred and communalism. In order to counter their propaganda based on hatred, we will have to run a campaign."

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