Where Patels look for peace but Pathans won't forgive
Ujjwala Nayudu Posted online: Wed Feb 22 2012, 03:40 hrs
Sardarpura, Mehsana : Ten years after 31 Muslims were killed here,
dragged out of lofts, grocery boxes, water tanks of a one-room house
they had hidden in, there is talk of "peace" in Sardarpura.
The 22 Muslim families who remain, all of them Pathans, know what has
prompted this change of heart: the conviction in November last year of
31 for the massacre of March 1, 2002. The Patels, always the dominant
caste here, subjugating both the minority Muslims and the lower-caste
Dalits, find themselves unusually on the back foot. And they have been
courting the Pathans to get them to drop the complaints, to get their
family members out of jail, and to avoid endless court battles.
However, as Munsaf Khan Pathan says, they can't find inside them the
pardon that the Patels seek. A dismissed police constable, he once
thought the law was at least on his side — till that night.
"They (the Patels) have been calling us for village meetings every
week, where the present panchayat leaders claim they have realised
their 'mistake'. They want us to file fresh affidavits in the local
court withdrawing our complaints and the affidavits filed earlier in
the 2002 riots… Even an offer of several crores will not change our
Shafiq may be just a boy but he says he understands the "scheming" and
"plotting" of the Patels. "They are luring young boys from our
community with job offers and elders with offers of more farm land for
agriculture if we withdraw our statements," he says.
Once Muslims comprised 10 per cent of the total population of
Sardarpura village, including Pathans, Sheikhs, Balochs, Mansooris,
Nagoris etc. Most of those who died were Sheikhs, cornered in the
kitchen house, the last such structure down a lane in the 'Sheikh
Mohalla', itself located inside 'Pathanwadi'.
The Pathans got saved as most escaped or went into hiding. Munsaf took
his family to Sundarpur village.
While he still harbours the guilt of "not doing enough" for his Sheikh
neighbours, Munsaf admits: "I couldn't have forgiven myself if any
member of my family died." He believes they were also lucky as their
area only had lower-caste Hindus. "Probably that's why we are alive
Ironically, not only have the Pathanwadi Muslims come closer to each
other after the riots, they have a better relationship with the Dalits
as well. The lower castes feel more protected with the Pathans than
The Patels, meanwhile, have cornered 2,000 to 3,000 bighas of fertile
land in Sardarpura, relegating the Pathans to 30 to 40 bighas.
Another example of domination is the Sardapura bazaar, once a hub of
Muslim traders. The riots began with torching of three shops here.
Later, the panchayat handed these over to the Patels.
"The Patels finished everything, still they are not satisfied. They
also want to grab the little left with us," says Munsaf's 85-year-old
mother Mehrunisa, now the oldest surviving Muslim in Sardarpura.
After five years of struggle, the Pathans have got a small patch of
land in the market where they are building six shops.
It hurts them when Ramesh Patel, son of former sarpanch Kachra Patel,
talks of regret. Kachra was convicted of the riots and of having
prompted others to join the violence. He had won the sarpanch
elections with 100 per cent votes in 2002.
Now running his father's farm, Ramesh claims: "My father wanted to
rise high in politics. He got attracted to the riches he was promised
by political outfits. The outcome is that Patel farmers are serving
terms in jails but those who involved the panchayat leaders are
roaming free. We were used to create riots and have ended up becoming
Among those the witnesses had named for instigating the panchayat
leaders to riot were former Godhra MLA Haresh Bhatt and BJP MLA
Ramesh's defence cuts no ice with Dilawar Sheikh, then just 10, now
working as a farm labourer in Satnagar – a nearby village where the
Muslims who fled or survived Sardarpura are settled.
Dilawar remembers that his family and neighbours had made similar
pleas to the rioters, only to be burnt alive. "The attackers asked us
to touch their feet. People touched their feet and begged for mercy,
only to be burnt with acid."
Sometimes though, Sardarpura feels like old times, such as during Eid
and Navaratri. Pathanwadi glows like a new bride on such days, the
Muslims say, with the Dalits celebrating both Navaratri and Eid.
The Patels too have their own festivities in the village square,
grander and louder. The Pathans and the Dalits are not welcome.
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