Gujarat 2002

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Just under 5’3”, Babu Bajrangi—whose family name is Patel — is a towering figure in Naroda. Twenty-two years of association with the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, has firmly established him as the most dreaded local thug. Today, Bajrangi lords it over Naroda, and over Chharanagar in particular, where he commands a substantial following. Many Chharas appear to hold him in great reverence; he, in turn, is all praise for the criminal abilities he claims they possess, they are his “weapons”, he says, “just kill, nothing else”.

Bajrangi holds court at his office on the second floor of the Ajanta Ellora Shopping Complex, just off the highway that skirts Naroda. Though he claims to be a big builder with a steady monthly income of over a lakh and a half, his main vocation is beating up Muslims and Christians. “I just hate Muslims and Christians,” he says. And the cause dearest to his heart is to “rescue” Hindu girls who have married or eloped with Muslim boys. A majority of those who visit him each day are the parents of such girls. “When they go to the police, the cops don’t lodge a complaint, they send them to me,” Bajrangi claims. “Nine hundred and fifty-seven — that’s how many Hindu girls I have saved. On average, one girl married to a Muslim produces five children. So, in effect, I have killed 5,000 Muslims before they were born.”

Bajrangi has other claims to fame too. It was he who, virtually single-handedly, stalled the release of the film Parzania in Ahmedabad. While he openly threatened cinema hall owners to keep them from screening the film, the administration remained mute. “The film was anti-Hindu,” is all the justification he needed. Bajrangi’s love for Hindus is defined by his hate for Muslims and everything about them. “I would not mind if I were condemned to death, but if they ask me my last wish, I would want to drop bombs in Muslim localities and kill ten to fifteen thousand Muslims before I die.”

Apart from personal action, he has several suggestions for a “solution” to the “problem” of Muslim presence. “Delhi should issue orders to kill — higher caste people and the rich won’t do it but slum dwellers and the poor will and they should be ordered to. They should be told that they can take whatever they want of the Muslims — land, wealth, houses, everything — but they should do it in three days.” This will ensure that Muslims are wiped out across India. Bajrangi’s second suggestion is to have Muslims allowed only one marriage and one child by law. Additionally, it would also be a good idea to deny them the right to vote.

Bajrangi went to Godhra on February 27, the day of the Sabarmati fire. He told TEHELKA that after he saw the Sabarmati victims’ bodies, he took a vow to avenge Godhra on the Muslims of Naroda Patiya the very next day. “Humne unko wahi challenge kar diya tha ki isse chaar guna laash hum Patiya mein gira daalenge (I challenged the Muslims — I would see four times the number of dead in Godhra felled in Patiya),” Bajrangi told TEHELKA at the very first meeting. He returned to Ahmedabad and began preparations for the massacre that very night. Twenty-three small firearms were rounded up from such Hindus as owned them; those who were unwilling to part with their weapons were told they’d be killed the next day, even if they were Hindus. Large quantities of inflammable material were also acquired — Bajrangi told TEHELKA that one petrol pump owner gave him petrol for free, this he later used to burn Muslims alive.

The VHP and Bajrang Dal men arrived at Naroda Patiya at around 10 the next morning. They led the first attack but were forced to retreat as the Muslims put up a strong resistance, said Suresh Richard, one of the key accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre. At this point, a large band of Bajrangi’s Chhara followers joined ranks with the saffron mob and mounted a fresh attack. By around 10.30am, they had managed to destroy the minaret of Naroda Patiya’s Noorani Masjid. Subsequently, as Richard told TEHELKA, a full fuel tanker was rammed into the building, it burst and was then set on fire. The fuel from the tanker was also used to burn Muslims and their homes.

After the first round of assault, the Muslims barricaded themselves into their homes and remained there till around 3pm when the attack intensified. Between 5 and 6 that evening, the mob reached the height of its frenzy; many women and girls were first raped and then doused in kerosene and petrol and burnt. A few dozen Muslims were able to make it to a State Reserve Police Force camp nearby. Bajrangi told TEHELKA that but for the Muslim commandant of the camp, who sheltered some Muslims, the death toll would have been much higher.

Some of the men in the Naroda attack were wearing khaki shorts and had saffron bands around their foreheads. According to witnesses, many were carrying jerrycans filled with kerosene, diesel and oil from the State Transport workshop. These they would empty on whoever came in range before setting them on fire; lit balls of fuel-soaked cloth were also thrown at those out of immediate reach. In Naroda is an open area with a large pit that is actually a cul de sac — a slope leads into it from one side but the other side is a sheer rise that cannot be scaled. Several Muslims had sheltered there; the mob surrounded the pit, poured fuel into it and set fire to it as well.

Ninety-seven people are officially said to have died that day in Naroda Patiya, but the actual death toll was much higher, as can be gleaned from the detailed lists survivors have made of missing persons and of their kith and kin whom they saw dying. Most of the dead were charred or mutilated beyond recognition. “We hacked, we burnt, did a lot of that,” said Bajrangi. “We believe in setting them on fire because these bastards say they don’t want to be cremated, they’re afraid of it, they say this and that will happen to them.” An overwhelming majority of the survivors were never able to claim the bodies. Dozens of eyewitnesses who deposed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission recounted scenes of children being burnt alive and women being raped. “We didn’t spare any of them,” Bajrangi said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to breed. Whoever they are, even if they’re women or children, there’s nothing to be done with them; cut them down. Thrash them, slash them, burn the bastards.”

Photo: Paras Shah

Kauser Bano, was nine months pregnant that day. Her belly was torn open and her foetus wrenched out, held aloft on the tip of a sword, then dashed to the ground and flung into a fire. Bajrangi recounts how he ripped apart “ek woh pregnant… b*******d sala”; how he showed Muslims the meaning of wrath—“If you harm us, we can respond — we’re no khichdi-kadhi lot”.

The scale and ferocity of the attack forced all surviving residents of the settlement to run away. Every house was looted, some were burnt. Many survivors had to be hospitalised; many were separated from their families and were not re-united with them for a week to 10 days, some for much longer. Several women were left with nothing to cover themselves with and were escorted to the relief camp completely naked. Suresh Richard told TEHELKA that there were many instances of rape and he himself was involved in one of them.

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