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17 September, 2008

Government said to be harassing Muslims in Dangs at VHP's instance

The following is the text of a communication which Shabnam Hashmi has sent to the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for Minorities, the leaders of various political parties and national media institutions:

Today (September 17) morning a battery of Forest officers and police descended on the village of Nandapeda near Ahwa in the Dangs, Gujarat. They pulled out the doors and the windows, pulled out the wooden ballis which support the roof; they pulled out wood from the roof of the huts of the villagers. The forest department decided late at night that it was illegal wood and they must recover it.

The ATS meanwhile rounded up a few people.

Nandapeda is the only village with majority Muslim population in the Dangs district, considered the poorest district in the whole of India.

The government has been pressuring the Muslims to convert to the Hindu religion or face eviction from their land.

Some of the residents of this village moved the Gujarat High Court against the government's pressure of converting and changing their religion.

The families have been living in the village for over 100 years.

On June 13th 2008 a senior officer had called a meeting in Ahwa and asked them to change their religion or vacate the land.

After this meeting police and forest officers had been harassing them. Police have been searching old cases registered against any person of the community and asking them to furnish bail papers. The police targeted 33 people against whom some petty crime or a scuffle with the neighbors was registered.

Claiming that repeated representation before authorities for regularization of their land has been in vain, petitioners requested the court to restrain the government from pressurizing them to convert from their religion. Justice Jayant Panchal had in July sought explanation in this regard from the secretary in-charge, district collector and the village sarpanch.

After hearing all parties, Justice Anant Dave admitted the case on September 11, 2008 and ordered to maintain status quo on the disputed land.

On the next day the police captured approximately 80 villagers for transporting cattle into Maharashtra and also apprehended some villagers who were going on motorcycles using the reason of cow slaughter, though there were no cattle in the tempo.

The villagers gathered. There was a clash between the villagers and the police. People were beaten on both the sides. One policeman was also beaten up. Police then opened fire and a number of villagers got bullet injuries. They were taken to Ahwa civil hospitals. The relatives were not allowed to meet them. Police apprehended eight villagers for beating a policeman and though a local lawyer went for their bail, it was not given.

Next day the police came and in the name of combing operation attacked and ransacked the village. Villagers were beaten up brutally including women and children. All men fled to the jungles. The police not only took away all the goods but before going they poured kerosene into the eatable good so that they could not eat anything too.

VHP proposed a rally on 15th. After a lot of pressure the VHP rally was stopped but they declared a Bandh on 16th.

The VHP, it is said, gave the Collector a deadline to get the village vacated.

Today morning, as already mentioned, the forest department and the forest department swooped in.

The villagers need urgent help and intervention. I have been personally informing various state politicians and centre about the developments.

Shabnam Hashmi
September 17, 2008

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