REMEMBERING VASANT – RAJAB TODAY: BUT, “IS ANYBODY LISTENING?”
July 1st 1946 is a day neither Ahmedabad nor the whole of Gujarat should ever forget! It was the day of the traditional Rath Yatra and Ahmedabad was once again engulfed in a communal conflagration. Several Hindus and Muslims were up in arms, rioting and killing one another.
Two close friends Vasant Rao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani, who were both Seva Dal volunteers, felt that something had to be done to stop the communal hatred from spreading. So without sparing a thought for themselves, they literally jumped into the “fire” begging the warring parties to stop the violence immediately. Several did listen to them and it is recorded that they saved a Muslim driver from a Hindu mob and the owner of a washing company (who was a Hindu) from a Muslim mob.
Their heroic efforts during the day seem to have borne fruit; exhausted they returned to the Congress office at Khand-ni-Sheri when they received the news that some dalit families in the Jamalpur area were surrounded by a blood-thirsty mob. Undeterred and forgetting their exhaustion, they ran to the spot and tried to pacify the mob. The latter however did not relent. The rioters warned Vasant and Rajab to move out of the way; but instead they laid down on the path of the mob to prevent them from touching the dalit families. They paid with their lives for these heroics. The blood-thirsty mob had no qualms of conscience in killing both Vasant and Rajab.
Today, exactly sixty seven years after their martyrdom, a group of citizens from Ahmedabad gathered together to pay homage to these martyrs of communal harmony at the spot where they were killed. Flowers were offered and tributes were paid to their memory but the question one really needs to ask: “is anybody listening?”
Ahmedabad remains a highly divided and polarized city; though there will be no Rath Yatra this year, all are aware that the city sits on a tinder box and the most irrelevant incident can flare into communal violence. There are cosmetic efforts being made but this is certainly not enough.
The painful reality is that if one is a Muslim in the city, one cannot easily live in the western up-market areas, leave alone own a house or a commercial establishment there. The Mayor of Ahmedabad was present this morning but the “rulers” make every possible effort to call the city ‘Amdavad’ and not ‘Ahmedabad’, because then one would be giving credit to the great ruler Ahmed Shah who founded this city more than six hundred years ago. For several years, the ‘tree of life’ which is the trellis window of the Sidi Syed mosque was the symbol of Ahmedabad. Sadly, it is no longer so. Serious efforts to heal the wounds inflicted in 2002 on the minority community are not being made by those in power.
This morning several speakers emphasized that unless there is justice, there will not be enduring harmony and peace. Vasant and Rajab are truly saints and martyrs. They stand out as beacons for all of us to emulate. They sacrificed their lives for communal harmony, justice and peace. Yes, while we pay them homage, we need to ask ourselves, “is anybody listening?”
1st July, 2013
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052