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Hindus set terms for Muslims' return to villages.....
by Saima Alvi
15 May 2002 09:39 UTC
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THE NEWS INTERNET EDITION (http://www.jang-group.com)

Tuesday May 14, 2002

Hindus set terms for Muslims' return to villages

KADWAL, India: First they saw their family members being raped, hacked and 
burnt to death. Now they are being asked to change their religion. Muslims 
who fled their villages to escape India's worst religious violence in a 
decade say the majority Hindus are setting near-impossible conditions for 
them to return.

"They told us we can go back to the village only if we change our religion 
and become Hindus," said Noor Mohammed, a farmer from the village of 
Raichha in western Gujarat state. "We will give up our lives but we will 
never give up our religion." More than 900 people, mostly Muslims, have 
died since a Muslim mob torched a train carrying Hindu devotees on February 
27, killing 59. Another 100,000 Muslims are crammed in relief camps.

And with sporadic violence continuing, it looks increasingly hard for 
Hindus and Muslims to go back to living side-by-side -- and nowhere more so 
than in Gujarat's remote villages. In Randhikpur village, 160 km (100 
miles) north of Gujarat's main city Ahmedabad, the fate of more than 500 
Muslims depends on a 19-year-old rape victim withdrawing her police 

"The three Hindu men who raped me are important people of our village. I 
named them in my police complaint," said the victim who did not wish to be 
named. Fourteen members of her family, including her three-year-old 
daughter, mother and two-day-old niece, were slaughtered in a forest by 
Hindus from her village, she said. The Hindus of Kadwal, a village 250 km 
north of Ahmedabad, have found their own way of keeping Muslims in check -- 
by asking them to sign up to a list of pre-conditions.

"We (Hindus) have collectively drawn up a list of conditions which the 
Muslims have to sign if they want to return here," said Bharat Singh, a 
village leader. "In other villages they are not even allowing the Muslims 
to return but we are not doing that," said Singh, showing a three-page 
document handwritten in Gujarati.

Signatures at the end of the document show 11 Muslim families have accepted 
the terms. "Do not kill cows (considered sacred by Hindus) or eat beef; do 
not tease Hindu women; do not participate in Hindu festivals if you cannot 
maintain their sanctity; do not get involved in quarrels among Hindus," the 
terms read. "Do not raise anti-India and anti-Hindu slogans. Do not allow 
new Muslims to settle in the village," it says. The Muslims, who formed six 
percent of Kadwal's population of 5,000, fled on March 3 when their houses 
were burned down. And even signing up to the terms does not end their 

"We have no shelter and sleep out in the open," said Mohammed Nikker who 
came back two weeks ago after 45 days in a camp. "We have nothing to eat 
and depend on relatives from other villages to bring us food," he says, 
sitting despondently with his family in the midday sun in front of the 
ruins of his house. Both the returning Muslims and Kadwal's Hindus are in 
constant fear of each other in a village where until recently, they lived 
as friends.

"The Hindus are scared the Muslims will take revenge," said Singh, while 
the Muslims said they were certain the Hindus would attack again once all 
the Muslims came back from refugee camps. For the 19-year-old rape victim, 
going home would mean dropping her complaint and facing daily the men who 
attacked her. "I was five months' pregnant. One of the men put his foot on 
my neck and another held my hands," she said, speaking by phone from a 
refugee camp 120 km from Ahmedabad. In between long pauses and shaky 
breaths she recounted how her sisters and aunts were first raped and then 
hacked to death.

She had fled Randhikpur with a group of relatives, when a mob burnt Muslim 
houses on February 28, but on the third day they were attacked in a forest 
by 30 men from their own village. "They stabbed me and then left me 
thinking I was dead," she said, adding she was unconscious for a whole 
night. Naked and bleeding from knife wounds, she staggered out of the 
forest to the nearest road in the morning where police picked her up and 
took her to the camp where she found her husband. Now she sits listlessly 
all day long, keeping to herself. Rasool Ibrahim, 55, was one of the 15 
Muslims called for a meeting two weeks ago by some of Randhikpur's Hindus, 
including one of the accused named by the rape victim.

"The Hindus told us to bring her to work out a compromise. They told us 
they will allow us to return and help rebuild our burnt houses if the rape 
complaint is withdrawn," said Ibrahim. The Muslims decided unanimously not 
to do so. Muslims in Raichha village, who comprise three percent of the 
population of 3,000 and are holed up in a camp in the closest city, Chhota-
Udepur, are also rejecting the pre-conditions for their return home. "Two 
weeks back the Hindus told us to convert, shave off our beards, wear dhotis 
(sarongs) instead of pants and eat meat of animal carcasses which is not 
permitted in Islam," said farmer Noor Mohammed.

Other villagers report being attacked on their return home. Hassan Suleiman 
showed stitches on the back of his head where he says he was struck by a 
stone 10 days ago when he went to his village, Panvad, to withdraw money 
from the bank. He said the Hindus of Panvad, north of Ahmedabad, had driven 
away every Muslim who dared to re-enter the village after they escaped 
rioters on March 10. "It is the decision of all the neighbouring villagers 
also. They don't want the Muslims back," said a Hindu trader of Panvad. The 
senior administrative official of Baroda district, where the villages are 
located, said he was holding joint meetings with Hindu and Muslim leaders 
to try to restore normalcy.

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