Ahmedabad turns 600: Day to recall Vasant-Rajab sacrifice

By Nikhat for TwoCircles.net,

Vasant and Rajab lived together, breathed together and died together for a noble cause but death separated them. They will never be separated. The spirit of both Vasant -Rajab will remain with us — Hemalata Hegishte, Vasant’s sister on their martyrdom.

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26 February 2010

26th February 2010 marks 600 years of Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat and sixth largest in India, the land of Gandhi, Patel and Wali symbolized by Sidi Syed ki Jali wali Masjid, Jumma Masjid, Sarkhej Roza, Teen Darwaza, Jhulta Minar etc. Ahmedabad got its name from its founder ruler Ahmed Shah in 1411 AD, just six century back from this day. Ahmedabad was built in an open and spacious plain in the immediate vicinity of Ashaval city (now Asarwa) on the east bank of river Sabarmati. It was then comprised of a small fort known as the Bhadra Fort (now Bhadra Temple, Court and Government Library). Later, in 1487, during the reign of Mohammed Begdo, the grandson of Ahmed Shah, the city was enclosed by a fort wall six miles in the circumference with 12 gates (viz. Lal Darwaza, Teen Darwaza, Khanpur Darwaza, Astodia Darwaza etc.), 189 bastions and over 6000 battlements, to protect it from outside invaders.

Since then Ahmedabad and Gujarat has progressed several folds back and forth. It has seen Medieval Monarchy, imperial colonial period, partition, post-Independence democracy and separation of Gujarat from Maharashtra.

Amidst Celebrations and Joy

The entire Gujarat government and Ahmedabad are feeling good on this day and maybe the people also. Gujarat is feeling more vibrant today and a huge public event is organized at the site of half finished River Front Project at the bank of Sabarmati. Radios running musical slogans of ‘happy birthday Ahmedabad’, newspapers bringing good memories from history of Ahmedabad and Gujarat, TV channels are also keeping the same colorful and musical pace with this vibrancy. Shows of Katha-E-Amdavad are also on the charts which is featuring city’s story starting from Ahmadshah Badshah to BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System).

I am also enjoying the spirit of it by sitting in front of my TV and watching the preparation of children, girls and boys from my neighborhood. Amidst celebrations and joy of Ahmedabad’s six hundredth birthday, my heart sometimes sinks into despair and pain as I see deeper and deeper, the over-all socio-political condition of this state and my country. The divide, social, economic, political, is visible and real in one’s day to day affairs and life. My heart also trembles because of my apprehension rather fear that this event like many others would not become just another propaganda celebration and we would not forget to celebrate some important chapters from the history of Ahmedabad in the zeal and passion of celebration.
Like history of any place, the history of Ahmedabad is also full of learning; learning from our love, success, joy, hope, pain, scars, helplessness and failures.

And therefore, today I wish to highlight one of such chapters, which is very real, sad though joyful. Many, like me, see it as a milestone, which needs acknowledgement, respect and cherishing.

Vasant Rao and Rajab Ali: Icons of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood

It is the story of two friends called Vasant Rao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani, who sacrificed their lives to save the people in the Jamalpur area from the raging communal flare.

Vasant Rao Hegishte was born on 16th May1906 at Ahmedabad. At the age of 15 he left school and joined Bapu’s Gujarat Vidyapeeth. Gujarat Vidyapeeth was tempered in the spirit of patriotism and social service, which became the credo in his life. He joined in Dandi March up to Aslali (outskirt of Ahmedabad) with Bapu and took active participation in Salt Satyagrah in 1930 and was jailed. Thereafter he joined Seva Dal .He took active participation in 1932, 1940 and 1942 movements for Freedom as he considered himself wedded to the country and society and decided not to marry. As a youth, he was a disciplined volunteer ready for the utmost sacrifice. His youthful zest, cheerfulness, readiness to act was always a source of inspiration to all. He was fondly addressed by all as ‘Dada’.

Rajab Ali Lakhani, a Khoja Muslim, was born in Karachi in 1919. Their family hailed from Limbdi of Saurashtra. The Lakhani family came to Limbdi in 1935. Rajab Ali matriculated in 1936 and joined Shyamal Das College at Bhavnagar and studied B.A. He refused to appear at the examination; because he was convinced that mere degree in life was of no use and that may lead to service under the British, which was not palatable to his independent mind. He was imprisoned several times during the freedom struggle. He was a devout reader and his thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. He adhered to progressive views and was known as Marxist in the Seva Dal and Congress circle. He was more attracted towards social reforms and as a result he was often in conflict with his father and their religious priests. He wanted to be known as a human and not by any religion or caste. In later years, he was shocked to observe that the top leaders of Congress and freedom fighters were not free from conservatism. He joined the Rajkot Satyagrah led by Gandhiji and did not appear for his B.A. examination. In the college, he formed a democratic group of students. He joined the famous Limbdi Satyagrah Hijarat (Exodus) against the Darbars (The then powerful landed gentry). That was the time of people’s uprisings in Saurashtra against the Kings in Princely States. Rajab Ali joined the movement in full spirit in his brief period of his life; he was imprisoned in 1938, 1941 and 1942.

Both Vasant and Rajab were members of Seva Dal, where both came close and became good friends.

It was July 1, 1946, a day of Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad, when the entire city of Ahmedabad was engulfed with the fire of communal riots. This city had faced ghastly riots during the Rath Yatra. Usually the day of Rath Yatra is very often known as the ‘Blood Yatra’. The whole city was up in communal flame, badly engulfed in arson, looting and killings. The riot was beyond control. The peace loving people were trying their best to calm down the communal

Vasant and Rajab throughout the day of the Rath Yatra were saving Hindus and Muslims. They saved a Muslim driver from the rioting Hindu mob and a Hindu owner of a washing company from the Muslim mob.

In the evening, both Vasant and Rajab were in the Congress office at Khand -ni- Sheri, when the news from Jamalpur arrived that Dalit families were being surrounded by the frenzied mob. Vasant and Rajab ran to the spot on foot and tried to pacify and appeal to the conscience of the blood thirsty rioters. Nevertheless, the rioters were frenzied and not in a mood to concede.

They threatened Vasant-Rajab of life but Vasant-Rajab did not left the ground and embraced death by laying down on the way of the rioters to protect the Dalit families. The diehards killed Vasant-Rajab.
After their Martyrdom, Vasant Rao was cremated at Dhudheswar Ghat and Rajab Ali was buried at Gomatipur Kabrastan. Hemalata Hegishte, Vasant’s sister once said that both Vasant and Rajab lived together, breathed together and died together for a noble cause but death separated them. But they will never be separated. The spirit of both Vasant-Rajab will remain
with us.

Famous Gujarati progressive poet Zaverchand Meghani had edited Vasant-Rajab Smarak Grantha, published on December 17 in the same year of their Martyrdom. A memorial was also made in the Khand Ni Sheri, which is popularly known as Vasant-Rajab Chowk.

A film called Vasant-Rajab was also made on their iconic contributions for communal amity for which Hridaynath Gharekhan has won an award for his debut role in the film.

Vasant-Rajab became the Martyr and a symbol of communal harmony and amity.

‘My Fear’ and ‘The Irony’

On seeing the canvas of the recent communal divide, the divide of “us and them”, their contributions and sacrifice seem now just confined to events only and their message is far forgotten and lost in the crowd of interests and conflict of interests. Today, their names can be seen on the dusty boards hanging on the gates of few schools, one housing society, Public Park and Health Centre.

After 2002 Gujarat Genocide, few organizations have started commemorating their martyrdom as Communal Harmony Days, indeed a good effort.

But the bottom line seems that we don’t feel to care, cherish and follow the message of these two immortal heroes of the history.

Today, after more than 60 years of their Martyrdom, a chapter on Vasant-Rajab was withdrawn from the school curriculum on one hand and on other the textbook of state curriculum included a chapter on Hitler. This isn’t ironical.

There may be so many Vasant-Rajab throughout the country who might have died for the cause of communal harmony. Recalling the spirit of Vasant- Rajab like Heroes may create a social and cultural movement against communalism and fascism.

‘My fear’, which I mentioned earlier, is actually ‘the irony’ of our present time — that is the way we remember our martyrs and their message.