Huneza Khan, TwoCircles.net
Several hundred Muslims gathered outside a 100-year-old dargah in Gujarat’s Junagadh city on the night of June 16 to protest a demolition notice. The rally quickly turned violent, with police baton-charging demonstrators and shelling tear gas on them.
Following the violence, at least 174 people were arrested for stone pelting and setting a vehicle on fire. During the incident, a 62-year-old man also died.
Muslims in Junagadh have been living in fear of arrest since then.
Why Were Muslims Protesting?
The Junagadh Municipal Corporation issued a notice to the Majewadi Gate Dargah administration on June 16 asking that they produce ownership documentation for the property by June 19.
However, at around 10 p.m. the same day, at least 500 people gathered near the dargah to protest the “possible” demolition of the 100-year-old shrine.
“They were concerned about a midnight demolition,” said lawyer Aftab Ansari.
On the night of May 28, the Junagadh district administration demolished 18 “illegal” religious structures in an identical incident.
Protesters were also outraged that the notices to produce documentation that the structure was lawful and not an encroachment only allowed the Dargah officials a 5-day deadline.
What Triggered the Violence?
To control the protesting crowd, police presence was increased, which quickly escalated into stone-pelting.
According to a local who spoke on the condition of anonymity to Two Circles, the police tried to persuade the demonstrators to end the protest since the busy Junagadh Rajkot route was blocked, and they assured them that their concerns would be addressed.
“It remains unclear what triggered the violence,” they said, “whether it was the result of police lathi charging or the stone pelting.”
Homes Vandalised, Targeted Arrests Allege Muslims
According to Sajid Khan Pathan, a lawyer for the accused persons, 35 people, including a minor, were sent to police custody for one day under 7 sections of the Indian Penal Code 1860, including unlawful assembly, attempt to murder, and criminal conspiracy.
“They are arresting people on the basis of agyaat (unknown),” Pathan alleged.
Two Circles reached out to the families of several Muslims who were arrested by police. All but one declined the interview out of fear of reprisal from the police.
Sabeeha* claimed that the police detained 5 men from her family, including two minors. She said that they did not participate in the protests.
“They forcibly entered our homes, vandalized vehicles, lights, and CCTV cameras. We hid on the terrace in fear,” Sabeeha explained.
We were unable to verify the allegations she made.
‘Bystanders Captured on Camera, Arrested’: Lawyer
Another lawyer, Basheer K Sandh, stated that other innocent onlookers who were captured on CCTV cameras during the protest were also arrested.
“As the crowd gathered for the protest, bystanders passing through the area stopped to see what was happening,” he explained.
According to Sandh, the police are only releasing persons who were not seen on CCTV.
Muslim Men Flogged Outside the Dargah
On the morning of June 17, a video surfaced on Twitter that resembled medieval justice. 7 Muslim men were made to stand in a line outside the dargah, and a masked man flogged them as they screamed in pain.
Pathan stated that three Muslims who were flogged have filed a complaint with the Magistrate.
In October 2022, 5 Muslim men in Gujarat’s Kheda district were tied to a pole and beaten with a stick by the police as a crowd cheered. According to the Indian Express, a top police official even justified the public flogging of the men by saying it was done to maintain peace and harmony.
A Man Dies During Protest
According to authorities, a 62-year-old man died during the protest.
Ansari said that the deceased had a history of two bypass surgeries and died as a result of a heart attack during the violence. “He was on the bus. While others on the bus fled in fear, this individual remained onboard and succumbed to the heart attack. There are concerns that the police may exploit this incident to unjustly harass Muslims in the area,” said Ansari.
However, Superintendent of Police Ravi Teja Vasamsetty told reporters that the man died as a result of stone pelting, but it will be clear after the postmortem report.
Muslims Living in Fear, Gujarat Hc Issues Notice to Authorities
Sandh said the situation is gradually returning to normal, but that people are still afraid. Several people arrested have allegedly been subjected to custodial torture, but they refuse to come forward and speak out, he claimed.
The Gujarat High Court issued notices to the Junagadh authorities on petitions challenging the issuance of demolition notices for “unauthorised” dargahs in Junagadh on June 20. The petitions sought that the notices issued by the Junagadh municipal corporations be quashed and set aside.
*Name changed to protect identity
Huneza Khan is an independent reporter based in India. She tweets at @KhanHuneza