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As Gujarat’s Vadnagar station gets a makeover, a local resident asks: ‘How many jobs will it create?
Its solitary rail track – a 57-km long metre-gauge line connecting the town of Mehsana to the Jain temple at Taranga – has been ripped out. It is being replaced by a broad-gauge line and extended till Abu Road in the neighbouring state of Rajasthan.
Paint and plaster have been hammered off the tiny asbestos-roofed building housing the station’s ticketing office and station master’s room. It is being redone as a part of a Rs 8 crore project to redevelop the station as a heritage station, said Hardik Bhand, who runs the ticketing office at the station.
Look to the left and the station’s solitary platform blurs into a construction site. One group of men carries iron rods bent into rectangular brackets past the yellow board at the edge of the platform announcing the station’s name. Another set inserts these rods into the steel scaffoldings of what will become concrete pillars. Behind them, an earthmover moves soil around. The whole station is seeing an upgrade. From one platform to three. From one train trip a day – which stops at Vadnagar while heading to Taranga and again while heading back – to three a day.
It is a real overhaul. At one time, with its single platform and no more than two train halts a day, this station in North Gujarat must have been quite sleepy. And pretty too – herons roost on the trees behind the station.
It is not easy to locate the reason for this exuberance of redevelopment. Around here somewhere is the tea stall where Prime Minister Narendra Modi used to sell chai as a child. But ask around and you get contradictory answers….
In a hamlet between Badlapura and Chirandgaon villages near Chhapra, Bihar, a small temple is packed with about 40 women. Unmindful of the summer afternoon heat, they are absorbed in worshipping the Hindu god Shiva.
It is a Shiv Charcha, Ajay Pandey, the priest of a nearby temple, explained. The women live in five villages surrounding the temple and get together for three or four hours of prayer every afternoon. Crucially, they belong to different jaatis, or sub-castes.
Shiv Charchas are a recent addition to religious life in Saran district. “These started in our area three or four years ago,” said Arun Kumar Das, a Dalit activist from a nearby village, Baniyapur. What sets these apart from other such religious practices, Das said, is the focus on Dalit women.
Shiv Charchas were apparently introduced to Bihar about five years ago by one Harendra Bhai. He was born into the Bhumihar caste in Bihar’s Siwan, according to Pandey, and he and his wife Neelam set up Shiv Charchas in Jharkhand before moving back to Bihar.
It isn’t clear whether the Shiv Charchas are affiliated to the Sangh Parivar, the network of organisations that espouse Hindutva, but they are aiding the electoral prospects of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.
Part 2. Note the bit about whether only casteism can beat communalism too.
For evidence, see how this once peaceful town in Saran district now celebrates Ram Navmi or Maha Shivaratri: the high point of the festivities is large processions of young men wearing saffron headbands brandishing swords and shouting “Jai Shri Ram” to a soundtrack of techno music.
Most chants, though, are not remotely religious, said Jeelani Mobin, the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s head of Chhapra Zilla Parishad. “Doodh maango, kheer dengay. Kashmir maango cheer dengay,” goes one slogan. “Ask for milk and we’ll give you kheer. Ask for Kashmir and we will cut you down.”
In such a charged atmosphere, even petty disputes take on communal overtones. “Recently, a Muslim boy killed a monkey that had been biting passersby,” Mobin offered an example. “A village headman began saying ‘Hanuman has been killed’ and a mob quickly took shape.”
In Wajidpur, a small village about half an hour from Chhapra, Mohammad Shamsher, 22, was stabbed by a group of Hindu boys on the day of Holi, March 13. Shamsher died on the way to hospital. Two days later, his family told Scroll.in they still did not know why he had been murdered. But what had transpired just after the stabbing was telling.
Over the last four or five years, the Bajrang Dal, the muscle of the Hindutva network known as the Sangh Parivar, has established itself firmly in this part of Bihar. If there is any incident involving Muslims, its members quickly reach the spot. This is what happened on March 13. Shamsher was stabbed at half past six in the evening. At around eight, a Bajrang Dal posse assembled in the lane leading to the 25-odd Muslim houses and the mosque.
Go to a state. Urgently ask about the biggest, newest changes. And sometimes you find really ugly stuff. As in Bihar. Five months in that state and the biggest development seemed to be this abrupt spike in communal tensions. It was a puzzling spike too. One that did not fit into the state’s past history of communal violence — the triggers, the nature of violence, they are both different.
This is Part One. Do read.
Last Thursday, a mob nearly killed two Muslims in Uttar Pradesh’s Karhal town.
The two men, 55-year-old Mohammad Shafiq and 27-year-old Mohammad Kalam, were skinning a cow when they were accused of slaughtering the animal. Very rapidly, a mob of 1,000-1,500 people, according to police estimates, converged on the spot, a stretch of open land next to a small irrigation canal just beyond a predominantly Hindu basti.
Shafiq and Kalam, who work as butchers, were stripped and beaten. A police party that attempted to control the crowd was roughed up as well. Three of its vehicles – a jeep, a Bolero and a motorcycle – were burnt. After the police succeeded in rescuing Shafiq and Kalam, the mob loaded the cow onto a cart and paraded it through Karhal.
Along the way, it looted the vegetable market, ransacked and torched shops belonging to Muslims, and burnt an effigy of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan.
As such, the event raised several questions. Why would a hitherto peaceful town see such violence? Why were people claiming the cow — certifiably dead when it was wheeled away — had been killed? Why did all this happen on a day the local police station was bound to be deserted?
Read the story?
the previous story reported that the autonomous tribal councils of Mizoram are trying to cosy up to the BJP. the sequel looks at whether direct funding to the councils will improve the lives of people living there.
Last month, for the first time, the Bharatiya Janata Party won an election in Mizoram. The party contested 201 seats in 37 village councils in the autonomous tribal area for Chakmas, a Buddhist community that is an ethnic minority in the predominantly Christian state. It won 42 seats and a majority in seven councils.
“We are Buddhists, not Christians, and so they [the Mizos] want to keep us backward,” said Deepak Larma, a resident of Borapansuri, which lies along the Bangladesh border, as he explained the appeal of the BJP. “The way things are, we will not advance in Mizoram, and so we are thinking of partnering with Modiji. We have voted for the Congress and the MNF [Mizo National Front] and they did nothing. Can Modiji do something for us?”
But it’s not just the Chakmas who are turning to the BJP. Leaders of the Lais and the Maras – two minority tribes that follow Christianity and have with their own autonomous councils in south Mizoram – are also making overtures to the party.
and so starts a dangerous game.
When Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah makes his planned visit to Mizoram this month, officials of his organisation’s state unit have arranged for him to meet with church elders and receive a memorandum from them. Their note will remind the BJP that “India is a secular state, that the people of Mizoram are against the beef ban, and that we protest the anti-conversion bill”, said a senior official in the party’s Aizawl office.
The memo, which challenges some of the Sangh Parivar’s most prized axioms, is the brainchild of the party’s own state unit. A senior party leader contacted church elders and asked them to prepare it. Mizoram, which is 85% Christian has long been wary of the BJP’s Hindutva preoccupations. Party leaders were hoping that the Modi effect will neutralise some of that suspicion. However, recent steps by the BJP have made matters worse.
The latest source of anger for the state’s people is the sacking of Mizoram governor Aziz Qureshi on Saturday. He is the sixth governor to leave the state since the Modi government took charge in May. He was the second governor to be sacked – after Kamla Beniwal.