Medha Patkar Attacked


[Note: A news summary of the incident from the times of india follows Medha's statement on the violence]

The violent incident at the Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad on April 7, was an outcome of and continuation of the prevailing intolerance and communalism in Gujarat. It again revealed the nexus of the capitalist, communal and unethical political elements flouting all democratic and processes of discussion and understanding. Be it the peoples struggle like Narmada or the issue of the religious fundamentalism, these forces have always shown the propensity to resort to violence and to physically eliminate the dissenting voices. The attack on me and the bloody assault on the journalists have to be countered by secular, non-violent forces through a concerted action and strategy.

The Sabarmati Ashram meeting was organized by number of organizations who were concerned about the growing communal violence and divide and who were anxious to restore peace and harmony in Gujarat. I was invited twice for that and as a concerned and committed person and activist for secularism and peace I have a right and responsibility to be present there. The organizations welcomed me and I participated in the deliberations, before we broke for lunch.

Some people there tried to confront me about Narmada issue with little information. I made it clear that we better discuss these issues in detail in a separate meeting and I had come there on a different mission- of peace and communal harmony. However, they were threatening me not to participate in that meeting, which I could not agree with.

For last many years I have been involved in the various activities and organizations in Gujarat, including the tribal areas in Sabarkantha, Dangs, Panchmahal, Banaskantha and of course, the Narmada valley. I had been a part of the relief teams in Morbi disaster, previous riots or last years earthquake. During the recent violence, the villages in the Narmada valley have sent the relief assistance for the riot affected victims. And, as a concerned and committed person and activist for secularism and peace I have a right and responsibility to be present there in any such meeting.

It was obvious that, I was attacked by the same vested interests, who have been responsible for the exploitation and injustice on our poor and depressed sections, and who have been fanning the communal orgy in the state. The capitalism and communalism in Gujarat are interchangeable. They have been suppressing the voices of dissent and rights, by their muscle power and lawlessness.

It was often mentioned that the tribals in Gujarat have participated in the carnage and loot of the Muslims in large scale. We work in the tribal areas and know the reality. The tribals shopkeepers-moneylenders among the Muslims was used by the fundamentalists for the communal frenzy. In many instances, we found that the tribals were threatened with the dire consequences if they did not participate in the anti-Muslim programme. They were made to act as the lumpen elements in the mob, led by the communal elements. However, there are many instances, when the tribals have protected the Muslims and have given them shelter.

The Sabarmati episode should not be looked in isolation. It is the continuation of what the communalists under various denominations of Sangha Parivar have started as a part of Gujarat Progrom. All this could not happen without the overt or tacit connivance of the state government (?) led by the Narendra Modi. It is imperative that Modi must be removed, in order to start the process of restoring sanity in Gujarat. The Prime Minister Vajpayee and the Bharatiya Janata Party must act. They should remove Modi as an initial mark of their respect for democracy and rule of law.

We express our determination to confront the fascist forces of communalism and capitalism, despite their attempts to threaten and terrorise the people and organzations. We are confident that a strong and long-term peoples solidarity will emerge in Gujarat and all over the nation to safeguard the democracy, secularism and harmony in this nation.

Medha Patkar

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News item: From Times of India, April 8, 2002

Sabarmati Ashram sees first bloodshed

AHMEDABAD: Bapu would have surely felt ashamed of having his name associated with Sabarmati Ashram – the symbol of non-violence – as it was smeared with the blood of demonstrators and media persons on Sunday.

Two meetings held by different groups were proceeding quietly at the ashram till the lunch break. At about 1.30 pm, when the participants went for lunch, the demonstrators started pouring in, first in pairs and then in dozens.

The police, instead of preventing them from approaching Medha Patkar, whose presence they were protesting, started asking a shocked Patkar about the purpose of her visit.

“I have come here only to attend the peace meeting and it has nothing to do with Narmada issue right now, which could be discussed later…” she said before breaking down as she was facing a heavy volley of abuses and expletives.

Initially, the demonstrators, led by Dalit Jagruti Manch and Hemant Chauhan of Mahatma Gandhi Ashram Seva Samiti, charged on Medha and threatened of dire consequences if she did not leave the venue.

After a dozen more policemen walked in wearing helmets and holding lathis, they started driving away the peace activists and warning them. In a striking contradiction, they literally pleaded to the BJP Yuva Morcha-led activists to let them take Medha out of the Ashram premises.

Angry demonstrators shouted back at police that “…we have called a mob of 5,000 women and see what happens to her…”

Heated exchanges, shouting of slogans, abusing and threatening the peace activists continued for over an hour.

There were waves and waves of demonstrators led by politicians pouring in. Those attending the meeting formed a human chain to prevent the mob from entering the two rooms where Medha and Mallika Sarabhai were kept.

The mobs then pushed the men and women and at places there were exchanges of blows.

The demonstrators were pacified by their leaders when they realised that more police reinforcements were pouring in and they will face action.

However, despite police’s pleadings and physically stopping them, the demonstrators kept coming and going into the lobby, threatening Medha. The police never acted till DCP Pargi came in.

Representatives of various voluntary organisations who had come to Ahmedabad and were feeling safer inside the Bapu’s Ashram, never thought that they would be targeted by the police.

It was only after full reinforcements of police and Rapid Action Force arrived that the police started charging on the demonstrators.

The attack on the media persons came totally unprovoked. Representatives of the mediapersons later went to the police commissionerate and met police commissioner P C Pandey and home minister Gordhan Zadaphiya.

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