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Gujarat Muslims fear Hindu backlash after bombings

©

Latest update : 2008-07-29

Muslims living in the Indian state of Gujarat fear a Hindu backlash following deadly bomb attacks in the religiously tense city of Ahmedabad. The attacks which killed over 49 people, were claimed by a little-known Islamist group.

After serial bombings killed dozens of people here Muslim housewife Tahira Bi hopes history will not repeat itself in India's western state of Gujarat, where memories of Hindu rage are still fresh.
   
With the city of Ahmedabad hit by blasts claimed by a little-known Islamist group, the spectre of a fresh outbreak of communal violence or revenge attacks on Muslims is at the forefront of concerns.
   
"I first saw Hindu-Muslim riots when I was 10 years old. Then again in 2002. I have no fear any more," Bi said at her home in the communally-sensitive Naroda-Patiya residential area, where many Muslims were killed in riots six years ago.
   
"How long are we going to live scared and running, like cats and dogs? What has to happen will happen, but we have to go on," said the mother of six who is in her 40s.
   
The riots in 2002 erupted after 59 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire first blamed on a Muslim mob but which an inquiry later concluded was accidental.
   
Several investigations at the state and federal level have alleged police failed to protect Muslims, who accounted for most of the estimated 2,000 people killed in the pogrom.
   
After Saturday's bombings, federal authorities have been quick to take preventative action -- including the deployment of heavily-armed combat troops in potential flashpoint areas to deter riots.
   
At least 45 were killed and more than 160 wounded in the blasts, according to official figures.
   
An army commander said "anger could spread once the bodies are handed back to relatives for cremations" and that the army had been deployed "as a major psychological deterrent to riots."
   
Still, many Muslims here were optimistic the city would remain calm -- mainly because Gujarat's right-wing Hindu nationalist chief minister, Narendra Modi, was only re-elected last year so had no need to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment.
   
Modi, a member of the main national opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has consistently denied any role in the 2002 violence.
   
He has also been credited with helping the state economy rebound above the national growth average of eight percent since 2002 by wooing firms such as US-based General Motors.
   
"This time it is not the same," said local Muslim businessman Altaf Memon, suggesting that communal tensions have been easing since 2002.
   
"There is no question of riots, unless the politicians want them. I live in a Hindu area. I have a shop in the Hindu area and I don't have to fear for anything," Memon asserted.
   
A Hindu resident, who asked his name not be used, agreed with that sentiment, saying "Modi has come to power again, so he doesn't need to divide people any more to get votes."
   
"There may be some tension after the blasts, but the riots are unlikely to happen. People are tired of this violence," said another Hindu resident Vasan Sonawane.
 

Date created : 2008-07-28

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