March 4, AHMADABAD, India (AP) - Horrified by the screams of his Muslim neighbors being beaten and burned alive, Virsing Rathod put aside fear and did what many other Hindus could not get up the courage to do.

The burly Hindu and his two sons jumped in a truck, rammed their way through a frenzied Hindu mob and began pulling Muslims from the flames just before midnight last Thursday.

He saved 25 Muslims that night and has since sheltered dozens in safe houses across this city engulfed by a statewide orgy of mass murder that had claimed 544 lives by Monday.

The heroism showed by Rathod and a few other Hindus stood out as a rare display of humanity during a week of savagery when Hindus and Muslims killed one another with fire, daggers and bombs.

Ten of his Muslim neighbors were still hiding in Rathod's home Monday, being comforted by his family and other Hindu neighbors.

He shrugged when asked if he's a hero.

"I did it out of humanity, because in my heart I knew it was the right thing to do," he said Monday, sitting in his tiny notary public office just behind a gutted mosque and across the street from where 66 Muslims were burned alive in a south Ahmadabad neighborhood.

"There is much affection between the Hindus and Muslims here, and I could not just stand by and let them die,'' said Rathod. ``What has happened is shameful.''

Muslims sparked the wave of violence when a group attacked a trainload of Hindus on Wednesday, killing 58. The Hindu backlash resulted in the worst Hindu-Muslim violence in India since 1993, when 800 people died in religious riots in Bombay.

Still, India's 120 million Muslims live in relative harmony among the 1 billion Hindus and other minorities of India. Gujarat is the home state of Mohandas Gandhi, India' beloved independence leader who struggled for reconciliation between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority amid riots that killed nearly 1 million people after independence in 1947.

He would have been proud of a teeming slum in the heart of Ahmadabad, where Hindus and Muslims have lived and worked together for decades.

In Ram-Rahim Nagar, several kilometers from where Rathod lives, residents say humanity is their religion and poverty their common bond. Even the name of their neighborhood is used a catchword for communal amity in Indian literature-- Ram is a principal Hindu god and Rahim, or the compassionate, is another name for Allah, the Muslim god.

Ram-Rahim residents insisted Monday that not one person was killed, nor was one shop burned down in the community where 20,000 Hindus and Muslims have lived together in peace since 1964.

"The Hindus and Muslims here are so poor, living hand-to-mouth, that we can't afford to attack one another,'' said Natwar Lal Bhikabhai, a Hindu member of the Ram-Rahim community association, whose Hindu and Muslim board of directors oversee the slum and mediate disputes.

The shantytown has been sheltering some 300 Muslims and Hindus from other parts of the city in a public school that has yet to reopen.

``We are uneducated and poor here,'' said Rafiq Sheikh, a 30-year-old lawyer wearing tattered clothes and flip-flops. ``Still, we are smart enough to live together in peace.''

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