Reprinted with permission of

Dholka, a medium-sized town located 40 kilometres southwest of Ahmedabad, surprised Gujarat when it refused to become part of the communal conflagration that ripped the state a few months ago.

Dholka is, incidentally, on the list of the communally sensitive towns, and was the town where organized killings and looting took place during communal riots in 1981, 1985, and 1992. And it is the town where Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi started his career in the early 1980s as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak (preacher) to propagate Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] amongst people with high communal tempers.

"We know how Hindu-Muslim riots start and spread. The first step is not to respond to stone throwing."

But in 2002, Dholka was not among the 33 towns and cities of Gujarat that burnt and were placed under curfew. Credit for that goes to the residents of the town, Hindus and Muslims, who were determined that communal violence should not occur in this town.

On February 27, as news of a train coach being burnt at Godhra spread, Deputy Collector Dhansukh Mehta, on the advise of local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, called a meeting of Hindu and Muslim leaders in the city hall. Muslims comprise about 30 per cent of the town's population.

Sarmast Khan, a Muslim councillor from the Congress party, recalled that after the Godhra carnage, Muslims were very worried. "The first meeting was called by Chudasama, someone who is available to us 24-hours on his cell phone, where we decided that we must control our emotions because we have suffered a lot in the past," he said.

For the first two days, most of the Hindu leaders were screaming for revenge. There was also the fear of Muslims getting incited, something that worried local Congress legislator, Kanjibhai Talpada, who had defeated Chudasama in the last state elections. Talpada, who was also on the peace committees, said he warned his Muslim friends to stay calm.

"I warned the Muslims that since the BJP is ruling the state, the police would not give them a second chance! And if in police firing, even two or three are shot dead, the police will impose a curfew that will only add to the tension. So it would be best for the Muslims not to take part in the violence."

Champaklal Mistry, a furniture maker and a prominent citizen of Dholka, narrated the plan of action. "We know how Hindu-Muslim riots start, intensify, and spread. The first step is not to respond to incidents of stone throwing. Both sides agreed that in case stone throwing occurred in their localities, they would not react and call the police. We wanted to avoid the formation of mobs. Once that is done, half the battle for peace is won."

Dholka's recent history is replete with communal violence. In 1981, a Muslim was murdered as a result of personal animosity. But the private feud turned into public violence when Muslim gangs attacked Hindus returning from a film show at midnight, killing three. The next morning, riots broke out in the town and Dholka was under curfew for a month. An outcome of the riots was that the Hindus in the town got united against the Muslims.

In 1985, riots started broke out and the shops of Hindus were targeted and looted. In retaliation, Hindus burnt many Muslim properties, and the communal cleavage hardened.

In the December 1992 communal violence, again the shops of Hindus were marked and systematically burnt, thus showing prior planning and organisation. Over 100 Hindu shops were burnt and six people were killed in the riots that followed. Curfew was enforced for a month.

But the people soon grew tired of the riots that caused them heavy financial losses.

In December 1998, during the town municipal elections, Chudasama initiated talks with the town's Muslims, requesting them to give up some provocative practices and thus foster communal amity. He told, "In Dholka, Muslims would burst crackers when the Pakistan cricket team defeated India, and I told them to stop that. Then, there is a conspiracy to lure Hindu girls and marry them to Muslim boys, a clear-cut case of indirect conversions. On the one hand, I know all these factors that irritate Hindus and make them angry, but I believe peace is above Hindutva. Moreover, Hindus cannot progress unless the country is peaceful."

Yet, Dholka did see some violence. Even as the peace committees were working at keeping the town calm, a rumour spread that a Hindu leader in Dholka had been killed. On March 1, 2002, within a few hours of the rumour spreading, a crowd of 5,000 Hindus rushed towards Dholka town centre, burning many Muslim shops and factories on the highways.

A Muslim boy called Imran, who has an Australian mother, was burnt to death.