Indian police said Monday they arrested 13 people suspected of inciting and participating in weekend violence between Hindu and Muslim villagers in Gujarat, the western state where hundreds died in inter-communal rioting 15 years ago.
One person was killed and at least 12 others were critically hurt when residents of Sunsar, a Hindu-majority village in Patan district, went on a rampage in the Muslim-dominated village of Vadvali on Saturday, a senior local police official told BenarNews.
The clash was the first major communal incident in Gujarat since the 2002 riots that killed 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, according to official figures.
On Saturday, more than a dozen houses in Vadvali were torched or ransacked and about 20 vehicles were set ablaze during the violence, which was triggered by a minor scuffle between two students belonging to the different religious communities, said Partharajasinha Gohil, the district’s assistant superintendent of police.
“A total of 45 people are accused [of indulging in violence]. We have arrested 13 of them so far. Search operations are continuing to nab the remaining suspects,” Gohil said.
The riot occurred after two 15-year-olds were involved in an altercation in school over a trivial matter, he said.
“The kids, who belonged to the two separate villages, had a small fight and then returned home and told their village seniors about it. The villagers from Sunsar went over to the nearby Vadvali village to resolve the issue, but the situation soon spiraled out of control and assumed a communal overtone,” Gohil told BenarNews.
At the time of the 2002 riots, now-Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat and was accused, but never convicted, of inciting Hindu mobs to attack Muslims. His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has governed the state since 2001.
Rightwing activists said Gujarat had been largely peaceful after the 2002 clashes and that Saturday’s violence was an “isolated incident that took an ugly turn.”
“This incident wasn’t really a Hindu-Muslim issue per se, but it became one later as tempers flared. There has been no incident of this kind in Gujarat since 2002. The government has a zero-tolerance attitude toward communal violence,” lawyer Snehal Trivedi, a local rightwing ideologist, told BenarNews.
Muslim leaders disagreed.
“If they [residents of Sunsar] really just wanted to resolve the issue, 500 to 1,000 people from the village would not have gone to Vadvali. Just a handful of people are enough for that,” Allama Syed Mohammad Qasim, an Islamic scholar and leader based in Gujarat, told BenarNews.
“It is unfortunate for India that communalism has crept so deeply into our lives that it continues to be a major reason to fight and kill our fellow countrymen,” he said.