The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Courage in the time of carnage

Ahmedabad, March 5: When Sabarmati Express went up in the smoke of hatred last year, few could see sense.

And fewer still could look to find courage and protect their friends and neighbours.

But like the proverbial silver lining to a cloud, some did find the courage.

Stories about their guts in taking on rampaging mobs have been untold until now. These need to be told and retold for they speak of impossible humanity and conviction in the face of death.

On February 28 last year, Khant Sombhai of Limdi Chowk in Panchmahal district sheltered six Muslim families in his home. As mobs rushed around, “digging out’’ those they held responsible for the Godhra train attack, Sombhai, a sarpanch then, firmly defended his Muslim friends.

When the “Hindu sarpanch” sensed his house would be attacked for “protecting” about 50 Muslims, he took his wards into the nearby forests and sheltered them there. “He did not desert us,” says a grateful Salimbhai Malek. “Even in the jungle, we were regularly getting tiffin from the sarpanch’s home.’’

Among others, Rambhai Bharvad, Mohan Bundela, Dostumkhan Pathan, Ramsinh Solanki and Naryanbhai Solanki were the Sombhais of their localities.

In minority-dominated Borsad town of Kheda district, Dostumkhan Pathan donned the mantle of saviour. His scared Hindu neighbours were about to flee when Pathan stopped them and vowed to fend off any harm that came their way.

Pathan had a brain to match his words. “What I did was simple,’’ he says. “I sent groups of Muslim youths of the town to guard the Hindu localities so that no mob from outside could attack them. It worked.’’

Rambhai Bharvad of Makarva village, near Sarkhej (Ahmedabad), braved friends’ ridicule to shelter some Muslim families in his home for days together. Later, they were safely moved to relief camps. “I was told I had become a Muslim,’’ Bharvad says. “But how can something as silly as that stop me from doing what I had to do.” He ignored persistent threats and shifted over 500 people to various relief camps.

When mobs went after Salat Nagar, after Gulbarg society and Naroda-Patia, Mohan Bundela rushed there to save its 240 families, including 20 Hindus. He moved all to the safer Kalupur railway station. Hours after Bundela’s rescue act, a jeep full of rioters arrived in Salat Nagar and razed all 240 jhuggis.

The Ambica Mill relief camp, set up for Salat Nagar residents, became the only camp in Gujarat to shelter both Hindus and Muslims for months.

Ramsinh Solanki of Balok village in Kheda likely courted danger the longest because he sheltered Muslim families for three months at a stretch. For a month, the former sarpanch fed his wards for free.

When a mob confronted him, Solanki said: “I will die but I will not allow you to touch any of the Muslims.” The mob backed off.

Some of these brave men were “felicitated” for their daring deeds and some others never got a mention anywhere. But these men would hardly be bothered for they have earned the undying gratitude of many fellow men.

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