The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gujarat gold scare for Bengalis

Ahmedabad, Jan. 12: Avijit Banerjee is running scared. Men in masks have been showing up from nowhere over the past month and beating up and threatening his goldsmith colleagues without provocation.

Pamphlets have also appeared in Manek Chowk here — the second largest gold market in the country — blaming Bengali goldsmiths for snatching away the bread of the local ones.

No one knows where the mystery handbills have sprung up from but they are all over the mart. Some have Jai Shri Ram printed on them but all are unanimous in urging local goldsmiths to throw out Bengali colleagues.

Like Avijit, there are about 30,000 Bengali goldsmiths in Ahmedabad who have been based here for several decades and whose skill has held sway in its gold market. But after the recent spate of attacks, they feel they are safer out of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat than in it.

Thousands of them, including Samast Bengali Samaj Association president R.Y. Shaikh, struck work on Wednesday protesting against the unprovoked attacks on over a dozen goldsmiths. They agreed to resume only after the local police — who deny the attacks — assured them protection. For now, the community is not making a beeline for Bengal but they are too scared to lead a normal life. They are not even sure whether the rivalry is strictly limited to business.

“(Had it been so) we would not have cared. But we know what happened in Gujarat 11 months ago,” says Shaikh, jogging memories of the communal carnage. Avijit, however, is adamant that he will not leave his home of many years, come what may.

A vernacular paper has started a slander campaign against them. “A local newspaper carried a story calling me a Bangladeshi who has been involved in gold smuggling,” rues Shaikh.

The pamphlets have claimed that those opposed to the Bengali goldsmiths have lined up a meeting with Modi on January 15. Sheikh and his colleagues are awaiting Modi’s response, if at all the meeting comes off.

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