Savarde, a village of approximately 15,000 people, lies around 25km from the city of Kolhapur. Last week, the village became a hotbed of communal tensions after the WhatsApp status of an 18-year-old angered its Hindu-majority population.
The WhatsApp status in question was a video that talked about Aurangabad and Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, and opposed the decision to change the city’s name from Aurangabad to Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar.
Over days, tensions escalated to the point where, on March 16, a mob of around 500 people gathered outside the residence of 18-year-old Mohamad Momin, demanding that he be arrested and his family be boycotted. With Momin refusing to take down the WhatsApp status, police had to impose Section 144 in the area for a week.
Mohamad Momin was eventually arrested for hurting religious sentiments, but the big question before Gram Panchayat Sarpanch Amol Kamble was how to restore harmony in his village and get the protesters to withdraw the boycott demand.
“Being one of them, who elected me and supported me during the election, it was very tough for me to take a strong decision. Yes, there was pressure on me but to stay within the limits of the law is my duty as a Sarpanch. Hence, I rejected the demand made by many villagers to boycott the entire family,” he told News18.
“I know many of my people were hurt, but it was important to take that stand to stop tensions from escalating. Whatever happened was unfortunate and it should have not happened,” he said, adding that he received support from both Hindu and Muslim communities to get the situation back to normal.
Momin’s family, however, is worried for his safety as well as their own. His 35-year-old cousin Haidar, who was born and brought up in the same village, shudders at the events of March 16. “We are still scared a little. I don’t want anything bad to happen to my family because of my brother. Efforts are being made on both sides to restore harmony and peace, but there’s still fear. My parents, too, are scared after the events of March 16,” said Haidar.
News18 also spoke to Parshuram Chavan, the villager who filed the FIR against Momin and led the demand to boycott the family. Incidentally, Chavan happens to be an acquaintance of Momin’s father. Both were in school together, but Chavan feels Momin’s family has a “radical” outlook towards religion.
“After Mohamad (Momin) changed his WhatsApp status to the video, I asked his father to look into it, but he didn’t pay attention. As tensions started brewing, I was left with no option but to file an official complaint with the police,” said Parshuram.
Asked about his demand to boycott the family being rejected by the Gram Panchayat, he said: “The Gram Panchayat decided based on what they felt was good. But allowing such people to stay in the village means you are inviting trouble again.”
Social activist and senior member of Savarde village’s Muslim community, Kalandarbadsha Makandar, said the incident has led to trust issues between the two communities but the Gram Panchayat’s firm stand against the boycott demand changed the narrative.
“We are scared after this incident. Trust issues have cropped up between the two communities. I don’t know what the person I always considered close is thinking now. The situation is getting back to normal, but it will take a few more days. The decision of the Gram Panchayat of not allowing anyone to boycott the Muslim family changed the entire narrative. Such bold decisions should be appreciated. It is a lesson for those who spread hatred between the two communities,” Makandar said.
The episode is an aberration in Savarde’s otherwise peaceful and harmonious history. In 2008, communal violence broke out in nearby Miraj city, but Savarde was largely unaffected. The March 16 incident has left cracks in the community, but the Gram Panchayat and community leaders are committed to healing the rift.
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