CCTV footage of the accused, 20-year-old Prakash Pandya, shows him wielding a sword during the communal clashes that broke out in the state’s Himmatnagar town on April 10.
New Delhi: The Gujarat high court on Wednesday, May 26, denied the ordinary bail plea of an accused in the violence that took place in Himmatnagar in the state’s Sabarkantha district on Ram Navami (April 10) this year.
The accused, 20-year-old Prakash Pandya, was part of the ‘shobha yatra’ (procession) taken out to celebrate the Hindu occasion. The procession went through a Muslim-majority neighbourhood, and violence broke out between the two communities.
Pandya, in CCTV footage from the incident, was reportedly seen wielding a sword; a fact even admitted by the accused’s lawyer before the high court. However, Pandya’s counsel justified his client’s carrying of the weapon, claiming that it is known practice to do so during certain festivals.
“On occasions like Ram Navami and Guru Nanak Jayanti, people take these weapons (swords) along with them in shobha yatra,” the New Indian Express quoted Pandya’s lawyer as saying.
The lawyer also submitted that the procession had been taken out with the permission of the police, although state authorities did not provide security to the event.
After hearing the counsel, the bench of Justice Samir Dave refused to grant Pandya ordinary bail at this stage and directed him to approach the court after the police had filed its chargesheet in the case.
Ram Navami violence
The communal clash at Himmatnagar was one of many such incidents which took place across the country on Ram Navami, and one of two which took place in Gujarat itself.
According to the police account, the violence kicked off after a procession of cars and motorcycles reached Himmatnagar’s Chhaparia locality, which is inhabited mostly by members of minority communities.
Stone-pelting from both sides ensued, which was followed reportedly by instances of arson and the destruction of shops and vehicles in the locality. This continued till around 3 pm, according to an Indian Express report.
Thereafter, at 4 pm, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) reportedly landed up at the spot and launched another procession from there. According to the police, this kicked off another bout of stone-pelting and rioting.
A member of the VHP had told the newspaper that despite there being security cover for the second procession, 15 of its members were injured in the melee.
Several others were injured in the incident, and police claimed that four of its personnel also sustained injuries.
Following the incident, Ahmedabad-based rights organisation, the Minority Coordination Committee had, in a letter to the director general of police, explicitly asked for CCTV footage from the area to be analysed and for the police to book any individuals who were carrying weapons, as happened in Pandya’s case.
The police had arrested 11 people in connection with the violence and had reportedly named 40 accused in the rioting case, according to the Times of India.
The other incident in Gujarat took place in Khambat in the Anand district. Stone-pelting and arson featured in this clash as well, however, at least one casualty was reported. The police said they found the body of a 60-year-old man and four individuals were detained for the violence immediately.