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Page last updated at 14:01 GMT, Tuesday, 9 May 2006 15:01 UK

Baroda: The divided city

By Suvojit Bagchi
BBC News, Baroda

Baroda violence
The recent violence left six people dead
The recent violence in Baroda, in the Indian state of Gujarat, has led to an increase in tension between the city's Hindus and Muslims.

Six people died in the violence which followed the demolition of a 200-year-old Muslim shrine by the city's authorities, who said they needed to demolish it for a road-widening project.

The demolition led to widespread protests by Muslims.

The controversy illustrates the sharp divisions that exist between the two communities, who have lived together for centuries.

Many of the city's Muslims now say they are living in constant fear.

'Go to Pakistan'

Sabera Biwi is a Muslim woman who lives in the heart of Baroda and says she no longer feels safe.

Why are the Muslims creating such a fuss about one shrine
Charlie Gandhi
Baroda resident
"The police are telling us to go to Pakistan - and you are asking me whether I am safe?" she says angrily.

"When we Muslims began protesting against the demolition of the shrine to widen the road we are told we are anti-development and anti-national. Are we not Indians?" Ms Biwi asked.

But this view is instantly challenged.

A young woman, who introduces herself as Charlie Gandhi, said that quite a few Hindu temples had also been demolished.

"Why are the Muslims creating such a fuss about one shrine?" she asks.

"The Muslim shrine was obstructing traffic and so it was necessary to demolish it. It will help all of us as it is part of the city's development," she added.

Neighbourhood divide

Taxi driver Rathod Firoz says many such issues have divided the two communities.

Demolished shrine in Baroda
The shrine (foreground) was demolished but the larger gate was spared
"Communities are sharply polarised here. It gets flared up easily," he said.

Baroda Police Commissioner Deepak Swarup echoed his thoughts.

"Even a simple neighbourhood problem is termed here as a communal clash now," Mr Swarup said. Since the communities live together, it's quite normal to have a brawl once in a while, he said.

However, he accepts that both Hindus and Muslims have started moving away from their erstwhile homes since 2002 to areas where their community is in a majority.

Traditionally, Hindus and Muslims used to live in the same neighbourhoods.

But local residents say that since the 2002 riots in Gujarat, separate Hindu and Muslim neighbourhoods have emerged in Baroda.

Forced out

Isaqbhai Chinwala lives in the old city's Mogulwara area and is a well-known social worker.

The recent violence shows hatred was simmering beneath an uneasy calm after the violence of 2002
Isaqbhai Chinwala
Social worker
"After the 2002 riots in Gujarat, we moved to this area. There used to be a few Hindu families here. They moved out," he said.

He says he never wanted to stay in a "Muslim ghetto".

"I am a disciple of Gandhi. How can I accept this kind of geographical polarisation within a city?

"To me it's not merely physical - it is an emotional and moral question too," he says.

But Mr Chinwala was forced to move out by his family from his ancestral home, which was in a predominantly Hindu area, after his house was ransacked.

In last week's violence, his shop was gutted.

"I told the rioters that I used to sell the Gita [the Hindu holy book] from this shop, but no one listened."

Mr Chinwala feels his city is getting increasingly divided.

"The recent violence shows hatred was simmering beneath an uneasy calm after the violence of 2002. The demolition of the shrine set the ball rolling," he says.

Political move

Baroda has a rich tradition of both Hindus and Muslims living harmoniously.

A Muslim man and a Hindu appeal for harmony
Despite appeals for harmony relations between Muslims and Hindus are strained
The city has been ruled both by Muslim and Hindu rulers over centuries.

JK Bandukwala is a Muslim professor at Baroda University and an outspoken critic of religious violence.

His house was ransacked in 2002 and he has been attacked four times since then.

Fearing another attack on him, he was removed from his house by his friends the day the Muslim shrine was demolished - an act he feels was completely "uncalled for".

He points out that the shrine was located a few feet away from an ancient arched gateway which is an archaeological site and therefore protected from demolition.

He refuses to accept that the demolition of the shrine would widen the road in the area and reduce traffic jams.

"I can accept that only if you demolish the Gate too - which is much bigger in size," he said.

Supporting the drive

But many others in the city, mostly upper and middle class Hindus, are not against the demolition drive.

"After all this is done to widen a road and build infrastructure - that would benefit all. One shouldn't oppose that," says Dr Vijay Trivedi who teaches chemistry in a local college.

The mayor of Baroda, Sunil Solanki, is a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and has led the demolition drive.

He said his intention was not to "insult" any religious sentiment but to reduce traffic jams and pollution in that area.

"Our planning was approved by the tourism department of Gujarat and only after that we went for a drive," Mr Solanki said

He also said that he talked to the representatives of the Muslim community.

"Some of them supported our move. But I can't name who they are," he said

I asked him how the demolition of the shrine could reduce traffic jams while a bigger gate was obstructing the traffic anyway.

"Our drive was confined only to the old city. The Dargah [shrine] falls in the old city.

"Besides, the gate was built by the great Gujarati [Hindu] ruler Sayaji Rao Gaekwad. It is part of the city's heritage - how can we demolish that?" he added.

However, Mr Solanki says he will obey the Supreme Court's order to stop demolition in Baroda - a move that has greatly relieved the Muslim community.

Days after the violence, the city is limping back to normal with the remains of burnt cars removed from the streets and the shops open.

But it remains to be seen how long this uneasy calm remains.

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