Rath Yatra coming, Gujarat cops plan ‘mixed’ cricket matches for ‘peace’

WITH AHMEDABAD’S own rath yatra around the corner, and tensions simmering in the wake of protests over remarks against the Prophet made by BJP’s Nupur Sharma, the city’s police are moving to secure the procession’s route using a popular “glue”: cricket.

Senior police officers told The Indian Express that a cricket tournament involving “mixed teams” from six communally sensitive wards on the route will be organized before the Rath Yatra starting July 1.

“Sports teaches us discipline and team spirit – and most importantly, cricket is a gentleman’s game. We have decided to have teams from six wards, each with a mix of Hindu and Muslim cricketers. The idea is to build bridges through sports, ”said RV Asari, Additional Commissioner of Police, Sector 1, Ahmedabad City.

These six wards are Jamalpur, Kalupur, Khadia, Dariapur, Shahpur and Saraspur, all located in the old city. Five of these wards, except Saraspur, witnessed protests last week against the comments made by the now-suspended BJP spokesperson Sharma. The area had also witnessed protests during the anti-CAA agitation two years ago.

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The Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad is the biggest such event after the world-famous Yatra in Odisha’s Puri, with about 3-4 lakh devotees taking part in the 9-km procession from Jamalpur Darwaza to Saraspur in the old city.

According to officers, this year’s event – the 145th Yatra – will be a full-scale version after the procession was canceled in 2020 and a truncated festival held in 2021 due to the Covid outbreak. Preparations for the cricket tournament have already started with the police reaching out to local community leaders and clubs.

The Rath Yatra, hosted by the Jagannath temple in Jamalpur, usually comprises chariots, akharas, bhajan teams, elephants and large groups of devotees with music played by Djs.

Police records show several instances of communal clashes during the Yatra before the riots of 2002. According to the Nanavati Commission report, violence broke out in the old city in 1941, 1946, 1965, 1969, 1992 and 1993 during the Yatra.

The records also show that local cricket matches, and celebrations during India-Pakistan games, have previously triggered communal violence in Ahmedabad and other cities of Gujarat.

In 2003, three people were killed in Viramgam on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in a brawl during a local match. In 2020, the state government had informed the Assembly that nine incidents of communal violence occurred in the Anand district in 2018, with a cricket match as one of the main catalysts.

“Communal violence occurring during cricket matches in Ahmedabad is a bygone era. Now, we are trying to build bridges through sports. In a game, one side wins and the other side loses, yet the game teaches something to both sides. Therefore, the two communities should learn from sports, and such tournaments should be held on an annual basis, ”said Bhushan Bhatt, a BJP leader from the old city and former Jamalpur Khadia MLA.

The police have also been organizing peace meetings in the area over the past two weeks.

“We had recently organized a collective blood donation camp in the Lord Jagannath temple where Hindus and Muslims both donated units of blood towards the common cause of humanity. What relation can go deeper than blood? ” said Mohammad Hussain Mammibhai, 78, who has been at the forefront of the peace meetings.

“We have good cricketing talent in Jamalpur and Khadia,” said Mammibhai, who has also taken on the responsibility of arranging the teams for the tournament.

“This is a very important step taken towards humanity by the police,” said Mansuri Mohammad Faruq, 45, an old city resident and organizer of the Mansuri Premier League, a local cricket tournament.

“Both Hindus and Muslims of my country want to live in peace but a few elements want to disturb that peace. Our family has been organizing local cricket tournaments for the past 80 years in Ahmedabad and we know how this sport can act as a glue for communities. “

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