POLITICS
25/10/2018 6:09 PM IST | Updated 25/10/2018 6:09 PM IST

Gujarat: BJP, Congress Should Not Play Politics Over My Child, Says Father Of Rape Survivor

Thousands of migrant workers have left the state in fear, but the 14-month-old girl's father says it is wrong to blame an entire community for one man’s crime.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
No one wants to take on responsibility for the backlash that drove thousands of migrant labourers out of Gujarat, but it is clear that there is a long way to go before things return to normal.

SABARKANTHA, Gujarat—At around 7 pm on 28 September, a 62-year-old farmer in Sabarkantha district took along his 14-month-old granddaughter when he went to inspect his farm. As it was getting dark, he went to a tea stall on the road bordering his farm to recharge his torch's battery. He placed the baby on a cot in front of the stall, asked a young man sitting on the cot to make sure she didn't fall down and turned away to connect his torch for recharging. Seconds later, he turned around to find both the baby and the man missing.

The farmer and the tea stall owner began to search everywhere and called the girl's father, who rushed to the spot immediately. Even after half an hour, the distraught grandfather was unable to locate the baby and rushed to a nearby police station. As he was narrating the incident to the policemen, his son called him on his mobile.

"He was crying. He told me that they had caught a worker of a neighbouring factory with bloodstains on his shirt," the grandfather told HuffPost India.

When the policemen questioned the labourer about the baby's whereabouts, he first misled them and took them to three different locations. He told them the exact spot only after being roughed up by a senior police official.

When the police team reached the location along with the baby's grandfather and uncle, the sight traumatised everyone.

"She was lying unconscious, drenched in blood and mud. We thought we had lost her," recollected the 62-year-old farmer.

The victim, who hails from the Thakor community, was immediately rushed to the hospital and the accused migrant labourer Ravindra Sahu, who is from Bihar, was booked under section 376 of the Indian Penal Code and provisions of POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences) Act and sent to Sabarmati central prison in Ahmedabad.

It was this incident that triggered attacks on Hindi-speaking migrant labourers employed in many parts of Gujarat earlier this month, resulting in thousands fleeing back to their native states.

Around 550 people were arrested in connection with the attacks, including a few who allegedly spread messages against non-Gujaratis on social media.

Almost a month after the crime, everyone HuffPost India spoke to in Gujarat, from the victim's family to the people arrested for the attacks to Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor (whose Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena has been blamed for the attacks) said they didn't approve of migrants being driven out from the state.

Many reports put the number of workers who left the state at 50,000. Tribhuvan Singh, who heads the Ahmedabad chapter of the Uttar Bharatiya Vikas Parishad, an organisation that works for the welfare of North Indians, also backed this number.

The victim's family said that they had issued a statement two days after the crime, appealing for calm.

"Keep politics in its place, we only want justice for our kid. He (the culprit) should be punished quickly. This incident gave a chance to politicians. Since the elections are coming, they tried to utilise this issue. But no one from the Thakor community was involved in it (attacks on migrants). It was only the politicians who fuelled this issue," the grandfather of the victim told HuffPost India.

The victim's father thinks it was natural for the public to get furious over the incident but he also denounces the "politics" being played over the incident.

"How can anybody do something like this with such a small child? She doesn't even understand what has happened to her. There should be no politics with this incident... It is wrong to blame an entire community for one man's crime," the victim's father told this reporter.

The family said MLA Thakor had ensured that the child received proper treatment and that the allegations against him were "baseless".

Thakor agreed.

"Who was attacked? No one was injured. Since the very first day, we have been taking everyone along. We have been trying to create a peaceful atmosphere here. Even after the rape incident, we repeatedly appealed for peace," the Radhanpur MLA told HuffPost India.

Vinay Pratap Singh, a resident of Saraswati Nagar, a locality near Ahmedabad where many Hindi-speaking migrants live, also said that Bahadur Solanki, a Thakor leader from the area, supported the migrant labourers and ensured they received police protection.

Singh, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, runs a social organisation for the welfare of Hindi-speaking migrant labourers in Changodar area of Ahmedabad.

Around 50 people, mostly from the Thakor community, were arrested in Saroda village for allegedly plotting an attack on migrant labourers working as security guards in a nearby college.

The village head of Saroda, however, claimed that the arrested men had gone to the college "out of curiosity" and not to attack anyone.

No one wants to take responsibility for the backlash that drove thousands out of Gujarat, but it is clear that there is a long way to go before things return to normal.