Few can relate to the sacrifice of Vasantrao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani better than Raju Solanki, who has grown up listening to one of the most touching tales of communal harmony - a tale of two youngsters, a Hindu and a Muslim, taking on a frenzied mob in Ahmedabad and laying down their lives for the sake of peace.
For, Solanki owes a lot to the duo, known to everyone as Vasant-Rajab, who laid down their lives to save his family on Rath Yatra day, 58 years ago in Khand-ni-sheri area in Jamalpur that got engulfed in a communal conflagration. Now, there is a memorial in Khand-ni-sheri, known as Vasant-Rajab chowk. And, 44-year-old Solanki, a Dalit poet-activist, is working hard to spread awareness among his community about the fallout of communal riots.
Solanki now spends his time interacting with members of his community who stay close to Muslim localities in Ahmedabad. He has also been distributing his research article - ‘Blood under saffron’ - Published with the help of the Behavioural Science Centre, stating how Dalits were used as the cutting edge to fight Muslims during the post Godhra riots.
“It was my maternal grandfather Dudhabhai, a Dalit industrialist, whose family was surrounded by mobs in Khand-ni-sheri on July 1, 1946. On hearing this, the duo rushed to the spot. They lay down in the way of the mob to save members of my family. My mother then just 16, was inside the house. They saved the family as well as the locality. But the two lost their lives,” Says Solanki, for him, it is now pay-back time. “I am trying to make people aware of the fact that not a single massacre has taken place in areas where Dalits and Muslims live together. In the last few years, the VHP has exploited the helplessness of the Dalits, who failed to realize that these were the same forces behind the anti-reservation movement,” says Solanki.
However, in spite of having suffered at the hands of a mob comprising Muslims, Solanki’s mother and aunt Nirmala, now 87, have no bitterness against anybody. “It was a scary experience. A mob attacked our house. We were four of us inside and my father was away around 5 pm that day. We managed to escape from the back door. Later, we got to know of the bravery shown by the duo,” says Nirmala, a freedom fighter and a retired primary school teacher.
Harit Mehta, Times of India, 29 June 2004