As Gujaratis are finally being convicted for their barbarism, a remarkable fact has emerged. We can observe this fact in the names of those convicted. The latest judgement came on 4 May, when those who murdered Ayesha Vohra, Nuri Vohra and Kader Vohra during the 2002 riots were convicted. The convicts are: Harish V. Patel, Vasant P. Patel, Nilesh M. Patel, Mahesh G. Patel, Minesh P. Patel, Ritesh A. Patel, Ashok D. Patel, Kirit M. Patel and Bhavesh P. Patel.
On 9 April came convictions for the murder of 23 Muslims in Odh village. The killers are: Vinu B. Patel, Atul D. Patel, Vijay R. Patel, Devang H. Patel, Girish S. Patel, Prakash J. Patel, Dilip V. Patel, Harish S. Patel, Dilip S. Patel, Jayendra S. Patel, Suresh B. Patel, Arvind R. Patel, Hemant S. Patel, Sanat R. Patel, Manu J. Patel, Dilip R. Patel, Poonam L. Patel, Dharmesh N. Patel, Vinu S. Patel, Natu M. Patel and Praveen M. Patel.
On 9 November, 31 Hindu men were convicted of murdering 11 children, 17 women and five men in Sardarpura village of Mehsana district. The Muslims were labourers who worked on the fields of those who killed them. The 31 murderers are: Ramesh K. Patel, Chatur V. Patel, Jayanti M. Patel, Amrat S. Patel, Jaga D. Patel, Kachara T. Patel, Mangal M. Patel, Bhikha J. Patel, Mathur R. Patel, Suresh R. Patel, Tulsi G. Patel, Raman J. Patel, Rajesh K. Patel, Ramesh K. Patel, Matha V. Patel, Suresh B. Patel, Vishnu P. Patel, Rajendra P. Patel, Prahlad J. Patel, Ramesh R. Patel, Parshottambhai M. Patel, Ashwin J. Patel, Ambalal M. Patel, Ramesh G. Patel, Jayanti A. Patel, Kanu J. Patel, Raman G. Prajapati, Dahya K. Patel, Mathur T. Patel, Dahya V. Patel and Kala B. Patel. This fact of the killers knowing their victims runs common through the Gujarat riots, and it is one reason why the survivors were able to accurately pick out the Patels who abused them.
Last month, on 16 April, the trial of 85 men was completed in the massacre of 11 Muslims, including five children, in the Dipda Darwaja area of Visnagar. The accused include former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Prahlad Patel, who led the mob, and the police officer who investigated the case shoddily, M.K. Patel. A mob of 200 men, all of them Patels, murdered and then cut the bodies of their neighbours to pieces. At a “peace” meeting three days later, the Patels refused to hand over the remains to the surviving member of that family, Murad Khan. Three women are accused of handing petrol and kerosene to the men to burn the corpses. The women are Gita Patel, Madhu Patel and Manjula Patel.
In the dock: Patels comprise a large number of those convicted in the Gujarat riot cases. Photo: AFP
Patels, also called Patidars or Kanbis, are the dominant peasant community of Gujarat, and the same caste as Kurmis in Bihar and the Kunbi Patils in Maharashtra. Writer Ratilal Nayak in Atako Kevi Rite Padi? (How Did Our Surnames Come to Be?) claims that Patel is an Arabic word. This cannot be, for there is no letter “P” in Arabic.
In my Lounge column of 10 April 2010 (“We still cling to ‘Manusmriti’”), I wrote this about Patels: “The Patel has butchered his daughters so efficiently that now other castes must supply brides. There is evidence he is marrying eastern Gujarat’s tribals, bringing them into Hindu culture. This is an instance of the Gujarati becoming inclusive through violence. The Patel is the sword-arm of Gujarat’s Hindutva movement (Pravin Togadia is Patel). Like all peasants, he is intellectually primitive and easily roused by symbols. He’s also familiar with violence because he handles cattle.” Three months ago, on 7 February, The Times of India reported the wedding of seven Patel men to tribal girls. The report “Now, Kadva Patels welcome tribal bahus”, said the sex ratio of Patels had fallen to 700 girls for 1,000 boys.
The Patel is seen by his fellow Gujaratis as kind-hearted but quick to violence. The Kehvatkosh, which has sayings about communities and situations, tells us this: “Patelni vaat Patel jane, haath ma dando ane ghanti tane (Only the Patel, his staff in hand, understands his obstinate self) .”
H.M. Dhruv, who defended the men who murdered 11 children in Sardarpura, told the court the Patels were “influenced by conditions”. The Patels’ other defence lawyer, B.C. Barot, told the court the men’s behaviour was a “reaction to an action”. I disagree.
Murdering people you know as vengeance for the murder of people you did not know by other people you did not know is not a reaction.
After they were found guilty, The Indian Express reported many of the Patels exited the court smiling.
Writer Achyut Yagnik (a Brahmin married to a Patel) and I have often discussed our state and why it is the way it is. Yagnik explains the Patel’s violence against Muslims sociologically. “Traditionally their social status was low,” he says. “Their rise only came in the 19th century when the British brought the ryotwari system, replacing zamindari.” The Patel, who was the ryot on the field, rose in stature.
“He became ‘upper’ caste. Till then he was a ‘middle’ caste,” says Yagnik. His enthusiasm to belong to the upper castes of Hinduism shows in his violence against Muslims. The Gujarati Kshatriyas did not feel this contempt for the Muslim, Yagnik says, because they share his non-vegetarianism.
Further, unlike Gujarati Baniyas and Brahmins, Patels don’t have a caste council, so there is no internal moderation. There is no assessment of actions, and no review.
The most feared men in Gujarat, the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s Jaideep Patel and the frightening Babu ‘Bajrangi’ (who told Tehelka he felt like Maharana Pratap after slaughtering Muslims), are Patels. The Patels line up solidly behind the BJP and four of Narendra Modi’s nine cabinet ministers are Patels. To the extent that they have a leader, it is Keshubhai, the 81-year-old former chief minister.
As the Patels begin to be convicted, Keshubhai said, on 12 February, that Patels “were living in fear”. When asked what he meant, Keshubhai said: “You have to understand by this comment”, according to PTI. He repeated this statement on 17 April, after the judgement at Odh. And again on 7 May, at a gathering of Patels in Veraval, according to a report in Dainik Bhaskar. Keshubhai invoked his community’s mascot, telling Patels: “We are Vallabhbhai’s descendents and inheritors. Don’t be afraid.” This then is the sentiment of Patels as they are exposed. What can be said of such a people who don’t accept responsibility, and feel not guilt, not regret and certainly not shame? They feel only a fear of justice. It isn’t possible for such people to reform. The outside world must come and straighten them out.
In mutilating little Muslim girls and boys, Patels think they’re honouring their hero Vallabhbhai.
The truth is, of course, that he would be ashamed of them, and of belonging to their community.
Aakar Patel is a writer and columnist.Send your feedback to email@example.com
Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns