Godhara. India is unique—the city associated with the infamous 2002 anti-Muslim riots, resonated this Navratri with Dandiya-Garba festivities organized by a leading Muslim personality.  The incident revealed also, that this was no chance occurrence; Muslims of Godhara and Gujarat have been at the forefront of Dandiya-Garba events since centuries.



But this year Dr. Shujaat Vali & his Hindu friends lay in shock as Togadia came to Godhra and announced that Muslims must not be allowed to celebrate the Dandiya-Garba festival. Even as tremors of the Love-Jihad campaign continued to resonate in the media, the BJP lost a series of by-elections across the country.


Despite Togadia’s threat, Dr. Shujaat Vali and his friends, Dr. Sameer Mehta, Anand Ghadiali, Hiren Purohit, Dr. Dhimant Bhavsar, amongst others, decided that they will proceed & organize the Dandiya-Garba as they have for the past 15 years. They operate under the banner of a cultural group called “SAPTAK” or “weekly”, a platform which organizes various cultural event as well as educational & health programmes for the needy.


Both Dr. Shujaat & his wife are avid & talented individuals & just love the nine days of the Dandiya-Garba celebration, which is part of their “common Gujarati heritage” they say. Dr. Shujaat who is a secular & progressive pillar of Gujarat, has a special emotional attachment to this festival as do the majority of Gujarati Muslims.


On the 23rd of September, a day before the festival commences, Dr. Vali sang the popular garba “Tara bin Shyam mane ekladu lage” where Radha is telling Krishna that she feels lonely without Krishna. Dr. Vali also played the dholak.


Despite the fatwa from Togadia, more than 350 people came to the Godhra Gymkhana to attend the festivities on 24th September.


Dr. Sameer Mehta, a close friend of Dr. Vali said that “it would be wrong to think that the VHP represents mainstream, ordinary Hindus”, they “are the fringe”. Most Hindus he said “welcome the fact that their Muslim friends accompany them in this joyous celebrations”. In fact “most people look forward to multi-cultural spaces & celebrations”. He said that as per his knowledge, “not a single venue across Gujarat debarred Muslims from attending & celebrating the festival and that included both Ahmedabad & Baroda”. It was in Indore itself that he “saw Muslim singers who were part of the performing troupes”.


Dr. Shujaat had to undergo a struggle where he was warned not to organize the festival this year by people aligned with PB Barias an important BJP leader. Dr Shujaat said that he would “go to Court to defend his Constitutional Rights & more so because this was also part of his common Gujarati heritage”.


Dr. Vali also said that this polarization serves the agenda of the bigots of both the communities. On the one hand are the Togadias & Swami Advainaths, but on the other hand are similar Muslim zealots, for whom destruction of secular multi-religious, multi-cultural spaces is a boon. It feeds into their sectarian & communally divisive agendas. There are Muslim extremists who debar Muslims from singing & dancing. These Muslim bigots gleefully say “unhone to apna kaam kar diya”. On the other hand, the Hindu bigots are further trying to polarize & ghettoize Indian society along religio-communal lines.


Prominent & popular Muslims Garba singers include Usman Mir and Muhammad Abbas (who sang the famous garba in Bhansali’s `Goliyon ki Raas-Leela’). There is Mansur Valeha of Morvi, who comes to Malav a village near Godhra to sing for a spiritual Yogi, a saint, at the time of Guru Purnima. There as Muslims artisans a few kilometers from Godhra who start making the 18-inch long dandiyas, 5 months before the festival begins. There is Priya Shah, who has introduced “Turkish-style belly garba” with Turkish costumes to add to the ever evolving cultural traditions of Gujarat & all of India. The Dandiya-Garba festivities are Gujarat’s gift to India & to the world, in the increasing globalised spaces that continue to unfold.


Thus the struggle of Dr. Shujaat, Dr. Sameer, Anand Bhai, Hiren bhai & their friends is not a matter confined to Godhra. It’s essentially about defending our secular democratic spaces! It’s about defending our common Indian heritage!

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