Astha Savyasachi

While in Gujarat, cops were seen thrashing Muslim men over an alleged attack on a Garba event, in Bengal, three Muslim men risked their lives to save around 30 people from drowning in flash floods.

In the midst of festivities, in the broad daylight of October 4, a crowd of locals in the Kheda district of Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gathered to watch a group of Muslim men being tied to a pole and flogged with canes by police personnel.

The men were accused of throwing stones at a Garba event. They were seen begging for mercy as plain-clothes cops continued to thrash them in full public view while the frenzied crowd chanted ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. Decades from now, when history will recollect the events from today’s India, the crowd, even the children, relishing and cheering at the people being flogged, would be seen as no less horrifying than the Roman Colosseum which sponsored the shows of death.

The very next day, on the other end of India, three Muslim men risked their lives to save around 30 people from drowning in flash floods during the Durga idol immersion ceremony in West Bengal.

On Vijaya Dashmi, hundreds of people had gathered on the banks of the Mal river near Malbazar town in Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district to participate in the Durga idol immersion ceremony. All of a sudden, at around 8:30 pm, flash floods struck and scores of people were swept away.

The 20-year-old Toriful Islam and his friends were excited about the Dussehra mela. They never miss out on Vijaya Dashmi celebrations and the idol immersion ceremony. With his arm on his best friend’s shoulder, Toriful was standing on his tiptoes to look further when a flood struck the river. Within minutes, the floods wrecked havoc with people being washed away.

Talking to The Wire, Toriful, a class 12 student and the youngest son of a local pan seller, said he “felt terrible and jumped right into the river”.

He dreams of being an academician and being able to study for as long as he can. When asked if the thought of his life bothered him before jumping right into the river, he smiled and said, “See, I only have one life. What I saved was 10 lives. Ten is greater than one. Isn’t it?”

When asked about the crowd cheering at the Muslim men being flogged publicly, he said, “Festivals are for everyone. If I as a Muslim had stood there and looked at Hindus being washed away, it would have been a sin. We are humans. We should become humans before becoming Hindus and Muslims.”

He added, “I would ask those who discriminate: What is the purpose of being a human? It is to help fellow humans. Where would we go if we do bad to others? Hindus and Muslims together make up our beloved Hindustan.”

Toriful told us about his family’s reaction, “My family was very happy and proud. They said that you saved 10 lives. You didn’t run away from a difficult situation. Our parents and teachers always teach us to do good for others.”

When asked if he looks forward to any reward, he promptly replied, “No. No. Even if they give me any reward, any money, I won’t take it. I didn’t do it for money. I did it because I couldn’t see people dying in front of my eyes. And till I am alive, I will keep helping those in need.”

Toriful saved the lives of at least 12 people. His relative, the 22-year-old Foridul Islam, who works as a master mason, also saved around 10 lives.

Another Samaritan who came to the rescue of hundreds of people was Mohammad Manik, a 28-year-old welder, who went to attend the idol immersion ceremony with his friends. He alone rescued around 10 people, including two children and three women.

“I saw people, children as young as my son, being swept away by the flood. I couldn’t just stand there and watch. So I dived in and tried my best to rescue people,” said Manik, the father of a three-year-old boy.

He lives in West Tesimala village, a few kilometres from Malbazar, with his parents, wife and son. He told The Wire, ‘While I was helping those who were clinging to the rocks, I realised that my right big toe was badly hurt and I was bleeding. I borrowed a handkerchief from a firefighter, tied it around my toe and continued my work. Nothing else came to my mind. All I thought was that I have to save as many people as possible.”

At around 11:30 pm, he was taken to the district hospital where he received first aid.

He added, “I don’t see Hindus and Muslims. I only see humans. In Islam, they say that saving the lives of others is a deed of sabab. I did that only. I took Allah’s name and dived in. I had to save people. Both Hindus and Muslims have the same blood in their veins.”

He further said, “I have a message for those who believe that Hindus and Muslims cannot celebrate their festivals together. People of all religions should live together like brothers. In my locality, all the workers live in harmony. There are Hindus, Muslims, Adivasis and people from all castes. All are my brothers. On Eid, they come to our house to enjoy the sewayin and on Diwali, we go to their place and light the diyas.”

He smiled and asked, “Isn’t that the purpose of festivals?”

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