Non-Gujaratis, especially those hailing from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, were targeted in several parts of the state following the arrest of a Bihar native for allegedly raping a 14-month-old girl in Sabarkantha district last week, police said Friday.
Director General of Police Shivanand Jha said such attacks have taken place in Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Sabarkantha, Patan and Ahmedabad districts in the last one week and 170 people have been arrested in connection with the incidents.
The attacks took place after hate messages against non-Gujaratis, particularly those from Bihar and UP, were circulated on social media, he said.
On September 28, a 14-month-old girl was allegedly raped in a village near Himmatnagar town of Sabarkantha district, around 100 km from Ahmedabad, the police had said.
The victim belongs to the Thakor community.
One Ravindra Sahu, a labourer hailing from Bihar and working in a local ceramic factory, was arrested the same day for the toddler's rape, the police had said.
On of the persons who was apparently attacked claimed Friday some non-Gujaratis were going back to their native places.
"We were attacked by Thakor Sena members last night at Kalol town of Gandhinagar. This is injustice to us. That is why we are going back to our native places as we feel unsafe here," the person from Madhya Pradesh before boarding a bus claimed.
Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor, who heads the Kshatriya Thakor Sena, appealed to his community and members of his outfit, who were allegedly involved in the attacks, to maintain peace, saying non-Gujaratis are also our "brothers".
Addressing reporters, Jha said around 18 FIRs were lodged in different districts of Gujarat so far following the attacks on non-Gujaratis.
"We have also arrested 170 persons. We will not allow such activities at any cost. We have instructed local police to increase vigil at factories and (housing) societies having a good number of non-Gujaratis. We are also keeping a watch on social media messages," he said.
After it came to light that the rape accused hailed from Bihar, the Kshatriya Thakor Sena said migrant workers from other states should not be given jobs in Gujarat.
A 200-strong mob, allegedly led by Thakor Sena members, stormed a factory near Vadnagar town of Mehsana district on October 2 and thrashed two employees. Following the incident, 20 people were arrested on charges of rioting, an official of Mehsana Police had said.
"Since the accused is from Bihar and the victim belongs to the Thakor community, some elements are spreading misleading messages on social media," Inspector General (Gandhinagar Range) Mayanksinh Chavda said.
On October 3, a mob allegedly comprising Thakor community members engaged in vandalism in Chandlodia area of Ahmedabad, demanding people from North India leave the city, said the police.
"Some Thakor youths damaged vehicles and handcarts of North Indians living in that area. These accused were not officially attached with the Thakor Sena, but they are from that community. We have arrested 10 of them," Police Inspector of Sola (Ahmedabad district) D H Gadhvi said.
Several attacks had taken place in Mehsana district during the last few days, which led to the arrest of around 115 people. Of these, 15 were arrested for targeting people at Indrad village Thursday night, Mehsana Superintendent of Police Pradip Sejul said.
On Thursday night, non-Gujaratis were targeted in Indrad, Borisana and Dhamasan villages of Mehsana district, local police said,
At Indrad, around 250 suspected members of the Thakor Sena targeted non-Gujaratis and also pelted stones on police vehicles, they said.
At Borisana, an FIR was lodged against some members of the local gram panchayat for allegedly inciting people to attack non-Gujaratis, they said.
Besides the IPC sections dealing with rioting, around 100 people were booked under section 153(a), which deals with punishment for promoting enmity between groups on the basis of religion, race or language for the Borisana incident, the police said.
On Friday morning, a 200-strong mob gathered outside a factory in Kabola village of Arvalli district after someone circulated a message on social media that the unit has employed a large number of non-Gujaratis, the police said.
While the mob was dispersed by the police, 13 people who were part of it were arrested and charged with rioting and promoting enmity between groups, Arvalli district SP Mayur Patil said.
Meanwhile, Alpesh Thakor claimed he never asked the Kshatriya Thakor Sena to engage in violence or attack non- Gujaratis. Alpesh Thakor had first raked up the issue of non- Gujaratis while demanding "justice" for the rape survivor a week back. He had then said locals should be given preference in jobs in industries in Gujarat.
"Non-Gujaratis are not on our target. I have called a meeting of all the office-bearers of the Thakor Sena to discuss this issue. It is also possible that some persons are settling their scores with others in the name of Thakor Sena," he said.
Meanwhile, the Cyber Crime Cell of the Ahmedabad Crime Branch has started arresting persons suspected to be involved in spreading hate messages against non-Gujaratis on social media.
While two have been arrested, many more will be nabbed very soon, Additional Commissioner of Police J K Bhatt said.