Last week there was a major political strike across the state of Rajasthan. This strike was organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to protest against the recent arrest of several politicians and high-level police officers over the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a mobster that was killed in a faked shootout with Gujarati police. Among many crimes, Sheikh was involved in trying to extort Rs.24 crore (£2.8m) out of marble supplier (and Seva Mandir’s neighbour), Vimal Patni.
In November 2005, Sheikh was travelling on a bus with his wife when he was taken by Gujarati police. Three days later, he was killed in a staged encounter on a highway near Ahmedabad. Two days after this, his wife was strangled and cremated in the village of Ilol. The story didn’t break until November 2006, when a few police inspectors boasted about it to a reporter over drinks. The case has been ongoing since, leading to several arrests over the years and many people being investigated, including Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. Last week among those charged were Gulab Chand Kataria (BJP politician, former Home Minister for Rajasthan and Udaipur resident) and Vimal Patni.
These arrests led to a state-wide strike organised by BJP activists. The strikers demanded that all businesses and workplaces shut down for the day and forced any that didn’t agree to comply. Seva Mandir (the NGO where I volunteer) refused to shut down that morning, unlike almost all the shops and businesses in the surrounding area. Initially it was a standard morning, until around 12 o’clock when shouting and chanting could be heard from the street. Suddenly, a staff member rushed into my room and said “get on the roof right now”. About 50 people had entered Seva Mandir’s campus in order to protest about Seva Mandir remaining open. Everyone in the building quickly headed up to the roof and the internal gates were locked behind us. We spent about an hour waiting on the roof, while the protestors argued with the director and other members of staff. Eventually it was decided that we would all be let out of the building if we left one at a time.
In the end I went over to the on-campus volunteer guesthouse for lunch and hung out there for the rest of the day. It wasn’t until evening that the city went back to normal and businesses started opening again. Though strikes are common in India, I’ve never experienced one quite like this before. There remains a lot of anger about the situation, with the BJP accusing Congress of ordering the police to lock up its politicians before the upcoming state elections. It will be interesting to see how the case progresses.