Udaipur History - 7

History of reform movement in Udaipur - Part 7

Attempts to ban the commission

The priesthood had earlier told the community that the Commission was disbanded and now its sitting took place with full publicity and amid violence. So the priesthood now started making fresh attempts to stop its functioning. They brought pressure on the Janata Party President Chandra Shekhar who is reported to have tried to dissuade Nathwani from holding the inquiry on the grounds that it would be politically risky to alienate the Bohra high priest. However, Nathwani remained firm and declined Chandra Shekhar's request.

The high priest then decided to make one more attempt to persuade J.P. to ban the Commission. J.P.it seems almost yielded to this pressure but Nathwani and Tarkunde, when they met J.P. on 6 June 1978, took a firm stand and informed him that they had already received more than 3,000 complaints and that they were inquiring into these complaints. However, they assured J.P. that they would not invite fresh complaints. Also, in view of his poor health, they requested J.P. not to worry about this problem.

The Commission announced that its next sitting would be held at Ahmedabad on 24 June 1978. The priestly establishment, after the sitting in Bombay, had carried on propaganda among the Bohras to the effect that the Nathwani Commission was not allowed to hold sittings in Bombay and neither should they allow it to function in future. Fath-e-Mubin (victory) celebrations were also ordered on this basis.

Now again they had to ask the Bohras to come to Ahmedabad to prevent the meeting of the Commission. But out of fear no Bohra could dare ask the high priest how it was that the Commission was holding its sitting again whereas they were being told that it had been disbanded? However, this time, despite great efforts the priesthood could not bring more than 5,000 people to oppose the meeting.

The Chief Minister of Gujrat, Babubhai Patel, took an admirable stand. The high priest sent a deputation consisting of a prominent lawyer and others to Ahmedabad to urge the Chief Minister to ban the meeting of the Commission. The Chief Minister told the deputation that he had already obtained legal opinion and that he was not in a position to ban the meeting of any committee or commission which was being held to examine some witnesses or documents. Any private body is free to to hold such inquiries.

However, if they felt that their fundamental rights as guaranteed by the constitution were being affected (the deputationists had argued on those lines) they were free to obtain a court injunction. His government would abide by the court order. The deputationists then told the Chief Minister that the government of Maharashtra had banned the meeting (it was a blatant lie) and that he should follow the same course. Patel asked the deputationists to show the gazette order and told them that even if the government of Maharashtra did so he was not obliged to follow their example as he would like to exercise his own judgment.

The deputationists then threatened the Chief Minister that in case the meeting was held there would demonstrations. The Chief Minister asked them how many people they intended to bring for the demonstration? They said around 10,000. The Chief Minister told them they could bring 1,500. It was their constitutional right to demonstrate. But he told them to remember that the demonstration had to be peaceful. If anyone took the law in his hands and tried to create a disturbance the police would deal with the situation firmly.

Witnesses from Udaipur

However, despite this firm warning the demonstration turned out to be violent, as the crowd tried to break through the police cordon to reach the venue of the Commission's meeting. The police made a lathi charge and burst tear gas shells and a number of persons were injured. The Chief Minister invited the members of the Commission for tea before their meeting began. The Commission in its Ahmedabad sitting examined about 14 witnesses from all over Gujarat. The Commission held its next sitting at Delhi o 22 October 1978. This meeting was specially held to examine the witnesses from Udaipur.

The people of Udaipur, as described at the beginning of this chapter, had suffered a great deal. They were the targets of murderous attacks by the followers of the high priest. At the Delhi sitting, in all 13 witnesses were examined including three women. In fact, many more had gone from Udaipur but all of them could not be examined.

The Commission is reported to have gathered enough material and convincing evidence of the persecution of the dissenters and conscientious objectors from the Bohra community. The report of the Commission was published within one year i.e. in 1979. It established convincingly that there was large scale violation of democratic rights in the Bohra community at the hands of the Bohra priesthood.