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Indian Express

Why kin of Muslim half of Gujarats martyr


duo turned Hindu
Searching for family of communal peace hero ahead of
museum inaugural, historian finds Rajab Alis kin changed
religion, shifted abroad.
Written by Leena Misra | Ahmedabad | Updated: July 17, 2015 8:38 am

Vasant-Rajab book cover.

On July 1, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel reached a three-storey, 18th-century watchtower in


the Muslim-dominated Old Ahmedabad area of Jamalpur to inaugurate a museum in honour of
two Gujarati icons of communal harmony.
On the same day in 1946, Vasantrao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani had staved off hordes of
rioters during the annual rath yatra from Jamalpurs Jagannath Temple the former protecting
Muslims, the latter saving Hindus with both losing their lives in the fight.
Looking on as Patel opened Bandhutva Smarak, housing personal effects, such as sandals, and
glasses, and paper clippings and jail records related to the two heroes, were the family members
of Hegishte.
And the Lakhanis? They had long gone, shifting to the US and Canada after being targeted in
subsequent riots, scared to even acknowledge their link to Lakhani.
So much so, that his nephew Rashmin, formerly known as Rashid, told The Indian Express over
phone from the US: We decided to change to Hindu names, change our religion and hide our
relation with Rajab Ali Lakhani.
Wary of disclosing details of his whereabouts, Rashmin said that among those who stayed back
was Lakhanis younger brother Ramzan Ali but he too converted after his family was attacked
in their home in Naranpura, and changed his name to Ramanlal.
Ramanlal was a journalist with a local newspaper, and died three years ago. His wife died a few
weeks before the inauguration of the museum.
All of this came to light only when the families were tracked down by Ahmedabad-based
historian Rizwan Kadri who wanted to invite them for the inauguration of the museum, located
400m away from where Hegishte and Lakhani were killed they refused.
The museum was conceived by Ahmedabad crime branch to calm tempers and project the softer
and secular side of police. This year, the rath yatra is scheduled to be held on July 18, and is
likely to clash with Eid.
Rashmin (76), the son of Rajab Alis elder brother Vazir Ali, converted to Hinduism in 1965,
married a Hindu from Bhavnagar, and moved to the US. There were more than three attempts to
kill the Lakhanis in the 1969 and 1977 riots, because of which we decided to change, he said.
Both my children did not know their father was a Muslim till they were 18 and 19 years old,
said Rashmin, adding that he was divorced.
Subhan, the eldest son of Ramzan Ali Lakhani alias Ramanlal, lives in Canada and goes by the
name of Sam Lakhani, but has not formally converted.

Speaking over phone, he said: The 1969 riots were almost like the pre-partition riots, nearly
10,000 Muslims got killed. Our family had to go from one place to another to live safely. In my
case, I already left for the US but my brothers and sisters had to change their names.
Lakhani added that he had wanted his parents to

move with him to Canada for safety. They came in 1986, but could not stand the cold and
went back, he said, also wary of discussing details of the familys location.
(During the 1969 riots) we were moving from one place to another to Gandhi ashram, to
Mumbai, then Nadiad, and then back to Ahmedabad and finally adopted the Hindu religion and
Hindu names, said Sam. The rest of Ramzans children live in western Ahmedabad, completely
cut off from their past.
Rajab Ali Lakhani was a Khoja Muslim born in Karachi on July 27, 1919, and the story of the
Vasant-Rajab sacrifice has long been part of Ahmedabads folklore.
Both Rajab and Vasant, who was born in Ahmedabad in 1906, had joined the Congress Seva Dal.
They were separated only in death, as their bodies were taken out of the Congress house, wrote
Vasants younger sister Hemlata Hegishte, in the commemorative book Vasant-Rajab which was
compiled by Gujarats famous poet Zaverchand Meghani in 1947.
Over the last few years, their death anniversary has also been observed as communal harmony
day by groups of peace activists and those seeking justice for victims of the 2002 riots.
But the two families never stayed in touch, said Nita, wife of Hegishtes nephew Uday, who was
at the inauguration.