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unclassified - 21 03 2002 - 11:38 - katatonik


“Among the hardest-hit Muslim establishments here are those that served some of the city’s most observant Hindus. Owned by a small, prosperous Muslim community called the Cheliyas, they were a string of what are called “pure vegetarian” restaurants, establishments that cater to the most particular of Hindu vegetarians.

The Cheliyas took pains not to stick out in the Hindu-majority parts of the city. No posters of Mecca and Medina hung on their walls. They employed Hindu cooks. The names of their restaurants contained no trace of Islamic identity. One was called Tulsi, the Hindi word for the holy basil used in Hindu ceremonies. Another was called Annapurna, after a Hindu goddess.

“We have to live here, we have to die here,” explained Ismail Heera, a Cheliya Muslim who owns the Signor Hotel and has a share in several vegetarian restaurants in town. “This was just to mix with the rest of the people.”

The urge to fit in turned out not to be enough. According to the state hotel federation, police reports have been filed on behalf of 72 hotels and restaurants that were destroyed, all but one of them Muslim-owned. Statewide, a total of 147 Muslim-owned properties have been destroyed to date. Others have yet to file papers with the police, a federation official said. By Mr. Heera’s count, about 35 of the properties were owned by residents of his village in the Mehsana district just northwest of here, which is home to the Cheliyas.

Exactly how their hotels and restaurants were identified as Muslim-owned businesses remains a mystery. Many of their patrons said they realized only after seeing the charred remains that their owners were Muslim. Mr. Heera and his fellow Muslim merchants suspect the leaders of the rioters had done research on their targets some time ago.”

Somini Sengupta: “After Riots, Some Muslims Fear for Their Future in India” (NYTimes, requires login)

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