AHMEDABAD/NEW DELHI: Just after midnight a huge posse of policemen attacked Chharanagar, torched vehicles, barged into homes by breaking down doors, and beat whoever they could lay their hands on mercilessly. An old 75 year old paralysed woman also did not escape the cops, some in uniform others not, who threw her off her bed and punched her on the face. They left taking 29 persons belonging to the Chhara community who are in police lock up at the moment.

It was terrifying, local residents still looking shocked said. The cops were not willing to listen or talk and let loose on the hapless residents who were all sleeping at the time. After burning the vehicles outside the homes they broke down doors, according to eyewitnesses, and entered to beat up women, children, men. A theatre activist, a photojournalist, a senior advocate---no one was spared according to the residents bearing marks of the beatings.

Why? On Thursday evening two boys of the area had an altercation with a police constable. According to the police they were drunk, had an argument and “assaulted” him. The matter ended, the boys went away, and shortly after the attack on the entire OBC community took place.

Director of the movie Samir and a well known theatre buff, Dakxin Bajrange Chhara told The Citizen that at least two fo the plastic lathis were broken on him. “The police first burnt down my vehicle. Then they broke down the door, entered, my mother in law, my wife, my sister in law were all badly beaten as well,” he said.

“We could not believe what was happening, it was so terrifying. It started after midnight and stopped only after 5 a.m., my old paralysed mother in law was not spared either, they punched her on the face where she is paralysed,” he said.

Chhara said that the police could have arrested the two youth who had a spat with them. “Why did they attack the entire community, it was a terrible assault of the worst kind we have ever encountered” he said. There are about 1600 houses in the area and according to the residents no one was spared by the police who some insisted were inebriated.

The photojournalist Parveen Indrekar had his camera broken. His vehicle was destroyed. He and three others went to the civil hospital for treatment of their injuries and reportedly were brought back, and arrested by the police. The cops took care to break the bulbs in the houses they entered to prevent videos from being taken by any one, and carried out the assault in darkness.

A theatre activist Atish Indrekar objected to the attack and was arrested. The local media has now responded to the attack with the Bar Association, the theatre groups, human rights activists mobilising in support.

Chharas, a denotified community, brew liquor as a means of livelihood but have a strong artistic ben, with Budhan Theatre being run by them. Because of the liquor business, they have been subjected to regular searches and visits by the police but as Dakxin Chhara said, “this is the first time they have assaulted us in this manner.”

The cover photograph with this story is of a play staged by the Budhan Theatre, an adaptation of an Italian play Accidental Death of an Anarchist. In the Indian accident it focused on corruption of the police, and fake encounters.

As the eyewitnesses the police assault was a scene out of the movies, except that it was real and “just horrible.” The cops came in huge numbers (over 200 is the general estimate) and launched the vicious attack for five hours, hitting every home and the occupants before they left the area.

There has been no word from the Gujarat Chief Minister, the state government or the police who have only confirmed the arrests to the local media.