This paper engages with retrospective accounts of young Dalit men and their participation in the communal conflict of 2002 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. My ethnographic landscape is Gomtipur, a densely populated mixed (Dalit and Muslim) suburban neighbourhood that developed in the 1960s and 1970s to house the migrant mill workers who had moved into the city from other parts of Gujarat and India more widely. The de-industrialisation process of the 1980s and the subsequent rise of Hindu nationalism in the neighbourhoods meant that the 1990s and 2000s saw increasing segregation along religious lines and a rise in communal conflicts. Second- and third-generation migrant men were recruited into the nationalist project as ‘foot soldiers’ to execute violence in 2002. Material benefits and social mobility have been proposed as the main explanations for their participation. These narratives, when juxtaposed against the history of de-industrialisation in the area, reveal the men’s ambiguous and contradictory relationship with Hindu nationalism, their justifications for participation in the violence and a nuanced and structured co-option of them through signs and symbols and a systematic recreation of caste and class hierarchies.