Years After Godhra
And The Pogrom
By Dionne Bunsha
01 March, 2007
For some of us, camping is a
relaxing outdoor getaway. For Mehdi Husain Vanjara, it is a way of life.
He has been living in a tent in a relief camp on the outskirts of Modasa
town in north Gujarat for five years. His entire family of eight is
crammed into this tiny tent on a dusty plot of land.
"There's not even a
light here. We burn diyas at night," says Mehdi from Kau-Amlai
village. "My three daughters wash dishes and earn Rs.200 each a
month. That's how we survive." When 62 homes in his village were
burned during the communal carnage of 2002, Mehdi had to flee to Modasa,
the nearest town, for shelter. Since then, he hasn't been able to return
home. Local Muslim charities have built tiny 10x10 feet rooms for refugees
here. Mehdi is still waiting for his allotment. For five years, he has
been camping in the darkness.
There are still 81 relief
camps with around 30,000 refugees across Gujarat. The campsites do not
have basic amenities like water or electricity, even though its residents
are paying municipal taxes. In Modasa, refugees pay Rs.30 a month for
water from a local contractor. "There are no gutters, no place
to wash clothes, so fights break out often. But at least we are safe,"
Mumtazben Sheikh, a widow, told me. Safety is the only thing this campsite
has to offer. But for those who have survived the carnage of 2002, it
is a top priority.
On February 27, 2002, 59
passengers died in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express when it halted
at Godhra station. The reason for the fire is still disputed. While
the Railway Ministry reports say it was an accident, the Gujarat police
insist that it was a terrorist conspiracy to kill several kar sevaks
on board the train who had been sent by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)
to the site of the Ram temple in Ayodhya for a Maha Yagna. Within hours
of the Godhra tragedy, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi declared
it was a terrorist attack. The call went out: `Blood for Blood.' The
next day, Muslims across the State were targeted in a pogrom that lasted
more than two months, killed more than 1,000 people, and left more than
Five years later, there is
no violence but the atmosphere of fear and prejudice still prevails.
After the attacks, the minorities have been `taught a lesson.' They
must now live as `second class citizens' in Gujarat, the `Hindutva laboratory'
to build the `Hindu Rashtra.' Gujarat is a society divided where minorities
are segregated, face social and economic boycotts, and constantly fear
for their safety. Muslims have been pushed into ghettos. Juhapura, Ahmedabad's
biggest ghetto, has a population of over 300,000 people but no civic
amenities. Only recently, it was made part of the city's municipal area.
Many elite Muslims — judges, doctors, lawyers, businessmen —
have been forced to move to Juhapura. No one in a `Hindu area' will
sell a flat to a Muslim, even if he or she is willing to pay a premium.
There is not a single bank in Juhapura, not a single State transport
bus passes through here.
After the 2002 violence,
many other mini-ghettos emerged in cities and even small towns like
Modasa. Places where refugees have been settled are now growing into
Muslim colonies. In Ahmedabad, some survivors of the worst massacres
of 2002 live on the edge of the city's dumping ground. They are living
on the margins amid the smoke from smouldering garbage, crows circling
above, and fumes from the small workshops nearby. Ironically, this new
ghetto is called `Citizen Nagar.' The aggressors are in power; the victims
have been jailed. For instance, Babu Bajrangi is an accused in the Naroda
Patiya case, the worst massacre in which there were inhuman atrocities
against women and children. Today he is a self-styled missionary who
forcibly brings back Patel girls who marry outside their community;
he boasted to me that he has `rescued' more than 706 girls so far. Recently,
Gujarat's theatre owners refused to screen the film Parzania because
he had threatened violence if they did.
Babubhai is free but several
witnesses face daily danger to their lives. They are threatened and
told to turn hostile in court, to `compromise.' And they have nowhere
to turn. If they dare to go to the police, they face the risk of being
put behind bars. Several witnesses in the Naroda Patiya case who named
top Hindutva leaders in their police testimonies were framed in a murder
case and jailed for over six months. There are several others like them.
Despite the intimidation and a daily struggle to survive, it is amazing
how witnesses have shown the strength and courage to fight for justice.
The Best Bakery case, which
received the most media attention, ironically ended up with a sad outcome.
After several twists and turns, the local accused were jailed, but so
was Zaheera Sheikh, the main eyewitness. She was punished for perjury.
Zaheera turned hostile in the Vadodara district court. Later, she appealed
to the Supreme Court saying that she lied in court because a BJP MLA
had threatened her family into a compromise settlement. Yet, when she
turned hostile again during the re-trial, she was jailed for perjury.
So far no investigation has been ordered into the MLA's alleged role
in Zaheera's second U-turn. The big fish always get away.
The Supreme Court criticised
the government for "fiddling while Gujarat burned." Yet none
of the big guns has been punished. Zakia Jafri, wife of the former MP,
Ahsan Jafri, has filed a case against the Chief Minister and 62 others.
But the police complaint lies in cold storage in the Gandhinagar police
station, a stone's throw from Mr. Modi's residence.
It is a rocky road to justice
in Gujarat. In district courts, the accused pass lewd comments while
women testify about how they were raped. When refugees in Lunawada dug
up the mass graves where the police buried their relatives, the cops
filed a case against them. You really cannot rely on the Gujarat police,
unless you are blessed by politicians in power. Of the 4,252 communal
violence cases filed during the pogrom, the Gujarat police closed more
than half of them as `true but undetected.' They said that there was
not enough evidence to file a charge-sheet. In fact, the police suppressed
or buried a lot of the proof. They refused to take down eyewitness complaints.
The Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat police to review these cases again.
Since they did not do this, human rights groups filed a legal notice.
Last year, the police re-opened most of the 2000-plus cases that they
had closed. But no one has been punished for closing the cases and scuttling
the process of justice.
In Gujarat these events are
supposed to be too `sensitive' to talk about; they should be forgotten
and people should move on, is the refrain. The people who would most
want to forget are the victims of the carnage, but they are not allowed
to. There can be no peace and reconciliation without justice and the
rule of law. People are still living through the nightmare. Raising
such uncomfortable questions disturbs `Gujarati Asmita' (pride). It
is an excuse to suppress important questions like human rights abuses
or who will really benefit from the Narmada dam. The Gujarati middle
class has been fed so much propaganda that it is intolerant to any alternative
view. That is why the Narmada Bachao Andolan office is often ransacked
and Medha Patkar is physically attacked if she steps into Gujarat. And
cinema owners are too scared to screen a film like Parzania that may
anger the Bajrang Dal because they have no confidence that the police
will protect them. It is selective democracy.
What else can we expect from
a political formation that draws ideological inspiration from M.S. Golwalkar
who wrote in We, Our Nationhood Defined, 1939: "The foreign races
in Hindusthan must entertain no idea but those of the glorification
of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose
their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or [they] may stay
in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing,
deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment —
not even citizen's rights." Gujarat is today's laboratory for testing
and realising not Mahatma Gandhi's vision of Hindu-Muslim amity and
communal harmony but Golwalkar's 1939 vision. The Sangh Parivar organisations
make no bones about this. Across the State, they have put up boards
saying: `Welcome to the Hindu Rashtra.' It is understood that not all
are welcome. Some are still camping in the darkness, waiting for the
Copyright © 2007, The Hindu.