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The Hell That Was Naroda-Patiya

By Manas Dasgupta

The Hindu
August 29, 2003

Gory details of mob attacks on Muslims in Naroda-Patiya in the presence of some ruling BJP leaders on February 28 last year were narrated today before the Nanavati-Shah judicial inquiry commission probing the Godhra train carnage and the subsequent communal riots in Gujarat.

There were accounts of some women being raped and set afire and of the "connivance" of police with the "frenzied saffron mob".

Bibibanu Sheikh, who lost eight members of her family, Naemuddin Ibrahim Sheikh, a bread trader who lost five of his family or 40-year-old Fatimabibi Mohammad Yusuf Sheikh, who saw police open fire on Muslims seeking police protection from the rampaging mob which killed one person and injured three others, broke down repeatedly while narrating their "hellish experience" before the two-member inquiry commission.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad advocate cross-examined Bibibanu saying her evidence was "exaggerated" because she had not mentioned the "rape and the burning alive of people in her statement before police". But the sobbing woman maintained that she was unaware of what police had recorded as her statement which might have been "deliberately twisted", omitting certain important details narrated by her.

Witness after witness said that the mob, many wearing "the saffron headgear," surrounded the Muslim residents of Naroda-Patiya from all sides, attacked them with swords and other weapons, poured kerosene, petrol and other inflammable materials on them and set them afire.

Bibibanu deposed that her sister-in-law was stripped, raped and set afire and she herself was also stripped naked but escaped being raped, sustaining minor burn injuries.

Naemuddin's wife and young sister were also raped and though his wife later escaped, his sister and many other women in the group were burnt alive. Fatimabibi, who had taken shelter with her family members on the rooftop of a house, said she saw a naked woman still in flames running up to the rooftop where she collapsed.

Most of them named the Hindu residents of the adjacent Gangotri and Gopinath societies who had perpetrated the crime though they knew each other for years. Naemuddin said when the injured were crying for help and water, the residents poured acid on their faces and showered abuses on them.

Bibibanu and Naemuddin alleged that when the hapless Muslims rushed towards the State Reserve Police quarters at the other end of Naroda-Patiya, they were not only refused protection but were turned over to the frenzied mob.

Fatimabibi said the SRP men actually showed her a newspaper report carrying the Godhra train incident the previous day and told her, "if your men did not do this to Hindus in Godhra yesterday, you would not have been facing this situation today". They were further told that there was "no instruction from above" to give protection to the Muslims and that they would have to fend for themselves.

She said that instead of giving them protection, police actually opened fire on the Muslims running from the mob, killing 35-year-old Abid Ali Khan and injuring three others.

Even as the BJP Assembly member and the party's Ahmedabad unit president, Mayaben Kodnani, has denied her presence in Naroda on that day as alleged by some Muslim victims, the 62-year-old Shardaben Patel, a retired principal of the local girls school, confirmed that Mayaben was present with the mob.

She, however, said that besides Ms. Mayaben and some other BJP and VHP leaders, some local Congress leaders were there in Naroda at that time but for seeking more police assistance as the mob had become uncontrollable.

However, later a local BJP worker, Bansilal Prajapati, claimed before the Commission that he spent the entire day with Ms. Mayaben on February 28 and she was engaged in the Assembly and later in the civil hospital and "did not go to Naroda even for a minute."