Parents of children missing in Gujarat riots still hopeful

February 28th, 2009 - 8:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Ahmedabad, Feb 28 (IANS) The parents of some children missing since the 2002 Gujarat riots refuse to give hope of their eventual return even as the government says it will now declare all the 228 people still untraced as “presumed dead” as stipulated by the law.
The official toll during the communal frenzy across the state is set to go up from 952 to 1,180 as Saturday (Feb 28) marks the end of the stipulated period in which the relatives of the missing people were to inform the government of the whereabouts of their missing kin.

The law stipulates that any person who had not been found for a period of seven years after being reported as “missing” must be declared “presumed dead”. Of the 228 persons still missing in government records are 24 children and 27 women.

The maximum number of persons missing after the riots, as per the official records, were from Ahmedabad city (99) followed by the Panchmahals district (76).

There was only one incident of a missing child being found, with Muzaffar Sheikh being traced by his parents, Salim Sheikh and wife Zebunnisa, in the even years since the riots. However, some parents still hope their missing children will return.

Nazrul Pathan, 45, and his wife Kulsumbi, 38, believe their 10-year-old son Junaid, who was separated from them when their home was attacked by rioters at Naroda Patia, is still alive somewhere after seven years of the “worst case of arson, killing and looting in Ahmedabad”.

“I cannot accept even now that my son would no longer return home. It may have happened that he might have been taken out of Ahmedabad by somebody. However during the past seven years now, there has not been even a single clue which might have helped us track him down,” says Kulsumbi.

If the government wants to declare anybody as dead it can do that, but for parents, their children would always be alive forever, she says.

The case of Yunus Pathan Alkazi, 46, and Alam Bibi, 40 is more piquant. The couple had adopted a boy about five years prior to the riots from an orphanage in Ahmedabad as they had no children.

“On the morning of Feb 28, 2002, we were not in Naroda Patiya and our adopted son was at home alone. When the riots broke out, his mother started crying, fearing for the safety of the child at home. When we returned to our house after five days and found it burnt beyond recognition and there was no trace of our son, who is still missing,” Alkazi said.

“As far as we are concerned we believe our son was a vigilant boy and would have escaped when the rioters struck in Naroda Patiya. However till he is found we can only say and hope that he is safe and happy being brought up by some other family outside Ahmedabad,” he said.

A few others have lost hope.

“We have to believe that our son Azam is dead. What can I say more?”, said Mulkazi, 36, another resident of Naroda Patiya.

Meanwhile, the government has begun its process of listing the missing as presumed dead.

“We have already commenced the process of closing the files of those missing as there is little hope of anybody turning up today (Feb 28, 2009) to tell us about the status of the missing persons. The official procedure to be followed is to declare the missing as ‘presumed dead’ after Feb 28, 2009,” said a revenue department official in state capital Gandhinagar.

“Technically, the state government cannot declare the missing during the post-Godhra riots as ‘officially dead’ and can only term them ‘presumed dead’ after Feb 28 as declaring them ‘officially dead’ would warrant a separate legal procedure,” senior Gujarat High Court lawyer Mukul Sinha, who had been taking up cases of the post-Godhra riots victims during the last seven years, told IANS.

Declaring them dead will mean offering compensation to their relatives, he said, adding the compensation to the next of kin cannot be offered till the missing are declared ‘officially dead’ through an elaborate police investigation.

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