We are still haunted by the terror: Riot victims (Seven years after Gujarat riots)

February 25th, 2009 - 9:46 am ICT by IANS  

Ahmedabad, Feb 25 (IANS) Abdul Sattar Quereshi, 40, an iron fabricator in the Naroda Patiya area here, vividly remembers watching his shop being burnt by a group of sword-wielding men who went about killing passersby early Feb 28, 2002.

“I escaped being attacked and ran for cover. The narrow lanes of Naroda Patiya helped me hide behind a house which was some yards away from the main street and difficult to access for outsiders who had no idea of the lanes of the locality,” he recalled.

Quereshi was also lucky that his family was away in Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh when the riots broke out. Naroda Patiya witnessed the worst rioting during the 2002 violence that broke out Feb 28 and claimed over 1,000 Muslim lives across the state. In this neighbourhood alone, at least 95 people were killed, 38 injured and four went missing.

“My wife and two sons did not know my whereabouts for three days as I managed to run from my hideout behind a house to a street still crowded by rioters who were busy overturning vehicles and setting them on fire,” Qureshi recalled to IANS..

What perhaps helped save him were his clothes and the absence of a beard.

“I did not sport a beard and was not dressed in a ‘pathani suit’ (worn by many Muslims) but a simple shirt and pant. I looked like any other passerby on the street which perhaps helped me escape as I was not really noticed in the frenzy of rioters,” he said.

Despite seven years having passed since the riots, Quereshi says he is still haunted by the terror even as he continues with his iron fabrication business with money borrowed from relatives.

“I did not apply for compensation or even ask my family to ask for any dole from the state government. You destroy a family, a home, a business and then you offer consolation in the form of compensation?” he said.

Azam Khan, 34, another witness to the bloodshed at Naroda Patiya, said he lost his brother in the rioting.

“We were spared by the rioters as two Hindu guests were in my house when they charged in. I shouted: ‘Bhai mehman hain, Hindu hain, Navrangpura se aye hain. Raham karo’. (They are my guests, they are Hindus and have come from Navrangpura. Have mercy). Navrangpura is an upmarket residential and business hub in western Ahmedabad.

But his brother was killed.

The riots were sparked by an incident Feb 27 in which a train caught fire in Godhra town, killing 59 passengers, mostly Hindu activists. It unleashed communal frenzy that would consume large parts of the state.

Seven years after those deep wounds, the scars are still visible in the charred walls of shops and houses burnt down by rioters in the area.

“Most of the residents of this area still live in fear as the terror of the post Godhra riots are hard to wipe off. There are few families in this locality which did not lose a member in the riots,” says cobbler Nazir Khan, who still has a deep gash on his left shoulder.

“I was hit with a sword while running towards my house. I survived because the rioters thought I would anyway die of bleeding as my white shirt was soaked with blood. There was no medical help available for nearly five hours so I tied my handkerchief around the shoulder tightly and kept running,” Khan told IANS..

Khan said he was later picked up by a police van and taken to the civil hospital.

He termed last week’s appointment of Shabbir Hussain Shekhadam Khandwawala, a Muslim, as Gujarat’s director general of police (DGP) by Chief Minister Narendra Modi a “political gimmick” which would not offer any sense of security to the minority community in Ahmedabad.

“It’s a political gimmick. Nothing is gained by the man on the street by who becomes Ahmedabad police commissioner or Gujarat DGP. The Lok Sabha polls are nearing and this time the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is doing its best to woo Muslims,” he said.

Ever since the 2002 riots, people in Muslim-dominated areas have never regained the sense of security they experienced during the 1970s, said Musudul Rahman Quddusi, 70, who was spared by the rioters who called him as “too old to kill”.

Scores of Muslim families have migrated to Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and even Rajasthan after the riots never to come back, he said.

In Naroda Patiya, the state government’s neglect is evident as there are scores of slums where the riot victims continue to live in squalor without any proper civic amenities despite many visits by many Congress and BJP leaders in the area during the 2007 assembly poll.

Most of the other riot victims met by this correspondent refused to be identified, saying they could be threatened and there would be nobody to turn to for help.

“Please don’t bother us. We now want to live peacefully. We want no politician to express sympathy for us,” said a victim in the area.

“Most of the riot victims in Ahmedabad have received compensation barring those who are still missing. Now it is not the question of compensation. It’s all about whether all the culprits are being brought to book,” said Mukul Sinha, a senior lawyer of the Gujarat High Court.

(Santosh Chowdhury can be contacted at sannit1@gmail.com)

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