Muslims across Gujarat turned out in strength to cast their ballots Thursday in what many described as a peaceful means to protest atrocities on their community during the sectarian violence.
"If we can't take up arms to avenge the deaths of our community members in the violence, at least we have the right to vote against the party that connived with our assailants," said Ahmedabad voter Akram Shaikh, alluding to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is accused of tacitly backing mobs that targeted Muslims.
"We are treating this day as very auspicious. It is more sacred than Eid for us," said Hamid Mansoori, a voter in the Muslim area of Dariapur-Kazipur in east Ahmedabad.
Mansoori said some residents of his neighbourhood had even postponed marriages for the election. "We Muslims usually have our marriage season just after Eid, but this time we postponed weddings for the polls," he said.
In the Gomtipur area of this city, a half-kilometre-long line of Muslim voters could be seen at a polling station. Even in Kalupur, another neighbourhood in east Ahmedabad, Muslims thronged the polling stations.
But there were scenes of distress in Naroda Patia, also in this city's eastern quarter, where hundreds of victims of the communal violence alleged they were deprived of their right to vote.
A confused Ahmed Khalifa did not know whom to ask for help as he was shown the door at the polling booth. He was told his name had been registered in the voters' list as Bharwad Mahasud Khan and he could therefore not vote.
When his wife Zubeda Khalifa shouted at the election officer on finding that her name was written as Pathan Hasinabano, two policemen dragged her outside the booth.
Ironically, the Khalifas, an aged couple from Naroda Patia who lost their young sons in the communal violence, were standing exactly where they stood a few months ago to welcome President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam when he came to take stock of the situation in Gujarat in the aftermath of the carnage and assure the victims of help.
Naroda Patia was one of the first targets during the violence that broke out February-end and claimed at least 1,000 lives in three months. And Naroda Patia witnessed one of the most barbaric attacks as about 95 Muslims were killed, thrown into a well, doused with petrol and set ablaze in a matter of minutes.
Those who could run took shelter in makeshift relief camps across Ahmedabad. But as the situation returned to normalcy, they began to come back home.
"The main problem started with their return. The government ignored their plight and they had to resort to help provided by the Islami Relief Committee," Allauddin Ansari, senior member of the committee, told IANS.
According to Ansari, the committee had approached the authorities 10 days ago requesting a revision of the voters' list.
"Seventy percent of the names were wrongly registered, but the authorities sent us the list late at night on the eve of election. That was pointless because 90 percent of voters here are illiterate and cannot read their names in English," said Ansari.
He alleged that of the 10,000 Muslim voters of Naroda Patia, about half were denied their right of franchise.
"It seems to be well-planned conspiracy against the Muslims of Naroda Patia. In Hindu-dominated areas of west Ahmedabad, voters with mistakes in their registered names were allowed to vote," alleged Ansari.