On February 27, 2002, Irfan, 19, was selling pan masala and cigarettes outside Godhra railway station like every other day. All of a sudden news came that a mob had set on fire the S6 coach of Sabarmati Express. Leaving behind his merchandise, Irfan ran for his life.
Ten years on, Irfan works as a daily wage labourer and dreads venturing anywhere near the Godhra railway station. “What happened that day changed my life.”
Irfan is not alone. That February morning, when 59 kar sevaks were charred to death and more than 100 other passengers were injured, ended life as they knew it for each and every person in this sleepy town 137 kilometers south-east of Ahmedabad.
“We are waiting for the truth to come out. It was not a conspiracy but a matter of sudden provocation because of a fight between passengers and tea vendors,” says Saeed Umarji, son of Maulvi Umarji who was arrested and accused of being one of the prime conspirators behind burning of the S6 coach.
The trial court acquitted Umarji of all charges on February 22 last year, but according to Saeed, “the mistrust between the two communities continues till today”.
Fear of riots is another thing that persists till date.
“When the verdict in the train burning case was delivered, people remained indoors. During festivals, members of one community do not venture in areas dominated by members of the community celebrating the festival,” says Umesh Gosai, a grocery shop owner.
Godhra has witnessed seven incidents of large scale communal riots since 1947. Residents say that before 2002, situation would come back to normal after the riots. “But the divide that the 2002 riots created still remains,” said Akbar Khan, a retired government employee.
He added, “Though some members of the two communities who have been doing business with each other for years have continued their tie-up, most have parted ways.”
“More than the common man, we are being discriminated against by the state. We still face hardships while getting job done with the government,” said Saeed. “And for how long? We do not know.”
(Some names have been changed on request)