In a cramped grocery shop on the fringes of Ahmedabad, two best friends sit on rickety stools. One sells rice and spices and candies, the other looks on. They never mention the day that ruined their lives.
The men are two of the worst victims of the 2002 riots. Between themselves, they have buried 13 family members, burned and raped and stabbed in Naroda Patiya.
This month, both received their voter ID cards. And Abdul Majid the shopkeeper revealed his apparently counter-intiuitive secret.
“I voted BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. And I will vote for them again. I don’t want the rest of us to die too.” Majid lost seven family members in 2002, including a daughter who was raped and killed, and two sons who were burnt alive.
“I want to keep Narendra Modi in power. Because I don’t know what Bajrang Dal will do to us if he is voted out,” said Majid. “But I do want to ask them: ‘God forbid, if what happened to me had happened to any of you, how would it have felt?’”
Majid’s friend Khaliq Noor Mohammed Shaikh lost his father and four uncles during Partition. In 2002, he lost his wife and all five children. “You must have heard of Kausar Bi, the pregnant girl whose baby was ripped out of her. I am her father,” he said softly.
Some of the worst violence of the riots was reported in Naroda Patiya, where about 100 people are believed to have been killed.
As the raiders stormed the neighbourhood, hundreds of Muslims had run out of their homes towards a point they thought would be safe, below a water tank. It wasn’t.
“Some people climbed on to a roof and started throwing mattresses soaked in kerosene at us. Then they set everything on fire,” said Mohammed Maruf, 45, who lost one of his three sons. Maruf remembers shouting out to the living, asking them to pretend to be dead. He had himself lain in a heap of burnt bodies, consoled by the thought that his little son Qamar was safe, lying nearby.
For months afterwards, the Naroda Patiya families stayed in a relief camp, which they were not allowed to leave. Thousands huddled in tents in difficult circumstances.
“I roamed around like a madman. I could not sense anything. I often left the camp without permission, and slept in a graveyard nearby. I wanted a scorpion or a snake to kill me,” said Shaikh, holding pictures of dead family members in his palm. “I wanted to die. But Allah did not give me death.”
The Naroda Patiya victims travelled to Delhi with NGOs to meet then-President APJ Abdul Kalam. They have never met Narendra Modi.
“I would not say anything to Modi,” he said. “I know my silence will not get me anything — but my opinions could get me into trouble.”