The pain that 75-year-old Mohammed Millat Sheikh feels is apparent, his indifference to the election perfectly understandable. Sheikh, who needs a walking stick to support himself, barely survived the attack by a Hindu mob in March 2002.
Five years later, Naroda Patiya looks different. Many newcomers have moved, buying off the houses of those who were killed. The entrance to the area bears a board that announces a Rs 141 crore road development project from Narol Chowkdi to Naroda Patiya. But Sheikh sits on the verandah of a closed shop unperturbed by all the happenings around him.
This rather non-descript ghetto in Ahmedabad had witnessed two major incidents during the Gujarat riots. The road to the now infamous location had first seen VHP-Bajrang Dal activists take out the funeral procession of karsevaks killed in the Sabarmati train carnage at Godhra on February 28, 2002.
Later that night, Naroda Patiya, a Muslim locality, was attacked by a Hindu mob that systematically surrounded the ghetto and killed 87 Muslims, including women and children. An FIR was filed against Babu Bajrangi, a Bajrang Dal leader, after the intervention of social activists. But that did not serve any good to those who had escaped. The Supreme Court stalled the hearings after accusations of being linked with the BJP were leveled against the public prosecutor.
The apprehensive Muslims who returned scampered back to relief camps after two terrorists attacked Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar in September 2002. VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia effectively aided their journey back to the camps when he said he could not predict if the VHP sponsored nationwide bandh would take a violent turn.
“Why should I talk about elections?” asks Sheikh. “Maya Kodnani, the local BJP member of the assembly, had defeated her Congress rival with a whopping margin of over 1 lakh votes. Would it really matter if I vote or not?”
Of 2 lakh voters in the constituency, Kodnani had received 1,55,286 votes. This has made the Congress change their candidate. But Sheikh has hardly heard about Purshottan Harwani.
“Although we don’t know the Congress candidate, we will prefer to vote for him than Maya Kodnani. We just don’t have the guts to survive another of those horrifying attacks that she was part of,” said Sehrunissa Sheikh, one of the few survivors who chose to come back to Naroda Patiya.
“We have lost what he had too. Nothing remains. I would be happy if people let me breathe my last peacefully,” says Sheikh.
Even worse is Gulbarg society at Chamanpura in Ahmedabad. The ill-fated tenements that were burned down along with former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri and 39 others, bears testimony to Gujarat’s worst pogrom.
Of the 21 survivors, only Mohammed Cassam has returned. But Cassam, too, is not a regular and when he does pay a visit, he makes it a point not to stay back at night.