They arrived in relief camps desperate and ripped of hope, counting their losses — homes, belongings, and family members.
It was the last time that Tauseef Nisar Sheikh, 18, went to school. It was also the last time he saw his cousins — his uncle's son Ifzul and daughter Imrana — who had been thrown down a well and stoned to death by attackers who later got life sentences.
But the relief camps were shut down soon, and the state government wanted them to return home. Most did, but about 19,000 refused — and were relocated to new settlements with help from philanthropists and aid organisations. That is where families driven to desperation by mob fury and government apathy ran into a new challenge: non-government groups assigning the new homes asked them to pay — money of the kind most could never afford.
"We were given a choice — Rs 20,000 for the ones with a staircase and plastered walls, and Rs 15,000 for the ones without those," said Shaikh, who lives in the Aman Park colony for riot victims in Godhra, and in a few weeks will become a first-time voter.
At 2002 prices in Godhra, a two-room plastered unit would have cost Rs 33,000 to build. The land for all the homes put together cost Rs 55,000, according to registry papers seen by
Five years on, such families across the state continue to live in a state of uncertainty. They still do not own the homes they live in: "so that they can't sell them", according to the main relief organisation, and the land is mostly in other people's names, according to property records accessed by
. Which makes them all squatters who are vulnerable to everyone from real estate sharks to hostile government officials.
This of course, is apart from their existing difficulties: the judicial process against rioters has been excruciatingly slow, and the government's compensation regime tardy.
Last week, the Election Commission declared that more than 19,000 people were living as refugees in relief camps. That raised the spectre of thousands helplessly living on dole for five years: an image that feeds into politics and activists' campaigns.
But the EC was apparently misled. There are no relief camps in Gujarat.
"These are not relief camps. The relief camps were temporary. NGOs bought this land and built homes for the victims… We had decided not to transfer the homes to the victims for at least five years, so that they can't sell them. That sort of thing happens here," said Muhammad Shafi Madni, Jamaat-e-Islami chief and president of the Islamic Relief Committee that spearheaded the relief work.
Madni said the survivors paid out of the compensation they received from the government.
"We have not taken more than Rs 10,000 anywhere in the state. We took it because they should know that everything is not free. The victim families gave us money out of what they got as compensation."
That does not ring true.
"There is complete non-payment of compensation to those who lost homes — we have done a survey of 20,000 families," said Teesta Setalvad, a prominent campaigner for Gujarat's riot victims. Nearly all victims complain of such government apathy.
Among the residents is Hajra Beewi, 41, who lost her home to arsonists in Baroda. Then she spent months with her family in a relief camp, before moving with gratitude into a two-room home in Godhra built by the Islamic Relief Committee.
"I am thankful they considered me for the house, looking at my condition. We did not have Rs 20,000 to pay them, so many of my relatives pooled the money," said Beewi, who lives in the two rooms with her eight children, running a grocery shop out of one of the rooms.
To the northwest, Sabarkantha district is home to some 8,000 riot victims. About 1,500 new homes were constructed here. At Satnagar village, the families get electricity bills in their names but have no proof that the homes they live in — provided by the Islamic Relief Committee — are theirs.
"We have been told by the village council these homes belong to us but we have no proof, no papers," said Bachhu Miyan, 67, who alleged wrongdoing in the constructions as well. "A gentleman called Mahir Bhair Kothari of Baroda paid for the houses. He paid for toilets also but they were never built."
Tomorrow: Part II: Battle of Hyperbole