Nobody in the world likes us.” Seventy-one-year-old Haji Usman Miya Shamsher Miya smiled as he said these words. But his moist eyes failed to hide the pain. Four generations of his family have lived in Naroda Gam, 20-odd kilometres from Ahmedabad and this is what they called home until February 28, 2002.
Shamsher Miya is among the survivors of the post-Godhra riots in Naroda Gam in which 11 people were killed. Before the riots broke out, Shamsher Miya, a member of the local peace committee, spoke to the police who assured him there would be no trouble in Naroda Gam. However, trouble did come knocking at their doors the next morning and the police, victims claim, did nothing.
Imtiaz Qureishi, a 34-year-old survivor of the ordeal, said on the morning of February 28, he felt a sense fear he had not felt before. He saw the horror unfold — people he saw every day, old friends who would come over for iftaar (breaking of the fast) every Ramzan, friends he would play garba with during Navratri were going around killing people and looting and burning their houses.
Qureishi was almost killed when a group threw a bottle of petrol on him to set him on fire. But a childhood friend, who was part of the mob, let him go. “There were armed policemen outside our house. We begged them to help, but they told us they had orders to not get involved,” he said.
Qureishi and a group of victims, many seriously injured, rushed to the police station 50 metres away. “When we tried entering the police station, the police lathi-charged us. We forced our way in,” said Qureishi.
Victims have given their statements to the police and the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the Supreme Court 10 months ago, but have little hope from the investigating agency. Because, despite statements that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Jaideep Patel was present in Naroda Gam during the riots, he is still free.
Lawyer and activist Govind Parmar has been interacting with witnesses and victims of the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam riots. “Witnesses feel the SIT is not doing its job well because people who were named then were left out of the first information reports. They are being left out again,” said Parmar. “Since the Supreme Court’s decision depends on the SIT report, witnesses are asking the question whether the investigation, in the first place, has been conducted properly.”
As in the case of Naroda Patiya, the SIT here has also done little more than arrest more locals. After the killing of 11 people on February 28, 2002, the Ahmedabad police arrested 41 locals for allegedly being part of the murderous mob. But they soon got bail. And state minister Dr Maya Kodnani, a gynaecologist whose clinic is a few hundred metres away from the site of the killings, and Patel were let off. A closure report was filed a year later in court for “lack of evidence”.
Seven years later, the SIT is still fighting a losing battle to secure their custody and investigate their alleged involvement. The SIT also failed in tracing the whereabouts of the then inspector in charge of the area, V.S. Gohil, who has gone underground for the last two weeks. “We want to arrest him, but he’s untraceable,” Superintendent of Police Pravinsinh Maal, SIT member, told Hindustan Times.
When: February 28, 2002
What happened: Several groups of locals who had gathered at the village square attacked Muslim
residents. Police say they tried to disperse the mob, but it was too strong.
41 people were arrested, but were soon released on bail because of poor evidence. State minister Maya Kodnani and VHP leader Jaideep Patel were named in the case, but it was soon closed for “lack of evidence”.
30 locals arrested by SIT
53 accused on bail
5 chargesheets filed so far
Feeling let down by the SIT, Naroda Gam’s victims are keen on an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). “We will approach the Supreme Court,” said 41-year-old Abidmiya Husseinmiya Pathan from Naroda Gam, who lost his property and thriving herbal cosmetics business in the riots. He now makes ends meet by working as a driver. “We have little hope from the SIT.”
Allegations of discrimination abound in this settlement which has around 110 Muslim houses located behind a busy junction and bus stop. A narrow bylane opens into a courtyard where chubby children, who probably were not even born when the riots took place, play oblivious to the great communal divide they have inherited. There are no problems between Hindus and Muslims here now. Life goes on like 2002 never happened.
Though many kachcha structures have been replaced by permanent ones, Muslim residents do complain about not getting enough water or jobs, about how the roads outside Hindu parts are concrete while theirs are mud in dry months and slush in the rains. “Even during the riots, the fire brigade put out the fire in a Hindu house but left Muslim shops and houses to get charred,” said Qureishi.
Nothing left of their two-storey house, Qureishi and his family spent six months in the Shah Alam relief camp. He taught children at the makeshift school set up there. His printing business finished, he tried to earn a living by putting up a paan stall. He moved to getting printing jobs done for a commission before setting up his a printing business a couple of years ago.
He now has an apartment in Ahmedabad’s busy Lal Darwaja area. He has also started rebuilding his house in Naroda Gam where his mother, Zubeida, still stays. “I can’t think of going back there,” said Qureishi. “People I grew up with did this to me.” Qureishi lost his father during the post-Babri Masjid riots of 1992-1993. His father had an asthma attack and couldn’t receive medical aid on time due to curfew.
Like Qureishi’s mother, Shamsher Miyan chose to stay back while his sons moved out. “What to do?” he asked, seated on a cot in the courtyard outside his house. “I faced a similar problem during the riots in 1969 too. But I don’t seem to learn.”