Pandarwada Muslims chose to return, but live in fear | india | Hindustan Times
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Pandarwada Muslims chose to return, but live in fear

Pandarwada is an exception in Panchmahals district. This is the only village where Muslim families returned to their homes after the 2002 Gujarat riots, reports Presley Thomas.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2007 01:47 IST
Presley Thomas

Pandarwada is an exception in Panchmahals district. This is the only village where Muslim families returned to their homes after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

But the 350-odd Muslims live there out of compulsion and in fear. The riots took the lives of 38 people here.

“There is a certain element of fear but we don’t have an option. We are farmers, have our land here and don’t have a choice but to stay. If we go out, it becomes tough even to earn a morsel,” said Faizu Ahmed, a farmer who had to turn a daily-wage labourer.

The Muslims were mostly agricultural labourers and small peasants. Some own land on the sides of the canal that flows by the village. This fertile patch, they said, was something the majority community wanted to acquire.

Before 2002, some Muslims worked as labourers in shops owned by Hindus. Pandarwada’s main square saw Hindu and Muslim festivals being celebrated. After the Babri Masjid demolition, the square was named Ayodhya Chowk, and the Muslims stopped going there.

Those who mustered the courage to return after the riots are bundled up in a corner. “We no more share the same comfort level (with the other community). Our own villagers betrayed us. The atmosphere has been vitiated,” said 27-year-old Salim Sheikh, who survived the riots.

Another resident, Ahmed, said: "I am a small farmer.

But it's become very hard to survive as they (the Hindus) took away all the instruments we used to till the land. Now it has become very costly to buy those instruments. So we work as labourers in their farms to earn our daily bread."

"Give us food, we will built temples for Modi," said Sheikh, asked about the elections. "It's another place of worship and we will build the most beautiful temple. The labour will be ours and so will be the craftsmen."

"What we want is a government which can maintain peace and ensure development. The development, as promised, should reach the villages," said Mohammed Mehboob Sheikh.

"Even the Hindus have realised that what they did in 2002 was wrong," Mehboob said. The people in this village were closely watching their MLA Kalu Maliwad.

The legislator, who is an accused in the Limbadiya Masjid attack, owns nine vehicles that run as a taxi service in the villages.

Villagers claimed Maliwad had allegedly siphoned funds from the Sujalam Sufalam Yojna - a scheme to bring water to each village in Gujarat.

"Under the scheme, we should have got 180 hand pumps. But in the last five years not a single new pump has come. Where has the money gone, why is there no investigation into this?" asked a senior BJP worker.