Turn the clock back they can’t, but if these survivors of the Gujarat communal riots of 2002 could help it they would give those clock hands an extra push and leave their grief even further behind.
On February 27, 2002, 16-year-old Gayatri Panchal was just another passenger on the ill-fated S/6 coach of the Sabarmati Express. She, her parents and two sisters were on their way back from Ayodhya.
Today, Panchal who is in the second year of her LLB course reluctantly recalls how the hysterical mob torched the bogey. “I somehow managed to get out. But my parents and sisters couldn’t. The mob did not allow them,” she says.
She adds, “But now it’s a distant past and we (four surviving sisters) have moved on.”
Panchal lives with her younger sister Priyanka. The two older girls, Komal and Avni, have got married since.
Faruq Pathan, 39, works as tailor in a garments factory in Naroda. He and his wife now live in a colony in Juhapura built for riot victims. But back then when the riots broke out he was a daily wage labourer in Gomtipur — one of the worst affected areas of the city.
On the morning the riots broke out, Pathan’s 12-year-old son was out playing. And when the violence subsided, Pathan and his wife found themselves childless and homeless — their son was dead and their house gutted in a fire. Says Pathan, “After the incident, we moved into a relief camp. Later we shifted to this colony. We have forgotten everything.”
For Panchal and Pathan, the past is a place infrequently visited, but visited nevertheless. But 50-year-old auto driver, Sohel Sheikh, who lost his brother in the police firing in Naroda, has neither the courage nor the will. “Please go away. I don’t remember anything,” he says, even as his eye reddens with unshed tears.