‘Do you know what it is like to lose 19 members of your family?’
A day after the Sabarmati Express was set alight, a mob attacked Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad, killing at least 38. Today, the housing complex resembles a ghost town. Sweta Ramanujan-Dixit & Stavan Desai report. Pics: Life after Godhra carnageindia Updated: Feb 21, 2009 02:35 IST
Write this,” Qasambhai Allahnoor Mansoori instructed. “My mother, my wife, my daughter, son, three daughters-in-law, six grandchildren... 19 people. Do you even know what that is like?”
The 66-year-old resident of Gulbarg society lived to count the dead in his family. But memories of the gruesome massacre that took place in the locality he lived in for nearly four decades have not managed to drive him out of his now dilapidated house in Gulbarg Society.
Anatomy of a massacre
When: February 28, 2002
Toll: 38(if those missing are officially presumed dead, the count would rise to 70).
What happened: At 11 am, a mob started building up around the area, pelting stones and raising slogans of Jai Shri Ram in support of a BJP-VHP-sponsored Gujarat bandh. The bandh was called to protest the killing of 59 kar sevaks on board the Sabarmati Express. Police did not respond to desperate calls from residents. The mob broke the boundary wall, attacked each house and killed 38 residents. Many of them were charred beyond recognition.
This locality, a cluster of 29 bungalows and apartments, in Ahmedabad city’s Dalit-dominated Chamanpura area, saw incidents of arson and looting during the communal riots of 1969, 1989 anti-reservation protests and the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots in 1992. Many residents moved out after that, but some people stayed back only to leave in 2002.
On a broad street outside, bakers and retailers of electronic goods go about their businesses. But enter through a collapsing grey gate and you see a place caught in a time warp. Seven years later, these houses stand abandoned. There are no buyers and former residents, mostly retailers of consumer durables and tailors, don’t want to return.
A few homeless labourers have made these ruins their home and the mosque on the premises is still open for prayer.
Mansoori is the only sign of what used to be before a mob killed 38 people (if those missing are officially presumed dead then the count would rise to 70) here. The dead include former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was hacked and burnt to death.
Jafri used his influence and called everyone he knew in the police and political set-up, begging for help when a 10,000- to 12,000-strong mob attacked the locality, breaking its boundary wall and torching houses.
When no help came, Jafri opened fire from his 12-bore licensed double-barrel shotgun to disperse the mob, injuring four persons. The mob, now uncontrollable, entered each house, attacking residents with swords and choppers and burning them alive.
After the incident, in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence, the police did not get the post-mortem conducted on most of those killed. With this crucial piece of evidence missing, most of the 40 accused were released on bail.
And while the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has already found through cellphone records that then Joint Commissioner of Police (Sector II) MK Tandon, under whose jurisdiction the massacre happened, was present at the spot when the mob assembled but left immediately after the attack, no action has been taken against him.
The only high-ranking police officer to be arrested in the case by the SIT is Deputy Superintendent of Police (Valsad) KG Erda, who was then a senior police inspector of the area. He was arrested earlier this month for abetment and destruction of evidence.
“Erda should reveal the names of his colleagues and all those involved,” said Jafri’s 46-year-old son Tanvir who survived because he was not at home. “Our society was hardly two to three kilometres from the police commissioner’s office. Somebody has to answer for what went wrong.”
“The police could not cover such a small housing society?” Mansoori asked. “What would Erda have done when all orders came from the top?”
After spending four months in a relief camp, Mansoori returned to Gulbarg though his sons who also survived the massacre refused to return. In his old house, photographs of his wife and family keep him company. Once a driver, he now earns a living by renting out handcarts to hawkers. His son has a business selling mattresses.
Mansoori hopes the SIT’s investigations will lead to the conspirators being booked. “That will act as a deterrent for others,” he said. Tanvir, too, is positive but feels much more needs to be done and fast. “That Erda and [MK] Patel have been taken into custody is a very good sign but they were only inspectors then,” said Tanvir, who now lives in Surat. “Is there no responsibility of the people above them? What about them?”
That is a question all victims are asking.