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Godhra Muslims still live under fear

Five years after 59 passengers of the Sabarmati Express were burnt and the terrible communal violence that followed, the focus is back on Godhra.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2007 12:23 IST

"That is the 'A' grade part of the city and this, the 'B' grade -- that's how it has always been", says Yakub Ali, a resident of Godhra in Gujarat, pointing towards what is called the Hindu territory of the town.

Five years after 59 passengers of the Sabarmati Express were burnt and the terrible communal violence that followed, the focus is back on Godhra, where Muslims continue to live under fear and lack of development.

With elections round the corner, one would expect the Muslims to be eager to vote. They are not. "The elections would not change anything. No political functionary from any part, not even the Congress, has visited us. We will only vote for those who promise not only to work for us, but the city as a whole," says Aniyaz who runs a saloon.

Though communal passions have subsided, Godhra is clearly divided into two territories -- one belonging to Hindus and the other to Muslims.

The so-called territories are starkly different from each other in terms of development and aesthetics. The Muslim- dominated part of the city is marked by narrow, crowded lanes and small, cramped-up houses along the untarred roads.

"These roads have not been re-laid in the last five years. The contractor has challenged us to get it done by ourselves since he claims no one will do it," says Ahmed, a tea stall vendor.

Hindus in the city point out that though the territories are different for both the communities, there is no hatred between the two, a feeling shared by the Muslims. "We have always lived like this and this is not because of the 2002 riots. Many Muslims still work at Hindu shops," says Hemant, a shopowner.

For most Muslims, one of the biggest grouse is that the roads get completely flooded during the rains. "At least the road leading to the cemetery should be repaired so that one can give a respectful burial to the dead," says Mushtaq who refuses to identify his profession.
However, driving through others parts of Godhra city is a different experience: the roads are wider and mostly evenly laid.

Another problem that the residents of the Muslim territory face is that of inflated electricity bills. "All the metres installed here are faulty. We have complained to the department concerned, but nobody seems bothered," says Zaheer Khan, a resident.

The fear factor forces them to look at even government employees with suspicion. "Under normal circumstances, two or three people from the electricity department should come here to look into a complaint, but here the situation is different," says a small eatery joint owner. "Over 20 people, including police and plainclothes policemen will rush to check on us. Why do they have to treat us like some dreaded robbers?" he says.