'Justice will be done only when those people are hanged'

Most of the survivors of Gujarat riots are illiterate labourers and say they are tired of talking to the police and journalists. They say that justice will be done only when the rioters are hanged, report Stavan Desai and Sweta Ramanujan-Dixit.
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Updated on Feb 23, 2009 09:58 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByStavan Desai and Sweta Ramanujan-Dixit, Sardarpura

Bachubhai Imambhai can't wait for the day when the final judgement in the Sardarpura riots case comes. "Once that happens we'll get out of here," said the 68-year-old who once worked with the state transport.

Imambhai and residents of the 20-odd homes in Satnagar are not happy living here. They want to move out to a better place where there are street lights, better toilet facilities and where they can freely celebrate their festivals with their own people.

But for now, they have to live in tenements built by a relief committee as six policemen sitting in a tent outside the locality, stand guard.

Imambhai's granddaughter was among the 33 people burnt alive in the Sardarpura riots on March 1, 2002. Those who survived the carnage were given new homes in Satnagar while Sheikh Mohalla in Sardarpura, where the incident occurred, stands abandoned.

"I saw it happen," said 50-year-old Bashira bibi, who lost her husband in the incident. "I am trying to move on but every time journalists come here and ask questions, it all comes back."

Survivors, most of them illiterate labourers, say they are tired of talking to the police and journalists. "Nobody does anything," said Hamida bibi Akbarmiya Sheikh who lost a son and daughter-in-law in the carnage. "Justice will be done only when those people are hanged."

After getting over the initial shock, the victims started looking for a means to survive. "We had to set up everything here from scratch with just Rs 90,000 in hand as compensation," said 30-year-old Shamim an arts graduate married to Ghulam Ali, a victim of the riot in Sardarpura. "We had one tap for 20 houses and no toilets. The women would bathe in the open with only bedsheets for cover."

The residents built toilets only last year when they got some more compensation money. But many of them are still struggling to make ends meet. Bashira bib, for example, runs the house on her widow pension and the interest she earns on the compensation sum in the bank. But she, like the other victims, insists that her children go to school. "Initially, the children would fear crowds, fire and the police," said Shamim who teaches in the local aanganwadi. "But now they are learning to cope."

Anatomy of a massacre

When: March 1, 2002

Toll: 33

What happened:

On March 1, 2002, a mob entered Sheikh Mohalla in Sardarpura and began attacking residents, looting their belongings and setting their houses on fire. To escape the mob, 33 people rushed to a house and hid there. The mob set the house on fire killing the occupants.

Fifty-five people were arrested then.

21 arrested by SIT

55 on bail

21 in jail

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