Tuesday, February 02, 2010

No peace without justice (displaced Muslims in the Gujarat state)


If they return to their village they may not survive. If they stay on in their resettlement colony they will never have basic education, healthcare or livelihoods. Eight years after the Gujarat riots, this is the status of thousands of displaced Muslims in the state, amongst them 51 families from Kidiyad housed at a camp in Modasa, who are still waiting for official confirmation -- and then compensation -- of 62 deaths of their kin.

Al-Fallah Nagar is a resettlement colony of Muslim refugees on the outskirts of Modasa town in Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district bordering Rajasthan. It is one of five resettlement colonies that have come up in the town after the wave of unprecedented violence that swept through the state in 2002. Modasa too witnessed violence and arson that led to five deaths in police firing. But there hasn’t been a major flare up since then, perhaps because the two communities have kept to themselves. “This town is about 700 years old and it has always been this way. Muslims live on one side of the main road, Hindus on the other. Each keeps to his area,” Gujarat Amir (president) of the Jamaat-i-Islami Muhammed Shafi Madni says. The town’s BJP MLA since 1995 Dilipsinh Parmar concurs: “Muslims vote for Congress, Hindus vote for us.”

Modasa is a booming town of 90,000 residents. The town is cleaved into a Hindu half and a Muslim half. The ratio of the town’s Hindu-Muslim population is said to be roughly 55:45. The main street, a state highway passing through the town, serves as the dividing line between the communities. The noisy and chaotic traffic on this street confirms the town’s reputation as the region’s transport hub and centre for agricultural exports, some 30 kilometers off the national highway 8, which is part of the Golden Quadrilateral connecting Delhi and Mumbai, and passes through the state’s capital Gandhinagar and commercial city Ahmedabad.

The main town comprises the traditional residential quarters and the commercial buildings that have been added to the typical rural setting in recent decades by the predominantly Muslim lorry fleet owners and majority Hindu farmers-turned-commodity traders. The latest addition to this town setting are the new colonies of refugees located a couple of kilometers away from the hustle-bustle of main town and consisting of rows of identically-built concrete houses amidst the old neem trees and vast open fields in the vicinity of a typical Muslim pocket.

A modest, single-storey bungalow at Al-Fallah Nagar, freshly painted in various shades of green, stands out, hinting at the social status of its owner. Salimbhai Sindhi is former sarpanch and chairman of a local dairy cooperative from Kidiyad, an interior village around 25 km from Modasa, in Malpur sub-division of the district. “Out of the 550- odd families in the five resettlement colonies in Modasa, 51 families are from Kidiyad. We are the largest group of refugees in the region, allotted houses at Al-Fallah Nagar in 2004,” Salimbhai says. “Before the houses were built, we spent nearly two years in makeshift camps in the nearby open fields after fleeing our village.”

Makeshift camps for Muslims displaced in 2002 dot the region -- Modasa and Khedbrahma in north Gujarat, Dahod, Lunawada, Godhra and Chotta-Udepur in central Gujarat -- as also other places in the state. An official report by a senior police official to the state home department in August 2002 says: “An estimate about communal riots victims migrated from various districts indicates that over 75,500 persons from 13 districts have been shifted to other places… During the communal riots, 10,472 houses, 12,588 shops, 2,724 larri/galas (handcarts) were damaged or destroyed due to arson, while 1,333 shops were ransacked.”

The Gujarat riots broke out on February 27, 2002, when a Muslim mob in Godhra town set alight a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims on their way back from Ayodhya. The incident, which claimed 59 lives including women and children, sparked three weeks of murderous reprisals by right-wing Hindu mobs, followed by low-intensity violence that left over 1,000 people dead across Gujarat. In 2009, seven years later, 228 ‘missing’ people were declared dead, pushing the official death toll to 1,180.

Independent activists and academicians maintain, however, that the toll is closer to 2,000 and the number of displaced nearly 1.5 lakh, with over 900 villages and 150 towns in 19 of the state’s 25 districts affected by the riots. Communalism Combat and Citizens for Justice and Peace have noted, in a 2003 petition to the Gujarat High Court that the number of relief camps in the state of Gujarat during the peak of the riots was 121, out of which 58 were in Ahmedabad city alone. These relief camps accommodated 132,532 persons, the petitioners say.

The survivors continue to live in camps seeking safety in numbers A majority of the survivors continue to live in camps seeking safety in numbers. Even today they refuse to go back to their homes. “Ninety-five per cent of (displaced) Muslims do not want to go back to their villages or localities. They prefer the security offered by a Muslim ghetto like Juhapura in Ahmedabad,” observes social anthropologist Dipankar Gupta, who spent 2009 studying how victims of ethnic violence gradually re-establish themselves, although rarely ever regaining what they had in the past.

For the displaced from Kidiyad, the 2002 ordeal is still fresh in their minds. On March 2, Salimbhai and other elders from the village decided to move to a secure place when news of arson and killings started pouring in from nearby villages. “There was no help forthcoming from the police. To ensure the safety of women, children and the elderly, we packed around 120 of them in two tempos, escorted by some young men,” he recalls. Among those fleeing were Salimbhai, his wife, and 15-year-old son. The trucks had travelled only a short distance from the village when they were stoned and stopped by mobs that lynched and burnt 73 people.

Salimbhai remembers how another group of around 100 Muslims hid themselves in the wheat fields near Kidiyad during the night, and trekked seven kilometres to reach the taluka headquarters in Malpur. One of them, elderly Subbumiya, was tracked down and killed by the mob as he was too weak to endure the trek and was left hiding in the fields. “The total casualties from Kidiyad were 74, but the police could recover only 12 dead bodies. There is no evidence to this day of 62 persons who were either killed or burnt in such a way as to leave no sign of their dead bodies,” Salimbhai says.

In Kidiyad, all that remains of the Muslim homes are the damaged red brick-and-mud walls. Salimbhai says: “How can we go back when the killers of my wife and son are still roaming in the village? Is there anyone in my village who will help us find the killers of so many innocents? Some of the bodies were so badly burnt, nothing was left. You could not make out if this was a child or a man or a woman.”

The residents of Al-Fallah Nagar say they are learning to live with this nightmare, even while complaining of a lack of basic facilities like potable water, sanitation, electricity, an approach road, and the absence of health and education facilities in their new colony. “We are living in barely human conditions… as if marooned,” Aminaben Sindhi, an elderly woman, says. The men complain about work. Most of them, once fairly well-off cattle dealers, agriculturists, traders and transporters who used to employ others for unskilled jobs, are now reduced to working as trainee masons or carpenters for paltry daily wages. Some of them have opened makeshift snack stalls or paan shops; others work as drivers.

The complete story can be found at http://infochangeindia.org/201001198135/Human-Rights/Features/No-peace-without-justice.html

Article by:
Dev Sinha

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