Babies born in Shah Alam camp:
what future in Modi’s Gujarat?
About a fortnight ago, more than 100 Muslim families of Sayla village in Panchmahal district, left the secured four walls of the Godhra relief camp and tried to return to their homes. They thought that probably the right time had come to return to the homes they fled two months ago. They thought it is the best option in view of the trying conditions at the relief camp where they were forced to live with no basic facilities, braving scorching sun.
They thought that sanity should somehow have returned. They were assured of this by the officials of their district who had held meetings with village elders and people in the surrounding villages. But to their horror they were threatened with dire consequences and in some cases even chased out of the village as soon as they arrived.
In another instance, a Muslim youth gathered courage to return to Kharsalia village in the same district and even managed to construct an eight-foot wall to restart his provision shop. But the very next morning he woke up to find that the wall was pulled down and there was nothing left to start a new life. His courage left him shaken, the brave youth scurried back to the relief camp. Many attempts at rehabilitation have failed in moving the victims from the camps back to their original homes.
Quite a few riot victims who had tried to return to their homes, and had started visiting their homes during the day and repairing their shops and businesses, have been forced to rethink and put their plans on hold. Their dreams of getting back to normal days have been shattered and they are back to relief camps they tried to leave to start a new life.
For those who are still adamant to return to their old villages at any price, there are hard conditions. Extremist Hindus who killed their neighbours by burning them alive or lynching them, raped their women, stabbed them and then burnt them beyond recognition in order to destroy the evidence of their ghastly crimes and forced them out of their homes are now making the return of their victims conditional.
The conditions imposed vary from area to area and range from dropping the charges of killings and rapes, offering Hindus written assurance that the Muslims will never fight a Hindu, will never misbehave with Hindu women and will never engage in businesses conducted by Hindus.
Some villages go beyond these conditions and demand their victims to convert to Hinduism as the ultimate proof of their loyalty and servility. Noor Muhammad, a farmer from the village of Raicha, recounts his personal experience: "They told us that we can come back to the village only if we change our religion and become Hindus.'
In Randhikpur village, 160 kms north of Gujarat's main city Ahmedabad, the fate of more than 500 Muslims depends on a 19-year-old rape victim withdrawing her police complaint. This village saw one of the worst scenarios of barbarity where seven women and seven children were killed. All women were killed brutally after being raped by three men each. This is the only village where the lone first information report in a rape case has been filed since one of the victims whom the marauders had left as dead survived. Only two other rape case complaints have been allowed to be filed in the whole of Gujarat state because police officers refuse to register them unless such complaints are left deliberately vague and accuse 'mobs' instead of specific persons. It is clear that no court can punish a faceless 'mob'.
"The three Hindu men who raped me are important people of our village. I named them in my police complaint," said the victim. Fourteen members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, mother and two-day-old niece were slaughtered by Hindus from her own village, she said.
She had fled Randhikpur with a group of relatives, when a mob burnt their houses on February 28, the first day of the pogroms. On the third day they were attacked in a forest by 30 men from their own village. "They stabbed me and then left me in the belief that I was dead," she said, adding that she remained unconscious for a whole night. Naked and bleeding from knife wounds, she staggered out of the forest to the nearest road in the morning where police picked her up and took her to the relief camp where she found her husband. Now she sits listlessly all day long, keeping to herself.
Rasool Ibrahim, 55, was one of the 15 Muslims called for a meeting two weeks ago by some of Randhikpur's Hindus, including one of the accused named by the rape victim.
The Hindus told us to bring her to work out a compromise. They told us they will allow us to return and help rebuild our burnt houses if the rape complaint is withdrawn, said Ibrahim. The Muslims decided unanimously not to comply.
Hindus of Kadwal, a village 250 kms north of Ahmedabad, have found their own way of keeping Muslims at bay - by asking them to sign a long list of pre-conditions. "We (Hindus) have collectively drawn up a list of conditions which the Muslims have to sign if they want to return here,' said Bharat Singh, a village leader. "In other villages they are not even allowing the Muslims to return but we are not doing that," said a magnanimous Singh, showing a three-page document handwritten in Gujarati, which victims are not allowed to photocopy.
The conditions in the document go like this: "Do not kill cows [considered sacred by Hindus] or eat beef; do not tease Hindu women; do not participate in Hindu festivals if you cannot maintain their sanctity; do not get involved in quarrels between Hindus, do not raise anti-India and anti-Hindu slogans, do not allow new Muslims to settle in the village...'
The Muslims, who formed six percent of Kadwal's population of 5,000, had fled on March 3 when their houses were burned down. But even signing on the dotted line does not end their problems.
In Raichha village in Chotaudepur, 28 Muslim families have been asked to convert to Hinduism if they want to return, says Muhammad Jafar Makrani, a former member of the local municipal council. These families are among the 100 which fled Raicha and took shelter in relief camps.
Villages like Panwad in Vadodra district have laid no conditions. They simply don't want the Muslims to return. They have made this clear by attacking the Muslims under the nose of the police when they came to find out how badly damaged their houses were. These Muslims are now back in the relief camps with no hope to go back to their ancestral homes.
In Pandarwala village in Panchmahal district where 27 Muslims were burnt alive, the conditions put forward by Hindus include that a Muslim doctor must be expelled, says Faiz Muhammad who attended a peace meeting organized by the district administration. Since this doctor has a computer, the villagers allege that he must be keeping in touch with the Pakistani Military Intelligence Agency (ISI).
In Kadwal village, where 11 Muslims have reportedly signed on the dotted line accepting all the conditions, they live as outcasts. 'We have no shelter and sleep in the open,' said Mohammed Nikker who came back two weeks ago after spending 45 days in a relief camp. 'We have nothing to eat and depend on relatives from other villages to bring us food,' he says, sitting despondently with his family in the midday scorching sun in front of the ruins of what used to be his house.
Muslims as well as Hindus live in constant fear of each other in villages where until recently they lived as friends. Hindus fear that Muslims will take revenge, said Singh, while Muslims said they were certain Hindus would attack them again once all the Muslims return from refugee camps.
Hindu rioters who were involved in killing, rape and rapine are being projected as heroes. While the real criminals are freely roaming Gujarat streets, a member of Gujarat legislative assembly belonging to the ruling BJP from Vadodra district organized a function to reward those who took part in the pogroms. According to media reports, rioters who created havoc in various villages were called on the dais and details were offered to the grateful audience about their 'bravery'.
There are few examples where Hindus not only protected Muslims but also fought against the attacking mobs. But these instances are rare. Ramsinh Thakore in his sixties is one such person who belongs to Balol Akkalpura village. He stood with a sword and warded off a mob chasing 485 Muslims who were on the run. "If people were being hounded by some who had murder on their mind, it was my duty to save them," Thakore says. Now those people live close to his village in shanties. They are sheltered and supported by the villagers. Their homes are destroyed and they cannot return to their homes, so Thakore is planning to rehabilitate them in the same place. But people like him are very few in Gujarat today.
The National Commission for Minorities has expressed concern over the refusal of Hindu villagers to allow Muslim families to return home. The commission fears that it could create a disturbing situation akin to Jammu and Kashmir and spur terrorism in the state.
The Commission is concerned that resettlement on religious lines would change the demography and result in a fragmented society. The Commission was also concerned that an area populated by victims with a collective wounded psyche would be a fertile ground for anti-national activities.
There are fears that Kutch district, with more than 60 percent Muslim population and a shared border with Pakistan, could react adversely to the plight of their brethren in Ahmadabad and other places in Gujarat. The authorities are already talking of "ISI [Pakistan Military Intelligence] activity" in Gujarat and claiming that Muslims are preparing for revenge. The stage is being set for a more subtle ethnic cleansing operation.