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If you missed Bosnia, visit Gujarat
By Syed Ubaidur Rahman
Ahmedabad: Do you have any inkling as to what is really happening in Gujarat? The state that has been aflame since 27 February continues to burn. The state of affairs in the state after touring it for a week has left this writer speechless. Words fail to describe what has been done to Muslims there.
From left: Bilqis Yaqoob Patel, Fatima
and Advocate YA Charkha
When this writer started out for the state he was almost sure that this tragic story of blood, death and fire, that continues till today and will probably continue for a long time to come, will be told by someone else, as travel for a lone Muslim, that too with a beard, could easily be his last journey. And that seemed to be a good bet, as now to narrate the events there one needs a lot more than just words.
Thousands of people have been killed during the last one and a half months. Though the government figures have just crossed 800 casualties, the way things are being covered up, people who are working for rehabilitation and relief say that at least 2500 people have been either burnt alive or killed. YA Charkha, an advocate who has been involved in setting up of the relief camp in Godhra, from where the fire started in the first place, says that even the figure of ‘2500’ is not final as there are daily reports of killings coming from various areas, especially villages. He says that Muslims residing in 400 villages in Panchmahal district under which Godhra falls, have been totally destroyed. Women, young and old alike, have been raped and even then not spared by the rapists most of whom are VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS activists. Don’t ask about their men. They were killed before capturing their women. Children as old as just two days were not spared.
The story of Bilqis Yaqub Patel, 20, from Randhigpur near Godhra is shattering. When her family started out for safety shortly after the Godhra incident, there were thirty people with her. From their village they went to Kudwazal village where they took shelter in the mosque. Here her sister Shamim delivered a baby boy. At this place her mother sent the men away. Now there were only eight women and eight children. Only her maternal uncle was around. From there they were chased away by a mob. In another village, tribals sheltered them and gave them their own clothes to conceal their identities. Tribals sent two people with them to accompany them to Chaparwad village. Here people recognized them and killed her uncle. When they were fleeing, a mob in a Tata Sumo vehicle chased them. These devils, who were 24 in all, killed all the children including her two-year old son as well as the boy her sister had just delivered two days back. Every woman, young and old was raped by three devils each and later everyone was killed. They thought Bilqis too had died. She was lying there for two whole days. Now she is in the relief camp at Godhra. She doesn’t know who brought her there. When I asked her about her male relatives, she said she has no news about them.
It is not that she does not recognize the perpetrators. She knows them by name. She told me that all the twenty four people who killed her relatives and outraged the women were from her own village and they used to purchase milk from her father’s dairy.
Hers is not any exceptional story. There are hundreds of similar incidents. The case of Sharifunnisa or Fatima, who had come to celebrate Eid with her in-laws, was also no different. When rumors started spreading, along with her family members she took shelter in the fields outside the village. The sarpanch (village headman) assured them that nothing will happen and took them to his house. Here he brought a mob of 500 people. Eight people were killed there. She too was injured grievously when she tried to protect her husband.
People in other camps too recount similar tales. Take the story of Fatima Bibi Yusuf Patel, now in Shah Alam Camp in Ahmedabad, or that of Jawed Hasan who is just 12 years old. All his family members were burnt alive in front of him.
Everything belonging to Muslims has been destroyed with deathly precision. There are reports as to how a shop among hundreds of shops in a shopping complex was meticulously identified and burnt, but not much has been written as to how a shop, belonging to the majority community still stands while all the shops in the same complex have been destroyed. The lone shop in the Paldi area of Ahmedabad is still standing while all others surrounding it from three sides were razed to the ground. This shop was not a large departmental store with a large building, but a ramshackle tailoring shop. And to add to the mystery, this single shop amidst all the ruin is still functioning as if nothing has happened there. The destruction around this shop doesn’t seem to have bothered its owner a bit. It is the story of every nook and corner of the state.
Whole housing complexes have been demolished. And curiously, not a single window pane in the adjacent Hindu housing complexes has been harmed. Gupta Nagar, Al-Ateeq, Dinoori Park, Soni Ki Chal, Narol Highway and numerous other places tell the same story. Houses have been totally destroyed with not a single household item escaping the fury of fire. Thousands of people have fled their houses and have either moved to safer areas or have been forced to take shelter in relief camps.
The fire was so intense that it even peeled the roof and wall plasters. There are several stories about the material being used to burn shops and houses. Some people told me that the material was imported from Israel to quickly dispose of dead bodies after the earth quake last year and the same is now being used to destroy Muslims. Batuk Vora, a former MLA and social activist in Ahmadabad, said that the material being used for setting things afire is called 'Latex' and was being brought from Hyderabad.
I asked a local activist in Vadodra as to how these people are able to so selectively destroy Muslim shops only without inflicting any damage to the adjacent Hindu shops? He said that they first drill that shop and then insert this material. The fire does not spill over; but destroys everything in that particular house or shop.
The story of people living in Muslim localities is no less tragic. With no work for the six weeks, thousands of people are starving. Farooq Shaikh, who is running Juhapura relief camp, says that people in relief camps may be a bit better off as they are at least getting food, but people without work with their businesses destroyed have nowhere to go. These people are also regularly tortured by police and paramilitary forces.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi says the riots have been controlled and that these were merely a reaction of the Godhra incident. People laugh at such claims. Reenuka Sharma, a PUCL activist in Vadodra, told me that everything was very finely planned. She said that riots against Muslims were planned much in advance before the Godhra incident. Details from municipality, telephone and electricity departments were being collected long before the Godhra incident in order to identify Muslim businesses.
She says that the whole plan to destroy Muslims was planned much in advance and was carried out in three phases. She adds that in the first phase they targeted Muslim shops and houses in areas where they were not numerically strong. During the second phase they attacked Muslims in mixed colonies. And now after clearing Muslims from mixed colonies they are trying to destroy Muslims in areas where they form a formidable majority. She added that in areas where there was no violence, the locals received bangles, metaphor for cowardice, together with provocative pamphlets. Several Muslim-dominated areas in Ahmadabad and elsewhere in the state are regularly being attacked by large mobs during night.
The mobs act under full police protection. Muhammad Nayeem of Juhapura said that when the rioters attacked Al-Ateeq housing colony in Ahmedabad, they were fully protected by the police. ‘Whenever Muslims tried to defend themselves, the police fired at them. Even now the residential houses in Hindu colonies just across these destroyed housing complexes are well secured by the police who are stationed on roofs and on top floors to keep vigil. Police that did not take any action while Muslims were being set afire, now daily comb Muslim areas and torture Muslim youth. On 5 April, 75 Muslim youth were arrested by police from Teen Darwaza area in Ahmadabad after a stabbing incident and were tortured so badly that these people who have been suffering death and destruction said that they never witnessed such brutality in their life. It is becoming a normal routine for Muslims in the state.
Mahadev Vidrohi, who heads an Ahmedabad-based NGO told me that action reaction theory is being fished out by Modi to protect his skin. He says everything was planned and was organized by the VHP with full Modi support.
This was confirmed by Patel Shantilal Purshottamdas, a former deputy minister of commerce at the central government and four times Lok Sabha MP. He told me that on 27 February, after the Godhra incident, when Modi came to Godhra where he met VHP functionaries at the Circuit House. When they asked him what to do, he said that you should wear bangles. Patel who was present at the Circuit House adds that Modi told the VHP people that nothing would happen if you add one or two zeros in response.
Former Gujarat state chief minister and president of state Congress Party told me that everything is planned and executed by the VHP and the RSS with full government support. He said that nothing will change till Modi government is removed. Asked about the state government claims that the riots are planned by the ISI or other foreign powers, he laughed and said that they must themselves be ISI agents since everything is planned by these very people and no outside power or agency is involved in it. It has been learnt from reliable sources that full-time functionaries of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the like are on the payroll of leading business houses.