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Life goes on in Gujarat relief camps
|Life goes on even under the worst conditions. Palestinians in refugee camps for the last fifty years testify to this resilience of the humankind. Now the refugees in the relief camps dotting cities and towns across Gujarat are demonstrating that they too can take up the challenges of survival. Teachers have opened make-shift schools for the children in the camps. Lawyers, doctors, midwifes and other professionals are doing their bit to bring relief to their co-sufferers. People with leadership qualities are managing the affairs of the camps and dealing with the outside world.
May 30 witnessed a samuh-nikaah, mass marriage ceremony of 25 riot-affected couples at the Sonal relief camp. The camp wore a festive look with colourful flower decorations. The idea was the brainchild of Nasir Vohra, the camp's organiser who wanted to bring some relief and change from the macabre scenes haunting the camp dewellers who are suffering from many mental disorders as a result of the carnage they survived while many of their close relatives were burnt alive in front of their eyes.
For the 25 couples though, this was a dream come true. Most of them had lost their homes in the riots and had been living in various relief camps for the last three months. Rendered penniless, marriage was a distant dream for them. Shabana Mansuri of Juhapura camp in Ahmedabad, who took part in the ceremony said, "My fiancé has lost everything in the riots. We wanted to get married but it was impossible to meet the expenses. So when Nasirbhai suggested a mass marriage ceremony we agreed."
Arif Mansuri, one of the 25 grooms said, "My wife's family requested me to take part in the mass marriage and I readily agreed. How could they arrange for a proper marriage ceremony when they are living in a relief camp?"
Farida and her sister Ruksana sat side by side for their nikaah. Farida said, "Our nikaah is a simple but a happy affair. Now that both of us are married, my parents are tension-free."
Mushtaq Bhikabhai lost his home in the Naroda-Patia, site of the worst massacre. He says, "Everyone has a dream about how he will get married. Though this nikaah is well-organised, it is not what I had dreamt of all my life. But then what happened in Ahmedabad was unimaginable too." He adds, "I can never think of returning to Naroda-Patia. The place holds haunting memories for me."
Abdul Hamid was Mushtaq's neighbour at Naroda-Patia. "I have mixed feelings today. My happiness is weighed down by the worry about finding a home after the relief camp is shut down," he said.
Hussain Siraaj Noor Mohammed of the Gomtipur camp shares the same anxiety. He said, "My first priority is to find a home for us. For how long can we live in a relief camp?"
The nikaah took place in the Sonal cinema hall with the invitees sitting in the balcony and the upper stalls of the hall while the couples made themselves comfortable on the stage. The brides looked resplendent in red shararas while the grooms were dressed in white sherwanis, long Indian coats, and laced caps.
Five Muslim clerics solemnised the nikaah of the couples and each bride was given a mehar of rupees 846. After the nikaah, each couple was gifted wrist-watches, household utensils, some furniture, a desert cooler, jewellery and clothes. Urmilaben Patel, head of the Gujarat branch of Bharat Ekta Andolan, was present at the nikaah ceremony. She said, "For this mass marriage Hindus and Muslims have worked shoulder to shoulder.
Nasir Vohra made all the arrangements while Minesh Patel, a Hindu who owns Sonal cinema, has given his cinema hall for the wedding. This is how it should be everywhere." Nazir Akhtar, one of the clerics who solemnised the nikaah was of a similar opinion. "Everyone has come together so that the couples could realise their dreams. There has been an outpouring of generosity. This gives me great happiness." q