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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Widow of a nation
By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Ab to ghabra ke ye kahte hain ke mar jayeinge/mar ke bhi cheain na aaya to kidhar jayeinge...... These may be the words of Ghalib, but, surely apt to sum up the brutal carnage at Gulberg Society, Chamanpura, Gujrat-the residence of Late Ahsan Jafri, on Feb 28, 2002. Ahsan Jafri was a trade union leader and an Ex. Member of Parliament of the Congress. 

ahson jafri-wife with bookCarrying forward the mission of Ahsan Jafri, his widow, draped in a white saree, head covered, was in Lucknow on Feb 18 talking to the media.
Mushkilein itni paree ham parr ke aasaan ho gayeen….. brought Zakia Jafri to Lucknow. Her objective 'Peace and Harmony' should be the basic ingredient of our Indianness.

Zakia, escorted by her son Tanveer Jafri, had dried up her tears yet she could not control herself and cried bitterly, her eyes red and swollen.

"If you have a throbbing heart you will not be able to listen to the trauma and tragedy that befell on us," she would say in a blurred voice.

The next twenty-five minutes went by in an example of an exceedingly chilly silence as Zakia narrated her gruesome tale.

 Ahsan Jafri’s name plateFeb 28, 2002 from 7:30 am onwards a huge crowd had started gathering around Chamanpura. At 10:30 am Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad PC Pandey visited Ahsan Jafri’s place and assured him of police reinforcement but the police did not come! And what happened next was 70 persons butchered and burnt in a macabre dance of death. Ten to twelve gas cylinders brought by the mob were exploded and were used to heighten the impact and intensity of fire and ensured that the bodies were burnt to ashes. The list of the dead and those missing says that 49 died from the society and 18 to 20 from outside, who had come to seek shelter at Jafri’s place. 

After the departure of the Commissioner of Police, Zahir Bakery and an auto rickshaw just outside Gulberg Society were burnt. The stoning of Gulberg Society started between 11:15-11:30 am. Forty-five minutes later, at about 12:30 pm, stones, acid, bulbs, bottles and petrol bombs were thrown at Gulberg Society from the rear side. From the terrace of an adjacent bungalow belonging to a non-Muslim, between 12:30 and 12:45 pm , there was heavy stone pelting, including big boulders. This caused the maximum damage, because, without the frontal attack using premises from within the residential colony itself, the residents might have been able to protect themselves. 

The volley of huge stones, along with acid bulbs and burning cloth balls, continued until 1:15 pm. Around 1 pm, one Yusuf, a resident of the society, was caught, cut up and torched. Between 2:30-2:45 pm, suddenly, the gate at the rear end of the Society was broken.

In his desperation, Jafri made over 200 phone calls that day. He called PC Pandey, Chief Minister and even Home Minister but around 2-2:30 pm, the phone was disconnected. Jafri began pleading with the mob for forgiveness-he was speaking in Gujrati-and telling the rioters to let them go. He said that all the residents of Gulberg Society would leave without their belongings, only their lives should be spared. Jafri realising he was the specific target then allowed himself to be dragged out of his house. He was then stripped, paraded naked and asked to say ‘Vande Matram’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’. He refused. His fingers were chopped-off and he was paraded around in the locality, badly injured. Next his hands and feet were chopped-off. He was then dragged, a fork-like instrument clutching his neck, down the road, before being thrown into the fire. Jafri was killed along with his three brothers and two nephews.
Perhaps, as fate would have it Zakia managed to hide herself and lived to tell how all hell broke on her, with tears rolling down her cheeks incessantly.

She was in Uttar Pradesh for seven days staying with Amir Haider Advocate in Barabanki district and was felicitated by Congress in UP. UP Congress Committee President Jagdambika Pal lauded and praised the spirit and undying valour of a woman who lost everything except for her confidence in secularism and communal harmony.

Twice she attended functions during her brief sojourn in the state capital. The first appearance came on Feb 18 and on the second (Feb 22) she would join ‘Save Democracy’ campaign by Congress at Sahkarita Bhawan, Lucknow. Veteran Congressman and twice Member of Legislative Assembly SM Jafer was also present. The function saw Sajjada Nashin of Kichchaucha Shareef joining Congress in order to defeat communal parties like BJP on the national level.
"I am at a loss for words to express my gratitude for the love, concern, care and the eagerness to share my sorrow to the people of UP and this has given me not only confidence but also has renewed my conviction that secularism and peace and harmony is here to stay and stay for ever in India," said Zakia Jafri at Sahkarita Bhawan.

She did also elaborate association of her father and her martyred husband with Congress. The history of the Congress has been full of sacrifices starting with Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and also Ahsan Jafri but if Congress is on a slide today, then — it is because of lethargic, laid back attitude and comfortable living of the present generation of Congressmen This has also been coupled with downsizing senior Congress politicians as well.

She praised the efforts of Senior Congress Award Committee for recognising and respecting those senior Congressmen who have dedicated their lives despite remaining unknown in terms of political posts. She praised the steps taken by the organisation for distributing prizes and mementoes on the occasion of Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday. She accepted the patronship of the same and requested Congress President Sonia Gandhi to grant full-fledged recognition to this organisation at the national level. She also expressed her thankfulness to Jagdambika Pal for recognizing the organisation at the state level.

Zakia let her inner voice be heard and expressed great satisfaction that despite UP being the place where Babri Masjid got demolished on Dec 6, 1992 and where communal political theatre is woven monthly in Ayodhya yet Muslims and Hindus co-exist and live like good neighbours and there is never a blood 
bath on the streets like the she witnessed in distant Guajrat. 

Zakia who had broken into tears did not give in to fears as she thundered, "We will be staying in the same Gulberg Society and live in the same house where we lived prior to the martyrdom of my husband." Her undying spirit, bravery and her faith in Indianness was visible. She almost transformed the audience from deep gloom into spontaneous applause. She did let everyone know that she had full faith in the judiciary and sooner or later the perpetrators of violence in Gujrat would be brought to justice. She however, wanted to see speedy trials and the killers getting their due at the earliest.

"Although, Gujrat saw a genocide and something unparalleled in the history of humankind yet Zakia Jafri deserves our utmost love and we invite her to our place whenever she wises for the same. She is in fact a widow of a nation," said Dr. Sartaj Shabbir of History Department in Shia PG College, Lucknow while attending the programme.

What everyone would like to know is the status of those who committed this crime against humanity at Gulberg Society. Well, It is now two years since Ahsan Jafri was killed and the thirty-eight accused, including three minors who were arrested have obtained bail. Thirteen accused are still absconding. Two other cases (1720/2002 and 296/2003) pending at the metropolitan court are yet to be committed for trail to the Session Court. Trial is still to start at the Juvenile court. ¤

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