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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

No healing touch for riot victims

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

The Milli Gazette Online 

Ghettoes move to Gujarat’s small towns, riot victims find safety in numbers

Ahmedabad: In three months, Hussain Kalumiyan will join a phenomenon spreading across small towns and villages in Gujarat. When the Godhra riot victim moves into an one room house after nearly three years of living in a tent outside this town, it will be not to his village but to a colony in Millatnagar, where hundreds of riot victims now live.

Our correspondent had paid a visit to Modasa about 170 km from Ahmedabad. He noted that Ghettoes moved to small towns in the state. Riot victims find safety in numbers.

Chief minister Narendar Modi says people have put Godhra behind them and so should politicians. He is right, in a way. The Muslims in Gujarat villages have put it behind them, along with any hopes of returning to their lives before it. They are feeling safety in numbers in nearby towns with Muslims populations. It started with bigger towns like Ahmedabad and Surat but the ghettoisation of the state has now moved to its villages.

Kalumiyan worked as a grocer in Panpur village before the post-Godhra riots. He is now a conductor struggling to make both ends meet but with no plans to move back to Panpur.

Sitting amidst tents housing more than 60 families from neighboring villages like Dhansura, Malpur, Sateda, Aniyor and Bayad an elderly neighbour of Kalumiyan says, “Ab wahan pyar mohabbat ka mahul nahin raha” (now there is no environment of love, harmony there).

There are villages where riot affected returned, but many shifted after realising life could never be the same again. One of the main reasons for this continued hostility is the court cases including those recently opened at the instance of the Supreme Court. As long as the villagers’ names figure among the accused, the victims are unlikely to find peace.

"They never thought their neighbours would either attack them or abet the outsiders", explains an activist." There were the same villages where Muslims cooked only vegetarian food in marriages to ensure maximum participation.

A Kalol based activist who helped build several houses on the town’s outskirts, Mukhtar Mohammad Shaikh says: "A few who dared to go back left if for good when they were ill-treated or did not find themselves confident enough."

Some of those who owned land back in their villages have only now mustered courage to work in the fields during the day and return by evening. However, those without land have simply given up the idea of returning.

The traders who enjoyed goodwill in their villages are among the worst sufferers. Now they have to start from scratch or work for others at much lower wages than paid to their own employees.

"Only the government can reverse the migration by rebuilding their damaged houses and giving them assurance of safety," says Mukhtar.

Meanwhile, still traumatised by the riots, the riot victims are in need of psychiatric care but the state government has returned trauma counseling funds.

The state government was supposed to provide a ‘healing touch’ to the riot victims especially children. That is what the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told CM Narendara Modi when he reminded him of Raj Dharma.

The government should have provided proper counselling at least to the children, says Dr Shakeel Ahmed, secretary, Islamic Relief Committee. But the Modi government apparently did not feel the need to provide that healing touch, in spite of receiving a fund of Rs 17 lakh from the Central Social Welfare Boards (SCWB), in May 2002 specially for trauma counselling of riot affected, the government did not utilise it. 

After spending Rs 2 lakh over four months for paying taxi bills the government surrendered Rs 15 lakh to the CSWB.

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