Locals refer to soot-covered buildings as bhoot bungalows
Everything has changed beyond recognition in Gulbarg Society,a cluster of bungalows amid poor middle class habitations in the eastern part of the city,which was once famous for its textile mills. If one happens to visit the place,one would be surprised that it was ever inhabited by humans.
The society looks like a jungle with thick vegetation of tall trees and long grass that have grown all over the place in the seven years since the February-March 2002 violence.
The 18 bungalows and six flats with decorative plants in its compound,which perhaps was the reason for naming it after the famous Gulbarg gardens in Kashmir,lie in a dilapidated state with their doors and windows missing. The soot-enveloped inside walls of the bungalows narrate the gory details of the incidents of 2002.
This is the only riot hit residential society where people have not returned to live. Other societies have been reoccupied,albeit partially,as several riot victims are still hesitant to go back there as well.
Parsi couple,Dara and Rupa Mody,who lived in this society,lost their 14-year-old son Azhar in the 2002 conundrum. A film titled Parzania,with the missing of Azhar as the central theme,could not be screened in Gujarat owing to indirect threats to theatre owners from some saffron elements. The Parsi couple with their only daughter now live in the upmarket Vastrapur area.
Local refer to the buildings as bhoot bungalows owing to the dreaded sight they offer to the viewers.
Survivors of the 2002 riots,who left the place under police protection after the killing of former Congress Rajya Sabha MP Ehsan Jafri and 38 other residents,have not returned to live in their dream houses,built with their life’s savings. The owners cant even find buyers for them owing to the peculiar circumstances.
The society is guarded 24×7 by the State Reserve Police (SRP) personnel,but even they dont sit within the premises for reasons best known to them. They sit with their .303 rifles at the gates of a government school across the road,keeping a close watch on journalists and other visitors to the site.
Gulbarg Society was the only Muslim habitation in the sprawling Asarwa constituency which was won by BJPs Pradipsinh Bhagwansinh Jadeja with a huge margin in the December 2002 and the December 2007 Assembly polls,contested amid deep communal polarisation.
The BJP has been winning this Assembly seat for the last four times with a huge margin.
With residents shifting to other places as per their convenience,the place has almost become irrelevant as far as the elections are concerned.
Almost all the survivors have got their names entered into the electoral rolls of the areas where they are living at present. What is the meaning of having your names on the electoral rolls of an area where you cant live, said Naeem,one of the survivors.
The only resident,who has been keeping touch with the society on a daily basis,is Altaf Mansuri,who runs a tent business from his bungalow,after getting it partly repaired. But even he stays here only during the daytime. As soon as dusk approaches,he shuts his shop and rushes back to his new residence in Rakhial,about six kilometres away,where he has been living with his family after the riots. He says none of the bungalow owners,including a retired Inspector Yusuf Patel,and an excise department official,are willing to come here.
Mansuri had lost 18 members of his family in the riots.
Mansuri and some Muslim larriwalas (handcart pullers),have,nevertheless,renovated the small prayer hall inside the society compound to meet their religious and spiritual requirements. Larriwalas use the society premises to park their larris at night as they too dont like to stay here at night.
Ehsan Jafris son Tanvir,who works as a senior management executive in L&T in Surat says,How can one go back to live in a society where one has witnessed the killing of their near and dear ones?
His mother Zakia,who had managed to escape from the society,had moved the Gujarat HC seeking registration of criminal offence against CM Narendra Modi and 62 others,including former Home Minister Gordhan Zadafia,but it was rejected. The matter is now pending for hearing in the Supreme Court this March.
Tanvir is against the sale of the bungalows and the flats till the case continues. Theyare evidence of the crime and we want to keep it till the final judgement, says Tanvir.
The Gulbarg Society massacre is among the 10 most heinous riot cases being investigated by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT). Besides the police naming 46 accused,the SIT has named 26 others,and arrested several of them including K G Erda,the then police Inspector in charge of the area and now Dy SP. He is out on bail.