Sugra Bibi, 80, lives alone, in a single room, barely ten-by-ten, off the main road near Godhra railway station. Too frail to move around, she depends on neighbours to check on her once in a while and steps out only occasionally to sell toffees. This has been her life since 2002.
Of late, people have been telling her the Gujarat chief minister is going to be PM. She has been hoping it isn’t true. Her health did not permit her to go out to vote.
“I know he will go to the deepest hell. It’s a mother’s curse,” Sugra says, struggling to speak because of stiffness in her chest and back.
Sugra’s four sons — Siddique, Bilal, Anif, and Shauqat — are serving life terms as key accused in the February 2002 Godhra train fire that killed 59 passengers. Her “mother’s heart” believes they are innocent. “They were out and about doing their jobs. How could they be guilty?” she asks.
Today, three of her sons are in their 40s while Bilal, the eldest, is 55. They have children, while their wives work in people’s houses as help. Sugra’s husband had died long before the incident happened and she depended on her four sons.
She gets to see her grandsons every couple of weeks while her visits to the Vadodara jail have become less and less frequent. “I may be old, but I pray five times a day for my sons’ release and for Narendra Modi to get punished,” she says.
Families of the accused and even co-accused who got acquitted wait for May 16 with trepidation. “He (Modi) cannot become PM. Where are the numbers? God cannot be so unfair,” says Inayaat Abdul Sattar, 70, who was working as a senior clerk at the Godhra office of the irrigation department when he was picked up as a suspect. He was due to retire the following year. He claimed he had been on duty when the crime happened, and it took a legal battle of nine years before he got acquitted in 2011. The government refused to give him his post-retirement dues of over Rs 3 lakh and he is still fighting for that.
His part of the town is in the middle of a power cut. Garbage overflows on open roads with hardly any sign of a drainage system. “Other parts of Godhra are no different but this part is the worst,” he says. This area around the station is dominated by Muslims, who constitute around 13 per cent of the population. “The Gujarat development model that Modi seems to be selling everywhere is exposed here,” he says.
After the train burning, a railway staff colony for groups C and D workers next to the station was removed because of a “threat perception”, a high wall erected to cut the station compound from the road facing the largely Muslim-dominated areas, and an old main gate sealed to limit access from one side of the station. It is not difficult to chance upon Muslim auto drivers and shopkeepers spilling anger and alleging frame-ups by police. Over the years, there have been some acquittals.
“After Modi becomes PM, Godhra and the subsequent riots will cease to matter for the rest of the country, I guess,” says Aziz, owner of a local cold drinks shop.