Farzana is dead,Seema is alive
She has lived two lives so far,one as Farzana and the other as Seema. As Farzana,she met the love of her life,Suresh Chhara alias Suresh Langda alias Richards. And as Seema,she lost him and pines for him,as he has been living away from her,in Sabarmati Central jail since October 2012. Suresh,36,was convicted for raping a pregnant Kausar Bano and murdering other Muslims in Naroda Patiya,the worst affected locality in Ahmedabad,during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.
Seema,33,lives a lonely,abandoned life in a shanty in Chharavaas,a decrepit colony opposite Naroda Patiya,with her two children,Rachel (13) and Richardson (11). Farzana is dead. Seema is alive,but only for them, she says. She works as a part-time domestic help and part-time casual factory labourer,while her daughter does embroidery work. The children,who have English names because of Sureshs fetish for them,cant afford to study.
The youngest child in the family with two older brothers,Seema was pampered and spoilt,she says. Her father,Shaukat Ali,ran a small shop in Jamalpur where she spent her childhood. A financial crisis forced him to sell off everything and move his family to Naroda Patiya in 1995. It was here that the love story of Suresh and Seema,then a bright-eyed,long-haired Farzana,began.
Ours was love at first sight. I was returning home with my mother from the vegetable market,and he was sitting with his friends,when we first saw each other, she says.
Sureshs family,which disowned him after he married Seema,also lives in Chharavaas,not far from his home. Belonging to the Chharas tribe,known to make a living out of brewing country liquor,Suresh was lame since birth due to polio. Growing up in poverty and neglect by his family,he took to petty crime and befriended local gangsters. Soon,his gang of criminals developed a clout in the area by committing thefts and loots,trading in arms,and stocking knives and swords.
I disliked his activities,but I was helpless, says Seema. In fact,Suresh wanted to marry her after he became the biggest dada and a dreaded name in the vicinity.
Seemas family,though unaware of their relationship,were fond of Suresh; he took care of their needs,ran errands and attended their functions. He grew up with Muslims and would help them with their everyday problems. He even fought for their rights, she says.
Seema was confident her family would endorse her decision to marry Suresh. But when we announced our plan,they slapped me in front of the whole mohalla,and threatened to throw me out of the house. So,a day later,Seema and Suresh married in a temple. Seema converted to Hinduism and changed her name.
The marriage not only divided their families,but also drove a wedge between the Muslims and Chharas of Naroda Patiya. Sureshs family refused to accept Seema,and snapped all ties with him. Meanwhile,Seemas family reconciled to their marriage,and Suresh began living with them. The local Muslims,though,had begun hating Suresh for marrying a Muslim girl and shifting into their colony. Seema would often face abuses from her community,while Suresh had become a target of local fights.
Suresh and Seema,thus,moved into a house of their own in Chharavaas. It was at this time,says Seema,that Suresh started becoming close to Hindu groups. Bajrangi saheb (Babu Bajrangi) even visited our home and sought Sureshs support before the riots. He would call him for meetings at his office,which Suresh would attend. Bajrangi promised good returns. But I dont know what those returns were, she says.
Within a few days of the alleged meetings,Suresh had changed. He would hardly be at home,and when she would inquire about his whereabouts,he would beat her. A night before the bandh was announced (February 28,2002 to protest the Godhra carnage),he had come home and told me that riots will break out tomorrow and I have been asked for help,so dont contact me. I know several homes were burnt that day,including that of my family. People tell me my husband raped one Kausar Aapa (Kausar Bano) and other women in Naroda Patiya. But I cant believe that. I am a Muslim woman,he respected me. He cannot rape Muslim women. The Muslims avenged old enmity, Seema breaks down.
As Suresh is among the convicts whose death penalty the state-appointed Special Investigating Team has sought,does Seema fear the worst? Our love for each other has been abused by the riots. I want it to survive even if it has to survive in jail.