Across the Godhra Railway station, just a few metres away from where the abandoned but well-guarded ill-fated S6 coach of Sabarmati Express now rests, lies a dusty and congested locality of Signal Faliya. The locality is made up of clustered homes — nestled on the sides of narrow by-lanes where a four-wheeler can barely enter in many parts.
Many homes are under-construction, and many new ones are yet to be painted. The area appears to be untouched by the cashless campaign post demonetisation. Not a single shop in the area accepts payments through Paytm or other mobile wallets. “We deal only in cash,” says a shopkeeper, handing out change for Rs 100 in exchange of a bottle of water.
Children aged 8-10 years, playing in small groups gather around the car, curious about strangers, while the elders of the area are alerted instantly. Proceed into the lane adjoining one of the 12 masjids in the area and several curious eyes are ready to confront.
“Who are you looking for? You don’t appear to be a local,” an elderly man asks from inside a grill. A query about any development work in the area since 2002 is enough to put him off as he waves at us to proceed, asking to find someone else to answer the questions.
Wasim Patha, a Class IX student is eagerly watching the conversation. While most children of his age have their hearts set on a career, Wasim has not made a choice. He says, “I have seen the older boys and girls from my area not being able to secure any job in several years. We rely on hard work and labour to run families. I will also train in some manual skill.”
Wasim’s reply has his aunt Nafisa fuming. She says, “This is the mindset with which our children are growing here. We have been branded and this tag has not allowed our children to grow. The truth is that children in our area do not study and are not ambitious. ”
Another woman, Saida, curiously listens to Nafisa and admonishes her for further maligning the image of the community. Rather irked, Saida says, “Why are you clicking photographs of our area? We are just as normal as anyone else. The children are going to school and studying well. There is no problem here.”
However, not many— at least not in the last 15 years — have set examples for the younger generation here. The address, Signal Faliya, is synonymous with the Sabarmati train carnage in police records, which say locals from here in 2002 allegedly set afire coach S6 of the train.
Sohail Sujela, 19, and Afnan Bimla, 19, are among the rare few who are pursuing mechanical engineering from Dahod and Vadodara colleges, respectively. Both say they have no memory of the incidents of 2002 and have grown up hearing tales. The young boys are restrained in their description of the memories of growing up in the area, but Afnan says, “Everything dark is the past and everything bright is the future. It is not true that children in our area are disinterested in education. Many are pursuing Masters in Computer Applications, if not other professional courses.”
The clear problem is that the children have no role model as most “popular” figures of the area were named as accused in the riots and fought their cases for several years. While many were acquitted, the pain that the ordeal has left behind is visible.
Sayeed Umarji, an advocate and son of “key conspirator” Maulvi Hussain Hazi Ibrahim Umarji says, “In several years since the riots, nothing has changed. Umarji was later acquitted and died in 2013. Whatever little development you see is the work of the locals on their own, not political parties. There are several private schools in the area where children study, but it is difficult to leave the past behind.”
The area, locals claim, has not witnessed a single incident of communal clash since the 2002 tragedy. However, four Hindu families belonging to the Baria community that lived here for several years moved out eventually.
Ghulam Ahmed, a resident says, “The current generation of students have started to look at career options. Yes, it is true that they do not have any role model from this area, but they are working hard despite all the daily problems we face here.”
At the end of a lane that leads to one of the Urdu schools in the locality, two young girls are returning from their daily class. They say they are studying in Class VIII, but are reluctant to share their ambitions. They speak up only after a brief discussion in their native language — a mix of Gujarati and Urdu, spoken by the community of Ghanchi Muslims. They say, “We don’t know if we can pursue a career. Here, we have to worry about fetching daily water with our mothers, and taking care of our homes. Our parents are sending us to school so that we can be conversant with languages and basic living skills.”
The locals have an endless list of civic woes — from missing drainage lines to the absent water connections in homes, sanitation issues and increasing risk of mosquito borne diseases. “For countless years now, we face daily problem with water supply. Our area does not have individual water connections of the civic body. Those who can afford it, have dug their own borewells, but most of us have to travel at least two kilometers to the main pipelines to fill our daily share of water,” says Amina, another resident of the area.
According to some locals, the new board of the Municipality having independent candidates has given them a glimmer of hope. “After the appointment of the new board (after the 2015 local body elections), things seem to be moving forward. We are soon to get water connections closer to our homes, although the direct connections to individual homes does not seem feasible still. The board is also clearing projects for RCC roads around the city. We will get our roads soon too,” said one of the residents.
However, the road ahead is not easy. Councillor Illiyas Chanda says that although funds have been cleared for the civic works across Godhra, including Signal Falia, the “opposition” parties have been interrupting work by citing various reasons. “We have a total of Rs 1.4 crore sanctioned for the road project in these areas. But every time the board of independents comes to a consensus about some development work, the opposition interrupts the execution by bringing an inquiry into the matter,” Chanda adds.