Mohammed Javed, 48, guides The Indian Express team through Parbatti mohalla of Bhagalpur town, his return drawing looks of suspicion from his former neighbours. The frail motor mechanic stops and points at a pucca house. Back in 1989, this was where his brick-and-tile house used to be.
Javed, who had lost 12 members of his family to the Bhagalpur riots, sold his house in 1996. “My daughters were growing up and I wanted to live among Muslim families,” says Javed, who sold his plot, measuring about 1,500 square feet, to his friend Amar Kumar Rai (a Yadav) and neighbour Bhushan (a Kurmi) for Rs 80,000.
The property is worth an estimated Rs 60 lakh lakh today. Twenty-two Muslim families had sold their properties cheap and the government has now been advised to return these to the original owners. The Justice N N Singh Commission, whose report was submitted in the Bihar assembly earlier this month, has recommended that the government introduce a law to restore property sold in “distress or duress”.
Javed looks nostalgic but Parbatti’s residents clearly resent his presence. “Why has he come here now?” says an elderly resident, who has read of the commission’s report.
Javed, then 22, was outdoors on October 24, 1989, while his parents Nazim and Jehana, brothers Firoz, Sohrab and Babar, sisters-in-law Rukhshana and Israt and five nephews and nieces were in the house. “I wanted to go home. But when I did, I saw Kameshwar Yadav (later convicted) there and ran away. I later learnt that my family had been slaughtered and their bodies thrown into a well near Bhagalpur University,” he says.
Javed, who had to share his compensation with the divorced wife of his eldest brother, says he has not yet been compensated for Babar’s death or given riots pension. He feels it is “impossible” for the government to return their homes. “It can provoke fresh communal tension. Let us live in peace,” he says, as he prepares to cycle off to his present address, at Shahjangi locality.
Wasif Ali, 76, who retired as an associate professor-cum-senior scientist from Bihar Agriculture College, sold his 2,880-square-foot Parbatti house for Rs 1.40 lakh in 1996. Wasif and his two brothers had an equal share of the property, which he describes as a haveli. In 1989, a relative at Jabbarchak had advised Wasif to move to his house for safety. “I tried to persuade my father to come with us but he was confident nothing would happen,” Wasif says. Wasif returned to his house three days later and found a blood-soaked, rolled mattress and a plastic sheet, suggesting that two bodies had been wrapped in it. He later learnt that another person was with his father. Wasif and his brothers now live at Maulanachak. The idea of restoring property to Muslim families is a joke, he says. “It has been over two decades now.
The price of property has gone up 100 times. Some property has changed hands from one Hindu buyer to another as well. It is too complicated, and fraught with danger,” he says.
Zulfiquar Ali, 48, a.k.a. Bhutto is Wasif’s nephew. He runs an electronics shop at Parbatti. “Do you know what a haveli means? We learnt that thugs needed four days to carry valuables away from our home,” says Zulfiquar, a graduate who claims he got a job with the CBI but chose to go into business.
“It is not about just distress sale but about surrendering our roots. We have a history of over 450 years in Parbatti. Our forefathers are buried there. We gave up our ancestry along with the property,” he says.
The present value of the land he sold, he estimates, would be around Rs 1 crore. “Tell me who can return it to us. It is all a political farce in election time,” says Zulfiquar, who now lives at Shahjangi.
Dr Faruque Ali, a zoology professor with TNB College, has been taking up the cause of riot survivors. “The recommendation of restoring property is impractical,” he says. “What the government needs to do is identify beneficiaries who need rehabilitation and employment. The sheer timing of tabling the report obvious has electoral overtones.”
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