There was an uneasy calm in Naroda Patiya on Friday evening as men returned from work early and a call for prayer came from a loudspeaker on the Noorani Masjid — one of the sites attacked by a mob during the 2002 post-Godhra riots.
A few residents of the nearby Naroda Gam — a neighbourhood at the centre of one of the nine riot cases pending in the special trial court — milled about near Jawaharnagar and Hussainnagar localities to take stock of the situation after Gujarat High Court acquitted former BJP minister Maya Kodnani and upheld the conviction of Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi. Kodnani and Bajrangi are also accused in the Naroda Gam case.
“Even today, we get scared by a bandh call. That day in 2002, the riots followed a bandh. When there is a bandh call, we go to our relatives in Vatva. And now when they are free, how safe are we here?,” says Sharifaben Sheikh (45), who lost her 18-year-old son Shareef in the riots.
Sharifaben, who is one of the witnesses who testified in court, said Shareef was burnt alive in front of her eyes. “We were separated from my husband and three other children. Later, at the Shah-e-alam relief camp, we reunited,” she adds. Her husband, Iqbalbhai (47) plies an auto-rickshaw.
Sharifa said she fears for her and her family’s safety. “Earlier when we had done nothing, they entered our houses and killed us. Now when we have testified in the open, who will ensure our safety?”
Angered by Friday’s ruling, another witness Ishrat Jahan Saiyed (35) said, “In the eight years from 2002 to 2010, 32 of the 62 accused were acquitted. In the coming eight years, the rest will also be free. It has started with Mayaben Kodnani.”
The eldest among six siblings, Ruksana Qureshi (35) lost her sister Naseem (16) and mother Zarina (40) in the riots. She said that more than Kodnani’s aquittal, she is scared about the precedent this order will become.
“Where should one go seeking justice? After Mayaben, it could be others too. What message does the court wants to send across? After today, no one here feels safe. But we do not have any place to go,” said Ruksana.
Ruksana, who had testified in court, said her sister and mother were killed in front of her eyes. “We ran from here to Gopinath Gangotri where they caught both of them. While I and my other siblings managed to hide, they first stabbed my mother and then burnt her along with my sister,” she said.
“The government has done injustice to us. What the rioters did with us in 2002, the government is doing the same. The only difference is that they did it in one day, but the government has been doing it for 15 years,” said Ruksana, who is married and has three sons. Her younger brother Raja, a daily wage labourer, and sister Shabana stay nearby. Their father Bundubhai died six months ago.
Razia Sheikh (38), who lost three members of her family in the riots — her three-year-old son, mother and mother-in-law — said she has moved on. “I now stay with my three sons and a daughter-in-law. I lost my three-year-old son who was with my mother. She and my mother-in-law were killed. None of the family members is a witness. We have stayed away from the case and have not tracked the proceedings,” she says.
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