Twenty-four people, including 18 women, from Roon village of Sojitra taluka in Anand district went to Ayodhya in 2002 as kar sevaks. Of them, six women were killed in the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra railway station on February 27, including Jayantibhai Patel’s 56-year-old mother Champaben, while four were injured.
His mother had gone with his aunt, who is now 62 and does not wish to be identified. She recalls how she held her sister-in-law’s hand when the fire engulfed their coach. “Later her (Champaben’s) grip loosened… Somehow I managed to escape through the window,” she says.
The train-burning incident, in which 59 passengers, mostly kar sevaks, died, led to communal riots across Gujarat, in which nearly 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
“No one reserves any hatred about the lives lost… we believe it is balidan (sacrifice) for Lord Ram. I am very happy with the temple construction and that joy would have been doubled if this pandemic was not there,” says Jayantibhai’s aunt as she plans to light diyas on Wednesday to mark the ‘bhoomi pujan’ in Ayodhya.
Jayantibhai, 58, a farmer, has no regrets about not being at the site on Wednesday. “Even if there was no coronavirus, it would be difficult to accommodate everyone,” he says.
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“Once this Covid gets over, I will certainly visit Ayodhya one day with my two sons for darshan,” says Navinchandra Brahmbhatt (65) from Vadnagar in Mehsana district, whose wife Neeruben was killed in the fire when they were returning from Ayodhya after a darshan.
The VHP, which was behind the temple movement and was alleged to be responsible for the violence that followed the train-burning incident, has split.
Mahesh Shah ,57, a former Bajrang Dal Sahyojak from Ahmedabad, escorted 80 people from different areas of Ahmedabad, including Odhav, Ramol, Khokhra and Amraiwadi, for a hawan organised at Ayodhya as part of the mobilisation for the temple. They were in the S-6 coach on their return journey, and 19 of them died at Godhra.
Now with former VHP leader Pravin Togadia’s Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP) as its city unit secretary, Shah’s regret is that Togadia has not been invited “but those who are associated with the Babri Masjid like Iqbal Ansari are”. “I survived the February 27 incident, I believe, only to see this day,” he says.
Former VHP leader Neeraj Jain, who was the convenor of the BJP’s legal cell and defended several accused in the 2002 riots, says, “I went there in 1990 and later in 1992 to be part of the historic moment when Hindus decided to reclaim the temple… Each one of us had picked up a stone and joined in the effort to bring down the (Babri) Masjid.” Jain, who now heads the Hindu Jagran Manch, says he will visit the temple when the construction is complete to offer “ice-cream and gulab jamun” to Lord Rama — two sweet items that he gave up as a vow for Ram Mandir.
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