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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Final Toll: 1,180

Seven years after the 2002 Gujarat riots,228 ‘missing’ people will be declared dead,pushing the official death toll to over 1,000.

Ayesha Khan,anupam Chakravartty And Parimal Dabhi | Published: February 22, 2009 10:23:05 pm

Seven years after the 2002 Gujarat riots,228 ‘missing’ people will be declared dead,pushing the official death toll to over 1,000. AYESHA KHAN,ANUPAM CHAKRAVARTTY AND PARIMAL DABHI meet families who spent the last few years waiting for their loved ones

Shaheen Sindhi,Sabarkantha. It’s only now that she has stopped asking for her mother and siblings

The weeds now grow wild through gutted remains of her old home the mob had razed and torched,the scar remains on her forehead. But Shaheen Sindhi,all of ten,loves being back again. She now lives with her father and uncle,next door to what was once her home. But Shaheen keeps going back to the soot-blackened debris,a home she was too young to remember living in. It’s only now,says her uncle Ayub Sindhi,that she has stopped asking about her four “missing” siblings and her mother.

Shaheen’s is the first—and so far,the only—Muslim family to return to their home in Kidiyad village that they left seven years ago,fleeing to a rehabilitation camp in Modasa when Gujarat burned and bled. She is now the only Muslim student at the Kidiyad primary school. None of the other Muslims has dared to return.

“I like it better here,not Modasa. Here there is ghee,lots of milk,and I can play in the farm,” she says.

Shaheen doesn’t think it odd that a .303 rifle of the lone policeman the government sent to permanently stay with her family,hangs from a nail on the living room wall,above her toys.

The Sindhis were a prosperous family of farmers—large tracts of land,cattle,vehicles,a big home—until that February day in 2002. That morning,word soon reached them that the mobs were burning,raping and killing in the neighbouring villages. There were no policemen,no one to seek refuge with. So Shaheen’s father Bashir and uncle Ayub packed all their kin and neighbours into the two mini trucks they owned and fled. Only to run into a wave of armed men at Limbadia crossroad. “I was driving one truck,my brother,the other. There were about 100 of us in all—about 30 were children. Later,only seven bodies were found in an identifiable state,” says Ayub Sindhi.

But Shaheen was lucky. Someone had flung the child—she was two years old then—from the truck and she fell unconscious,a deep gash on her forehead. “A Hindu woman found her and took her home. She later handed her to us,” recalls Ayub.

Very few in the truck managed to jump out as the mob ran in and butchered people. The women and children were trapped. Soon,the two trucks went up in flames and stood burning that way for the next three days. What remained was some molten,twisted metal.

“Our grandmother,my bhabhi,Bashir’s two sons and two daughters,they are all gone. The children were never found,” says Shaheen’s aunt Nathiben,also a survivor.

Seven years later,now that the missing are finally being declared dead,Ayub wants to move on. The frequent visits to the police,the reports in the media and the numerous court depositions were all getting tiresome. “Kitne baar bole,sab ko mar diya,hamari aankho ke saamne,humne dekha hain (How many times do we say,they killed them all,we saw them being killed),” he says.

Near the Sindhis’ new home,an old Hindu neighbour,Natha Panchal,spreads out a cot for Ayub. “How dare anyone say they can’t come back? Why can’t they (the Muslims) return,” asks Panchal,pointing to the scattered ruins of what were once homes of his Muslim neighbours.

The village sarpanch is Manjula Panchal. She took over from Salim Sindhi,who is now in a riot rehabilitation colony in Modasa. Neither Manjula nor Panchal wants to talk about that day. “We wish there were more people around here like we once had; it has become very quiet,” was all that Manjula would say.

Of the 100-odd people in the truck that day,58 were technically declared ‘missing’. “There were 30 children,those trucks stood burning for three days; where will the proof remain,” asks Salim Sindhi,waiting for officials to formally communicate a declaration of their death.

Firoz Sheikh,Naroda Patiya. For 5 years,he waited for his wife; then remarried

Firoz’s seven-month-pregnant wife,Kausarbanu,was among the many who went missing after the mobs receded,leaving more than 80 charred and dismembered bodies in Naroda Patiya. She was never found.

He used to live in Hussain Nagar Chali in Naroda Patiya and his wife had gone to her parents’ home nearby for her delivery,when the mobs surrounded the area. “I had gone out for work. I ran there to look for Kausarbanu but could not enter the locality. After they had gone,I looked for her all over Naroda Patiya. No one had seen her body,” he said. Firoz’s mother-in-law and other relatives were also killed.

“For five years,I kept searching and hoping some miracle would bring her back. Then I re-married two years ago,” says Firoz. He now lives with his wife at Arsh Nagar in Vatva area and drives an autorickshaw.

Shabana Sheikh,Naroda Patiya. She searched for grandmother for several days

Shabana and her family were staying in Jawahar Colony of Naroda Patiya when the mob came on February 28,2002. The family fled to the safety of an armed police post nearby but Shabana’s ailing 78-year-old grandmother,Tarkashibi,was left behind.

“The mob was getting closer and there was no way we could carry her. We decided to hide her in a toilet upstairs but she too said nobody would want to harm an immobile old woman. But later,neighbours who escaped said they had seen two rioters carrying her and throwing her on to a burning rickshaw,from the first floor,” says Shabana.

Her body was never found.

“We searched for many days,but soon lost hope. What is it worth now if they declare her officially dead,” she says.

Mohammed Hussain Sheikh,Naroda Patiya. His daughter and mother-in-law were never traced

That February morning,when the rioters arrived,Mohammed,his wife,their one-year-old daughter,Sheikh’s mother-in law and some relatives ran. “But there was such chaos that we were soon separated from each other. I,along with some of my relatives,took refuge on the terrace of a Hindu home. But my mother-in-law,my wife Noorjahan and our daughter were not with us,” says Sheikh,a textile worker in Naroda Patiya.

Sheikh later found the body of his wife. But not of his mother-in-law and daughter.

“They are all gone now. All that is now left is government paperwork. We had petitioned all the different investigating agencies but they were never found. Now they will come with a piece of paper telling us they are dead,” he says.

Naseem Mohammad Shaikh,Vadodara. For seven years,she kept hoping her husband and parents would come back

Naseem’s is a household name in Kalol. And not just because she is the first woman in Gujarat to have figured,three years ago,among nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize,for her efforts for the survivors of the 2002 carnage in Panchmahals.

Seven years ago,in Delol village,her neighbours had suddenly gone into a frenzy that February morning. They were screaming hate,pulling out choppers and knives,chasing their neighbours. The killing lasted for the next two days and when it was over,Naseem had lost 22 of her own. Some of the dismembered bodies were flung into the nearby Goma river,others were scattered in the slush of nearby fields.

Miraculously,as it now seems,Nassem was at a local maternity hospital that day. When Dr Macchi of Kalol Delivery Centre was putting the sutures on her,the mob was probably killing her husband,father,mother and her close relatives. Only her five-year-old son survived. “It was only later that village elders said they were all dead. None of their bodies were found,” she says.

Naseem continued to live on hope for a while. “A Hindu man in our village,Khoya Patel,saved my son,Shoaib. I kept believing some other kind souls would have saved the others too,” she says. All these seven years,the police never confirmed their deaths.

Since then,she has been living in a rehabilitation camp in Kalol and refuses to go back to the village. For good reasons. “My brother who survived the killing had earlier returned to our village. He was still in great trauma and when a bomb went off in the village bus stand,he lost his sanity. His wife returned alone to the rehabilitation camp,” she says.

Aminaben Sheikh,Gulbarg Society. She knows her daughter won’t return

Aminaben Sheikh is still fighting for the custody of her grandson,Muzaffar alias Vivek,but after seven years,she will finally give up waiting for her daughter Firoza. The Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team had found Muzaffar at the home of a Hindu woman in Saraspur,Ahmedabad. The woman,who found the child near the ruins of Gulbarg Society,had taken him home and renamed him Vivek. The SIT team had carried out a DNA test on the boy and found he was the son of Mohammed Salim and Jaibunissa Shaikh. The couple,their two sons and the rest of the family had sought refuge in Gulbarg Society on the fateful day.

Amina is relieved that at least her grandchild is alive but had always hoped to find her 19-year-old daughter Firoza and her 70-year-old mother-in-law Afzalbibi too. Both disappeared in the mayhem,never to be found again. Now they will be declared dead.

Nasir Hussain Diwan and Faqir Diwan,Gulbarg Society. Their three sisters will now be declared dead

Nasir and his younger brother Faqir Mohammed Diwan lost four of their family members in the Gulbarg Society massacre. They could only find the body of their mother Sharifa,not of their three sisters,Farida,Sultana and Nargis.

The Diwans used to live in Dupsinh ni Chali near Gulbarg Society and were among those who sought shelter at Congress MP Ehsan Jaffri’s home.

Nasir was at his in-laws’ home in Visnagar when the killing began. Faqir jumped from the terrace of Jaffri’s burning home to the safety of an armed police van,carrying his niece Heena. “Our sisters,along with other women,were in a room in Jaffri’s house. When the mob entered the house,we all fled in different directions,” says Faqir. “We later identified my mother’s body from a mark on her neck. The remaining bodies were so charred that no one could be identified.”

Nasir says the official declaration of the death of his three sisters means nothing for him now. “I knew all along they will never come back,” he says.

Satish Mishra,Vadodara. Search for his wife’s body will finally be over

Satish Mishra,who hails from Sultanpur in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh,believes the Godhra Civil Hospital and Panchmahals District Administration misplaced his wife Mangla Devi’s charred remains on February 27,2002,and that someone else may have mistakenly performed her funeral rites.

Mishra,Mangla and their daughter Archana were on the Sabarmati Express when the train was burnt,killing 59 people. Two days later,he regained consciousness at the SSG Hospital in Vadodara,face charred and unable to speak. His daughter had survived but nobody knew where Mangala was.

The police believed Mishra could be a key witness in the case and posted cops to protect him at his home,until they were mercifully taken off a year and a half ago. “How could I be an eyewitness to my wife’s death when officially they say she is still missing? I don’t even know if my wife was charred to death in the S-6 coach or if she was treated in some hospital and died,” Satish wonders.

The district authorities had told him that a team of doctors had conducted DNA tests on unclaimed corpses and the tests didn’t match. Once he recovered,Satish went to Godhra and the Civil Hospital there confirmed Mangala was brought to the hospital and had died. But the list of missing persons on the notice board of the hospital had Mangala’s name. “How was I to know that while I kept searching for Mangala,I would become the butt of a cruel joke—that her remains might possibly have been misplaced?”

The fight for relief

On February 28 this year,the official death toll in the Godhra and post-Godhra riots will rise from 952 to 1,180. That’s when the people who went missing in the riots will officially be declared dead at the end of the stipulated seven years since their disappearance.

The relatives of those who went missing—and now declared dead—can claim the compensation amount announced by both the Central and state governments after they are issued the certificates of death.

In January 2007,the Centre had announced a relief package of Rs 106.95 crore for the families of the dead and injured. Relatives of those who died in the riots were paid Rs 3.5 lakh each,in addition to the ex-gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh given by the state government. Similarly,the injured were given Rs 1.25 lakh each by the Centre,in addition to the compensation paid by the state government.

Yusuf Sheikh of the Aantarik Visthapit Hak Rakshak Samiti and Gagan Sethi of the Centre for Social Justice have moved Gujarat High Court for full monetary compensation to the relatives of those who were killed and injured in the riots. In their petition,they have also demanded government jobs for the next of kin of those dead and employment for those who lost their jobs during the riots.

Syed Khalique Ahmed

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