Ten years after 31 Muslims were killed here,dragged out of lofts,grocery boxes,water tanks of a one-room house they had hidden in,there is talk of peace in Sardarpura.
The 22 Muslim families who remain,all of them Pathans,know what has prompted this change of heart: the conviction in November last year of 31 for the massacre of March 1,2002. The Patels,always the dominant caste here,subjugating both the minority Muslims and the lower-caste Dalits,find themselves unusually on the back foot. And they have been courting the Pathans to get them to drop the complaints,to get their family members out of jail,and to avoid endless court battles.
However,as Munsaf Khan Pathan says,they cant find inside them the pardon that the Patels seek. A dismissed police constable,he once thought the law was at least on his side till that night.
They (the Patels) have been calling us for village meetings every week,where the present panchayat leaders claim they have realised their mistake. They want us to file fresh affidavits in the local court withdrawing our complaints and the affidavits filed earlier in the 2002 riots Even an offer of several crores will not change our decision.
Shafiq may be just a boy but he says he understands the scheming and plotting of the Patels. They are luring young boys from our community with job offers and elders with offers of more farm land for agriculture if we withdraw our statements, he says.
Once Muslims comprised 10 per cent of the total population of Sardarpura village,including Pathans,Sheikhs,Balochs,Mansooris,Nagoris etc. Most of those who died were Sheikhs,cornered in the kitchen house,the last such structure down a lane in the Sheikh Mohalla,itself located inside Pathanwadi.
The Pathans got saved as most escaped or went into hiding. Munsaf took his family to Sundarpur village.
While he still harbours the guilt of not doing enough for his Sheikh neighbours,Munsaf admits: I couldnt have forgiven myself if any member of my family died. He believes they were also lucky as their area only had lower-caste Hindus. Probably thats why we are alive today.
Ironically,not only have the Pathanwadi Muslims come closer to each other after the riots,they have a better relationship with the Dalits as well. The lower castes feel more protected with the Pathans than the Patels.
The Patels,meanwhile,have cornered 2,000 to 3,000 bighas of fertile land in Sardarpura,relegating the Pathans to 30 to 40 bighas.
Another example of domination is the Sardapura bazaar,once a hub of Muslim traders. The riots began with torching of three shops here. Later,the panchayat handed these over to the Patels.
The Patels finished everything,still they are not satisfied. They also want to grab the little left with us, says Munsafs 85-year-old mother Mehrunisa,now the oldest surviving Muslim in Sardarpura.
After five years of struggle,the Pathans have got a small patch of land in the market where they are building six shops.
It hurts them when Ramesh Patel,son of former sarpanch Kachra Patel,talks of regret. Kachra was convicted of the riots and of having prompted others to join the violence. He had won the sarpanch elections with 100 per cent votes in 2002.
Now running his fathers farm,Ramesh claims: My father wanted to rise high in politics. He got attracted to the riches he was promised by political outfits. The outcome is that Patel farmers are serving terms in jails but those who involved the panchayat leaders are roaming free. We were used to create riots and have ended up becoming political victims.
Among those the witnesses had named for instigating the panchayat leaders to riot were former Godhra MLA Haresh Bhatt and BJP MLA Narayan Lalu.
Rameshs defence cuts no ice with Dilawar Sheikh,then just 10,now working as a farm labourer in Satnagar a nearby village where the Muslims who fled or survived Sardarpura are settled.
Dilawar remembers that his family and neighbours had made similar pleas to the rioters,only to be burnt alive. The attackers asked us to touch their feet. People touched their feet and begged for mercy,only to be burnt with acid.
Sometimes though,Sardarpura feels like old times,such as during Eid and Navaratri. Pathanwadi glows like a new bride on such days,the Muslims say,with the Dalits celebrating both Navaratri and Eid.
The Patels too have their own festivities in the village square,grander and louder. The Pathans and the Dalits are not welcome.