The 2002 riots are a repressed memory for many of today’s Ahmedabad youngsters. They say they want to look to the future.
Some are pursuing careers in law, others in education. A harmony of sorts has been restored between the Hindus and the Muslims, they add. Wedding invites are once again being extended and neither side wants a repeat of 2002.
But in unspoken ways, the ghosts of the bloodshed remain.
It’s been 14 years since a railway coach full of Hindu pilgrims erupted in flames, sparking three days of rioting in cities across Gujarat. And in the two worst-affected areas — the Ahmedabad suburb of Naroda Patiya and the Muslim-majority Gulberg housing society — the scars are still visible.
In Naroda, Muslim families still leave their homes before the annual Navratri and Rath Yatra festivals. “Whenever a large Hindu crowd gathers around our area, we leave with our valuables,” says college student Asif Mansuri, 20. “We go away and live with relatives. We return after the Hindu festivities end. We are all still scared.”
Mansuri is one of five siblings born to an autorickshaw driver. He was six at the time of the riots. “I remember men with swords setting houses on fire,” he says. “We returned after two years of living in relief camps and relatives’ homes.”
His two elder brothers had to drop out of school. “They had to earn for the family. It took us years to make back what we lost. If not for the riots, they too would have studied and had good jobs. Instead they work as labourers at a construction site,” Mansuri says.
To set things right, Mansuri plans to pursue a degree in law. “There is no point getting upset about what happened. It’s in the past. I want to work hard and help my family,” he says. “With a degree, I will earn decent money and also fight for my community’s rights.”
Yamran Qureshi, 20, a college student from Naroda Patiya, doesn’t want to discuss the massacre. “The past is behind us. It’s time to move on,” she says.
But her talk is sprinkled with markers from the past.
Yamran’s family lost their home to the riots. Her father, a printer, worked overtime to settle his family into a new house in another area and educate his children.
“For many years we didn’t buy new clothes during Eid to save money for mine and my brother’s education,” she says. “After I graduate, I want to teach underprivileged children. I don’t want anyone to struggle for an education as we did.”
The struggle for education has meant a struggle for jobs and some say this is where the government could step in and help. “My husband works as a retail salesman, earning just Rs 8,000. After my father-in-law retires from his temporary job at the state transport department in two years, how will we pay our bills,” says 23-year-old Farheen Malik of Naroda village.
“Many children dropped out of school or missed a year or more after the riots,” adds Usman Sheikh, a field officer with NGO Aman Biradri. “Some parents were too afraid to send their children to school, others simply didn’t have any resources left to fund their education. These families also had no time to think of the young ones’ mental well-being. So many have never dealt with the trauma of that period.”
“If Muslims suffered at the hands of Hindus, the latter suffered too,” says Ritudevi Chauhan, 20, a resident of Behrampura, which also saw rioting in 2002. “My mother was beaten by the police. We don’t trust the government machinery but are glad that Muslims and us are friends again.”
2002 riot timeline
On February 27, 2002, a fire gutted a train at the Godhra train station in Gujarat, burning 59 Hindu pilgrims alive.
– As news of the blaze spread, Hindu mobs rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods in several cities across Gujarat, setting homes, shops and people on fire.
– In the three days of bloodshed that followed, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed; 223 people went missing and 2,500 others were injured.
– The biggest death tolls came from the Ahmedabad suburb of Naroda Patiya and the Muslim-majority Gulberg housing society.
– On February 28, rioters arrived in trucks at Gulberg and set houses ablaze. Residents were dragged out and burnt alive. 69 people were killed, including former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri.
– More than 100 people have been convicted in riots cases in a series of trials over the succeeding 14 years.
– In the most recent such verdict, on June 17, a special court sentenced 11 convicts to life in prison,12 to seven years and another to 10 years in jail in the Gulberg Society massacre case.