Monday, April 12, 2010

An orgy of blood /A dance for justice – Part one:

Gujarat on February 27, 2002: a train carrying a group of radical Hindu devotees is set on fire at Godhra, Gujarat resulting in the deaths of 59 people, supposedly by a Muslim mob. Subsequent findings question this version, as it is proved fire could not have possibly set from outside the train, rather, scientific and forensic evidence point to the fire having initiated from within the train itself. Nevertheless, what transpired in the aftermath of this ghastly incident put humanity and Gujarat, especially her leaders and government to perpetual shame and disgrace.

I am least interested in propagating who was right or wrong; anyone can easily browse the internet and educate themselves with the facts and make an informed decision. My purpose is to relate the human side of this slaughter; the unbelievable horror of those innocents slain, treatment and deliberate rape and molestation of womenfolk in the presence of parents, siblings and children even and subsequent humiliation and agonizing slow dance for justice for those that (dare) to seek justice.

There were several Muslim neighborhoods that were targeted by the assailants, ones that suited their needs; neighborhoods that were small, defenseless and surrounded. Three stand out, for the numbers slain and severity of destruction; Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gaun and Gulbaag Colony. For the purpose of this narration, I chose two persons from Gulbaag Colony that, in my opinion, stand out for their stories to be told, be established, be accepted. One, Mrs. Zakiya Jafri, who witnessed her husband cut to pieces then burn and two, Firoz Gulzar Mohammed Pathan, who saw his mother and sister molested; who lost a total of five family members those few hours.

Zakiya Jafri (ZJ):

I take a train ride to Surat, some three hours away from Mumbai by a fast, air conditioned and comfortable train, the Shatabdi Express. Surat is where Mrs. Jafri now lives, with her eldest son and his family. The city surprises me; reasonably clean, well planned, very good roads and relatively less crowded; probably the best city I have had the fortune to visit in India. A 15 minute drive by rickshaw puts me outside of 25 Alvi House, a well maintained and modern villa amongst row of like ones. I am met by ZJ’s daughter in law, Duraiya who makes me comfortable in her bright, well furnished home. I am then introduced to ZJ, a motherly figure, someone I instantly warm up to, for she reminds me of my Mama. I feel queasy, instantly, for I have read about her torment, her tribulation, and am unsure if I will be able to question her about her nightmares without getting personally emotional.

I can at once feel the inner strength in her; she sees I am hesitant, nervous, so encourages me to ask away. I have been talking about my ordeals for over eight years; I have stood up to many hostile forces and still have to battle many more, powerful forces, so ask away. You have come from very far, it is the least I can do. True, ZJ is a remarkable and strong women; she has taken on the State of Gujarat, her Chief Minister, no less, and is battling for justice in the courts. So I let her do the talking mostly; the following is her story:

It was tense the night before, with people coming in and out, wanting to meet Ehsaan; there were continues telephone calls. I was used to that, what with Ehsaan being an ex Congress MP and his connections with those in power. Ehsaan got a call from a Hindu friend, who advised us to perhaps leave home for a few days. Ehsaan dismissed the suggestion, how could he possibly leave when so many looked up to him for support?

Next morning, Ehsaan was watering the garden when I called him in to have breakfast. He pleaded for a few more minutes when suddenly, I heard a commotion outside. There was a crowd gathered outside our compound gates, an angry crowd, a Hindu crowd. I felt fear for the first time; a trepidation. By the time Ehsaan came in, there were already a few neighbors gathered at our home, safety in numbers. Ehsaan immediately called the local police commissioner and requested help but only the commissioner, a Pande came, alone. He advised Ehsaan to leave Gulbaag Society, he would take us to safety, wherever we wanted to go; Ehsaan flatly refused. Instead, he requested two large police vans so that all of Gulbaags residents could be led to safety until the situation calmed. Pande said he would try and left; that was the last we hear from him.

There was now commotion in our house, with more people coming in and Ehsaan trying to reach the powers to be for help and reassure the gathering group at the same time. The first few stones fell harmlessly in the front lawn, but subsequent ones, the larger, more deadly ones were thrown from a vantage point diagonally across our house; our outer walls had been breached. Some of our neighborhood youths used these very stones to fight back but we were outnumbered. When the first fires started, I panicked; as did our lot. As one after another unit was set ablaze and there was still no response from the police or other politicians, Ehsaan asked me to go upstairs and wait; I did with a few other women. Ehsaan then thought he could buy our way out; maybe money could placate the crowds. He opened our safe and stuffed all the money we had into a bag and left the house to confront the mob outside. That is the last I saw of him alive.

I did not see what transpired between Ehsaan and the mob but many others did. He tried to reason with the apparent leaders who were inciting the crowd and then offered them money. They accepted the payoff, then asked Ehsaan to open the gates so they could take the money. As soon as he opened the gates, he was grabbed…

ZJ pauses here, sips water and is quite for a moment. My buttock muscles tighten and palms dampen as I dread what she might say next, whether she will break down, for surely I will not be able to hold back my tears as well. But she is strong and continues, though with an emotional quake in her voice, a far away expression in her eyes.

…then they killed him, mercilessly chopped him to pieces with knives and swords before burning him alive. He was a Muslim, yes, but he was a human first, we don’t melt this kind of treatment to animals even…my husband died an excruciating death. There was very little of him that remained we could bury, mostly ashes and pieces of bones. He was not alone though, 69 people perished here at Gulbaag, all innocent middle class citizens of this country. And they raped the women, right in front of the children. A young boy, Firoz, our neighbor, merely 16 – 17, saw his mother and sister being raped, then…then they set them on fire. Four orphan girls, young ones, teenagers, all raped and burned alive. Our other neighbor, a crippled tailor, held on to his door but it was kicked in; he was knifed to death. His wife was raped, then forced to sit in a plastic tub, then lit on fire. Miraculously, she survived and still visits me sometimes. Part of her body is just bones, the flesh burnt and melted away with the plastic.

When the police finally showed up after dark, they brought the police vans, and then asked us where we wanted to go. Where could we go? While we were in the police vans, a senior officer came up and lifted the curtains to peer at us, then commented how it was possible for so many to have survived when so many more had been “taken care of”. I shuddered, asked to be dropped off at a street corner where I sat until daybreak. The next morning, some people who knew Ehsaan took me to my relative’s home where I stayed for a few days until my sons came to get me.

It took me years to come out of a shell, I led life like a zombie until the NGO, Citizens for Peace and Justice, helped me come to my wits. We filed an FIR in 2006 and the slow process of justice takes its time, as you know. Insha’Allah, we’ll get there, eventually.

I ask if the Congress Party has helped. No, no help from them, although Sonia Gandhi (Congress Party President) did come to pay condolences. But so many others have come forward and expressed support and sympathy, individuals, NGO’s, civic groups as well as groups overseas. It is here then she breaks down and weeps, and the tears came. I wait for her to let out her anguish and compose herself (I do likewise). I console her, promising her I will pray for her and for the soul of her husband. I also assure her that justice will come, must come, for it is against Allah’s attributes for criminals to go unpunished. After a cool glass of delicious fresh mango juice, I bid farewell and take a rickshaw to my hotel.

1 comment:

Arif said...

I have marked 27 February in my calendar and every year in my own way mourn the thousands raped, murdered and killed. It's hypocritical of me. Because my silence is as much to blame for the dance of justice. Jazakallah for the post, Yusufali bhai.