7 years on, 50,000 riot victims still in relief camps in Gujarat

By Mumtaz Alam Falahi, TwoCircles.net,

Even seven years after Gujarat 2002 pogrom, 50,000 people are in relief camps, state government is sitting on its share of compensation package, 650 religious places are awaiting restoration; so situation is far away from being completely normal, says Ahmedabad resident and director of Islami Relief Committee of Gujarat in an interview with Mumtaz Alam Falahi of TwoCircles.net.

How do you recall the Gujarat 2002 pogrom today after seven years?

By just recalling what happened in the communal riots in those days in Gujarat I get frightened. I and my Gandhian friends were very anxious. We wanted to help people but were helpless. Those were horrific days of lawlessness and mayhem – a nightmare better to forget. In Juhapura area in Ahmedabad 17 Muslims were killed and about 500 houses of Muslims were put on fire. A non-Muslim was also killed in that area. Juhapura is described as a Muslim ghetto and a mini Pakistan, yet the destruction there was one-sided.

The pogrom had vertically divided the society on communal lines. How are the present relations between Hindus and Muslims?

Situation is getting normal as in some matters human beings are bound to have interaction with each other. But what should have been done for complete normalization of the situation has not yet been done. Of 1.5 lakh people uprooted during the pogrom, around two-third are still not in position to return to their homes. About 50,000 people are still living in relief camps and there has been no proper arrangement for their rehabilitation. About 650 religious places were destroyed or desecrated but the government has not done anything to restore them. The central government has given its share of the compensation package for the riot victims but the state government is silent about its share. This hostile approach of the state government towards the Muslim community is keeping the situation from getting completely normal. Had these things been done, people would have forgot their wounds.

How common Hindus and common Muslims take each other in common places like in buses or trains?

Not much hostile situation there. But fear still persists. Hindus and Muslims do not prefer to send their children in schools in each other’s areas. But Muslims have little options as they are forced to go to schools in Hindu areas. They fear while sending their girls to schools and colleges in those areas. Today the gap created between the two communities by the pogrom has got a little narrowed but the situation cannot be said completely normal.

It is said that most of those arrested in connection with Godhra train burning and POTA imposed on them are innocents but real perpetrators of the riot are still at large.

Godhra train burning incident was projected as a conspiracy and scores of Muslims were arrested only to justify the pogrom that followed the incident. Our Cell for Legal Help & Guidance, other NGOs, Human Rights Commission and Minority Commission have worked to prove that what was told by the government about Godhra train fire was not true. And we are hopeful that all the accused of the incident will be proved innocent and will be acquitted. On the other hand the policemen and politicians who were involved in the riot are being nabbed and sent to jail. But the state government is creating hurdles. First they made perpetrators as public prosecutors and helped the guilty and now when Supreme Court-appointed SIT wants to arrest some of the perpetrators the government is shielding them.

What are the Islami Relief Committee and other organizations doing for the families of Godhra train accused and others languishing in jail?

We are helping the families of Godhra train accused. We have also secured bail for 30-40 accused. We represented them in POTA Review Committee. Other groups like Action Aid are also coming up to help.

How much hopeful are you about justice?

Given the situation in India we cannot be fully sure of justice. We are making our best efforts and we have got some favorable verdicts from the Supreme Court. But even if, for example, the Godhra accused get acquittal after spending 7-8 years in jail, we cannot say they got justice. Because there is no system for the rehabilitation of those people who lost everything – families, homes and source of livelihood.