16 years on, survivors of India’s communal riots bank on charities

Mahesh Trivedi

Published: Updated:

Survivors of India’s bloody Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 have still been leading a wretched life, thanks to the lackadaisical attitude of the government in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wealthy home state of Gujarat.

Even 16 years after the country’s worst anti-Muslim pogrom, that left 2,000 people dead and thousands maimed, some 3,500 dirt-poor, displaced families continue to live in sub-human conditions in tumbledown dwellings in surroundings stinking to high heaven in 83 rehabilitation colonies in eight districts across the western Indian state.

The 17,000-odd unfortunate residents, all Muslims, lack even the basic amenities like proper roads, streetlights, drinking water, sewage pipes, and make do without public clinics and schools.

And this despite making 21 representations to the authorities in the past three years, and selfless non-government organizations (NGOs) like Jan Vikas, Jan Sangharsh Manch, NIswan, ANHAD and Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan time and again holding protest demonstrations demanding justice, rehabilitation and compensation for the victims.

Barbarous clashes

With as many as 200,000 people rendered homeless during the three-month-long intermittent, barbarous clashes, the 83 relief clusters were hurriedly built by Jamait-e-Ulema-e-Hind, Islamic Relief Committee, etc. as temporary shelters.

But with militant Hindu organizations striking terror here, there and everywhere, the worried families never returned to their ransacked houses and instead made the squalid, fly-infested shanty colonies their permanent residence.

“We can’t even go back to our own homes where we stayed before the riots because we are witnesses in many riot cases and the headstrong accused are out on parole. Hence we fear for our lives,” said riot survivor Abdul Sheikh who lost his wife and six children in the violent communal conflagration that erupted and spread throughout the state after 59 Hindus were burnt alive in a train fire near Godhra railway station in central Gujarat.

Indeed, in the absence of any address proof documents left behind in their riot-ravaged houses, the down-at-heel families also have no access to the government’s beneficiary schemes for the have-nots in Gujarat which has witnessed large-scale riots at least six times in the past 50 years, the worst one in 2002 under the watch of Modi himself.

Ownership rights

“They have neither been given homes by the state government nor handed ownership rights by plot owners even after 16 years. With land prices going through the ceiling, the hard-up residents are always on tenterhooks, fearing eviction any day,” says Hozefa Ujjaini, a dedicated activist of Jan Vikas, an NGO which has been taking up the cudgels for the riot-hit since 2002.

Gagan Sethi, a self-effacing human rights activist and Jan Vikas founder, told Al Arabiya English that there was a need to bring about a fundamental change in the way the riot victims are seen, adding that in UN terminology, they are defined as internally displaced persons and hence deserve all government benefits.

Independent analysts said that 2,000 men, women and children, mostly Muslims, were killed in the 2002 riots that also saw destruction of 302 dargahs, 209 mosques and 13 madrasas and put the property loss to Muslims at Rs 2.44 billion.

Court cases

But the state government controlled by a Hindu national party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), maintained that the violent clashes had claimed lives of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. As Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia said, the ruling BJP and its biased administration did not stir a finger to build houses for the riot victims and distributed only peanuts as compensation.

It was left to the NGOs like Jan Vikas who kept knocking at the doors of legal courts to secure a square deal for the affected families. Effective micro-level monitoring of investigation and prosecution of major carnage cases by Citizen for Justice and Peace had led to the conviction of 120 rioters, including a former influential woman minister who has been awarded life imprisonment.

Deep chasm

The Society for Promotion of Rationality, an award-winning charity, had quickly offered a sterling yeoman’s service by helping save an academic year for over 20,000 students (as riots happened right before the end of the academic year), securing modest compensation and basic livelihood for hundreds of riot-hit, aiding 3,000 victims in rebuilding their ramshackle dwellings and saving precious lives by supplying critical medicines.

In other words, the deep and dangerous chasm between Hindus (80 percent of population) and Muslims (10 percent) in saffronized Gujarat means that the ostracized minority community is forced to live in ghettos and there is not the ghost of a chance of even a well-heeled Muslim acquiring a house in a Hindu locality.

Under the circumstances, the 17,000 riot-affected people in relief colonies living on a wing and a prayer can only bank on NGOs.