Behind a 2002 riot case compromise, a village empty of Muslims, with the accused now its sarpanch
The grill doors of Haji Pir Ki Dargah are half open. Two women are sitting inside on rusty chairs that are held together by gunny sacks, soaking in the Saturday morning sun. Noticing visitors, one gets up to fetch a cot from a corner of the house.
The dargah and its scanty furniture comprise the entirety of Sakina Fakir and sister Hasinaben’s world. After the post-Godhra riots, they are the only two Muslims left in Paliyad village of Gandhinagar district.
On January 31, following a prolonged trial, an additional district court in Kalol acquitted all the 26 accused in the case. The order said most of the eyewitnesses had turned hostile and a “compromise was struck between the accused and the victims”. While no written documents were submitted, the court accepted the oral information given “about the amount (not mentioned in the order) of compensation given to the victims by the accused”.
The accused had been booked for “rioting, attacking Muslims, burning their houses and destroying properties” and for insulting “their religion by damaging the (Haji Pir Ki) dargah”
One of the eyewitnesses who the court said had turned hostile was Sakina, who is in her early 60s. She denies this, and both she and Hasinaben, who is a few years younger, say they are still fighting the case. “Woh log 10-20 hazaar de kar samjhauta karna chahte the. Maine mana kar diya (The accused wanted us to compromise by giving us
Rs 10,000-20,000. I refused),” Sakina says, adding that while she has also heard there has been a compromise, she doesn’t know of anyone accepting money to settle the case.
The dargah was one of the places attacked by rioters on the night of February 28, 2002, a day after the fire on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station. Sakina and Hasinaben’s home was destroyed. While the two sisters shifted to the dargah, their brother left Paliyad with his family and their father took shelter at a relief camp, where he later died.
“A mob of 500 to 1,000 men barged in. They thrashed my brother. They destroyed all the houses and robbed this dargah,” Sakina says. “Bees ke kareeb ghar the Musalmanon ke, dheere-dheere sabne gaon chhod diya (There were around 20 families of Muslims in the village, one by one they all left).”
Now the sisters look after the dargah and live on the alms offered by the stray visitors. Hasinaben has difficulty speaking since a paralytic attack some years ago.
Sakina says they are determined to stay. “All our relatives and people from our community left the village soon after the riots. This is our land, our village. We are just trying to keep this place intact. We won’t go anywhere,” she says.
‘Accused No. 1’ in the riot case, Natvarbhai Kalidas Patel, who is among the 26 acquitted, is now the village sarpanch. When The Sunday Express visited, Patel was not at the village.
Rasik K Patel, whose son Nitin, 21, is among those acquitted, says he is not surprised at the court order. “The entire case was bogus and full of lies. Gaon walon ne milke unko samjhaya ki shanti ke liye samjhauta kar lo (The villagers convinced the victims to compromise for peace),” he says.
Vinod S Patel, 42, also acquitted, claims he had no role in the violence. “They dragged my name in just because I was known to them.”
Another accused, Govind Patel, is now chairman of Kalol Nagrik Sahkari Bank, College Road, Kalol.
A villager, Lalobhai Raval, claims the accused paid Rs 2.5 lakh to the dozen or so victims. “I have nothing to do with the case but I attended most of the court hearings,” he says.
The advocate who represented some of the victims expressed disappointment at how things had turned out. “The victims have not been consistent. When I learnt about the compromise, I left the case.” Requesting not to be quoted, he said, “The case was pending since long and the victims are very poor. And that’s the reason they chose to compromise. They couldn’t have fought the legal battle on their own.”
Activist Prita Jha, who was helping the victims, says she too withdrew after hearing about the compromise. “This is the biggest problem with the criminal justice system, and this is not restricted to the 2002 riots-related cases but other serious offences,” Jha says.
One of those who left the village following the 2002 violence was Sakina’s niece Madina Fakir, then 15, who now lives with her family at a relief camp in Nandasan in Mehsana district, about 50 km away. “As news of rioting came from various places, our Hindu neighbours told us to hide in the fields. We spent a day in fear. The mob arrived at midnight. They tried to kill my father Chandmiyan; he was hit with a sword in his left eye,” says Madina.
Her mother Hasinaben says Madina was about to get married in March 2002 and they had arranged the money, and bought all the jewellery. “The rioters took away everything.”
Around 34 other families affected by the 2002 riots live at this relief camp. Hasinaben says they feel reassured living among Muslims. “I won’t go back. There is no mosque, madarasa or even a kabaristan (graveyard) in Paliyad. We survive on alms. We can’t fight legal battles,” she says.
Madina’s husband Jaan Mohammed — the two finally got married a year after the riots — says principles can only take them so far. “We can compromise with the accused if we get a good amount, so that we can end this poverty. Or else we will keep fighting.”