Abdul Hafiz Lakhani
AHMEDABAD – They had gathered to remember the victims of a carnage that was unleashed on the Muslims of the state of Gujarat in 2002. More than 2,000 were brutally killed and hundreds of women and girls were raped, and many thousands displaced in the spring of 2002 in the well-planned pogrom in the state of Gujarat.
It was an emotional and heartbreaking press conference at Prashant (Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace) an Ahmedabad based NGO fighting for the infamous Gujarat riots victims on 28th February – the 13th anniversary of the pogrom that took place under then then chief minister Narendra Modi. About 35 survivors were present on the occasion. Some of them described their horrible experience during the riots which still haunts them.
Several victims with tears in eyes including Nayeem Ansari, Sairaben, Saleem bhai, Ishrat Jehan, Jannatbibi, Yusuf Khan, and Majeedbhai recounted their nightmare at a press conference organized by Prashant.
All survivors in one voice vowed to support the Mumbai-based activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand in their testing time when the state government with the help of police is making all-out efforts to curb their voice. The victims and witnesses repeatedly challenged the government to mend its ways of getting justice to the victims rather than bailing out and reinstating the seriously accused criminals. The victims said nothing is greater than truth and God is there to give justice to them. They said their country’s law is powerful and they trusted it fully.
Abdul Majeed Mohammad Usman Sheikh, 60, broke down and then regained his composure and vowed to fight till the end for justice. An eyewitness in the infamous Naroda Patiya massacre case, Sheikh claimed that he had seen VHP leader Babu Bajrangi cut open a pregnant woman’s womb.
“Half of the accused are out on bail. The victims need justice and so does Setalvad,” said Sheikh, who lost eight members of his family in the riots.
Quoting from the Gita and Quran, Sheikh said that the scriptures did not preach hatred. It is people’s mentality that is wrong, he said.
Another victim and witness, Naeem Sheikh, said that the survivors feel as if they are still being encircled and besieged by a bloodthirsty mob. “What was our fault? Was it that we were Muslims?” he asked and went on to add that had it not been for Setalvad the government would have put the victims behind the bars as the accused.
Rallying behind Setalvad, another victim survivor Saira Sandhi said that they did not know anything about courts. “Circumstances have taught us everything,” she said, adding that even when they go to get documents photocopied, they are charged. “Teesta has not charged anything from the victims for the last 13 years,” she said. Later, the victims joined a group from the Jan Sangharsh Manch, which is also fighting for the riot victims, at a program organized in Sardar Baug, in Ahmedabad.