Saturday, November 24, 2012

'Patiyawalas' move on but ghastly memory still lingers

Gujarat EDN
IE 30AUG2012

Most people at Naroda Patiya continue to live in the same place that holds ghastly memories of February 28, 2002. But they live a far better life now with a wider road passing by and now a BRTS connecting what was a scene of one of Gujarat's goriest crimes of 2002.
Today, life runs at a fast space there, trying to catch up with the rest in the city. They have small shops but no regular income. A house rebuilt on the same land but no more chocking drains and bad road. Men and women both work to earn a decent living. The children do go to schools but cannot afford a better education.
However, the residents are happy. They feel proud of being the lone fighters from Patiya and proudly enjoy being called 'Patiyawalas'.
It was easy for them to have returned to their native places in Karnataka and Maharashtra from where they migrated 30 to 50 years ago to work in one-time booming textile mills of Ahmedabad, but they held on.
The victims of Patiya have become more self-reliant after riots. However for everything, as they mutually believe, there is a price to pay.
Nasir Khan Pathan, principal of a small school `Iqra' inside Patiya, has been teaching Mathematics and Science to children for the last 20 years. He saw it all and probably the worst -- eight rapes during riots -- and it was not easy to forget.
“We have fought relentlessly; never gave up. We lived at the same place -- rebuilt our houses and future,” he says.
He adds, “(Maya) Kodnani is a scar on the Narendra Modi government who being a woman also had no mercy for women and children. I think she enjoyed seeing women being raped and murdered on streets openly. If an MLA cannot protect his people, he should at least not kill them.”
Naroda Patiya, which had turned into a ghastly image of thick black smoke and charred houses for several days a decade ago, is now lively with brightly coloured new pucca houses, a school, grocery stores and more Muslims migrating in this area for its “popularity”.
Patiya housed around 5,000 Muslims in 10 major settlements -- Hussainnagar, Jawaharnagar, Masjid ki Chali, Khemchand ki Chali and Panditji ki Chali to name a few. The life of people there was just about earning daily bread. They still wonder what triggered the rioters to attack daily wagers who survived on working in neighbourhood factories.
Pesh Imam Abdul Salam Shamshuddin Sheikh, who has been taking care of the mosque since 1984, was at a Daur (a ceremony where Holy Quran is read out to mark a new beginning) inside Hussainnagar when his mosque was attacked. Noorani Masjid, the place where Patiya riots began, has no mark of the black day -- it had to be rebuilt from scratch. It was almost destroyed, religious books were burnt and thrown on road.
“There were several standing in khaki and kesari (saffron) clothes difficult to identify whether they were real police, Bajrang Dal members or fake. They crossed the road and attacked homes blindly. They threw petrol rags, cylinders, pulled people out, cut them with swords, threw children in fire. For a moment, I thought it was a horrifying dream,” says Imam.
He adds, “I am thrilled to know that politicians who triggered riots would be penalised for the worst inhuman act they committed. Bajrang Dal member Babu Bajrangi was showing saffron flags after breaking the mosque. I am happy that this goon would be punished.”
Mariam Bi, a widow who runs a chicken shop at Patiya, said after much reluctance, “There is a house in this lane where more than 15 girls and women were brought together. The rioters gang raped them inside and pulled them out to torch them.”
Jannatbibi Sheikh says, “The order has given us some relief that politicians cannot be spared only because they have power. We suffered endlessly and now it's their turn.”
Those who left Patiya to live a better life in rehabilitation colonies say they have not found peace there either. “We succumbed to the bad memories; got scared of reliving it, so thought of moving to a new place. For the last 10 years, we have been trying to build our old neighbourhood here but we have failed. My son's soul will now rest in peace who went missing from Patiya and is now probably dead,” says Zakir Shiekh, who now lives in Vatva.
Salim, who identified BJP MLA Kodnani among the main rioters, says, “We shifted base near a dumping ground of the city at Citizen Nagar, leaving everything behind destroyed. I always tried convince myself that the state government was not responsible for this. Today, when the court has found Kodnani and Patel guilty -- who once came to our poor colony for promises of better Patiya -- now I believe that the government was fully involved in the riots.”