Thursday, November 22, 2012

Riot stain exacts price from doctor Finding a bride for son becomes difficult for Ahmedabad ex-Bajrang Dal chief


Ahmedabad, Aug. 28: The Gujarat riots have begun extracting a price from accused Atul Vaidya: he cannot get a bride for his engineer son because he has become a social outcast of sorts.
Whether the 50-year-old medical practitioner has more to pay will be known a few months later when the court verdict is delivered on the Gulbarg Society massacre, one of the riots’ highest-profile cases.
Vaidya, then the firebrand city chief of the Bajrang Dal, has been charged with mobilising and instigating the mob that murdered former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri and 68 others on February 28, 2002.
The doctor claims he is innocent but admits that following his arrest in 2009 — he got bail 10 days later — he has been facing social ostracism.
He says the Gulbarg massacre was “unfortunate” but does not “regret” anything: “Why should I have any regrets or remorse when I haven’t done anything wrong?”
He is sorry for himself and his family. Sitting at his clinic, where he gets few patients nowadays following prolonged closure during the trial, Vaidya says: “It seems the stigma is going to stay and ruin my happiness and family life for ever.”
After his 25-year-old son returned with an MTech degree from Britain a few months ago, Vaidya had tried to arrange a match for him. But every family he contacted rejected his proposal though his son would ordinarily have been a prize catch.
“I’ve been told that nobody wants a relationship with the family of an accused. Now I fear that my daughter, who is studying to be a chartered accountant, may face the same problem,” he says bitterly.
Vaidya was not named in the first information report: he was made an accused only after the Supreme Court-appointed special investigating team (SIT) took the case over in 2009. He says his close friends still visit him but is frustrated at what he describes as samaj (society).
Few of the hundreds of other riot accused have spoken of facing a social boycott. So it’s possible that Vaidya’s situation has to do with the samaj he belongs to: the educated upper middle class that tends to avoid those it sees as an embarrassment.
Most of the riot accused are slum dwellers and menial workers. Of the few who are from a higher socio-economic group, the majority are political functionaries with entrenched connections that go beyond ordinary social ties.
Vaidya, though, had quit both the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), of which he had been a member, in a huff in 2007.
He is bitter at the VHP for failing to provide any legal assistance to him, which he says made him feel like an “orphan” — a complaint that sounds a little strange considering he left the outfit two years before he was charged in the case.
“I didn’t like (VHP leader) Praveen Togadia’s idea of campaigning against Narendra Modi in the 2007 elections,” Vaidya explains. “He had differences with Modi and wanted to defeat him; but I admire Modi.”
Vaidya hasn’t joined the BJP but recently met the chief minister at his bungalow for half an hour. The meeting was arranged by Jaydeep Patel, a former VHP state secretary and an accused in the Naroda Gam riot case who too has left Togadia’s outfit and become close to Modi.
Vaidya seems to believe that Modi may be able to help where Togadia couldn’t, though he will not say that in so many words. He won’t reveal what he and the chief minister had discussed but drops ample hints that he is not too worried about the Gulbarg verdict.
“You take it from me, even (former state minister) Maya Kodnani and (former Bajrang Dal activist) Babu Bajrangi will be acquitted or receive light punishment in the Naroda Patia case,” he says. The Naroda Patia judgment is expected tomorrow.
According to the SIT, Vaidya had organised a meeting on the night of February 27 and plotted the attack, said government lawyer R.C. Kodadar, a member of the prosecuting team.
“They planned how to carry out the attack, arranged equipment to pull down the boundary wall, and organised sharp-edged weapons and inflammable material to burn the hapless residents alive,” said Ehsan’s son Tanvir Jafri.
An eyewitness identified Vaidya in the courtroom as one of those who had instigated the mob. The 67 accused include former BJP councillor Vipin Patel and former Congress councillor Meghsinh Chaudhary.
“I have been framed,” claims Vaidya. “My only crime was that I was city president of the Bajrang Dal at the time of the incident.”
He says the two-year, day-to-day trial that ended recently ruined his medical practice.
“I had to be present in the fast-track court from 10am to 5pm every working day. I was able to reopen my clinic only a month ago. Naturally, I have lost all my patients.”
Vaidya remains a hardcore Hinduvta adherent and says he has two enemies: Togadia and social activist Teesta Setalvad, who played a key role in reopening the riot cases, including the Gulbarg case.
“We gave the prime of our youth to strengthen the VHP, which used us and then dumped us,” he complains. “Today, I feel that an organisation like the VHP should not exist.”
He is confident he can “clear” his name in court but is not sure he can get rid of the social “stigma”.
“This is my plight, my biggest problem and I don’t know how to cope with it,” he says.