Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tragedy of Sardarpura

Both Survivors And Convicts Feel Politically Victimized

Rajkumar Keswani

Sardarpura (Mehsana): It was the job of the ‘munsif ’ to deliver justice in the olden days. Living up to his name, Munsif Khan, a retired police constable, was the main man who provided the evidence which nailed the truth in the Sardarpura massacre of the post-Godhra riots in 2002. Thirty-one persons, all Patels who were part of the mob which burnt alive 33 Muslims in this north Gujarat village, were sentenced to life imprisonment. 

    It was only after Munsif showed the guts to speak the truth in court that other witnesses mustered the courage to come out and testify on the nightmare of March 1, 2002, in Sheikh Vas where men, women and children who had huddled inside the only pucca house in the neighbourhood went up in flames amid blood-curdling cries of a 2000-strong mob.
    Munsif, who was in police service then, was dismissed when he stood up for justice but the brave man fought till the Supreme Court to get a reinstatement order in his favour. Strangely the victims were all Sheikhs who used to work in fields owned by Patels. Today, he finds that all the three political players in Gujarat — the Congress (P I Patel), BJP (Kantibhai Patel) and GPP (P M Patel) — have fielded Patel candidates for the Vijapur seat in Mehsana district.
    “The BJP government first used the Patels to kill Muslims, then allowed them to go to jail for their crime and is now telling the convicts’ families that they should bring back the party to power to give the prisoners any chance of getting acquittal from the Gujarat high court,” says Munsif who, along with other Pathans, used to live right next to the Sheikh cluster.
    The Sardarpura judgment, which came in November 2011, still rankles in the entire Patel community in and around Vijapur, the nearest big town. Munsif ’s views are endorsed by the families of both the victims and the convicts. “My sympathies and prayers are with the Congress candidate, though he too is a Patel,” says Munsif, who moves around with police protection ensured by the Supreme Court.
    Rinkle Patel (18) says “I am really very angry that the police investigations falsely implicated my family members.” She recalls that the workers in the family’s farms in 2002 were all Sheikhs and her father and grandfather, who have been convicted, would have never harmed them. All the Sheikh labourers who survived the attack have moved out.
    They now live 25km away on the fringes of Satnagar village in the neighbouring Himmatnagar district in a cluster of homes constructed by a Vadodara trust run by Mihir Kothari. The 20 Muslims who live here are now registered voters in Himmatnagar constituency, represented by minister of state for home, Praful Patel, who has never visited the camp. A CISF picket has been set up nearby for their protection.
    The very mention of Sardarpura brings tears to the eyes of Khatija Bi (70) who lost her daughter-in-law in the carnage. Her son too died recently, leaving her to fend for herself in this cruel world. “We lived with them (Patels) for ages and they betrayed us and killed our families.” she wails.
    “Nobody has asked for our vote so far,” says Bashira Bi, whose husband was among the 33 victims, adding “perhaps we don’t exist for them.”