The great wall of Sardarpura

The verdict With the conviction of so many in one case of communal violence, there is a sense of closure but insecurity persists
Last Updated : 19 November 2011, 19:49 IST
Last Updated : 19 November 2011, 19:49 IST

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For the 60 odd Muslim families here prior to 2002, the concept of protection walls did not exist. But March 1, 2002 changed it all.

A mob of hundreds of rioters circled the Sheikh mohalla in this sleepy township and targeted the Muslim families living there. In a last ditch attempt to save themselves, these families locked themselves up in the only house which had a strong concrete frame door.
But that also didn’t prevent the gory dance of death. The house was set afire. Thirty-three people, including 22 women and two children, died in one of the worst ever carnages during the post Godhra riots.

Most of the 60 odd families staying in Shiekh Mohalla, fled the place. About two dozen families staying in the vicinity of the mohalla dared to stay back. But life was never going to be the same. “We had never thought of constructing a wall around our house. The thought that we would be insecure never used to come to our mind. But all that has changed. We have seen our people being burnt alive. I somehow feel protected with the boundary wall around me,’’ says Mansub Khan, an eye witness of the massacre, who is amongst the 20 odd families who continue to stay on. A police picket with a handful of cops which has come up post 2002, is trying hard to bring in an element of security among the people here.

A decade long wait for justice and the palpable sense of insecurity clearly has shrouded the recent  verdict by a special court which sentenced 31 accused in the carnage to life behind bars. At Sardarpura, the reactions were muted. The handful of Muslim families staying here are mindful that there was a need to coexist.

But Mansub admits that its more to do with the ‘element of survival’. While the Muslims living here have to depend on the Patel-dominated trading communities, the latter employ Muslims as farm labourers. “You can call it the business of economics. Call what you may but we have to co-exist to survive,’’ says Mansub.

Concurs Shankerbhai Patel, a businessman of the area who has been running a small hardware shop from the last one decade. “There is no option but to co-exist,’’ Patel says, adding that what was done cannot be undone. Some have lost their family members and others are now facing the heat with their family members being in jail for a life term. Patel says, “Either way, life has to go on.”’

Khan said that it was after 2009 that there seemed to be some movement and there was a feeling amongst the members of the minority community, that the accused would be brought to justice.

Future hope

Even as one gets a feel of members of both communities compromising and living with insecurities, property deals are on between Muslims and Hindus sitting across the table at another small shop dealing in grocery business. Khan says, “It is a way of life and money is the bottomline, both communities know that.’’ Another resident Mansukh Prajapati said that the verdict is out and though there seems to be a sense of closure, there seems to be really no end as there are talks of going to the court on appeal and further hearings. “Ten years is a long time and still there is more to go,’’ he says.

“It is the future generations from both communities which must learn from such incidents,’’ said B V Patel, a retired teacher residing in Sardarpura. Patel said even after a decade, both sides suffer from a deep sense of loss and both are adapting to the changes they had to make in their lives.

Some are even mindful of the infamy the town has suffered. Says Salim Khan: “Sardarpura  was a nondescript village ten years ago, but it is a shame for us residents that it has become so infamous that even without signboards, a stranger can reach the village.’’ The residents wish that Sardarpura could be associated with some positivity as well.

Even as the Sardarpura struggle for ‘co-existence’ continues, 17 kms away, those uprooted from here still reel under trauma. Most of the Muslim families which fled, settled at Satnagar, living in houses constructed by relief organisations. Despite the verdict, the pain of violent displacement is writ large.

 “Our family members were killed. We were uprooted. It was a decision forced on us to leave our homes and come away so far” laments Gulam Ali, who has lost 13 members of his family, including two brothers. A daily wager in the past, Ali now just manages to earn Rs100 a day as a farm worker, his income slashed by at least ~2000 a month now.

“It is destiny, otherwise, for no fault, why was our family targeted?’’ he questions. The verdict has given him some solace but he says it will not bring back his brothers, who would have probably helped him to share the burden of running the house, if alive. “Our old house continues to be in Sardarpura and we do not intend to go back; that house would seem haunted and we feel more secure here,’’ he said.

Basera Bibi, another victim who has lost her husband, is hardly able to speak but says that the private trust which has constructed these one-room houses for them in Satnagar is indeed a blessing. “A round the clock Central Industrial Security Force post here gives a sense of security and we can now at least go to the fields and think of earning a living, leaving my children at home,’’ said Bibi. She added that apart from the security post, the other advantage was that Satnagar was a Muslim dominated village.Perhaps, a grim reminder of the isolation and divide that still exist.

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Published 19 November 2011, 19:44 IST

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