Love, affection reign supreme

Vivek aka Muzaffar Sheikh opts to stay with Hindu family that brought him up after Godhra carnage

It is a real life incident that will make many feel deja vu but in reel life. Many movies have been made in the last few decades not only in Bollywood but also in other languages, whose plot is the boy/girl getting separated at childhood and meeting parents years later under strange circumstances. In the melodrama, the boy/girl would have a very difficult choice of opting between biological and foster parents.

The movies were tear jerkers and the directors there had the choice to  decide the boy/girl should be with whom--with an eye on box office. But in this incident that started unfolding a decade ago saw the Gujarat High Court’s intervention. The judge had a tough choice and finally opted for the possibly best verdict--allowing the boy, just around eight years old at that time, to decide with whom he would continue to stay. 

In February 2002, most parts of Ahmedabad were burning with frenzied mobs attacking whatever they could do and butchering people, mostly innocent, in the wake of the Godhra train incident. Hundreds lost their lives and thousands were injured. But, there were exceptions when mobs went on a rampage.         

This poignant story of love and affection—from two communities some of whose members went after each other’s blood-- is a class apart. May be it is an indicator that wounds are healing, rather slowly even as media continues to focus on one of the worst-ever communal clashes in recent times that heightened the mistrust and widened the chasm between Hindus and Muslims.

Amid the destruction and despair left behind by the 2002 Gujarat riot, lies the story of a small boy separated from his family during the riots and reunited later. But a reunion that has left him more puzzled than confronting a clearer future.

Vivek aka Muzaffar Shiekh was just two years old when rioters struck at the Gulbarg Society on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. As all hell broke loose with the residents being targeted from everywhere, the boy was separated from his parents, Jebunissa and Salim Shiekh. He was one among the 31 missing during the riots. Vivek found himself at a cross road near the society, alone and helpless. At that time, Vikram Patni, who ran an anganwadi in the nearby Saraspur area, found the boy.

First, Vikram took him to a nearby police station only to be told to take care of the boy till his parents were found.

Veena later refused to give away the child to an NGO or an orphanage and decided to raise him as Vivek. Vikram is now dead, while Veena earns a living by selling fish. Veena admits that only Vivek keeps her going. “He is my son and I wish I had actually delivered him,’’ says Veena.

In 2008, with the help of SIT and Citizens for Justice and Peace, Vivek was traced to the Patnis. 

Given the oddities of the case, both parents wanted to stake claim and this peculiar case went to the Gujarat High Court. Given that Vivek wanted to be with his adopted parents, the court ruled that the child should stay with the Patnis, but should be taken to the Sheikhs every Sunday from morning to evening.

Saleem Sheikh, who now works at a factory at Saraspur as a block printer, manages to live a hand to mouth existence and is supported by his wife at home, who stitches clothes and sells patchwork from home. 

Saleem Sheikh says that the child is also aware that he is being raised by Veena Patni and now known as Vivek in his area and Muzzafar in Sheikh’s area. Sheikhs, who have three more children,  still eagerly await for Sundays as their first son will arrive at their house and spend the day with them. “We were able to trace him in 2008 and by that time he could not recognise us. But now he has started realising that we are his actual parents,’’ says Saleem Sheikh. The biological mother Jebunissa says, “When he spends the day with us, it becomes difficult for us to leave him on Sunday at 6 pm.’’ He addresses them as ammi and abba and plays with his siblings here. ``He loves to move around on a cycle which we have kept for him and he also visits his grandparents house which is in the nearby locality,’’ says Sheikh.

Jebunissa says that her other three children are special to her but Muzzu was very special to her as he was their first child. “He made us realise the joy of parenthood and how can we forget him and how can we do away with him,’’ says Jebunissa. She, however, says that she is glad unlike many families who have not been able to trace their loved ones. They are lucky that they were able to see him even if it meant for a few hours a week. The Sheikhs says that on Sunday they cook his favourite dishes which include a lot of non-vegetarian variety.

Veena, who also has another son, elder to Vivek says that though she had lost her husband  it was due to Vivek that she was able to forget all her grief. “He loves playing cricket and he plays not only with his elder brother but also with the children in the neighbourhood,’’ says Veena. “Vivek is very comfortable here and he realises that this is the family and this is  his home, he is a playful child and nobody can say that Vivek is not Veena’s real child,’’ says one of the neighbours of the Patnis.

So while the boy continues to lead the life of Vivek and Muzzu, he enjoys the company of both  parents — biological and foster. The parents, on their part, hope that they could own the child.



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