Not a long time back I was asked to pen down an article for an e-magazine on my personal experience on Gujarat riots of 2002 and on how communalism had taken its toll! Here I am posting the entire article as it is! And yes Z, the title is suggested by you!
It was an ordinary afternoon late in the February of 2002; winters had almost left and spring was just about to knock the doors of Ahmedabad. I remember on that day when it all begin, I was at School attending the Civics lecture; a subject where we are taught about the Indian Constitution, Citizens’ rights and the familiar motto – ‘Unity In Diversity’ in India. At that time I wasn’t aware that in coming few months the faith of many Ahmedabad-ians on this statement would come crashing down. At about 4 PM came an announcement from the Principal that we have to evacuate the school premises and leave for home asap. None of the students knew what was going on; even I was unaware until that night in the news broadcast when I learnt what happened at Godhra that evening, the decision to make us leave early was made by the school authorities as our school was located in a sensitive area and the authorities thought that it was not safe to keep us in the school till the official time of 5:30 PM. That was the day when the ‘2002 Gujarat Massacre’ officially begun…
At the age of 12 and as a 6th grade student I didn’t know how serious the issue was, but now, 9 years later as I look back I can see that it was much more than that long break at school and annulment of final exams. Lives of many Ahmedabad-ians changed after the violent events unfolded in the city. I can empathize with one such family who lost its son, the Mody family.
26thth January 2002, 13 year old Azhar Mody is proudly waving the National Flag at the Republic Day event at school. He is the same boy if you might remember who went missing a day after the Godhra carnage during the Gulburg Society mass killings where about 70 people were slaughtered by an angry mob. He was a year senior to me at school and was a friend. We used to meet during the lunch break almost every day. He was a jovial guy and as far as I can recall, I had never seen him angry or frowning on any day. I had even met him on the last day, the day before he disappeared and I had never thought that I won’t be able to see him again ever. But that’s life, you never know what it has in store for you, a day you are giggling and enjoying with friends and the very next day you may suffer such atrocities which may change your world and that of people around you. I couldn’t believe what I read in the article about him few days later in the print. He became the first victim of this ‘communal butchery’ and the picture that was published of him was ironically the one of the 26th January event showing him waiving the Tricolor. My heart cries with Mr. Dara Mody, Azhar’s dad who even on this day believes that his son is alive somewhere and hasn’t stopped his search for Azhar.
‘Parzania’, a widely applauded 2007 movie starring Naseeruddin Shah; I as such have not seen the movie for it was not screened in Gujarat for the same reason of it being a sensitive state where communal riots can show up at the blink of an eye, therefore I shall not comment upon the movie but Parzania is ‘ostensibly’ a movie based upon this real story of Azhar Mody (played by Parzan Dastur) and it brings in front of the nation the hardships faced by Azhar’s parents in his search and shows how innocent people were exterminated on the name of religion in Ahmedabad.
Days passed and the situation worsened. From the terrace of my house I could frequently see dark clouds of smoke rising from a distance, that smoke was actually emanating from the blazing shops and garages owned by Muslims. Hindus were setting ablaze the properties owned by Muslims. When it was safe to venture out, I actually saw the condition of those places, the nearby shop owners used to tell that they were dismayed by the lack of intervention from local police who often watched the events taking place and took no action against the attacks on Muslims and their property.
On some nights it were those noises outside my house that used to wake me up; those were the men from the colony who used to guard the houses in a group at nights for the situation was very unstable in those days. Even during the daytime some people who were a part of the angry Hindu mob used to knock every door in the colony to enquire whether any Muslim family stays nearby so that they can set ablaze their houses. Also we used to hear stories from various parts of the city of angry mobs in the dead of the night setting on fire the houses of people by locking the doors from outside so the people can’t escape. In short, on humanitarian grounds, the situation in Ahmedabad was as worse it could be. Curfews were imposed in almost entire city and there used to be frequent power cuts in my locality. So the only source to know what was happening in the city was Radio for even the newspapers weren’t able to reach in my locality. Even the private FM stations were spreading out information and were requesting people to stay indoors for it was not even safe to move out. Meanwhile Army had been called in Ahmedabad to maintain peace. The situation continued till mid June. As per the official figures 1100 people were killed, 70,000 people had to flee their homes and 20,000 arrests were made. It was a total massacre, it was even said that these riots took Gujarat a decade back in terms of progress.
After experiencing these incidents the image of Ahmedabad in my eyes changed forever. Having stayed in the city for such a long time and having lived through to see this destruction, I thought that I would never be able to see Ahmedabad the way I used to before. All this makes us realize that how just a spark ignited by the people in power results into such a big scale carnage. Even today when I pass through those so called ‘sensitive’ areas, there is a bit of fear lurking in my mind which reminds me of 2002. We don’t know when those people in the dark political alleys may shoot back. The riots of 2002 were the ‘coming of age’ from hell. It made me realize that we are mere pawns in the hands of those influential skilled players, they say that they are secular but where is the secularism? When it comes to the vote bank, they depend on the minorities and when it comes to protect their interests, they blatantly move back and on the contrary ‘vent their anger’ on them. I couldn’t help but compare our democracy with that of U.K., which is formally a theocratic democracy. The monarch is head of the church as well as head of the government. Changes in the doctrines of the Church of England are a matter for the British Parliament. While England is a theocratic democracy, India is a secular democracy; in England the government remains neutral, whereas in India government takes sides in communal violence.
But then again, what we can do, it is just dirty politics!