Stories of struggle and hope emerged in Ahmedabad on Wednesday, even as the 2002 Godhra riots victims and civil society members resolved to take the struggle against those spreading hatred forward.
A few broke down, a few others expressed angst, and some others spoke about the way forward, at a programme organised by Anhad Gujarat and Jan Vikas.
The Godhra riots had claimed more than 1,000 lives. The riots, which broke out on February 28, 2002, were considered a reaction to Godhra carnage. Fifty-nine persons, majority of them kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were burnt alive in the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra.
Human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi of Anhad Gujarat said, “While we speak about statistics of the number of people who lost their lives, we forget the pain people underwent...Thousands of stories still haunt me.”
Maintaining that the Godhra riots were a pre-planned conspiracy, Hashmi said they were not fools to accept the theory that it was a reaction to Godhra train burning case. An average Gujarati, she said, cannot do such a thing.
You could see the same pattern of attack and rapes everywhere, claimed Hashmi. The struggle, she said, was not easy, but it was necessary to remember. “We are not afraid Modi or Shah and, their hatred,” she added.
Sharing her experiences of 2017 assembly elections in Gujarat, Hashmi said unlike in the past when Anhad Gujarat activists were attacked by people, she saw “an opening” in the hearts and minds of people.
We will continue to fight till we are silenced like Gauri Lankesh, the activist said. “We have “viraasat” of Bhagat Singh and not Savarkar,” she added.
Gagan Sethi of Jan Vikas said he would continue to fight and remember this day wherever he is until a museum comes up to show the way minorities were attacked in 2002. Sethi, who silently worked for the riot victims and is one of the key persons instrumental in helping Bilkis Bano get justice, said the museum would be on the lines of one in Germany where atrocities of Adolf Hitler against the Jews are depicted.
Sethi said he never knew that discrimination was limited to dalits only. “We got political freedom, but not from discrimination,” he pointed out.
He said it was so unfortunate that even 16 years after the Godhra riots, there are still 35,000 persons, who are internally displaced. In the United Nations, the government of India has said India does not have a single internationally displaced person, he pointed out.
Nisrin Jafri, whose father former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was among those killed at the Gulberg society massacre, got emotional while recalling 2002 riots. Jafri, who flew in from the United States for the programme, said she has still not forgotten 1969 riots in Gujarat that she witnessed as a five-year-old child.
She questioned as to why Hindu-Muslim bond is forgotten when such attacks take place. Trying to make a point that the Hindus and the Muslims lived together in harmony, Jafri recalled how the Muslim households and Hindus running businesses were connected to each other.
Noorjehan Diwan, who worked with Godhra riots victims, said scores of people still await justice. Taking on from what she said, Naseem Sheikh narrated how her brother Zahid Sheikh was picked up by the Ahmedabad Police in connection with the blasts that took place in Ahmedabad. “It has been 10 years now. My brother was picked up from a mobile shop. He had nothing to do with the blasts. Hearings in the court go on,” she told The Week.
Youth leader Gopal Italiya said together they would defeat the “politics of hatred”. Hatred, according to him, was bigger than terrorism. “There won't be terrorism if there is no hatred,” he added.
At another programme organised by Jan Sangharsh Manch, it was resolved that they would take steps to ensure that there are no more incidents of communal violence and demanded justice, peace and security for minority communities.