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Posted on 25 February 2011

Those acquitted have lost nine years of their lives. Only because they are Muslim

Disrupted lives, abandoned education and destroyed livelihoods – this was the lot of the families of the accused. Anumeha Yadav met five of them just before the verdict.

“They came and took away whoever they could find -- those who were eating, sleeping, praying. Wherever they found a door open,” says Sughra Bibi Badam who watched her four sons, all daily wagers, being picked up in combing operations and charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). She describes her horror when the police arrested her grandson Irfan, then 15, asleep in her house on the night of 27 February 2002. “They kept me in Sabarmati jail for a month and then sent me to Khanpur remand home,” says Irfan who now helps Sughra Bibi run a grocery stall.

Father’s agony Fruit-seller Mohammed Mamdu’s son, despite being visually impaired, was sent to jail

Lucky escape Sughra Bibi’s grandson Irfan was 15 when he was arrested, but was let off after five weeks

Jailed dad The Jujara siblings had to quit school as a result

Blighted youth Abdul Qalandar was 17 when arrested. He got bail seven years later

Teen trauma Shaaqir Patadia was 14 when he was picked up. He got bail along with Qalandar

Irfan, who was charged under Section 432 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sent back home after five weeks, says he still had it easier than some of his peers who were initially charged under POTA. Anwar Abdul Qalandar, one of the other five juveniles accused in the case, dropped out of school when he was picked up by the police and got bail after seven years. “School used to start at noon but that day there was a curfew so my mother did not let me go out throughout the day. In the evening, the police barged inside our house and asked me to come with them. “We were baffled and had no idea what to do,” says Qalandar, who was a class X student in Iqbal High School then. Charged under POTA, he spent 18 months in Sabarmati jail before he was shifted to a remand home in Khanpur, Ahmedabad for six years. After the Supreme Court permitted trials in these riot-related cases, Qalandar was shifted to a remand home in Godhra and given bail in late 2009.

Mohammad Shaaqir Abdul Patadiya also divided his teenage years between jail and remand homes till he got bail along with Qalandar. “I was 14 when the police came home and picked me up for interrogation. I was never allowed to go back,” says the oldest among five siblings, who could not finish school and now works with his uncle as a truck co-driver

Godhra has a population of 1.25 lakh. Nava Bazaar separates Hindus, two-thirds of the town’s population, who live to the east of bazaar from Muslims, who live on the opposite side of it. The streets in Signal Fadiya in the west where most of the accused’s families live, erupt with stories that have haunted them living here for nine years.

Ummhani Bi, 25, a soft-spoken young mother of a two-year-old did not have to go to jail like Qalandar and Shaaqir but she too had to drop out of school when the police arrested her father Inayat Abdul Sattar Jujara, a head clerk in the state Public Works Department. He was on his way home through the curfew, a few hours after S-6 coach burnt. “For months it seemed as if we just cried all the time. I had just finished my class X exams but could not return to school,” says Ummhani, one of seven siblings. Jujara, who had 13 months left before his retirement in February 2002, has been in jail since the last nine years despite evidence like his attendance report and the salary slips he had signed for colleagues that morning. The evidence against Jujara is the arrest panchnama and statements of two policemen. He has been denied bail even after both the policemen failed to identify him in the trial court in December 2009.

Jabir, 22, has tried to make sense of the same feelings of surreal uncertainty for years. He watched his father Abdur RehmanYusuf Dantiya help the fire brigade repeatedly fill water from a well on his farm next to the railways tracks at Godhra station to extinguish the burning carriages. At 4 pm that evening, the police patrol arrested Dantiya. “The fire brigade and the police took our names and address in the morning saying they wanted to tell the local press how we had helped quell the fire but the same evening the police patrol took my father away. We thought it was a mistake, that they would let him go but they accused him of burning the train,” narrates Jabir, quiet tears welling up in his eyes. He too dropped out of school next year to take care of his mother and four sisters.

“The police claim that it arrested people on the spot at the railway station but the truth is, it was these people who were picked up in combing operations in Muslim areas to please political bosses. During cross examination, Sub Inspector MS Jhala, the first investigating officer, admitted that he had informed the Home Minister and his seniors that no one had been arrested till 3:30 pm that day. Other police witnesses admit that 42 people were arrested at 11:30 pm. The chargesheet mentioned only 16 people because they knew there was no evidence against most,” says Yusuf Charkha, a Godhra-based lawyer who represents the accused.

Among those who could not get any respite, despite the absurdity of their plight being repeatedly drawn out in national, international media and public forums, is Mohammed Mamdu, 70. Mamdu’s son Ishaq Mohammed Mamdu who is visually-impaired, was among those arrested after the carnage. Mamdu, a fruit-seller, sits in his one-room house in Zahurpura with three certificates from ophthalmic surgeons of Civil Hospital, Godhra that the family had got in 1997, 1999, and 2000 for Ishaq to apply for railway travel concession etc., medical proofs that Ishaq, in his late twenties then, is 100 percent disabled. The police charged Ishaq on charges of conspiracy and murder and produced a certificate from Godhra civil hospital that since the time of the previous medical examination Ishaq’s vision had improved and he could see up to one meter. “When Ishaq was little, we could not send him to school or to play like his brothers. He would stay at home. I used to think that whosoever does not have vision, has nothing. I now realise that he still had his freedom but this government took away even that,” he says.

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Posted on 25 February 2011



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