2 February, 2007, Reuters
AHMEDABAD: Five years after their loved ones were brutally killed and they were forced to flee, thousands of Muslim victims of one of India’s worst religious riots have pleaded for help to return home. About 23,000 Muslims fled their homes after Hindu mobs went on a rampage and communal riots broke out in the western state of Gujarat in February 2002.
The violence, which continued for weeks, was triggered by the burning to death of 59 Hindus allegedly by Muslims. Officials say about 1,000 people were killed and hundreds of homes and shops gutted. Human rights groups say about 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were hacked, burned or beaten to death.
Many of the displaced say they are still living in slums or with relatives as their houses were destroyed or Hindus won’t let them return. “We ran for our lives but we did not know we would never be able to return to our homes,” Bano Rajjab Shah, a 40-year-old woman, said at a meeting of riot victims in Gujarat’s main city of Ahmedabad yesterday.She said her son was burnt alive by a Hindu mob and her shop and house in a Hindu-dominated area were looted, forcing her to flee.
She now lives in a slum with other riot victims.
Some 3,000 victims gathered at the meeting organised by voluntary groups, but in the past similar calls for help have fallen on deaf ears. Authorities say victims have been adequately compensated for their loss. State officials were not available for comment yesterday.
“Their situation is worsening every day,” said Gagan Sethi, one of the organisers of the meeting. “They are frustrated yet willing to fight for their houses, to find their missing family members and even to get the guilty punished.”
Voluntary groups giving legal aid to the victims say rehabilitation of victims had been completely ignored, forcing them to live in slums with no fixed sources of income.
“I would have been raped and killed if I did not jump out of my house during the riots,” said Syeda Hanif, a widow with three children. “Now, I want to go back and stay in my house but the Hindus of my locality object.”
The Supreme Court has asked Gujarat’s Bharatiya Janata Party government to give a progress report every three months on the riot investigations which critics say have become mired in charges of political interference and cover ups.