LEST WE FORGET….!
- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
The sight of garbage trolleys, apparently kept on the premises by municipality workers, is symbolic of the rot that is still on! The stench from putrid garbage exemplifies this. The undergrowth and the overgrowth seem to throttle the skeletal of a once vibrant housing society. The atmosphere is, to say the least, heart-wrenching!
Its nine years after 69 persons lost their lives in the Gulberg Housing Society in Chamanpura which is the heart of Eastern Ahmedabad. Among those who met with a most brutal death here was the former Member of Parliament, Ehsan Jafri. To many, Jafri Saheb symbolized all that India meant: a devout Muslim whose closest friends belonged to every other religion and community; a politician who epitomized service and integrity; a sensitive human who willingly reached out to those in need at any time; his illustrious career ensured that he rubbed shoulders with the most powerful of the land, yet never losing touch with the simple and ordinary folk of his constituency. What he chose to do on that fateful February 28th, 2002 will be recorded in the annals of those who sacrificed their lives for a cause. He telephoned everyone who mattered, to prevent the mob from attacking his people. In his bravado, he went to the gates of his housing society to plead with the murderous mob, hoping that ultimately good sense and his own importance, would prevail. But nothing mattered to those who were seeking blood - they butchered him, they roasted his remains! A horrific act by any standards, even for a people who could be condemned as 'barbarians'.
Today, several of the victim survivors gathered once again, to share with one another their inexplicable grief. As one walked in a daze through the burnt-out apartments, the pain is palpable. At the same time, there is a feeling of hopelessness and despair. They seek neither revenge nor retribution. They have lost their loved ones, their homes, their possessions and in fact nine full years of their lives - waiting anxiously that the cause of justice will be served.
Suraiyaben Anklesaria, the sister-in law of Ehsan Jafri, in tears, remembers the nightmare that gripped their lives forever; for Sairaben Salimbhai, who lost four members of her family, a sense of resignation seems to have enveloped her as she painfully states that there are no more tears left in her eyes; for Rupaben and Darabhai Mody, visiting the place which they once called their home was a painful pilgrimage. Dara wiped away the grime and soot from a frame of Prophet Zarathushtra, and as he does so, he breaks down with a prayer on his lips. Rupa continues to ask the one question, she has been asking thousands all over; "will my Azhar return?" The trauma of her only son (who was fourteen years old at that time) leaving her side and disappearing forever when the mobs came to attack them, will haunt this mother always. She still hopes for that one miracle to happen in her life.
Nine years on and the pain, the trauma of an immense tragedy still weighs heavy on those who suffer. Gulberg Society is but one incident of a carnage that engulfed Ahmedabad city and a good part of Gujarat State in 2002. Life will never ever be the same for many who suffered the most inhuman type of atrocities. At this juncture, as Ahmedabad completes six hundred years of its existence, the citizens could in some way make real the one prayer that Mahatma Gandhi sung from the hallowed grounds of his Sabarmati Ashram "Ishwar Allah tere naam, sabko sanmati de Bhagwan!"
But is anybody listening?
(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
28th February, 2011
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052