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Riot victim’s daughter in peace plea

New Delhi, Sept. 14: Ehsan Jaffrey would have been a proud father had he survived the riots.

“Gujarat is an aberration. The rest of the country is with me,” his daughter Nasreen said at a joint news conference hosted by a group of US-based Gujaratis leading a sadhbhavna mission to their home state.

It was the first delegation of non-partisan NRI Gujaratis to visit the riot-ravaged areas. Nothing had prepared them for the horror they confronted in the cities and villages, but they were determined to keep going.

“For me, time does not matter anymore. My father would have been alive had the police arrived on time that day,” she said. Every day, between 10 am and 5.30 pm, she relives the agony her father went through. “I think about what he must have gone through in those hours,” she said.

The former MP was burnt alive as he tried to shield Muslims who had taken shelter in his house in Ahmedabad.

“When I went to my house, I took off my shoes. I kept thinking where was my father killed, where did parts of his body lie,” Nasreen said.

The tears she had held back so long streamed down her face at the end of the news conference when one of the reporters recited verses her father had composed. They were verses of peace and patriotism. “The youths who bloodied their hands should have been holding books. Instead of giving them jobs, the leaders are exhorting them to kill,” Nasreen said.

The killings may have ended, but for the victims, their ordeal is not yet over. “The victims are near starvation. The government has shut down the relief camps. There are no homes, no food and no jobs,” said Shri Kumar Poddar, a delegate of the 30-member group.

Most of the delegates had played an active role when the earthquake devastated Gujarat. And they were quick to see the difference in response in the case of this “man-made” carnage. “It has been shocking to see the lack of response from the business community in Gujarat,” said Raju Rajagopal. “At the time of the earthquake, every businessman was competing to contribute funds. This time, very few have come to help.”

Not all the NRIs share the distress of this delegation. “We know there are NRIs in close league with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Like the Sangh parivar here, the outfits there, too, operate under different labels — most of them pass off as educational or development organisations,” said P.D. John.

They had strong words of condemnation for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and his protégé, chief minister Narendra Modi. All three had refused to meet the delegation despite letters seeking appointments.

“I have a message for the Prime Minister and more for our deputy Prime Minister. Narendra Modi would not have been able to do what he did without his benevolence,” the delegates said. “We want to tell Advani if he wants to apologise to the Muslims, he should go to the ravaged parts of Gujarat,” they added.

But the delegates are not giving up. They will tour India for another three or four months and have a meeting lined up with Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu — perhaps the only leader backing the NDA who has given them time.

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