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Naroda-Patia can never be home again

Ahmedabad, Feb. 28: Javed’s face still lights up when someone comes to Naroda-Patia to shoot pictures of riot victims. For that one fleeting moment, the 15-year-old, who turned an orphan when a mob torched the Muslim ghetto exactly a year ago, forgets that he has no house to live, no source of livelihood and no parents to call his own.

Javed has put the Rs 1 lakh he got as compensation for his father’s death in a fixed deposit account. “I will open a tea stall,” he says, but adds in the same breath that he will not live in Naroda-Patia. “I am scared all the time.”

He is not the only one. Fear still lurks in the gullies of Naroda-Patia, one of the worst-hit areas during the Gujarat riots. Death, residents say, can spring from anywhere. Like last year, when hundreds of houses were burnt and looted and 92 people killed in the communal orgy that followed the burning of the Sabarmati Express.

Sadeque, a social worker, says that over 100 families left their homes on February 26, a day before the first anniversary of the train carnage in which 59 people were killed. “It is difficult for them to have faith in anything,” he says. “Muslims don’t even trust each other.”

However, nearly 500 residents have come for the peace and harmony programme organised by the Islamic Relief Committee. The attendance is still dismal — 1,155 families were affected by the riots. This is because cynicism coexists with anxiety, says Alauddin, a committee member. “There are families who have no need for such programmes. The hurt and grief is too overwhelming.”

Those who gathered courage to visit their ravaged homes did so for the first time since the riots. They, too, would not have come but for the special namaz conducted in the name of the departed souls. “I still have nightmares about my house burning, my mother’s ripped body and my wife’s…,’’ Rafiq trails off, his choked silence telling why he has not been able to come back.

Each has a harrowing tale to tell. As speakers on the dais talk about the need for harmony, the audience listens in silence, many with tears in their eyes.

Life has not been easy for the victims. Unemployment has acquired deadly proportions, as Hindu employers are still not ready to give them jobs. Many have not been taken back as they were “absent” for three to four months.

“We didn’t have anywhere to sleep or eat, our parents, wives and children were killed and our employers were angry that we did not attend work,” says Mustaqim Ansari.

Homelessness is another demon. According to records with the relief committee, 35 per cent of the families have not returned, especially those with young girls. While some have squeezed in with relatives, others have shifted to Muslim ghettos like Juhapura and Ramol. NGOs working in Naroda-Patia say these families are unlikely to come back.

It is the same story in Gulbarg Society, where Ehsan Jafri, a former Congress MP, was killed along with 39 others. “How can we come here' We are only here to attend the namaz,” says Sehnazbano.

After the namaz, around 50 men silently file out of the partially-burnt mosque. “All of us want to return, none of us can,” says Irfan, a boy who thought it fit to wear a black shirt and a tie today. He points to a huge burnt hole in the wall of a beautiful house. “My whole family died inside. I haven’t had the strength to go in. I don’t think I ever can.”

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