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Among ruins, house of screams
- Slain Congress MP’s wife returns to carnage site to pray

Ahmedabad, March 2: “Insan ne dhoonda jise, jannat woh yehi hai,

Daane jahan gir jaye, hara khet wahi hai,

Mitti me bhi sona hai, to patthar me bhi dhan hai,

Ye mera watan hai, ye mera watan hai, ye mera watan hai”

(The heaven man sought is here, It is here that a fallen grain mothers green fields, There is gold beneath the dust here, treasure beneath stone, This is my country, my country, my country)

— An excerpt from Ehsan Jafri’s poem Mera Watan

A year later, Zakia still sees her husband Ehsan Jafri “screaming for help” in her dreams.

A year ago on February 28, a mob had killed the former Congress MP in the riots that followed the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra.

Jafri’s house now lies in ruins, like the lives of those he left behind, like the “watan” he so lovingly wrote about.

Zakia, his wife of almost 45 years, is still unable to walk towards the pathway that leads to the remains of their burnt bungalow in Gulbarg Society.

“I was waiting for him the whole night to come back. I kept looking at his slippers, hoping he had run to safety,’’ she recalls, as tears roll down her face.

“It was only in the morning after the attack that I came to know Jafrisahab had been unable to run away. His body was butchered before being burnt. Sometimes, I see him screaming for help in my dreams.’’

It took a lot of pleading from Nishrin, her daughter in America, for Zakia to gather the courage to come to Gulbarg for a special prayer meeting on Friday, the first death anniversary of the 39 victims.

“Nishrin called me up from America to tell me I should be strong and attend the special namaz for her father and the others who had died along with him,” Zakia says.

Nishrin also told her mother not to cry. But Zakia, who offered flowers and lit a candle at her husband’s mazar, could do little else.

That night when her house was attacked by a mob “seeking revenge” for those who were torched in the train attack is still fresh in Zakia’s memory.

She says Jafri made about 200 desperate calls for help to top Congress leaders and police officers. “Jafrisahab was not just worried about himself but also the dozens who had come to our house thinking they would be safe with a Congress MP. They were so wrong.’’

Other than the Rs 50,000 the government gave her as compensation for Jafri’s death, no help has come from anywhere else, not even from the party that her husband served for almost five decades.

“The party hasn’t offered us any money, not that we are asking for it,” Zakia says. “Of course, most of the Congress leaders came to visit us after the incident. Even Sonia Gandhi came to Ahmedabad just to meet me.’’

The 65-year-old widow, who now divides her time between her daughter in America and her son, Tanveer, in Surat, says violence comes with misplaced passions.

“Otherwise, who would have thought of murdering my husband. He never knew the difference between Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor. He was so popular.’’

It doesn’t matter to Zakia where she lives, though she would some day like to come back to Gulbarg because “all the memories are locked up in that house”.

Tanveer says he will not sell the house; he will eventually come back to live there. “None of the families living in the 26 houses here have dared to come back,’’ he says, for fear and insecurity is all pervasive in the mohalla (locality).

“It (fear) is like a ghost that haunts and refuses to go away,” Tanveer says.

Sharif Sheikh, Tanveer’s neighbour, is the only one who is ready to start repairs on his burnt and plundered house. No one else is ready to take the giant leap of faith. At least, not yet.

For the victims, investigations into the attack and the government’s action on it have not been encouraging. Of the 51 accused, only five are in jail. The rest are either absconding or out on bail.

Faith for the residents of Gulbarg Society is at a premium and hope remains etched only in Jafri’s poems.

“Zindagi ek aag hai, woh aag jalna chahiye…maut se aankh milakar jeena chahiye (The fire of life should rage on…look death in its eyes and live on).

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