The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ignorance and fear in Naroda-Patia

Ahmedabad, July 26: Sabana, 19, lost her mother and sister to communal riots at Naroda-Patia on February 28 last year. She wants the man she holds responsible for their death to be punished.

Sabana is willing to depose against Jai Bhawani, whom she has identified as her relatives’ main killer, before any authority concerned. But she knows nothing about the two-member Nanavati Commission, which will begin its second phase of hearing on Monday. The panel is probing post-Godhra riots.

No one, including the non-government organisations that have set up office in Naroda-Patia to help riot victims, has told Sabana about it.

In the meantime, Bhawani, suspended as a driver from the Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Corporation, and his son are out on bail. They got out of jail six months ago after a three-month stint.

The father-son duo is named in the chargesheet filed by police on the Naroda-Patia massacre that claimed more than 92 lives and charred houses.

Unlike Sabana, who says “what is there to fear now”, riot-victims Shamshuddin and Shamshad are scared to depose before any authority.

Shamshuddin is another key witness as he claims to have seen Mayaben Kodnani, BJP MLA from Naroda, leading a mob and “instructing the police” outside Natraj Hotel, a stone’s throw from Naroda-Patia, hours before the attack. “If I depose, I will not be able to live in Naroda-Patia,” he said. “I have already given her name to the police in an FIR. Nothing happened. She was not even questioned by the police. Her name does not even figure in the chargesheet the police filed.’’

If Shamshuddin and Shamshad are two of several victims too scared to depose before the commission, Abdul Razzak, 62, is willing but complains about lack of “proper guidance”.

He lost six of his family and eight other relatives to the riots. His pregnant daughter was butchered at Naroda-Patia.

Razzak is not sure if he will go all the way to Shahibaug, 12 km from Naroda-Patia, to depose before the commission. So far, none of the NGOs have got in touch with the man to guide him.

Over half-a-dozen NGOs, which claim to be working for the riot-hit, are active in the locality and have offices there.

“The problem here is that NGOs themselves are treating Naroda-Patia as their fief,” says Sadiq Hussain, a social activist who has worked with a few of these organisations. “They do not want any genuine organisation to step in. They do not have coordination among themselves. They are actually rivals.”

Hussain, who is now a freelance activist, is complaining about alleged professional jealousy among the NGOs. According to Hussain, some of these NGOs don’t want him working for social reconciliation independently. “I’m harassed every day,’’ he says.

Hanif Lakdawala, director of NGO Sanchetana, is more scathing. He says “it is really unfortunate that NGOs are thriving on the miseries of the riot victims” as apparently the relief work is not matching the funds coming in.

A representative of NGO Action-Aid, who gave her name as Supriya, defended the “low profile” activities in Naroda-Patia as part of a strategy. “If we start visiting Naroda-Patia now, enemies will become overactive to prevent witnesses from deposing,” she says.

But she, too, admits a lack of coordination among NGOs.

Supriya says Action-Aid, that creates legal awareness among riot victims, will start work in time before the hearing. The turn of Naroda-Patia victims, she feels, may not come on July 28.

The victims’ poor awareness of legal recourse is worsened by the alleged collusion of some minority-community religious leaders with the state government.

These leaders are persuading the riot-hit to keep away from the inquiry commission, alleged advocate Mukul Sinha, who has been providing victims free legal assistance.

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