Maya being consoled by her husband as she enters the Ahmedabad court. (PTI)
Ahmedabad, Aug. 31: Sharmila Chhara says her two brothers, convicted in the Naroda Patia riot case, had merely gone to loot the houses but were easily “framed” in the killings because of the stigma attached to their tribe.
“Yes, we Chharas sell country liquor, steal and do other such activities but we never kill people,” said the resident of Chharanagar, a ghetto of the impoverished Chharas who were listed as a “criminal tribe” during British rule. The neighbourhood is close to Naroda Patia.
“The real culprits are Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi, Kishan Korani (former BJP councillor) and Dhanna Sindhi (an acquitted accused). They are the ones who incited the mob to attack. Our boys went there to loot whatever they could lay their hands on,” Sharmila said.
“Our boys” was a reference to the 11 young men from Chharanagar who were among the 32 people convicted by the trial court on Wednesday. Sharmila was speaking to The Telegraph on Thursday, a day before her brothers Naresh and Haresh, both in their 20s, were handed life terms.
“These clever people,” she said referring to the heavyweight accused from the Sangh parivar, “framed our boys because Chharas are known for antisocial activities, which is true. But although we may be antisocial, we are not murderers.”
Expectedly, the mood in Chharanagar, home to 15,000 families from the tribe, is that of anger, frustration and a strong feeling of being let down by those who had promised them protection and help.
“Now we realise that our boys were utterly misled,” said Mahesh Chhara, who accepts that some of the jobless, illiterate “boys” may have been manipulated by “these diabolical forces” at a time communal passions were running high.
Sharmila, who is married, said her brothers sold vegetables from a handcart to earn a living. With Naresh and Haresh behind bars, their mother Kamsin Chhara has moved in with Sharmila because there is nobody at home to look after the 70-year-old. Kamsin’s eldest son, Guddu, died in an accident in 2009.
“Mother hasn’t touched a morsel since yesterday,” Sharmila said on Thursday. “My brothers are innocent; they cannot kill people.”
Naresh, she added, is mentally disturbed. “He drinks a lot — that’s common in our community.”
“The Chhara community has now turned completely against these Kodnanis and Bajrangis,” said Mahesh, who had worked in West Asia for sometime and is among the better-off residents in the ghetto.
This was evident yesterday when the bandh call given by the Hindu Mahasabha in protest against the convictions of Kodnani, Bajrangi and other Sangh parivar leaders evoked no response in Chharanagar. Nor did it have any impact in Naroda Patia or elsewhere in the neighbourhood.
As a precaution, there was heavy police deployment in Naroda Patia. The area’s only primary school, run by Nazir Master, too remained closed for two days but this too was a precaution and had nothing to do with the bandh call, its principal Noor Alam said.
Some of the witnesses and riot survivors who had fled on Wednesday morning returned in the evening, their confidence restored by the conviction of Kodnani and Bajrangi.
“We had lost all hope but after the verdict, we felt that justice can be done and will be done, though there may be some delay,” said Nazir Master, a witness.