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Spared by riots, scarred by life...forever

- Destiny plays cruel with Muslims who escaped marauders but were abandoned by governments
Bibi Mushtari nurses her son, Faiyaz, a driver hurt in an accident. Picture by Nalin Verma

Time has stood still for Bibi Mushtari, 60, whose family escaped the wrath of rioters 25 years ago.

Hum abhagon ka ek hi khata thaa. Hum log qatilon ke talwar aur goli se kisi tarah bach gaye (We committed only one sin, we, somehow, managed to escape the marauders’ swords and guns),” says Bibi, now nursing her driver-son Mohammad Faiyaz (25), who injured his limbs in a recent accident.

Bibi’s family is one of five in Chanderi, 500 metres away from the campus of the renowned Bihar Agriculture University in Sabaur, about 330km southeast of Patna, where 65 people were butchered on a jumma baar, Friday, October 27, 1989. In all, over 1,550 people were killed in the rioting that continued over almost 15 days, triggered by a procession brought out by some Hindu groups demanding a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Destiny played cruel with the few Muslims who escaped the rioters, only to be abandoned and left uncared by successive governments, political parties and charitable outfits which have never tired of tom-tomming their “yeoman work” for the settlement of those worst affected in the 1989 riots.

Chanderi is home to 500 families, most of them Yadavs and other backward castes. Most of the 50 families in the pre-riot Chanderi settlement migrated to Rajpur, one kilometre away, and other Muslim-dominated pockets of Bhagalpur.

The ones who lost their family members got compensation — Rs 1.10 lakh given by the Lalu Prasad government in 1990, Rs 3.5 lakh from the Nitish Kumar regime, which has also sanctioned a pension of Rs 5,000 per month. The decent compensation amount and now regular pension has allowed the riot victims’ families to migrate to places of their choice and somehow redeem their future.

But there is no end to the misery of those who were left unscathed. “We live in constant fear for we saw our neighbours perpetrating mayhem in our settlement. We can still identify the marauders who continue to roam the neighbourhood. We too would have migrated had we got money and means. But we are helpless,” says Mohammad Nehal (60).

Mushtari, along with husband Nehal and then infant son Faiyaz, had gone out of Chanderi to visit her in-laws’ house on that fateful day of October 1989. The family was spared. The couple now have five children - three daughters and two sons. The parents have sent their second son, Fakira, barely 15 years old, to Mumbai to earn and feed the family back home.

The family does odd jobs like repairing cycles etc to survive. They don’t have enough land to grow crops.

The government, corporate houses such as the Tatas and charitable organisations built at least 30 concrete homes for the riot survivors. All families, irrespective of whether anyone was killed or not, were allotted new houses. But the settlement now has as its inhabitants only those who escaped the massacre. They did not get any compensation nor are they entitled to pension.

Mohammad Asif Hussein (25) was only six months old when his elder brother Kuddus fell prey to the marauders’ bullets. His mother, Hadisa Begum, got compensation of Rs 3.5 lakh and earns Rs 5,000 per month as pension, helping Asif to study. Asif is doing his graduation in commerce and accountancy from the local Sabaur college.

Tahrun Nisha (70) lost her son, Badruddin. Her two other sons, Fakruddin and Kamaruddin, have become a government servant and engineer respectively, thanks to the compensation money and pension to their mother. These families originally belonging to Chanderi are settled in Rajpur now.

The survivors and sufferers have one thing in common: fear. The BJP’s projection of Narendra Modi as the candidate for Prime Minister has further aggravated their fear. “We heard about the riots in Gujarat when the killing of our near and dear ones was still fresh in our mind. We feel frightened to hear that Narendra Modi might become Prime Minister. We will do our best to stop him from becoming so,” says Moin Mahawar, a writer in Urdu at Akbar Nagar, a settlement on the western outskirts of Bhagalpur but part of the Banka Lok Sabha constituency.

Muslims cutting across settlements in Banka and Bhagalpur Lok Sabha constituencies are appreciative of the work done by Nitish. But they are united in one common goal: defeating Modi.

“We will vote in unison against Narendra Modi. We will not divide our votes. As of now, we are still weighing who is the best bet to defeat Narendra Modi,” says Mohammad Raza (40) at Sabaur. Lalu has fielded Bulo Mandal and the JD(U) Abu Kaiser to take on the BJP’s Shahnawaz Hussain, the sitting MP.

Ironically, the Hindu-Muslim divide is palpable in the broader Bhagalpur region that includes Banka too, a region that is said to be the gateway to Bengal. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore founded Bangiya Sahitya Parishad here in 1910; Kazi Nazrul Islam had captivated the people during his stay in the region.

The city — traditionally known for silk production and jardalu mangoes — found its communal amity disturbed for the first time in 1946. But peace returned and remained for a good four decades until the fury of 1989. The riots robbed the region of the culture and tradition it was famed for.

The scars still hurt.

l Bhagalpur and Banka vote on April 24