| A policeman guards the Swaminarayan temple. (AFP)
Ahmedabad, Sept. 26: Fear has returned to Muslim houses and relief camps are exploding at the seams with people.
For lakhs of Muslims, and Hindus, the attack at the Swaminarayan temple, followed by the VHP bandh call, has brought back chilling images of the riots that burned Gujarat for months.
Madinaben had been in her new Naroda-Patia house for just three days — after her original home was razed during the communal clashes — when the call came to vacate it.
“We were afraid when we heard that terrorists had opened fire inside a Gandhinagar temple,” she says. “But after the bandh call, it was impossible for us to stay at home without fearing for our lives.”
Madinaben rushed to the nearest relief camp with her three-year-old daughter in tow. Now, she is afraid that her new house, a gift from an NGO, will be robbed and vandalised.
Suddenly relief camps in Ahmedabad are flooded with people. There are now 2,592 people in the Gujarat Haj House relief camp, though the state government is providing food for only 1,000.
Last night, 277 families came in, straining facilities at the camp. But there is nothing that the camp’s organisers can do. “We have to make do, there is no way we can turn anyone back. Help comes from unexpected quarters. We survive,” says Ayub Khan of the Haj camp.
At the camp, Asraf Ali queues up with his sons for the afternoon meal. Owner of a bakery in Naroda-Patia, Ali was reminded by his Hindu neighbours of the fate that befell his elder brother on February 28.
“‘For your own safety, you have to go to a relief camp’, they (his neighbours) said, reminding me of how my brother was beaten to pulp during the riots,” he says.
It is the same story with Shiraj-ul Haq, who runs a cycle repair shop in Chamanpura, one of the worst riot-hit places in the state. “I keep moving from my house to these camps,” he says. “There is always a lurking fear. After spending five months in a relief camp, I had been home for two months when this happened. Now I am back here and don’t know when I’ll be able to head home.”
While most came on their own, others were told, by the police of all people, to rush to a relief camp. “First the policemen at a post near my house in Naroda-Patia said they would protect us,” says an agitated Shabana, squatting on the floor of the Quereshi Hall relief camp in Mirzapur.
“But after the bandh call, they told us that they might not be able to keep their promise. We were told to leave around midnight. We reached this camp at 1 in the morning.”
Pushing her way through at the Bapunagar camp, Memoona Bibi says she has nowhere else to go. She was a resident of this camp for four months and had barely spent two months at her rented house in the Gulbarg society, Chamapura, when she had to return with her kids to the camp’s safety.
“We can only hope that this kind of life will stop soon,” she says. “Otherwise, one day we will just stop running.”
Sect opposes bandh
The Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha whose temple in Gandhinagar was the target of a terrorist strike today said it does not support any “bandh” called over the killings and appealed to people to maintain peace and unity.
“Bandhs only cause economic losses to the country. Even if a bandh has to be organised, it has to be on behalf of all organisations and not separately. Moreover, it should be symbolic for a few hours or half-a-day aimed at paying respects to the deceased,” the head of the Delhi temple said.
when asked whether they supported the Bharat bandh called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Shiv Sena.
Recalling that industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani’s children did not allow work to suffer even after his death, Das said: “The task of nation building must go on.”
Earlier, scores of Swaminarayan devotees along with activists of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front paid homage to the devotees and security personnel killed in the Akshardham Temple attack by maintaining two minutes’ silence, singing devotional songs and chanting the Swaminarayan mantra.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj Shastri Narayan Swarupdas, the head of the Swaminarayan sect, issued an appeal. “The merciless terrorist attack on innocent pilgrims at Akshardham in Gandhinagar is a matter of great shock and anguish for the entire world. The death of innocent people is painful and heartrending. I appeal to all the people of Gujarat and India to maintain peace and unity in the wake of this national tragedy.”