The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Without home, work and wife

Ahmedabad, Sept. 26: Life in the overcrowded, dank and despairing relief camp for riot victims has done Idoo bhai no good. His sunken cheeks have sunk in even more, he is dependent on alcohol than ever before and to make matters worse, his wife of 18 years has just left him for another man.

Yeh sab dangon ki wajeh se hai. My wife didn’t want to live in a relief camp but I couldn’t offer her any better. Now she is with a man, a Mussalman like myself, but with more money and a house.”

In the Gujarat Haj House relief camp for almost seven months now, Idoo wants to go back home, but he doesn’t know where that would be. His “larry”, a rickety auto-rickshaw that ferried cycle tyres and other such things, is gone. As is his house. Both were smashed by rampaging mobs on February 28.

“There is no work for me now. I don’t know when the compensation promised by the government will come,” he says. “Of course, my two sons work in a bangle factory, but the money they get is just enough to feed their two sisters. I have to live in this camp, it is for free.”

Idoo bhai springs up as he sees crowds surging in the mess area. “It is time for the afternoon meal,” he says, lining up with hundreds of others. Idoo has been subsisting on dal-chawal for lunch, tea and bread for breakfast and roti-subzi for dinner.

As two boys in the queue crib about the state of Muslims in India, Idoo gets agitated. “Why don’t people understand'” he says, to no one in particular. “We want peace and happiness. What kind of life are we leading here' Yeh ranjish ka khana kya zindagi hai, khushi ka khana aur baat hoti hai (This is food that has come with hatred, it is different with food that comes with happiness).”

But the two boys won’t give up. Anger flashing in his eyes, Razak, a 22-year-old printing press worker, says: “Just two terrorists in a temple and the government sends commandos. Thousands of terrorists attacked us and there was no one. Everything is for them.” Razak lost his job after the riots. His boss, Rakesh bhai, told him there was no work for him anymore. He, like a bunch of Muslim labourers in BG Tower, has been replaced with a Hindu.

Sarfaroz butts in with his own grievance. “We come here because we have nowhere to go. We want to shift to safer areas to live but there are no jobs for us there. We have to live in the old areas because we get work there. And if we have to live there, we have to keep fear as our constant companion.”

The mood lifts as the food line inches forward. Cheerfully Idoo bhai says: “Yaar, lekin kuch bhi ho, is desh me khana zaroor milta hai, kahin se bhi. Khana to kahin se bhi aahi jaata hai (Whatever it is, in this country no one goes hungry. Food does come in from some place or the other).”

Finally, as Idoo bhai nudges his plate forward and a lump of rice and dal plop down on it, he says: “Life in these camps is difficult, but at least we are safe. Look at the faces of people here, nobody is happy. Everyone wants to go home and lead a life of dignity. It’s no good standing so long in a line to eat some food. I long to eat the food cooked by my elder daughter Naseem.”

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