The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Branded traitor, woman prises open ‘closed’ riot case

Mumbai, Dec. 26: Saira Ishan Ali has firmly stood her ground as the earth beneath her feet shook with the wrath of those she took on.

The 40-year-old woman has been fighting some members of her community since December 7, 1992, when allegedly they killed nine Hindu passers-by at Behrampada.

“It was harrowing at times,” Saira says. “I was branded a traitor for going against my community,” she said.

What has come as encouragement in her mission to do “Allah’s bidding”, however, is last week’s high court order of a CID inquiry into her case.

Most of her neighbours in the predominantly Muslim locality have not taken kindly to her or the court order.

The order has opened a window of hope for riot victims, such as Saira, in the 1,368 cases that were considered “closed”. Others fighting for their own grievances, such as Farooq Mapkar, too, see some hope. A police bullet had hit Mapkar when he was inside a mosque.

“I have been knocking on every door. Now that the court has intervened in Saira’s case, it may do the same for the others,” he says.

It took Saira 10 years to make her voice heard against a reticent police and state machinery. She recalls the fateful day a decade ago when she saw a mob of her own people killing unarmed Hindus in her locality. “I saw them put the bodies in a ditch next to my house and sprinkle salt and acid on them to destroy evidence,” she says.

“I realised innocent people, whether Muslims or Hindus, were being targeted and killed. Something in me said Allah would not want this to happen because everybody’s blood is the same,” Saira said, explaining her crusade for justice.

“I heard the voice and decided to do what I had to, whatever the consequences.”

The consequences could have been serious, says Fazlur Rahman, the editor of local Urdu weekly Haqqaniyat, “We were turned away by everyone, be it the police or politicians. The senior police inspector in charge of Nirmal Nagar police station told me I should not take on ‘my own people’,” he says.

For Saira, the authorities’ advice wasn’t the end of trouble. The police recorded false charges against her teenage son and the corporation demolished her paan shop, she says.

Even the senior police inspector at Nirmal Nagar, Sridhar Dighe, says there is no truth in Saira’s claim. She has “made everything up”, Dighe says.

But Saira is no longer afraid. “People can say what they want. The high court has reopened the case and ordered an immediate investigation. They must have seen something in my appeal to do so,” she says.

Saira lives off the rent she earns from letting out a house she owns. She lives in a 10-ft-by-12-ft house in Lakdawali Gali.

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