| The Sabarmati Express coach at Godhra a year after the incident. (PTI)
Godhra, Feb. 27: The quiet at the Godhra railway station is deathly. No one comes here shouting “chai, chai, chai”. The vendors, who harass, irritate and often force you to buy their wares at other stations, do not do so here. There are no vendors here.
Even the urchins scattered around the platform, sticking closely by their parents’ side, seem to talk in whispers, quietened perhaps by the memory of the tragedy that was Godhra.
Go a little further, cross the platform, enter the railway yard and the horror is complete. The S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express — or what remains of it — that was torched on February 27 last year stands in statuesque exhibition, displaying its scars and wounds to anybody who is interested. A grotesque reminder of the tragedy that shook the nation, S-6 stands, almost infused with a life of its own.
D.B. Dhekale of the Railway Protection Force paces restlessly up and down near the horrifying monument, because that’s what S-6 has become. A monument.
Dhekale says he is on guard duty at the yard. After loosening up a bit, he lets out that part of the reason why he is there is S-6. But why does he have to look after S-6'
“I have to keep a watch on the railway property and see that people don’t steal anything from S-6,” he says. Then, unconvinced by his own answer, he adds: “Actually, there is nothing in the compartment here and I really don’t know what is there to guard. I think people steal iron parts. I really don’t know.”
But S-6, as Dhekale will tell you, is not just burnt and bloodied iron. It is a pilgrimage point.
“On Sundays, you can see people flocking to see this coach, mostly locals,” he says. “In fact, people come here from all parts of the country — Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai. Whoever stops in Godhra or is passing by makes it a point to see this coach. Dekhne ki cheez hai, na.”
Crushed packaged water bottles, crumpled packets of chips, cigarette butts and empty bidi packets litter the area. Enough evidence that people do come to see S-6, gape at it and go home to tell the tale, maybe for the umpteenth time.
No one knows if anything has been planned for S-6. Railway officials at Godhra say they are not aware of the fate that awaits S-6 now. They say they won’t touch it until the orders come from the railway ministry.
“Anyway, what can be done to the coach' Nobody would want to dismantle it or move it to any other place. I haven’t heard any talk of repairs being done (to S-6) either. And I don’t see any point in towing it to Ahmedabad or Delhi. That won’t serve any purpose, will it'’’ asks Dhekale.
Back at the railway station, it is quiet as ever. At the signs of another train pulling in, a couple of “recognised” tea vendors emerge, wearing their railway badge prominently. But there are no customers near Munna’s stall (he refuses to part with his formal name). Asked why Godhra station is so quiet, he says: “All the vendors have vanished. The RPF raids the platform twice weekly to flush out any unauthorised vendor. After the incident (last year), the police think vendors are the biggest cause for trouble.”
But even if they had been at the station, there would have been little business. “Many people circumvent the Godhra station,” says Mayur Shah, a local businessman. “They will go to Timba, Tuwa, Vejalpur, Sehera or Santrod to avoid Godhra. It is inconvenient, but it is prudent.”
The only thing that really looks safe in Godhra is S-6. There is nothing much that can be done to it now.