| VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia paying homage to the victims in Godhra on the first anniversary of the incident. (PTI)
Ahmedabad, March 9: When 59 people died after the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at Godhra last year, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was quick to claim that all were kar sevaks.
Some of the victims’ relatives now deny they had anything to do with the VHP.
Railway minister Nitish Kumar said last week a list of those killed would be placed in Parliament shortly, more than a year after the incident.
One of the victims was Sharyuben Mhatre, a housewife, whose husband says she had no links with the VHP or its women’s wing, the Durga Vahini. “My wife knew nothing about the activities of the VHP,” stresses Sharad Mhatre.
The 38-year-old was a devout Hindu who regularly visited the nearby temple, where some local VHP workers organised bhajan-kirtan to build up the tempo for the Ram temple movement.
On February 22, the day the first batch of kar sevaks left for Ayodhya, he got a call from Sharyu in his office. She announced that she was going to Ayodhya with neighbour Amiben Prakash. The VHP, she said, had arranged for the travel.
Sharad recalls VHP workers coming to his house two days before his wife left. They had asked Sharyu to fill a form expressing her interest to visit Ayodhya. He had advised her against it, and didn’t suspect she wanted to go.
“They (Sharyu and Amiben) filled the form when I was in office,” Sharad says. “I could do nothing because they had been made to believe that the purnahuti yagna was important and many sadhus would bless the congregation.’’
Sharyu and Amiben burnt to death in coach S-6 on February 28, 2002. A year later, Sharad lives with the regret of having let his wife have her way.
Arvindaben Sukla, from Janata Nagar Ramol, was another victim. She was a religious 72-year-old, whose son Kiritbhai blames the VHP for telling Arvindaben she would be able to perform puja in Ayodhya.
His mother had nothing to do with the Sangh outfit, Kiritbhai underlines.
The municipal employee, who lives in a chawl at Janata Nagar that lost 10 residents in the carnage, flashes a newspaper clipping quoting VHP leaders as saying they were caring for the families of all Godhra victims.
“The VHP leaders claimed that the families of the victims were getting regular ration and their leaders were visiting the aggrieved families regularly. The reality is that not a single VHP leader came to console us. It all turned out to be false propaganda by the VHP,” Kiritbhai said.
Manibhai Dave was a 54-year-old pharmacist and government employee with a monthly salary of Rs 7,000. He would shuttle between Ahmedabad and Dholka, where he worked. He was neither as gullible nor as religious as Sharyu or Arvindaben.
It was his 13-year-old son, Yogeshwar, who would attend RSS shakhas. Spurred by his son’s involvement with the RSS, Manibhai applied for leave and left for Ayodhya. He was not a VHP member.
Manibhai’s death has devastated daughter Chhaya, who quit her studies to work as a nurse for Rs 800 a month. Much like her father, she travels 10 km from Kubernagar to her workplace.
A year after her father’s death, Chhaya has no time to grieve. As the breadwinner, she has to worry about earning a decent living. “I was told I will get the job in place of my father,’’ she says. But that doesn’t look easy. “There is a technical problem. My father died while he was on leave. That is getting difficult to sort out,” Chhaya says.