The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Godhra victims on Zahira track

Mumbai, Oct. 6: Relatives of those who died in the Godhra train carnage want to move the Supreme Court as they feel the BJP and the VHP used them as “Hindu victims” after the incident and then dumped their cause.

They want a ban on all Ayodhya yatras, like the one proposed on October 15. They also claim the VHP raised a huge amount of money from Gujarati NRIs in the name of the train tragedy victims which remains unaccounted for. Four men from Ahmedabad’s Janatanagar colony, whose wives were among the 58 burnt to death on the Sabarmati Express, are in the city seeking justice.

Like Zahira Sheikh, the Best Bakery witness from Vadodara, they want the Godhra inquiry transferred out of the state because of alleged intimidation of witnesses by Sangh parivar activists. They received threats when they wanted to depose before the Nanavati Commission, they said. “Till two to three months after the tragedy, the VHP and BJP activists would visit us and promise all sorts of help,” says 82-year-old Girishbhai Rawal, who lost his wife Sudhaben. “They said the children would be taken care of. They also promised Rs 1,000 a month and food rations. But they disappeared soon.”

For Rawal, a former medical officer, there were more disasters. His son, Ashwinbhai, who was the local Bajrang Dal president and a BJP cardholder, was killed in the aftermath of the riots. “But though he belonged to the Dal, no one did anything to protect him,” says Rawal.

“On April 4, we informed the police of threat to Ashwinbhai’s life as we noticed a change in the atmosphere in the locality. On April 16, he was murdered. On April 25, the police sent us a letter saying they were unable to provide security,” says Bharatbhai Panchal, Rawal’s neighbour.

Panchal, an auto-rickshaw driver, lost his wife Jyotiben. So did Prakashbhai Babubhai and Sharad Ananthrao, who are here. Ashwinbhai’s widow Belaben and their 18-year-old daughter Khushboo are also here. Rawal’s family runs on Rs 5,000 now, his monthly pension. “We don’t have money to run the household. But the VHP has raised lakhs of dollars in our name. We want an account of that money,” he says.

With the help of the Citizens for Justice and Peace, the NGO that took up Zahira’s case, they will seek material and psychological compensation for all victims of the Godhra and post-Godhra violence. “We have asked for their protection from police,” says Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace. She said she was in touch with legal advisers and would approach the Supreme Court shortly.

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