| Former Prime Minister Deve Gowda at a Malegaon hospital on Friday. (PTI)
Mumbai, Sept. 15: Hundreds of children gathered for Friday prayers at the Bada Kabrastan Masjid in Malegaon, seven days after many of their friends were killed in blasts.
Thirty-one had died, about half of them children, and 297 were injured when blasts erupted as devotees were praying for their forefathers on Shab-e-Barat, one of the holiest days in Islam.
“There were almost 15,000 people in the kabrastan today — that’s three times the usual number. I am not surprised by the turnout. The irony is that the security this time was so stringent. I wish police were this careful last Friday as well, so many lives could have been saved,” said Mohammad Idris, who had helped in rescue operations after the blasts.
The blasts site and the adjoining road were filled to the brim with people, little Arif Aman Ayub among them. But the seven-year-old missed several of his friends who had been at the mosque with him last week. As people remembered their dead, there was no sign of anger or violence.
“There was an eerie silence. What can I say' People were lost in their own grief,” said Hanif Qureshi, a shop owner.
Security was tight, and people themselves were careful. “We don’t depend on the police anymore. We have decided to keep a lookout ourselves. Anyone we think is not from the area is questioned by members of the masjid group. Of course people are scared. How can they not be' But life goes on,” said Amanatulla Khan, a devotee.
The police said there was no reason to be scared. “We have deployed around 200-250 policemen in and around the area. People were tense, but not afraid. We have taken steps to see that cycles and other baggage are not brought inside the kabrastan,” said senior inspector, Azad Nagar police station, N.H. Sheikh.
Bicycles, which were used to plant bombs last Friday, were not allowed inside the mosque premises, being relegated to the outside wall. No food stalls were allowed either in the lane leading to the kabrastan, Idris said.
“The stalls are a major attraction for the children. But this time things are not the same,” he said.
At least 50-60 policemen were deployed in the area and many more all across town, residents said.
But the many hoax calls and the lack of a breakthrough in the case are keeping the community on edge.
“There’s no guarantee of safety. Children talk in whispers and they hope that this time there will be no bombs around. How can you live in this kind of an environment'” asked Khan.