Survivors remember India riots

Hatred and distrust divide communities in Gujarat five years after carnage.

    About 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were burned  and hacked to death in weeks of violence [AP]

    Religious hatred
    The riots erupted a day after 59 Hindu pilgrims were burnt alive in a train carriage on February 27.

    Claims that the fire was started by a Muslim mob led to widespread violence and more than 1,000 arrests, most of them Hindus.

    An investigation launched by the railway ministry reported in 2006 that the fire was an accident, but that report has not been tabled in parliament.

    The police in Gudjarat maintain it was a planned conspiracy by Muslims and a commission of inquiry has been constiuted by the state government, but it is not expect to report until December 2007.

    Meanwhile an estimated 5,000 families were displaced, many are still living in makeshift refugee camps. 
    Old scars

    On February 28 a mob locked Sheikh's two children and his wife in their house, doused it with petrol and set it alight. His family was killed.

    "All I could hear was a loud blast from my house," Sheikh said.

    Sheikh says he sees many of the rioters walking freely on the streets.

    "Old scars have not healed. I am unable to forgive and forget those who ruined my life forever," Usman Sheikh, a 65-year-old fruit vendor, said.

    "Some even buy fruits from me for their children. I cannot kill them. It is the job of the police to punish them," he said standing outside the vacant plot where his house once stood.

    Some 3,200 cases, many of them filed by Muslims, are pending for trial before Indian courts.

    Few convictions

    The past five years have seen only about a dozen convictions, mostly in lower courts in Gujarat and the convicts have appealed before higher courts.

    Many riot victims distributed copies of the holy Koran among Hindus to stem the religious divide.

    "Hindus think Koran preaches us to fight," said Fahad Zaheer, a member of the Jamaat-e-Islam, a Muslim organisation.

    "Let people read Koran and know its teachings whether it promotes peace or violence."

    In public meetings, victims spoke about their nightmares and unrelenting fear of mob attacks.

    "Five years ago, my mother was set ablaze by a Hindu mob. They raped my wife and looted my house in my absence. I pray for justice each day"

    -Zafar Mohammed Sheikh, businessman

    "Five years ago, my mother was set ablaze by a Hindu mob. They raped my wife and looted my house in my absence. I pray for justice each day," Zafar Mohammed Sheikh, a 35-year-old businessman told Reuters.

    "If the government fails to find the perpetrators, Allah surely will," he said.

    On Tuesday, right-wing Hindu radicals attended a prayer meeting to remember the 59 pilgrims who died on the train.

    "Their sacrifice will not go to waste. They have inspired us to strengthen our beliefs in Hindu philosophy," said Janak Panchal, whose mother died on the train.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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