“We ran our fingers through the ashes…”

[Students from AISA who visited Gujarat give their impressions. Excerpts.]


“We were running for life. I had three children. Myself and the children’s father were running ahead. My mother was at the back, behind the children…my husband survived…My 2 children were burnt alive…they died…and I threw one of my children behind me, he survived. We have been brutalised… We were torched in a most horrific manner…by pouring kerosene …petrol…over us. We made uneding requests to them…what is our fault….please don’t kill us …we are innocents…poor people…what have we done? But they wouldn’t care a damn.”

– 30-year old Shadira, who narrated this amidst sobs, is admitted to the burns ward, No. 3, at the Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad with 35% burns. Her husband restrains her younger child from meeting her since little Shahid may get frightened seeing his mother.

Incredible, mind-numbing, stories like these and images of mindless, frenzied genocide perpetrated by the architects of “Hindu Rashtra” confronted us in Ahmedabad when I (Srikant) along with Comrades Ravi P.Rai, Nitin Pamnani and Sushil Pathak of Delhi University unit of All India Students Association (AISA) reached there on 8th March 2002 to explore our possible role in relief and rehabilitation. The train, Ashram Express, at New Delhi was literally empty when it left for Ahmedabad.

On the way to Amraivadi, where we stayed, (thousand Muslims families had been killed here in ‘69 riots) from Ahmedabad railway station we saw everywhere burnt houses, shops and other establishments belonging to Muslims, deserted streets and expressionless faces.

At 3.00 in the afternoon, along with some local comrades, we headed for the Civil Hospital. The Hospital seemed to us like a jungle of burnt faces, burnt bodies and helpless eyes. Our first interaction there (after prior permission from the hospital Director) in the burns ward was with a 30-year-old woman named Shadira, whose story has been narrated above. It is clear that the cruel beasts of VHP-BJP-RSS-Bajrang Dal, who raise the slogan of Bharat Mata ki Jai (Long Live Mother India) have no mercy for thousands of mothers like Shadira. After this we met Shabbir, Shahjahan, Shahrukh, Farzana and many who had lost everything in the tidal wave of Hindu fascism and barely survived as they were thrown aside being taken as dead.

Later we went to the mortuary (though now there is no need for a separate one in Gujarat). We saw 166 dead bodies which had no claimants. Perhaps, the claimants themselves were lying dead or orphaned in some other part of the city. In each long drawer of the mortuary 3 bodies of children had been accommodated. These little children, who had not learnt the distinction between Hindu and Muslim, had been torched and killed after being branded Babar ki Aulaad (descendents of Babar). After seeing this we realized the true meaning of the Saffron slogan Garv se kaho – Hum Hindu hain (Say with pride that we are Hindus). The rotten stench of Hindu extremism at the mortuary had already forced two of our comrades to quickly exit. Myself (Sikant) and Nitin came out 15 minutes later, wondering about the claim of so-called Hindu tolerance.

From the mortuary we moved ahead towards the biggest relief camp being run in a school at Shahibagh. Each individual, whose house had been torched there appeared to have been torched within, too. We met Aslam Bhai, who was a resident of Gulbarg Society. His mother was cut into pieces before being set on fire and he could only watch in horror from the terrace of his house, totally helpless.

We covered a road on a rickshaw where recently stood the mazaar (grave) of Wali Gujarati, the pioneer of Urdu poetry in Gujarat. His shayari (poetry) has the distinction for being a literary weapon against religious fundamentalism. That was why it specially “invited” the wrath of Hindu fundamentalists who demolished it and the administration lost no time in leveling the place by a roadroller. We saw numerous mosques and dargahs destroyed and replaced with idols of Hullaria Hanuman (Hullar in Gujarati means riot).

On all the corners of the ‘dead’ city we found ashes of charred bodies. We ran our fingers into the ash to ask it whether there was a throbbing heart. Where was laughter of innocent children, the dream of the youth? Unfortunately, we could not find any answer from the ashes. We tried to find it through Ghalib –

Jale hain jisma jahan, Dil bhi jal gaya hoga

Kuredte ho jo ab raakh, juftju kya hai

(Where the body is torched, the heart would also have been charred, what is the use of disturbing the ashes now to find an answer.)

When we were returning to Delhi on 9th March the train was packed with Muslim families. They were going in search of a safe place. We felt it was futile to go in search of a safe place in Saffron India. Rather the need was to fight for making every place safe and peaceful.

Ravi P. Rai and Srikant