Gulberg Society residents caught between the horrifying memories that refuse to leave them and the compulsions of the present
Ahmedabad: If the past pricks, the present pesters them. The hapless denizens of Gulberg Society here that saw as many as 69 people being burnt to death in the communal riots in 2002 are today caught between the horrifying memories that refuse to leave them and the compulsions of the present what with many of them eking it out in rented houses in “safer” localities, while their own homes wear a deserted look.
The pallid walls of the forlorn houses stand as a mute testimony to the horrors that the 69 families underwent while several other riot sites like Naroda Patiya – another horrifying massacre site – have been rebuilt. Gulberg Society has neither been demolished nor rebuilt for setting up a museum of sorts to ensure the carnage was not allowed to be forgotten.
Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), which has taken up cudgels for the legal fight of the 2002 victims in getting justice, had conjured up the plan of a memorial. When it started getting discussed in 2005-06, the NGO offered the former residents of the Society just a little lower than the market price for their houses for the purpose and they all readily agreed to contribute for the cause.
But now, it is so very poignant that they don’t want the memories of their suffering to fade away but at the same time wish to sell away their houses and look into the future. So much so that last week they wrote to the Police Commissioner to prevent activists of the NGO from gathering at the Society anymore as they wished to move on with life, than remain tethered to the past.
In November 2012, they even passed a resolution to allow the sale of the houses as nobody has lived in the Society after the carnage.
There are two things that have prompted them to look into the future. One, the realty prices in the area has shot up and secondly, CJP is not in a position to purchase the houses for a memorial. Ms. Setalvad told The Hindu, “We are at present caught up in several riot cases and each one of them costs a lot. That doesn’t mean the memorial may not happen. There are at least seven to eight families who are willing to provide their houses for the purpose.”
The predicament of the Gulberg families could be understood from what Yunus Patel, who has now settled in Gandhinagar, says.
He points out that the families indeed wanted a memorial but because of the “rise in the realty prices, Ms. Setalvad’s NGO cannot pay us adequately. Even if we agree to sell our houses at rates lower than the market prices that also doesn’t work out affordable.”
Tanvir Jafri, son of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the 2002 riots says, “When we started talking with the NGO in 2005-06, the value of the entire society was around Rs. 3.5 crore but today it is much more than Rs. 10 crore according to official rates. Secondly, he told The Hindu, “The CJP cannot give that kind of money now for the memorial. Then, the place is 5000 square metres with 19 owners of 19 bungalows besides 15 shops there.”
He added, “You cannot have a memorial of 5,000 metres. What will you do with so much land? And then there should be some health centre and skill development workshops besides the memorials so that it could be of use to the people in the area, most of whom come from the labour and lower middle classes.”
Mr. Jafri said the Society had offered the NGO some 4,000 square feet land that was available at subsidised rates, but nothing more.
“The Society by-laws said the residents could sell their property only to Muslims, but now in our November resolution they were allowed to sell it to anyone, irrespective of the religion.”
The past depresses them but the future beckons. That explains why most of the families wish to bury the past and build a new future.