An open letter to Mr. Lyngdoh
FARAH NAQVI makes a fervent appeal to the Chief Election Commissioner to ensure free and safe elections in Gujarat on December 12 so that the battered minorities can exercise their franchise.
Gujarat... scarred and wounded.
Dear Mr. Lyngdoh,
NEARLY nine months to the worst days and nights of their lives, they are still waiting. They, the Muslim survivors of Gujarat, betrayed by friends, left for dead by the State, now look to you. The rhetoric of democracy is indeed powerful. One person, one vote, it says.
Universal franchise, it says. If these words ever meant anything at all, they mean something to the Muslims of Gujarat. It's not just about winning. It is also about that moment when they will straighten their broken backs and stand up. Wounded, bleeding, body-scarred, but still standing up to be counted.
It's your last chance, our last chance to tell them that they too are citizens of India. Keep your promise on December 12, Mr. Lyngdoh. Allow them to vote. Create security, arrest the men who raped and pillaged, send in the Army, send in the Rapid Action Force (RAF), (and for heaven's sake don't send the local police) and then, yes, the Muslims of Gujarat will exercise their franchise, and in some small measure, restore democracy to India. That is the power they alone have. To create the conditions for them to use it is a power you alone have. Some months ago the survivors of the carnage were too scared to do anything but lick their wounds quietly. Scared to enter police stations, intimidated by doctors at the local hospital, it seemed unimaginable that they would actually brave Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) goondas to go out and vote. But something has changed. It is as if these men and women denied of every other right given to the citizens of a state security, protection, justice are now pinning their hopes on that one chance at the hustings.
They've bought into your rhetoric, Mr. Lyngdoh, of a free and fair election for they are desperate, and they are asking to be restored. Their vote is really all they have left. Imagine a mother who watched frozen with fear her 17-year-old daughter being raped repeatedly, and then mutilated and burnt. Then they raped and burnt her 16-year-old niece. M_____ lost seven members of her family that day all burnt alive in Eral village of Panchmahals district on March 3, 2002. Her daughters' tortured screams, the smell of burning flesh will not let her rest. For nine months this brave woman, this mother, has waited with a burning heart for justice, one among the few survivors who has refused to compromise. And because she is ready to stand up in a court of law, her life is in danger. She has been forced to leave Eral. Out of 42 men charged with murder and rape only three remain in jail. These are powerful men. One is being defended by a well known politician. The other defence lawyer is a member of Parliament. Thirteen co-accused were released on bail within days, and another 26 other charge-sheeted men roam free, untouched by the State.
Among these are the four men who raped and mutilated those girls. Today they walk the streets of Eral swaggering, threatening and free. The villagers see them every day, but the police simply says we can't find them.
It's been nine long months.
These are murderous and powerful men, Mr. Lyngdoh, and so long as they walk free, no Muslim in Eral is secure, least of all on judgment day. So, make the State Government arrest them and I promise you every Muslim in Eral village will vote. Can you also arrange for armed escorts to take M_____ and the remaining members of her family to the Eral polling booth? Do that and every Muslim in Panchmahals district will salute you. Restore their faith in the system, and you will have the best minority voter turn out ever. In neighbouring Dahod, out of 87 riot related cases only 24 charge sheets have been filed. In 18 out of these 24 cases, the police has closed the files, saying "accused not found". It has been nine months.
Among these files is the complaint made by B_____, 19 years old and four months pregnant when she was gang-raped. Can you imagine her horror? Her two-year-old daughter hacked to death before her very eyes, her mother, aunt, sister raped and burnt. B_____ cannot read and write, and she never knew what the police wrote when she spoke her tortured words to them, naming her assailants.
Today those names have disappeared from the police record.
Will there be peace for his sake?
No charge sheet has been filed. B_____ can never return to her village, because she dared to file a complaint. Where will she exercise her franchise on December 12? Delol village of Panchmahals is today emptied of all Muslim residents. Thirty-seven were killed in March, and the rest dare not return. Many have tried to enroll their names on voter lists in the Taluka headquarters, but 67 are still listed as voters in Delol. Is 67 too small a number in the rhetoric of universal franchise? So visit the 49 Muslim families of Pavagarh village thrown out, their livelihoods snatched away, living in tents in Halol. Proud young Muslim men, once gainfully employed, now live on charity. Their shame, anger, humiliation barely disguised. They've lost everything, except for their vote.
Send in the army, they say, and we'll sneak into our village at the crack of dawn and vote. Like thieves they will reclaim their right of franchise.
That's how desperate they are. Eral, Malav, Vejalpur, Shivrajpur, Pavagarh, Delol, Fatehpura, Sanjheli the list is long. In village after village 100, 250, 300, 500 Muslim voters are ready to stand up and be counted. Make it possible, Mr. Lyngdoh. It may be our last chance.
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