Accused try to salvage situation with court fixing June 30 as judgment day

The fear expressed by some survivors and witnesses of the Naroda-Patiya 2002 Gujarat communal riots, has again highlighted the conditions in which the members of the minority community are living in the labour-dominated heartland of Ahmedabad even 10 years after the gory massacres.

Accused mostly ‘Patels'

Apparently unnerved by the fairly large numbers of convictions in the four cases in which the judgements have already been delivered, the accused in the Naroda-Patiya massacre, the biggest of all with 95 casualties, are using threats and intimidation to the witnesses to try to salvage the situation, if possible, at the last moment as the special fast track court has already fixed June 30 for delivering the verdict in the case. The only exception so far was the Umta village case where the accused managed to forge a truce with the minorities resulting in acquittal of all the 109 accused — the prosecution witnesses turned hostile and refused to recognise any of the accused.

Incidentally, a large majority of the 50-odd accused held guilty in the Sardarpura in Mehsana district and two massacres in Ode in Anand district, are “Patels,” the largest and one of the strongest communities in the State, minus the sub-sections within the community.

More than half-a-dozen witnesses of the Naroda-Patiya massacre have petitioned the chairman of the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) for further strengthening the police protection in the locality with threats and intimidation increasing as the day of judgement nears.

‘Fascism has arrived'

This is for those who have dared to return to their shattered homes a few months or years after the gory incidents to earn their livelihood. But according to a recent survey undertaken by Janvikas, an Ahmedabad-based voluntary organisation, 16,087 victims of the 2002 riots, which then had displaced over two lakh people, are still living in 83 relief colonies across the state run by Muslim charitable trusts and some non-government organizations.

The findings, Janvikas's chief executive officer Vijay Parmar said were a “chilling reminder that fascism has well and truly arrived. The number of Muslims rendered homeless, penniless and in dire straits by the events of 2002, continue to remain so even now or even worse for the bitterness of systematic neglect.”

Those living in the relief colonies were the people who could not or dared not return to their original places of residences and for the last 10 years living in the make-shift shelters, and still uncertain when, if at all, they would be able to return to their original places.

Most of these colonies were located in the Muslim-dominated areas in various parts of the State and developed after the Narendra Modi government unceremoniously declared closure of all government-run relief camps in July 2002, claiming return of “normalcy” in the State three months after the history's worst massacres.

As second-class citizens

Many of the families who returned to their original places were condemned to live a life of second-class citizens, compromising on their status and rights or agreeing to withdraw the legal cases or turn hostile, as was seen during the Umta case trial. But those unwilling to live the deeply compromised lives, unwilling to withdraw the cases or sought to secure justice for their victim brethren, had to continue to live in the relief colonies but their existence has not been recognised by the State government. An affidavit filed by the State government in the Supreme Court claimed that there was not a single pending case of internal displacement in Gujarat, and if anyone was living outside their original places of residence, they were doing so “to better their own economic prospects.”

According to the Janvikas, which surveyed 63 of the 83 relief colonies to find out the status of the houses built for the victims displaced by the 2002 riots, only in 15 colonies had the constructions been regularised and the ownerships transferred to the individual families. Of the remaining 48 colonies, constructions had been regularised but the ownership not been transferred in 31 while in the remaining 17 neither had the construction been regularised so far nor had the ownership been transferred.

No roof over their heads

It was pointed out that most of the colonies were built by the Muslim charitable trusts or the NGOs in a hurry, as the riot victims had no roof over their heads, and in many cases did not follow the government rules of getting no-objection certificates for the agricultural lands converted for residential purposes, or got the plans approved by the authorities concerned. The government, however, was insisting on the house owners to follow the proper rules and procedures and was holding back the regularisation process.

Besides the fact that the displaced persons had been economically devastated, no attempt was made by the government to create a conducive atmosphere to facilitate their return to their original places, nor had efforts been made to create a sense of security and justice in them. “The people in the colonies do not trust the government authorities,” the survey report said.