Special Correspondent

AHMEDABAD: Thousands of men, women and children, both Hindus and Muslims, marched shoulder to shoulder through the once worst riot-infested areas in the heart of Ahmedabad on Wednesday to "herald a new era of communal harmony" in Gujarat.

The rally was timed to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the "Gujarat Bandh" day on February 28 in 2002 when hundreds of Muslims were burnt alive in several parts of the State in retaliation for the Godhra train carnage the previous day.

The rally was organised by the "New Social Movement," an offshoot of the Jansangharsha Manch, which was fighting the cases of the riot victims in courts and before the G.T. Nanavati-K.G. Shah judicial inquiry panel probing the train carnage and the post-Godhra communal riots in the State. Several other voluntary organisations working for the rehabilitation of the riot victims and supporters of the Left parties also joined the rally. Family members of many riot victims as well as survivors of the communal attacks also took part in the rally to plead for communal harmony.

The rally carrying placards and shouting slogans for communal harmony wound its way through the most-congested and narrow minority-dominated areas in old Ahmedabad before it converted itself into a public meeting addressed by leaders of both Hindu and Muslim communities and Gandhians. On its way through some of the mixed localities, the rally received enthusiastic response from the people watching from both sides of the road indicating that there were no hard feelings left in their hearts.

The speakers at the public meeting asked the Narendra Modi government to stop playing the "politics of divide and rule" to increase the chasm between the two communities for political benefits. They also wanted the government to take necessary steps to rehabilitate several thousands riot victims still languishing in makeshift camps even after five years of internal displacements.