Today's Paper

Ahmedabad quiet, toll 431

Homeless Muslims waiting for a meal at a dargah in Ahmedabad on Sunday. - AFP  

AHMEDABAD, MARCH 3. The orgy of violence in Gujarat appears to have ended. Today only two deaths were reported, one from Godhra. Officially the death roll is 431, more than half of them in Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad was quiet, apart from two major arson attacks on a Muslim-owned petrol station and warehouse.

Curfew has been lifted in most areas of the 40 towns and cities where clashes were reported, including Naroda and Meghnaninagar in Ahmedabad, where hundreds were killed. The state administration says that curfew will be relaxed in more areas tomorrow. There was a `sense of normality in the State' today.

But, the smouldering remains of burnt-out buildings and the acrid smell of burning rubber, five days after the violence began, are a reminder that `normality' in Ahmedabad is a very long way off.

Huddled by a pillar in the city's Shah Alam Mosque Abdul Aziz, a 25-year-old tailor, from Naroda is trying to get accustomed to a new kind of `normality'. When the mob attacked his neighbourhood on Thursday they killed his wife Sabira and two of their three children. His one surviving son, four-year-old Sabir, has bad burn injuries on both arms and one leg. Aziz is one of some 1000 families, from some of Ahmedabad's worst affected areas to have found shelter at the Mosque.

They queue up to give their names, addresses, the number of their family members with them, the numbers dead or missing. The macabre count goes on as more and more people continue to arrive. Medicines at the camp are in desperately short supply, as is food. Local residents of Shah Alam can offer little help. They are fenced in by the curfew, and fear that the guns trained on their homes may actually work. And, the state administration, which absented itself as the violent mobs laid waste to this city, continues to ignore those most in need of help.

Prasad Chacko, part of a group from St. Xaviers Social Service Society, able to go around the city for the first time since the rioting started, to see if they could help, asked angrily ``is there actually a government in Gujarat? A senior civil servant answered this question for us, ``as far as this Government is concerned it's Muslims who have died, or been injured. This is a Government that does not even consider them citizens''.

Those who have been able to reach the few shelters like the one at Shah Alam are the lucky ones. In Vatwa, in the south east of Ahmedabad, where many Muslim families displaced by the riots, following the Babri Masjid demolition settled, even the injured have not been able to reach hospitals. Ansari Israr Ahmed and Mohammed Shafi, both rickshaw drivers from Alifnagar in Vatwa, are lying in a makeshift infirmary with grotesque burns all over their bodies. They were walking home on Thursday, the day of the VHP bandh in Gujarat, when they were set upon by a group of young men who poured fuel over them and set them alight.

Twice people from the neighbouring Ali Madina Society tried taking them to the nearby Vadilal Hospital, and twice they were turned back. The second time with the warning that if they came again they would be burnt. There are more in this small settlement who lie with just a sheet covering their burnt bodies. Like thousands of others in the city, forced to flee their burning homes the residents of Vatwa's Roshani Society, Tufer Park Burhani and Bismillah societies are crowded into `refuges' in dargas and under hastily-erected shamianas.

Why they cannot get help is abundantly clear. As we tried to leave, past the burnt-out remains of cars and machinery, we were stopped, not by police, but by a crowd of men from the Narol village armed with iron rods, stones and glass bottles. ``How do we know you are really `press'?'' ``Cars with press stickers are being used to carry arms and we will stop them. They accept the identity card. The name of the newspaper seems to help. Two of them gave us their names, Bharat Patel and Hiren Patel.

The curfew that keeps the Muslims of Vatwa and Shah Alam confined to their homes does not seem to stretch to the Patels of Narol. Nor to the Hindu family in Gupta Nagar that amidst the rubble and burnt offerings of communal hatred was setting out, all dressed up, in a wedding procession, or the young men in Navrangpura who were out playing cricket.

Advani lists priorities

The Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani visited Ahmedabad and Godhra today. In a state torn apart by communal hate, he laid out his priorities: ``First we have to arrest the guilty, second, to prevent recurrence of any kind of violence and third, to ensure peace and security to all sections of people.''

Mr. Advani described the Godhra attack as ``premeditated, and said that ``those who are guilty and the key planner of the entire act should be apprehended''. But, he put down five days of state-wide mayhem as simply ``nothing but communal violence''.