Gulbarg society massacre: No closure yet after 19 years
February 28, 2021 was the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Two survivors relive the nightmare
On the evening of February 27, 2002, many Amdavadis were enjoying a musical evening by ghazal singer Jagjit Singh at the elite Karnavati Club. This was the time when charred bodies of the Kar Sevaks from the gutted train coach at Godhra began arriving in the city.
At Gulbarg Society, residents had started retiring to their homes after the evening prayers. “Had we known what was in store for us the next day, we would have escaped to safety. The society had earlier faced attacks in 1984-85 and during the 1992 riots. But then it was confined to stone pelting and looting shops.”
“We all derived our strength from Ehsan Jafri, an ex-MP and one of the founders of our society. We used to play carrom at a raised platform in front of Jafri uncle’s house. That night we had laid our carrom board as usual and played till 3 am,” recalls Imtiyaz.
February 28, 2002. Imtiyaz was woken up by a Hindu friend from a neighbouring society. Imtiyaz was to do the wiring at his friend’s house. “When I returned, ammi cooked eggs for me. I had barely finished eating when the frenzy started. A mob of a few hundred people pelted stones at our society. Soon stone pelting started from all sides. Mobs brandishing swords, scythes, sticks and carrying cans of petrol, diesel and kerosene stormed in,” he recalls. “We ran to Jafri uncle’s house and urged him to do something for our safety.”
“The mob reached the gate of Jafri uncle’s bungalow and began banging. Jafri uncle said: ‘Take me, but spare the children and women’ and went down the stairs to confront the crowd. The mob caught him by his throat and dragged him to the backyard of his bungalow. We heard him plead, ‘Kill me, if you want, but don’t set me ablaze as death by burning is taboo in Islam. But they first hacked him into pieces and then set him ablaze. Not only Jafri uncle, but my mother, brother, grandma, grandfather, aunt, sister-in-law, two nieces and a nephew, all were burnt alive,” he shudders while recalling the nightmare 19 years later.
Thirty-five Muslims including Jafri were burnt alive. Thirty-one others went missing. Later presumed dead, they took the total toll at Gulbarg Society to 69.
Imtiyaz told special court judge BU Joshi on November 2, 2009 that Jafri had called the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who had abused the former MP. “When defense lawyer Mitesh Amin asked me as to what I meant by cuss words, I sought permission from the judge to utter those words in court. But the judge asked me to shut up and told Amin that cuss words meant abuse,” he says grimly.
“In Gujarat, Muslims are not considered humans,” says Sayara Sandhi, another survivor who lost four members of her family in the Gulbarg Society massacre. “I identified a dozen accused before the court. However, out of the 62 accused, only 24 were convicted in June, 2016. And out of 24, only 12 have been handed down life sentences. All the convicts were out on bail within three or four months of conviction, while Muslim convicts of the Godhra train burning incident are still languishing in jail,” she says.
“Of the accused that I identified and named, at least two are still at large,” bemoans Sayara who lost her 24-year-old son Mohemmed Hussein Sandhi, her brother-in-law Jahangir Noormohammed Sandhi and sisters-in-law - Zarina and Mumtaz.
The family of Aslam Mansoori has returned, the only family to do so. “Aslam’s brother Rafiq Mansoori has returned. Aslam lost 19 members of his family - the largest death toll in a single family in the Society. He also named the accused before the SIT. But while deposing before the special court, he turned hostile. “As he turned hostile in court, he or his family members have nothing to fear from their Hindu neighbours,” points out Imtiyaz grimly.
Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad had proposed to convert the Gulbarg Society into a museum for communal harmony. However, the project fell through for want of funds and because of hostility and opposition from sections of people.
With the state government having imposed the Disturbed Area Act on Gulbarg Society, residents cannot even sell their property without the Collector’s permission. Most of the displaced victims are forced to live in rented accommodations in Juhapura, the largest Muslim ghetto of Asia, Gomtipur, Dariakhan Gummat, Saraspur, Rakhiyal and Kalupur.
“I live in Gomtipur,” says Imtiyaz, “I have to shell out Rs 5,000 rent every month. If we, the society members, decide to return, it will first take several lakhs of rupees for repair and renovation. We just don’t have that kind of money.”