With the news coming in that the Supreme Court has set November 19 as the date for hearing Zakia Jafri’s plea against Gujarat high court’s acquittal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the 2002 riots, I’m reminded of my meeting with Zakia Jafri at a public meet here in New Delhi and later interviewing her where she recounted the horrors she’d witnessed after her husband, Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, was killed in the Gulmarg society massacre during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
On May 7, 2013 afternoon, as Zakia Jafri sat on the dais along with several activists and political figures, its her pair of eyes that was hit. They carried intense pain. So did her voice, as she addressed the audience with ‘As - salaam – alaikum’ (Peace be on you ) and then began narrating the horrifying details of the Gujarat carnage of 2002, how the right-wing mobs torched their home at the Gulberg Society in front of her eyes - “My husband was sure that the Congress was likely to come to power as Keshubhai had failed to deliver the goods. He had told me this on February 27, 2002. And he’d also said that the BJP could come to power only by whipping up anti-Muslim sentiments and also that the BJP could use the Godhra incident and convert it into an opportunity for votes. And the very next morning, that is on February 28 , our neighbours started pouring into our home, asking whether my husband was at home …they felt and looked relaxed and re-assured that he was there. But by the time it was 9 am it was apparent that tension was gradually building up in our area. First shops and then vehicles were burnt and looted. Then a boy was attacked and injured and later he took shelter in our home but he too was killed by the rioters who had attacked and burnt and destroyed our home … As the Police Commissioner did not visit our Society even as the situation was getting uncontrolled, my husband went out on the road and met him in full public view and requested him for additional deployment of forces but no police help came. And killings started and continued …69 people known to us were killed there on that same day yet no police help came to stop the carnage, those killings went on ...”
On the role of the police , Zakia detailed, “ Police was not to be seen in our Gulberg Society or in the surrounding area till about late evening. By then our Gulberg Society was completely burnt down and looted. Many residents were burnt alive. I cannot forget those scenes : those rioters stripping off and tearing off clothes of women and brutalizing them. I saw those charred bodies… Late evening the police came when the genocide was near complete. Then they pulled out the few survivors. In fact, pulling out the survivors was done by two police inspectors, Mr Pathan and Mr Qureshi. These inspectors who carried the survivors to safer places ...There was total destruction all around. What was left of the Gulberg Society! Nothing! There were just dead bodies …most were burnt beyond recognition. Even at that stage the role of the few police officers was terrible. We had lodged a complaint in the Court against one Dy SP Tandon and another Dy SP for destroying evidence.”
During an interview with me, Zakia Jafri had also detailed that her family had been targeted on earlier occasions too. “In 1969 when mass scale communal rioting had taken place in Ahmedabad, in which 700 people had died, the house belonging to my husband’s parents was looted and burnt. That time we were residing at Dr. Gandhi’s Lane, which is just behind the existing Gulberg Society. And we were attacked so severely that we had to leave home to save their lives. All our belongings were looted and destroyed. My husband used to write poetry and prose and his writings were published in leading Urdu magazines but all our books, documents, photographs got burnt and destroyed … We had to live in a camp and then in a community guest house for more than four months. It was later that we shifted to the Gulberg Society which was then under construction. We suffered not just on the financial and emotional front but even the children’s education was disrupted and they had to drop a year and re-start again in the same class the following year.”
She had also told me that the communal virus persisting in Gujarat is no sudden development but had been getting whipped up by RSS and BJP cadres and their so-called leaders/leadership for years , with that the Muslims getting targeted on every single front – right from Muslims not getting houses on rent to their economic boycott at varying levels to their harassment at work places... Yet no interventions to lessen the daily trauma that the Muslim community faces in Gujarat.
Zakia Jafri has been bold and forthright. Even after seeing her husband and her home and belongings burnt in front of her eyes, she has managed to survive - perhaps, to recount each little detail to the horrors she has witnessed and the monsters she has faced in the form of particular politicians and their aides hell bent on destroying lives.