|Riots: Gujarat, 2002|
In February 2002, Reshma Ayub Khan Pathan,11, saw her older sister Farhana, 13, being burned alive by a mob outside her home at Hussain Nagar, Naroda Patiya. This was one of the worst-affected areas of Ahmedabad and the first to burn after the Godhra carnage. She witnessed this as she cowered behind a wooden partition of a shop for six hours from 5 pm till almost midnight, before she was rescued by policemen from the Shah Alam area. While talking about her sister she is quiet, subdued and frequently lowers her gaze and falls completely silent. She has brought her sisterís photograph to Dr A.R. Undreís school for riot orphans at Raigad, Maharashtra, where she is now
I was bathing in the morning when we heard cries of "tola (gang) aaya". We saw everybody running; we started running too. We had not had breakfast. The people of the tola climbed onto the rooftops and surrounded us. They carried swords and iron rods, but I would not be able to recognise anyone now. A policeman standing nearby told us to go in the other direction but when we did, we saw that we were in the middle of the tola. I saw my uncle and aunt slip away. My father was away at a wedding at Shivpur, so now it was just my mother, sister, an aunt and I. In the rush, we got separated. I went and hid behind a shop. I saw my sister trapped, but I did not do anything. They were pouring something over groups of people and setting them alight with a matchstick. They flung a small boy into a fire. I saw that. Then someone took an iron rod and pushed it into my sisterís stomach. And then they burned her. My mother was also burned, but she survived. My mother had fainted when she saw my sister die.
That was at 5 oíclock in the evening. My mind was empty. I felt nothing. I just wanted to be quiet. I crouched behind the shop till 11 oíclock at night, when some policemen arrived. They said they would take us to hospital. They left the dead in the streets and said they would come back for them later. When we were leaving, I turned to look and I saw the mob was hitting even the burnt corpses lying in the street.
I was at the Shah Alam camp for many months before we went to our new house in Vatwa. My sister and I used to stitch sequins onto clothes and did embroidery too. Between the two of us, we could finish three salwar suits in a day. She was also good at making mehendi designs and tying my hair. We had gone back to our old house for a while from the camp and my old schoolteacher came to see me. She said things were all right now. I went for a day or two but I was scared, I thought there would be ghosts about now, with all these dead people. I told my parents I would not go back. So before coming here, I did not study for almost a year.
I donít like going back home but we return during the holidays. Sometimes, my mother wants to go visit some of our old friends at Naroda Patiya, but I tell her I wonít go. I donít really like going back home because my parents cry all the time and I just donít feel anything. I donít like to hear them talking about my sister anymore.
Shafique Ahmed, 9, lived with his parents and two sisters near the State Transport workshop in Naroda Patiya. The joint family of 11 lived in two rooms. He is a serious child and shades his face while talking, as tears fill his eyes. A long scar runs down his arm. Most members of his extended family, along with others in the neighbourhood, were drenched with petrol and set on fire. Shafique lost his father, Mehboob Khurshid Ahmed, grandmother and a sister, and other members of the family. At the end of his tale, Shafique broke down and wept uncontrollably
We were sleeping. It was early in the morning. I could hear the grown-ups getting ready to go to work. But there was a tola (mob) right outside our lane and they had lit a huge fire there. We began to run but there was nowhere to go, because there was a wall right behind our house. There is the Gangotri Hindu Society there and some of its residents hid us. But soon the policemen were firing in the lane and so they asked us to leave. So we had to run towards the mob, which waited on the far side of the fire.
We were pelted with stones and I saw my father being hit with rods. Then the tola moved down the lane on the other side and five of us ó my father, Arif and Yasmin (friends) grandfather and I ó ran towards an empty house. But they were still throwing stones at us. We shut the door. We were thirsty all day.
At seven oíclock in the evening, we decided to move out because we were too hungry and thirsty. But they were waiting for us. We, I mean, my father, my chacha (uncle) and his wife and three daughters, my sister Shabnam Bano and my grandmother were surrounded. They threw petrol on us and set us on fire. There must have been a hundred or even two hundred people there. My fatherís clothes were on fire, but he managed to save me. He kept pushing me down behind him and against the wall, so I was not burned as badly as the others. I managed to climb onto the roof from the wall and escape. But I could see my father being hit with those iron rods. It must have hurt a lot.
Before that, I remember my grandmother offering them money and asking them to spare us. They took the money but burned her as well. Though I escaped, my arm was badly burned. I was in hospital for four months and had three operations ó they took a skin graft from my thighs. From hospital I went to Shah Alam camp, and then my mother sent me to our village. Nobody wanted to live in Patiya.
I used to cry a lot. Now I have decided to become a hafiz (priest) so that I can make sure nobody does anything wrong. I miss my father. He used to take me to Kakriya, a zoo in Ahmedabad. Our family was happy but now there is just my mother, my younger sister and I. My scar itches a lot and when it does, I always think of the way my father saved me.
I like the school here because there are so many of us, and we play cricket sometimes. I feel sad when I go home. Some boys wanted to go and play in the Naroda Patiya field and I said I would not go. Our family was happy. Now I feel alone. All I can say is that whoever did this to my father wonít have a good life either.
As told to Devina Dutt