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  Riots: Bombay, 1992  

  Ghosts
  Vol IV : issue 4

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  David Lelyveld
  Joginder Paul
  Antara Dev Sen
  Evald Flisar
  Amrita Pritam
  
Nirupama Rao
  Only in Print

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Farida Rais Khan

Photo by NETPHOTOGRAPH.COM

On December 6, 1992, a frenzied mob of Hindutva activists demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. As the news spread, riots struck Bombay, thousands of miles away. It is widely believed that much of the violence, which happened in two phases, was fanned by the Hindu nationalist political party Shiv Sena, the police and criminals. The sprawling Behrampada slum in Bandra East was one of the worst affected. This congested slum with a high Muslim and migrant population was under curfew from the day before the demolition of the mosque. Residents recall policemen standing with their guns trained down the narrow lanes, threatening to shoot anyone who stepped out

Rais Khan was killed by a policemanís bullet on the evening of December 7 as he left his parentsí home to buy cigarettes after dinner. His widow, Farida Rais Khan, 29, now lives in Behrampada and is supported by her parents and three brothers. She lives with her four daughters in a tiny room rented for her by her brothers. Of the total compensation of Rs 2 lakh offered by the State for the kin of those who were killed in the riots, Farida received only Rs 75,000. This is because her husband had remarried after she gave birth to their third daughter. The second wife was fortunate enough to have sons and thus got the lionís share of the compensation

I was married to Rais Khan when I was 15. I had studied till the eighth standard and I was quite good at studies. But my older brother, who had a lot of say in our family, insisted that I should be married soon. My husband had a shop in Ghaaz Bazaar (out on the main road towards Naupada). It is still there ó India Readymade Garments. He used to get semi-finished garments from Surat, do them up and sell them there.

At first I lived with my in-laws. They had a nice four-room flat in Naupada, but soon after my first daughter was born they started maltreating me. So my husband and I moved out to a room closer to my motherís home. We even lived in Bangalore for two years but after my third daughter was born, they got him married again and the new wife lived with his parents. He used to be there sometimes, and with me the rest of the time.

On the night of December 7 he had dinner at his parentsí home and heard the news about the police bandobast and violence which had started in the Bhendi Bazaar area. He was always curious and though everyone told him not to, he ventured out. He told his mother he was going to buy cigarettes. He had just stepped out when he was shot in the leg by a police patrol. It must have been eight in the evening. He lay there, thinking that he would conserve his strength and go home after the patrol went away.

The next morning, my in-laws asked if he had come home to me. We were alarmed. His relatives went to the police but they had no information. Finally, after two days, they were told to contact the Railway Police and they found out that he was at J.J. Hospital. He had three bullet wounds in his chest as well. We were told later that after being shot in the leg, he was shot in the chest by the policemen. There was a neighbour who had also been shot and was lying close by. The body was sent to us on the 12th. I was only 19 then, pregnant with my fourth daughter.

Since then, my in-laws have not bothered to ask or enquire about me or my daughters. I sometimes get some stitching work at home. But I survive largely on the charity of my family. My father is a watchman. Of my three brothers, one is a tailor in Nala Sopara (a distant Bombay suburb), one works on film sets and the third is a salesman in a shoe shop. I took up a job as a salesgirl in Lokhandwala, but it was not worth it. I only made Rs 1,500 a month for a 12-hour working day. Besides, my daughters were being neglected. They are good girls and they do well in school.

I used to get Rs 5,000 every year from National Foundation for Communal Harmony in Delhi. Five years ago, the money stopped, because the day a team of officials from the organisation came to inspect my home, I was away visiting relations. I have written to them repeatedly but there has been no response for the last five years. My daughters were in private schools and doing well, but Iíve had to shift them to municipality schools since then.

I have been to the Collectorís office several times, asking for their help in reviving my Rs 5,000 allowance, but nothing has worked. I have sent letters to Delhi too. This money would help me put my children back in private schools. How long can I survive on charity?

As told to Devina Dutt

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3 p. 4 p. 5