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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 12:47 GMT
Traumatised victims wait for help
Muslim man burned after attack by Hindu mob
Many have been left badly injured and homeless
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By the BBC's Anu Anand
reporting from Ahmedabad

Father Jimmy Dhabi, a local Jesuit priest, has been on the front lines of Gujarat's communal violence. Over the years, he has witnessed the most brutal acts of vengeance.

I'm worried about these people... Everytime there are communal riots here, the poorest Hindus and Muslims suffer

Father Dhabi

"I've seen men thrown onto burning fires and pregnant women killed along with their unborn babies," he says as he takes us to a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial capital.

"I don't understand what it is that turns human beings into something worse than animals."

Nearly 300 Muslim families live just off the main highway, which is littered with the charred remains of buildings and auto-rickshaws.

The men in this community are mostly labourers who fled their homes in 1992 to escape communal rioting after the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was pulled down by Hindu fundamentalists.

Fear haunts victims

Now, once again, they have become the victims of religious hate.

Man with head bandaged
The BJP is accused of seeking political gain from the violence

Women and children crouch under a canopy waiting to be fed by Father Dhabi and his volunteers. Their houses have been burnt, their belongings looted.

One child tells us the mob came while they were eating breakfast and his entire family ran for safety. "I'm afraid to go back," he says.

Inside one of the white-washed homes, a man in his early 20s sits up stiffly on a cot, while his neighbours take turns fanning him.

"I am in agony, you just cannot imagine how much it hurts," he says. "They tried to burn me alive, but I ran for my life and my neighbours poured water over me."

The mob that attacked him severed his ear with a sickle before burning his hands and arms down to the bone in some places. Next door, another man lies silently on his side. The skin on his face has been burned off and the rest of his body is pink and red.

Father Dhabi tries to convince both men to come with him to a hospital, where they will receive proper medical care.

"They're refusing," he says. "They're just too scared to leave."

Huge task

Despite assurances from the state government that the situation is now under control, there are still thousands of people - mostly Muslims - who are in urgent need of food, temporary shelter and medical care.

Children in makeshift shelter
Some children are too traumatised to go home

Seven local volunteer agencies are trying to help them, but the task is enormous.

"The state won't lend us a single truck to take food to these people," Father Dhabi said.

"They won't give us police protection. The other day, Hindu fundamentalists stopped us as were coming out of a Muslim neighbourhood and held a spear to our throats. We're trying to help, but we don't have the proper resources."

BJP under pressure

Hindus and Muslims alike have accused the BJP state and central government of exploiting the violence for political gain.

"They're desperate for support," said Anjali Mody, a senior journalist with the Hindu newspaper.

"The BJP has lost elections in four states. They are under pressure from their hard-line supporters to allow the temple to be built in Ayodhya. Whenever there are communal riots, the BJP benefits electorally."

Helpers hand out food to victims
Local volunteers are helping, but the task is enormous

Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi denies the accusation. But the fact remains that an estimated 30,000 people have been left homeless and badly injured by the violence in Ahmedabad alone.

"I'm worried about these people," said Father Dhabi. "Everytime there are communal riots here, the poorest Hindus and Muslims suffer. We don't know how long we will be able to help them."

See also:

06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Hindu hardliners 'led Gujarat attacks'
05 Mar 02 | South Asia
Hindu hardliners 'agree compromise'
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
05 Mar 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Why is Gujarat so violent?
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