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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 19:39 GMT
Godhra's bitter harvest
By Rajeev Khanna
BBC correspondent in Godhra

News Online speaks to the people of the Gujarati town of Godhra, one year after the start of vicious communal riots.

The burnt coach of the Sabarmati Express still stands today as if time had stood still since a Muslim mob allegedly set it alight near Godhra station in western Indian state of Gujarat.

The burned train at Godhra
The train still stands where the Hindus died
It is exactly one year after the incident in which 59 people were burned to death.

Most of them were returning from the northern town of Ayodhya, the centre of a dispute between Muslims and Hindus over the building of a temple.

The alleged torching of the train was followed by some of the worst riots seen in India since it gained independence.

Unofficial figures put the death toll above 2,000, most of them Muslims.

Reports by a number of organisations have criticised the Gujarat state government, run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saying it allowed those who carried out killings, rapes and arson to have a field day in the early stages of the riots.

'Bitter'

The village of Ramol on the outskirts of the city of Ahmedabad had a large number of people who died in the Godhra blaze.

Girish Chandra Raval, now 82 years old, is a bitter man.

He lost his wife Sudhaben at Godhra.

Another blow came when his son, a member of the Hindu Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), was killed 17 days later when the state was engulfed in communal fury.

Raval is scathing of the VHP.

"I used to tell my son that nothing is coming out of this temple movement. People are being used by international politicians.

"My wife was just a religious, faithful devotee of Lord Ram."

Muslims right now fear repression from the police and other authorities
Muslim lawyer

He believes that the Godhra incident was the handiwork of what he calls anti-nationals. What followed should have not have been allowed.

Shefali, a girl in her mid-teens, does not want to talk to the media about her mother who also lost her life in the tragedy.

Her Aunt Kusumben says: "What followed after Godhra was unfortunate. While things appear to be normal, the lives of people have changed drastically.

"Hindus in my village still feel that they might be attacked anyday."

Prakashbhai is an auto rickshaw driver. "Since I lost my wife, my life has turned upside down. Besides trying to make two ends meet, I have to do the household chores and bring up my little son."

Investigations into the Godhra incident have been carried out at a remarkable speed. More than 70 persons, all Muslims, have been arrested. Another 45 are still wanted.

'No trust'

All those arrested have been booked under the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota).

Angry crowds
The violence has left hundreds dead

The implementation of the Act has led to confusion and fear amongst the Godhra Muslims.

And relations between Hindus and Muslims in Godhra are strained.

"Things are no longer what they used to be," a lawyer from the Muslim community said.

"The trust is not there. Muslims right now fear repression from the police and other authorities."

An undercurrent of tension was visible on the eve of the Godhra anniversary.

The VHP is busy with its plans to observe the day as a Balidan Divas (Sacrifice Day) by organising prayer meetings.

Hindus will be keeping their shops shut on 27 February.

And Muslims will not be venturing into the Hindu dominated- areas of the town.


SEE ALSO:
Doubts over Gujarat train attack
03 Jul 02 |  South Asia
Gujarat result 'harvest of hatred'
16 Dec 02 |  South Asia
Analysis: Gujarat's siege mentality
25 Sep 02 |  South Asia


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