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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 16:21 GMT
Living in fear in Gujarat
By Rajeev Khanna
BBC correspondent in Ahmedabad

Muslims live in fear in Ahmedabad, the commercial centre of Gujarat, and scene of some of the worst riots between Muslims and Hindus in the state last year that left more than 1,000 people dead.

Riot in Ahmedabad last year
The riots have traumatised many

Many people in Ahmedabad, especially among the Muslim minority, have been forced to change the way they live.

"Certain things are clearly visible," says Dr Burhunnudin, a clinical psychologist who has been working with Muslim riot victims.

"Muslim women try to avoid wearing veils when they have to pass through a Hindu dominated area. They avoid anything that can point to them being Muslims."

Dr Burhunnudin says many couples are now afraid to go out at night.

Ahmedabad was always known for its night life where people moved freely until the early hours of the morning.

But now, everything is described in terms of Muslims and Hindus.

'The other religion'

I myself have found that any man with a long beard is assumed to be a Muslim.

One is often advised not to go alone in areas dominated by people belonging to "the other religion".

Whenever there is a festival or an event which can spark tension, people think it better to move to areas which are dominated by their community for a couple of days.

This was noticeable last month when the Supreme Court was expected to rule on plans to build a Hindu temple on disputed holy ground in Ayodhya.

There was also tension on the eve of the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket match last Saturday.

'People flee'

"This is a routine feature in areas where there is just a narrow lane separating Hindu and Muslim residential quarters," says Mehrunnisa, who works with an NGO in the Shah Alam area of Ahmedabad.

Muslims leaving their burned out homes
Muslims leaving their burned out homes

"Even a small scuffle at a florists can start trouble. People just pick up small bundles of their belongings and flee.

"Since these people are usually paid on a daily basis, they find it difficult to make ends meet on such occasions."

Jai Kumar is a psychologist who has been studying changes in the behaviour of children who witnessed killings in last year's riots.

"The normalcy that appears on the faces of these children is superficial. They are yet to come out of their trauma. They are confused and their mental grasp over matters is not that strong.

"Some of them show symptoms such as regular fevers or relating things and events to the parents that they have lost."

Concern for daughters

Jai Kumar's colleague, Subasis, works with women who faced some of the worst violence in the riots.

"These women are very concerned about their daughters' security and refuse to return to their homes.

"More than 30% do not have proper sleep."

Both Jai and Subasis have been regular visitors to the Gujarat Matsurat Trust building in the Juhapura area of Ahmedabad, which houses a large number of Muslim widows and children.

I found many women there unable to forget the past.

But they shared one attitude: "We have to raise our children and move ahead."

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