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Last Updated: Monday, 26 February 2007, 17:39 GMT
Old scars yet to heal in Gujarat
By Shakeel Akhtar
BBC News, Ahmedabad

Bharat Panchal
Bharat Panchal lost his wife but is trying to move on

Janata Nagar, a district on the outskirts of Ahmeabad in India's western state of Gujarat, is buzzing.

Young and old, dressed in their best colourful clothes, are milling about in a huge tent erected on one side of the road.

They are here to attend Khushboo Rawal's wedding.

Five years ago, on 27 February 2002, Khushboo's grandmother was killed along with 58 other Hindus when their coach in the Sabarmati Express train was allegedly fire-bombed by Muslims in the town of Godhra.

The deaths sparked off some of the worst religious rioting India has seen since independence - more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed across Gujarat.

The situation has improved a lot... there's no tension
Gujarat BJP president Purushottam Rupala

Unofficial estimates put the number of dead far higher.

An independent panel investigating the violence strongly criticised the Gujarat state authorities for what it called their alleged complicity in inciting the clashes. It said that hardline Hindu organisations had planned the riots months before they occurred.

Among those killed in the violence was Khushboo's father - an activist of the hard-line Hindu organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Those few days changed Khushboo's mother Bela Ben's life forever.

She remarried to Bharat Bhai Panchal, who also lost his wife in the Godhra inferno. Today, the couple are trying to leave behind the bitterness of the past and move on.

"Earlier I had one family, today I have two. Today it is Khushboo's marriage," says Mr Panchal.

"One day I will celebrate my own son's marriage with the same gaiety and fervour. This is what I wish now."

'Unjustified'

Eleven of those killed in the Godhra train fire came from Janata Nagar. Khushboo Rawal's groom was in the coach in which her grandmother and others perished.

Khushboo Rawal
Khushboo's grandmother and father were killed
He too was injured but managed to escape.

Khushboo's neighbour, Prakash Kumar, lost his wife but says he does not want to live with hatred.

Five years on, are others in Gujarat ready to do the same?

There seems to be no overt communal tension and Gujarat's political leaders would have one believe all is well in the state.

"The situation has improved a lot," says Purushottam Rupala, the president of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which governs Gujarat.

"Relations between the two communities have been smooth. There's no tension. The economy is growing."

Children and the young generation are growing up with hatred
Social activist Hanif Lakdawala

Social scientist Ghanshyam Shah says Gujarat's reputation for religious hatred is unjustified.

"Society, by and large, does not approve of what happened in 2002. We did a survey and only 7% said it was right, 74% of those surveyed said they disapproved."

A group of Hindu students in Ahmedabad, the state's main city, endorse the view.

"Things are fine," is the often repeated statement one hears.

But on closer scrutiny one can see that hatred against Muslims has become entrenched.

'Polarised'

Social activist Hanif Lakdawala articulates the fear in the community when he says the situation post-Godhra has actually worsened.

"Children and the young generation are growing up with hatred. They are very conscious of their religious identity. Here human relations are determined on the basis of religion," he says.

Angry crowds
The violence left at least 1,000 dead

In the town of Baroda which witnessed days of violence after the train attack, Muslim intellectual JS Bandookwala says: "The situation is so bad for Muslims that our only hope is that we must emphasise education and have a say in the state's economy."

His concern is justified when you consider the economic fallout of the riots. The Muslim economy has been completely shattered in the past five years as the two communities have become polarised.

Mr Lakdawala says after Hindu hardliners distributed pamphlets across Ahmedabad which said the city's famous "Italian Bakery" was owned by a Muslim, its sales were affected.

Also, no Hindu employs Muslims any more because of fear of reprisals from hard-line political elements.

Many say they would like to, but is it worth the trouble, they ask?

Five years after madness gripped the state, the scars are yet to heal. Godhra's tragedy is not over yet.

This is the first of two articles on life in Gujarat five years on from the riots. The second piece will run shortly and will feature Muslim women rebuilding their lives in the town of Godhra.




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