At Godhra rail yard, a man remembers the dead, others vow never to forget them

Aishwarya Mohanty
A resident offers tribute in Godhra, Wednesday.

Every year on February 27 as members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal march to the rail yard where the charred bogie of the Sabamati Express is parked to pay tribute to those killed in the train blaze, 41-year-old Kalubhai Ramvani, a Sindhi by religion, is among the few non-Hindus who visit the desolate yard.

Seventeen years ago, when the S-6 coach of the train was set on fire, killing 59 passengers, mostly Hindu karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, Ramvani had rushed to the station to evacuate the people from the train and the station.

"I stay close by, near Bhuravav Char Rastaa, which is hardly two km from here. That day, I had got a call about Sabarmati Express on fire. I rushed to the railway station when I saw the charred coach of the train being brought to the last platform to evacuate the bodies. I volunteered to help. I stayed here all day as the bodies were being identified," says Ramvani, who runs a small shop of women's clothing. "That is why, every year, I come here spend some moment praying for the departed souls and their families," Ramvani says interspersed with stoic silence as he looks towards the burnt coach impassively.

Accompanied by his two friends, he spends some time at the yard where two personnel of the State Reserve Police (SRP), posted to guard the coach, do their daily chores.

Meanwhile, VHP and Bajrang Dal workers reach the yard wearing saffron bands and holding posters of the burning Sabarmati train coach. Chanting "na bhoolenge, na maaf karenge, sadiyon tak hum yaad karenge (We wont forget, We wont forgive, We will remember this for ages)", the young men march to the coach and offer flowers on the doors of the charred coach.

"Even if we are just two members, we don't break this annual ritual. This is to remind ourselves and also them (karsevaks who lost their lives) that their sacrifice won't go in vain. They were innocent people who lost their lives, and now it is our responsibility that as a respect to their sacrifice a grand Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya, sooner or later," says VHP leader Shambhu Prasad Shukla, who had moved to Gujarat in 1985. Recollecting the fateful day, 17 years ago, he says, "I was here when the carnage happened. I had rushed to the spot. Till date, I cannot erase that sight. We still carry that pain."

The Godhra train fire had sparked a spate of communal riots in the state in which nearly 1,200 people, mostly from the Muslim community, were killed. Last August, a special trial court had convicted two more persons, taking the total number of people convicted in the case to 33. While 67 others were acquitted, eight more accused are said to be absconding.

At Signal Faliya, a minority-dominated area near the station, Nisrin Sheikh refrain from digging into the past. "There is nothing that we can talk about. What happened was bad. What followed was worse. But today, we have made peace with it. Godhra never saw any major communal clashes after that. We have more pressing issues to look at than delve into the past again. We have started co-existing now, together and united, and that is how it is going to be," the 37-year-old homemaker says.