Naroda Patiya: ‘Insecure’ survivors of riots still flee whenever anything ‘major’ happens

Vaibhav Jha, Sohini Ghosh
When the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya came out, the streets in Naroda Patiya were deserted and houses were locked even as state police and RPF personnel went on with patrolling duty. (Express Photo by Javed Raja)

Gujarat 2002 riots, 2002 Gujarat riots, Naroda Patiya riots, Naroda Patiya killings 2002, 2002 Naroda Patiya killings, Naroda Patiya, India news, Indian Express

Salim Sheikh, 45, a resident of Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad, received a surprise visit by his son-in-law on the night of November 8. Sheikh’s 23-year-old daughter was unwell and recuperating at home when her husband arrived and asked her to pack her bags. He informed Sheikh that news had flashed regarding the Supreme Court delivering verdict in the Ayodhya case the next morning, on November 9.

He then left with her to Gomtipur area of the city, claiming that she will be “safe” over there. Sensing fear, Sheikh immediately sent his 20-year-old son and another 19-year-old daughter to his brother’s place in Juhapura area of Ahmedabad, said to be the largest Muslim ghetto in Gujarat.

Similar is the story of Nadeem Sayyed, 57, a former resident of Naroda Patiya, who brought 18 of his relatives from the area on the night of November 8 and took them to a hotel in Citizen Nagar area of Ahmedabad.

Sheikhs and Saiyyeds are among the over 400 families in Naroda Patiya area of Ahmedabad who left their homes and took shelter at different localities in the city amid fear of violence, ahead of the Ayodhya verdict. During the riots of 2002, several Muslims were killed in Naroda Patiya.

There are as many as 1,100 houses, with a population of over 6,500 people in Naroda Patiya, which is divided into two localities by a BRTS corridor. The residents are usually employed as skilled and unskilled labourers in different factories in the surrounding areas.

On February 28, 2002, a mob attacked the Muslim dominated area and killed 97 persons along with several cases of rape and arson, making it the single biggest massacre to occur during the Gujarat riots of 2002.

On November 8, as news flashed regarding the verdict on Ayodhya dispute to be announced on Saturday morning, families locked up their houses and left the locality by night, to reach the places of their relatives in the city.

“The families in Naroda Patiya always flee for ‘safer spaces’ whenever anything major happens. It happened during the Akshardham attack in 2002, serial bomb blasts in 2008 and Allahabad High Court verdict (regarding Ayodhya dispute) in 2010. The families do not feel safe in the locality despite living here for several decades. I ensured that all my children are safe by taking them out of the locality,” said Salim Sheikh, a resident of Naroda Patiya, who was also a key eyewitness in the riots case, which led to the conviction of Maya Kodnani, former state minister for women and child development in the cabinet of then chief minister Narendra Modi.

There are as many as 1,100 houses, with a population of over 6,500 people in Naroda Patiya, which is divided into two localities by a BRTS corridor. (Express Photo by Javed Raja)

Speaking to The Indian Express, Nadeem Saiyyed, who runs a furniture business, said he left Naroda Patiya after the 2002 riots. “I was separated from my wife and children for 15 days after the riots as they were sent to a different relief camp. My trust ended that day and I decided to move out of Naroda Patiya and settled in Citizen Nagar. However, many of my relatives still stay over there, and whenever they feel scared, I move them here,” said Saiyyed.

Fear factor

When The Indian Express team reached the locality on November 9 morning, the lanes were deserted where Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and State Reserve Police personnel were conducting a flag march. Animated voices of television news anchors could be heard from a few houses where the residents chose to stay behind.

Initially, police claimed that the residents had “gone out” to visit their relatives on the occasion of Eid e Milad the next day. Assistant commissioner of police AM Desai told The Indian Express, “The families have gone to their relatives’ places to celebrate the festival and they will be back in a day or two. There is no sense of fear among the residents as we have deployed police and as CISF personnel in the locality.”

However, later in the afternoon, a peace meeting was held between police and representatives of Naroda Patiya where the latter claimed that over 400 families fled out of fear and will be back in two three days.

According to the residents, majority of the families who fled the area were survivors of 2002 riots and they left the place as police and armed forces in the area failed to instill confidence among them. “The riots had an extremely disturbing impact on the children and women in Naroda Patiya. So whenever anything major happens, the families prefer to leave the locality and go to posh Muslim localities in Ahmedabad where they feel safe. We (men) have decided to stay back but our families have gone,” said Shamshad Khan, a resident.

‘No impact in our lives’

Amid murmurs, Muslim residents of Naroda Patiya claimed that the verdict would hardly impact their lives and they are glad that it has come after all. “We are happy that the verdict has come in the Ayodhya case that was pending for years... so much bloodshed took place over it,” said Nazir Khan Pathan, 70, principal of Iqra Primary School in Naroda Patiya, who has been living in the locality for 35 years.

Pathan was one of the survivors of the Naroda Patiya massacre in which he lost hearing in his left ear when a tear gas shell from police hit him on February 28, 2002. He claims that after the riots, many original residents of Naroda Patiya fled after selling their houses, which led to migrants from other states arriving and settling in the area.

On November 8, as news flashed regarding the verdict on Ayodhya dispute to be announced on Saturday morning, families locked up their houses and left the locality by night, to reach the places of their relatives in the city. (Express Photo by Javed Raja)

“During the riots, the mob set fire to all the houses in our locality due to which residents became homeless. Many were forced to sell their houses and flee from here. In 2002, Naroda Patiya had a population of 3,500 people but today its population is almost double due to the migrant labourers who have settled here over the years. Today, many Hindu families also stay with us in Naroda Patiya but the fear among residents has not gone,” said Pathan.

As Eid-e-Milad was observed on Sunday, it was a festival celebrated in a subdued manner in Naroda Patiya as half of its residents were missing. Families started to return to Naroda Patiya post the festival on Monday as Ahmedabad had seen a peaceful atmosphere after the Ayodhya verdict was delivered.

“After the verdict was delivered, we were relieved and later my kids returned by Sunday night to celebrate the festival with us. Other families of Naroda Patiya are also slowly returning,” said Sheikh.

“I had gone to my relative’s place in Juhapura with my family for two days. But we all returned today morning, since I have to report back to work and my kids have to attend school,” said Qasim Pathan, a resident of Naroda Patiya.

‘Least interested’

Around 15 km from Naroda Patiya, at the foot of Ahmedabad’s garbage mound in Pirana, is Citizen Nagar, where residents are huddled around a makeshift desk in a lane as a bespectacled man was cross-checking their documents, including photocopies of ration card, Aadhaar card, etc. to verify them as voters and include them in the electoral roll.

The Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya did not seem to affect these families who are survivors of the 2002 riots in Naroda Patiya and the Gulberg society massacre.

One of the survivors of the Naroda Patiya massacre, aged around 50 years, said, “What do we care over the demolition of a mosque when our lives have been upended for 17 years? We have no interest in what the court has decided. It won’t make a difference to our lives when even 17 years after the riots, we don’t have water, toilets and the ‘vikas’ that is talked about.”

Another resident said, “It hardly mattered to us whether the issue was resolved or not.” And they went about the electoral roll verification, to get their electoral ID card.

In Ramol area of Ahmedabad that witnessed several communal incidents in 2002 and was home to some of the survivors of the Godhra train carnage on February 27 that year, was swarming with policemen. However, life went on as usual.

When asked about the verdict, Ramesh Chaudhary, a shop owner, said, “Yes it is good news, perhaps. But what difference will a temple in Ayodhya make to me anyway?” Those who lost family members in the Sabarmati Express carnage were guarded and refused to speak.