Last week, I was in Ahmedabad. With an entire day to spend on my own and a friend’s cool bike, the city was my oyster. I had a few places planned to visit, but there was one which was a priority. So, I started my day-long ride across the city on my way to that place. Now, I did not know the directions or the area, but the auto-drivers of the city are very helpful. This is my blog on my journey to that place and my experience there.
I ride all the way to Chamanpura, a Muslim locality on the outskirts of the city. The swanky buildings and the wide roads are replaced with dingy slums and potholes. It seems I have reached a wrong place; it looks like a village, not a city. I ask people around and am told I am on the right track. Confused, I move on. Once in Chamanpura, I approach an auto-driver and ask him “where is Gulmarg Society?” He looks at me with suspicion for a second and then says, “I don’t know” and moves on. I approach another one and ask the same question. “Why?” is the answer. “I have to go in the society”, I answer. He retorts, “But no one lives there.” Irritated, I move on. The next auto-driver is more helpful. He guides me to a direction. I thank him and continue my journey. Once closer, I ask for directions from another auto-driver. He seems disturbed when I mention the name of the place, but still points out, “take the next right, and go straight for another kilometre. There, you will see a Ram Mandir, the society is close to it”. I try very hard not to, but end up smiling. Irony is omnipresent.
After a while, I reach the Ram Mandir but cannot see the society anywhere. I ask a pedestrian and he tells me that I have missed the society behind. I take a U-turn and ride a little more. Then, not to waste any more time, I ask for directions again from a shopkeeper and he points out to a gate almost opposite to his shop. I had passed this gate twice but didn’t notice it. Looking at the gate closely now, I don’t blame myself. It is in ruins. It doesn’t look like an entrance to a society, but to a secluded, destructed locality. Feeling a little nervous, I enter the gate.
I must say, it is like nothing I imagined. The place is awfully quiet, almost like a cemetery. Some birds are chirping in the trees but even that doesn’t make the place cheerful. It actually gives it a haunted feel. It might be my over-active imagination, but I feel quite cold in here. I have goosebumps. Everything is in shambles, and yet complete silence prevails.
I see a home with 3 kids playing outside, I feel scared to approach them. I decide to postpone it. I take a few more steps deeper into the society. I see another man working with plywood. I decide to ignore him, just like he ignored me. I start going inside the homes. No doors or windows make my task too easy. I hate to admit this, but I actually felt scared while entering those homes. I almost expected someone to jump on me from a corner, but there was no one to break my chain of thoughts. The homes are all burnt and broken; I can still feel the damp air on my face. The walls have some slogans written on them, but they were illegible, burnt and perhaps, scratched. I try to make sense of my surroundings, but my mind is numb.
Slowly, I come out in the common compound and approach the 3 kids I saw earlier. They run inside the home and their father comes out. I introduce myself as a student researching on communal riots in India for my Political Science project (I know that’s lame, but I couldn’t think of anything else then). He says he wasn’t living in the society in 2002, and knows nothing about the riots that took place there. Before I could ask something else, he goes inside the home. I decide to talk to the old man with the plywood. I ask him about the riots and what he could tell me about them. He says, “I moved here after 2002, so, I don’t know anything about the “jhagda”. I live here on rent; the owners of the houses in the society never visit. There are just 3-4 families living here on rent. If you want to talk about that “jhagda”, you should talk to that person, he was here during that time”, pointing to the home where the kids were playing earlier. I tell him, “I have already talked to him but he says he wasn’t living here that time”. The old man replies, “He’s lying, but I don’t think he will want to talk about it now.” Resigned, I thank the old man and try to clear my head.
The “jhagda”, or fight, as the old man puts it, is now a piece of history. Why am I bringing that up after almost 14 years? Because people are still scared to talk about it after 14 years! Why did I get those looks from the auto-drivers? Why is the kids’ father lying? What are they scared of? I have learned that every city has some dark secrets in its underbelly, something it chooses to ignore. But was it really just a “jhagda”? 69 people were burnt alive, our govt says. What is the real figure, we will never know. But this is not about the numbers. A mob attacked Gulmarg society, stripped and paraded women. Women were raped and tortured, and slogans like “Pakistan murdabaad” were written on their bodies. A pregnant woman was first raped, and then her stomach was cut open using a glass, and the foetus was taken out. Then, the foetus was raped and the woman burnt alive. A MP was tortured and burnt alive. All this happened over 6 hours in broad daylight and no one intervened.
I think a “jhagda” is a violent struggle between two parties. What happened in Gulmarg society was a massacre. Should we forget about all this because it was 14 years ago? Sometimes, we must remember, to ensure it doesn’t happen again, even if justice for the past incidents is no longer possible. In the spirit of our nation, we cannot forget; I will never forget.
With these thoughts in my mind, I drag my feet towards my bike. I turn around for a last look; I imagine the scene, full of screams, helplessness and tears. I wipe some off my face, and speed off, running away, just like our nation did.