I remember on the evening of 27th Feb 2002 I was playing cricket with my friends. During drinks, one of my friends told me about this incident that took place in the morning, where a goods train carrying milk was burnt down in Godhra. My first reaction on listening to this was why the hell would someone want to burn down a milk train? That night I joined my dad to watch the daily news to confirm my friend’s story. The news was indeed showing images of a burnt train! It didn’t seem to me like a goods train though. It was a passenger train! Almost 58 people had lost their lives. I was shocked!
What followed next was a series of violent events across the state for the next 2-3 months which literally turned my city Ahmedabad into a battle zone. I was an 11 year old kid whose final exams were approaching. I remember reading one horrific story every day before going to school. The front page of our newspaper used to be splashed with images of vehicles & buildings burning, shops being looted and terms like ‘pitched battle between groups’, ‘stone pelting’, ‘arson’, ‘riots’, ‘police firing’, ‘tear gas, ‘mob’, ‘burning’ etc became very common.
In the first week following the Godhra burning when the riots were on full flow, a curfew was imposed barely 500 meters from my locality where I used to live back then. I remember almost around 50 men from my locality used to wake up all night and patrol with sticks. People had started stocking their homes with essentials like flour, sugar and salt to name a few. Schools and colleges were closed and so was my dad’s office for some time. There were days when the evening sky used to be thick with black smoke coming from a building being burnt somewhere in Vejalpur or Juhapura some kilometres away from our place. There were moments when gun shots were fired behind our house at night to scare the rioters away from the area. A picture of C.G Road, which is the most expensive street in the city, being looted by the rioters was splashed across the newspapers. The topic of gossip in my school turned from cricket or football to a Honda showroom being burnt to the ground on S.G Highway or a Muslim dry cleaner’s shop (whose clients included many of our students and teachers) burnt in Memnagar (the area where my school is located). The atmosphere in Ahmedabad was filled with fear. The only Muslim students (brother and sisters) in our school of 1200 students had to leave the school at the end of the academic year of 2002 as their families had to migrate to another city. Going to the eastern part of Ahmedabad used to be considered as very dangerous in those two months. It is the region having the densest population and it has a mixture of Hindus and Muslims in high numbers as compared to the western part of the city which is dominated by Hindus with the exception of areas like Juhapura (one of the largest Muslim ghetto in Asia) and Sarkhej. There was a riot every now and then in these regions. In 2003 when I was passing through Godhra on my way to my home city Chandigarh I saw the S6 coach of the Sabarmati Express which was burned down in the attack.
If you come to Ahmedabad in 2012 you won’t be able to believe whatever I’ve written above. If you’ve lived outside the state and have relied on the newspapers to create an image of the state in your mind based around the riots you’ll pleasantly surprised. The state of Gujarat is not new to witnessing riots. There used to incidents of violence every 4-5 yrs before 2002. However, since 2002 there hasn’t been a single case of rioting in the last 10 years. This shows that the focus of people has indeed shifted towards the development and the betterment of their society. Part of this shift should be attributed towards the efforts of the government for bringing in projects and investments from across the world. The results are showing. The city has transformed from the debris of the earthquake and the ashes of the riots to become the fastest growing city in the country and the third fastest in the world according to Forbes. Its probably one of the safest city to live in the country. The people are so friendly and are willing to go the extra mile to help you.
However, there is still a question mark upon the rehabilitation of the people affected by the riots. The local government is being repeatedly maligned by people across the country for its handling of the situation. They could’ve done much much more to control the situation. But they didn’t. How can you let such thing happen in your own state? The government’s efforts in the development of the state is often overshadowed by the violence of 2002.
The city had hardly recovered from the earthquake when the riots happened. It was pulled to the ground in 2001 earthquake and burned back to the same ground in the 2002 riots. The years 2001 and 2002 will go down in the history books as perhaps the worst ever in the 602 years of the city.