Victims of prejudice

Published : Jul 06, 2002 00:00 IST

SALIMBHAI lives in the Madarsa camp in Sabarkantha district. He is the elected sarpanch of Kidiyad village in Malpur taluk. There are 26 sarpanches in the taluk, and two of them are Muslims. Salimbhai was elected with the largest margin in the taluk. "Seventy per cent of my voters were Hindus," he told a delegation of the Left Front from West Bengal: "They voted for me against a candidate from their own community because they have seen my social work for the village." But such examples of secular politics were apparently intolerable to the rulers. So his village was attacked.

On March 2, when news came of the arson, killings and attacks in neighbouring areas, there was no help forthcoming from the police. Salimbhai and 118 other Muslims decided to move to a more secure place. Concerned about ensuring the safety of the women and children, he sent them out in the first truck, escorted by some men. Among the 84 persons squeezed into the truck were his wife and 15-year-old son. The truck had travelled a fair distance from the village when it was stopped by a mob led by saffron-scarfed men shouting obscene slogans against Muslims. They could see that the truck was mainly filled with women and children. They burnt it. Sixty-seven people were burnt to death; among them were Salimbhai's wife and child. Later Salim learnt that within his village too people were killed and that the victims included his uncle. No one has been arrested.

Salim says: "Of course I want to go back home. But can I do so when the killers of my uncle are still in the village? Is there anyone in my village who will help me find the killers of my wife and child and of the others who were burnt? Some of the bodies were so badly burnt. Nothing was left to show that it was a child, someone's boy or girl, a woman."

The government has declared the 62 dead as "missing". A woman whose one-day-old child was burnt was asked to show proof the baby was killed. Savage killing, in which all evidence of one's existence is destroyed, becomes a way to deny compensation to the survivors.

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