Sudden generosity

Print edition : February 21, 2014

TO a newcomer, the sudden swerving on a straight road by the autorickshaw driver seems like a case of irrational driving, but when it happens repeatedly on the same stretch there has to be a reason. There is and it is a sad one. The spot used to be the tomb of Wali Gujarati, a 17th century poet who is considered the father of Urdu poetry. Born in Aurangabad, Wali Gujarati loved Ahmedabad and died there. His tomb was a landmark until rioters demolished it during the communal frenzy in 2002. This, despite it being just a few metres away from the Ahmedabad police headquarters. Determined to complete the destruction of the tomb, the Gujarat government quickly built a road over the site as if nothing had ever existed there. And if it was not for the memory of local rickshawallas they might well have succeeded.

Bulldozers, exploding gas cylinders and chemicals to wipe away forensic evidence were all part of this orchestrated destruction. It was estimated that around 270 mosques and dargahs were destroyed or severely damaged during the riots. Taking on the challenge of compensation for restoration, the Islamic Relief Committee (IRC) made a legal case of the issue almost immediately after the riots. In a writ petition, the IRC asked the State for compensation for the damage and destruction caused to religious places during the riots. Predictably, the case dragged on until in 2012 the Gujarat High Court ruled in favour of the petitioners. The court said District Judges would have to evaluate the damage done on a case-by-case basis for each shrine in their jurisdiction. It was estimated that about Rs.85 lakh would be required to repair the structures.

The State filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, which asked the government to provide it details of the damaged structures and to quantify the amounts required for rebuilding and repairing. While this process was presumably being carried out, the State government came up with a small surprise of its own. In January, it suddenly announced an ex gratia payment of Rs.50,000 for each shrine. Rejecting the offer as too little too late, the IRC also questioned the motives behind this sudden out-of-court offer.

Three of the 270 damaged structures were considered to be of archaeological importance and their restoration was handled by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). In the Ishanpura area of Ahmedabad, there was a small stone mosque that dated back to the 15th century. The ASI took five years to rebuild the structure at a cost of Rs.20 lakh. The other two structures—the tomb of Mubarak Sayyed in Kheda and Muhafiz Khan’s mosque in Ahmedabad, both from the mid-15th century—were also severely damaged, but were restored by the ASI.

Lyla Bavadam