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Gujarat votes, they stutter in fear
December 11, 2007 09:54 IST
For those living in the resettlement colony for victims of post-Godhra riots at Rehmabad in Devgad Baria, the Gujarat Assembly elections bring back the fear of another backlash.
"What are elections to us? Nobody cares for our votes. We just fear another backlash," says Yusuf, a resident of Rehmabad in this constituency of Dahod district.
The resettlement colony, around 200 km from Ahmedabad, is home to 76 Muslim families from Randhikpur village who left behind their prized possessions and means of livelihood to escape from the murderous mob in the 2002 riots.
Bilkis Bano, also from Randhikpur, was five months pregnant when she was raped and 14 members of her family were killed by a mob.
Though she has become a rallying point for human rights activists and organisations involved in legal battles to bring justice to the riot victims, most residents of Rehmabad feign ignorance of Bano for fear of any backlash.
The Bilkis Bano case was transferred out from Gujarat to Mumbai three years ago after the Supreme Court's intervention.
"She indeed stayed at the village, but none of us ever interacted with her or her family members," says another resident, though he later admits that he knew the family.
Though villagers of Randhikpur say Bano stayed in the colony and currently moved out, residents of Rehmabad, however, refute such claims.
Social activist Amar says, "She did stay here but no one would agree to admit. They don't want any strangers near her for fear that they might make her go hostile in the case or do any harm to her."
Residents of the colony claim they do not have access to electricity and water supply even though nearby villages enjoy these facilities.
"What development are you talking about? We neither have electricity connection nor water supply," says a woman who lost her son and another relative in the riots.
"We have to depend on people of the nearby village for water. For electricity, we sometimes draw lines from the electric poles," says Ahmed.
The colony continues to be secluded from nearby areas with seldom anyone from outside coming to visit them.
Despite a round-the-clock security arrangement of two police constables, the fear element is always there.
The security men are not sure how many families they are protecting in the colony which according to them has a strength of just 60 houses.
"We constantly live under fear. We have lost everything in the riots. All our cattle and valuables were left behind," says another woman resident.
"Though we continue to live in penury, none of us ever want to go back to our village. Not that we feel very secure here," she says.
The men in the colony now work as daily labourers while women engage themselves as maids in neighbouring areas, including the houses of Hindus.
"There are no problems with Hindus here. Everything is normal, but one cannot trust the politicians," says Yusuf.