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The Rediff Special/Sheela Bhatt

'India is my country. I'll live here and fight back'

July 21, 2003

Dr Yunus Bhavnagari has done what no other Muslim riot victim in Gujarat had done so far. He spoke out before the Nanavati Commission, investigating last year's Gujarat riots, last week and named former minister Haren Pandya as the man who instigated a mob of rioters that attacked the Delite colony in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002.

Several Gujarati newspapers had reported Pandya's presence in that crowd. The names of two Bharatiya Janata Party ministers were also mentioned. Pandya -- who was murdered on March 26 -- himself never denied his presence in the crowd outside the Delite colony either, but maintained he was only trying to pacify the people. He had told that since the trouble was in the constituency he represented, he had to "get out on the roads."

But Dr Bhavnagari's deposition before the Nanavati Commission, which is probing the Gujarat riots, has raised several questions:

1. Wasn't Pandya in the doghouse of Gujarat politics because he spoke out against the Narendra Modi government's ineffectiveness in controlling the post-Godhra communal flare-up?

2. Why did Dr Bhavnagari take 16 months to speak about the events of February 28, 2002?

3. Is Dr Bhavnagari acting at the behest of the Narendra Modi government?

Nothing angers Dr Bhavnagari more than the last question. He cannot believe that people can even think of linking him to Modi after what his family has been through in the riots and its aftermath. Here he gives an account of what transpired on February 28, 2002 and how it changed his life and that of his family forever:

On February 27, when Godhra happened, I was aware that tension could build up but I never thought that the public reaction would be so enormous. On February 28, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called a bandh. Several of our neighbours and relatives gathered at my house, which was considered safe. Our house is in the Narayan Nagar area of Paldi in Amhedabad.

In my house that day there were also two relatives settled in the US, wives of my brothers. In all, there were 13 women in the house.

Around early afternoon a huge mob started gathering outside our colony, which is open on both sides. Initially, the crowd burnt vehicles in the garage and some shops. It was quite scary because they were throwing burning rags and coal into my house. Our sofas and furniture in the drawing room were on fire. There was so much smoke in my apartment that our eyes began burning. Our bodies were covered with soot.

The crowd was swelling gradually, its strength now 4,000 to 5,000 (people). We were completely encircled.

We saw policemen in the crowd and also Haren Pandya. I have no doubt about his identity because he later admitted he was present there. Later, he gave many theories why he came there.

Police was bursting tear gas shells in our compound instead of in the crowd.

A police officer only fired at our compound. My son Dr Aamir Bhavanagri was hit in the chest by a bullet. I was already injured because of the non-stop stone-pelting by the crowd.

People were screaming all around us, hurling threats: 'tamne jivta balvana che' (You will be burnt alive.)  I had no option but to use my pistol in self-defence. I had the responsibility of protecting 13 women. My mother, who was 85 years old, was among them. Our neighbour, Professor Munshi, was also with me. He was shocked and suffered brain haemorrhage. He died recently.

I fired in self defence, killing two people. One was a notorious man in the area. Only when Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone I) V M Parghi arrived did the mob disperse.

My house was completely destroyed, our vehicles were burnt.

Please imagine the scene. I fought all alone for four hours against the onslaught of a crowd of more than 4,000.

A police officer later told me: "You have done our job. Your colony would have suffered the fate of Gulmurg Society, where more than 90 people were burnt alive."

My son was rushed to hospital to remove the bullet from his chest, but the threats continued in hospital. We brought him back home the same day. His stitches were removed at home. Now we have shifted to another area. We have not returned to our house.

Later, the police filed a case against me. It was mentioned in the FIR that I fired in self-defence, but still I was put in jail along with my son for three months.

The pain didn't end here. Life has been hell since then. So far not a single Hindu has come to our rescue. I am a secretary of the Ahmedabad Dental Practitioners Association, but no one came to help me in jail. No one has come to even ask me how am I doing.

God saved us.

People like (former Punjab director general of police and briefly Narendra Modi's security adviser) K P S Gill and an additional commissioner (of police) understood well that I was innocent. With their help I was released. The Gujarat government wanted to keep me in jail for full two years. Even now I am not safe. There is a risk to my life. My family, my wife Tasneem and friends were against my truthful testimony [before the Nanavati Commission]. They didn't want me to give interviews. They are against my coming out in the open. Because there is a risk to my life.

But I thought that I am educated, I understand the importance of our judicial system. If I don't speak then how can I expect ordinary, poor victims to speak out? Come what may, I will speak about what I have gone through and name the people who were instigating violence.

I fought back on February 28 because I had courage. I thought why should I not show courage one more time? I hope my opening up will encourage other victims to speak out too.

All these months the fact that I had not told the world what had happened that day [February 28, 2002] weighed on my conscience. My life ended that day when I fought against thousands of angry people. I am living a bonus life. Kudarat (mother nature) gave me courage.

I tell you the future of Gujarat is not good. Insaniyat nathi rahi have (Humanity, compassion -- it's all dead).

If someone is thinking I am acting on behalf of Narendra Modi, it's an insult to me. How is it possible? I hate Narendra Modi. I hate that person. It's a disgrace to me if someone is saying that I am conniving with him. You should understand why I would not like him. My family has suffered like hell in his rule.

Though everyone is telling me to leave the country, I will not go to America. India is my country. I'll live here and fight back.What puzzles me, what I just do not understand is what is the strategy of the VHP? By spreading venom how are they not hurting the national interest?

Who is benefiting from this hate campaign? I have heard that in Africa ethnic tribes are fighting a bitter battle for supremacy, but how can we fight like people fight in jungles?

Gujarat Riots: The Complete Coverage

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