On a sunny day in late January 2017, I sat on a cot outside a small room with an asbestos roof, in Citizen Nagar, a resettlement colony in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with 32-year-old Siraj Malik, the room’s resident. An emaciated man with sunken eyes, sprouting grey hairs on his temples, Malik has the appearance of a man older than his age. Nearly 15 years earlier, on 28 February 2002, a rioting mob had attacked Naroda Patiya, a Muslim-dominated locality in which Malik then resided, leading to the death of over 90 Muslims. “Khel-kud toh sab khatam hi ho gaya hamara”—All the playing around disappeared, he said. “Bhag-daud mein lag gaye, ki hum gujara kaise kare”—We became caught in figuring out how to get by.
Barely 17 years old at the time, Malik told me that he, along with his two young sisters and a younger brother, hid on the roof of a home in a neighbouring housing society as the violence ensued, for over 24 hours. “Aagey aagey police chalti thi, picche picche tola”—the police walked in front, and the mob followed them, he recounted. “Police walein khud bolte the, ‘Bhonsdi ke, dartey kyun ho?Maro na goli.’”—The police officials said, “Bastards, what are you scared of? Shoot them.” Whoever the mob came across, Malik said, was hacked to death or burned. He and his siblings escaped at close to 2 am at night, when a police bus arrived to pick up survivors. Suddenly, Malik became the guardian for his young siblings. Now, Malik said that he and his 18-year-old brother, were employed in a nearby factory, working 12 hours a day, each earning Rs 8,000 per month.
According to a survey conducted in 2012 by Janvikas—a non-governmental organisation, established in 1987, which works primarily on issues of Dalit rights and conducted the field survey to provide support to riot victims—Islamic charitable organisations and NGOs set up all the relief colonies in Gujarat, 81 in total, to house internally displaced persons, or IDPs. These colonies were set up over the ten years following the riots, without any government assistance, and accommodate approximately 50,000 victims. Hozefa, a volunteer with Janvikas said the figure included only those who were able to obtain ration cards. According to him, the actual number of displaced population could be up to 200,000. Many of the displaced, like Malik, were young when the violence occurred, and grew up in its aftermath. A large number were not able to return to their homes out of fear. For others, there were no homes to return to—they were burnt, or broken down.
Citizen Nagar, where Malik and his siblings reside, is one of the 15 relief colonies in Ahmedabad. According to the foundation stone at the colony, it accommodates 40 Muslim families who were displaced during the 2002 riots. The colony is located barely 500 metres from a solid-waste landfill in Pirana, and forms a part of the Bombay Hotel area in the city. Bombay Hotel is a large Muslim-dominated ghetto that, according to my conversations with its residents, accommodates around 1,000 families, including riot victims. The area does not have access to basic facilities, such as water and drainage—for instance, several residents raised the grievance of inaccessibility of drinking water and water for domestic use, which they had to buy from private tankers, at a cost of nearly Rs 300 a month.
Most survivors I met said that all the young children that used to attend school before the violence had later dropped out. A majority of the young men—the ones I met and those I was told about—either work in nearby factories or are unemployed. During my visit, I met Sayyed Mohsin, a 26-year-old resident of Citizen Nagar, whose education also had to be discontinued after the riots. His family, comprising his father, mother, and his younger brother, a 17-year-old, moved to Citizen Nagar in 2004. Yasmeen said that she could not send Mohsin to school because there was no public school within a two-kilometre radius of the locality. She added that the nearest school was an expensive private one, which most residents of Citizen Nagar could not afford. As a result of this, Yasmeen said, a majority of the children in the colony, including Mohsin’s younger brother Haris and his seven-year-old daugther, Nikhat, do not attend school.