Gulbarg Society riot survivor Feroz Khan Pathan has decided to return to his house number 18, which he fled 14 years ago in 2002 when a frenzied mob burnt alive his 11 family members. He hopes that his move will encourage other riot victims to return to this once bustling society in Ahmedabad.
Earlier last month, a special trial court in Ahmedabad had convicted 24 people in the Gulbarg Society riot case in which 69 were killed. Eleven of the accused were convicted of murder, while the rest were sentenced for arson and rioting among other charges.
According to Pathan, the society was built in the late 1960s. “My grandfather, who was among the first ones to come here, had built a house here in 1969 and by 1970 many other families had shifted here. When it was burnt down in 2002, the society had 19 bungalows and eight flats. Even though my house (number 18) is still burnt and dilapidated, I will shift here next month after getting some basic renovation done. There is no point in letting our ancestral home get ruined. Now the court judgement has also come. I hope once I shift, the rest of the society members will also get encouraged to shift back and maybe turn this place into what it was before February 2002, ” said Pathan, who works as an attendant in a cyber café near Sonal cinema and is currently staying in a rented two room house.
Pathan lost his mother, grandmother, one elder brother, paternal uncle, aunty, two nieces, one nephew and two sisters-in-law during the riot.
Feroz’s cousin Imtiaz Pathan, who too survived the riot, said he was hopeful that once they go back, Gulbarg will no longer be identified as a “disturbed society”. “We have been trying to convince the other families who own houses in Gulbarg to come back. However, not many of them are positive about moving back. I have also tried to explain to them that once the society becomes ‘normal’ again, they can then move out by selling their houses,” Pathan said.
Some of the survivors had initially planned to sell off their houses after the riot subsided. But they were stopped by activist Teesta Setalvad, whose organisation Sabrang Trust promised them that the trust would buy their houses to convert them into a museum. However, Sabrang Trust went back on its promise, despite having collected money from several donors. Later, Setalvad told the riot survivors of Gulbarg Society that they could dispose of their property. Some of the survivors responded by filing a complaint against Setalvad.
“Unless and until we move back to our houses, Gulbarg Society will continue to be seen as a ‘disturbed place’, a black mark on Ahmedabad. I do not want this place, where I grew up, where my father and elders spent so much time, to be remembered like this. I do not earn much, but I will make the house livable with whatever savings I have,” said Feroz, who is one of the prime witnesses in the riot case.