Friday, July 4, 2003

Within minutes the mob arrived, shouting my name, asking for my death. From the slight openings in the curtains, I could see the horror unfolding.

Prof. J. S. Bandukwala, from Vadodara, did his Masters and Ph. D. in Physics from US. His main interest lies in the upliftment of the Muslim community through socio-economic reforms. He is also actively involved in trying to integrate the Muslim community into the mainstream of national life.

Gujarat has been haunting the conscience of the country and also of all people of goodwill everywhere. A land that gave birth to Gandhi, nurtured him in his faith in ahimsa, is today torn asunder by religious hate and violence. It is ironic that Martin Luther King had described his Gujarat visit about 45 years ago, as a pilgrimage. What has really gone wrong now? It is best that I limit such an analysis to my own personal experience in the days just prior to and after Godhra.

Rail incident

Martin Luther King had described his Gujurat visit about 45 years ago as a pilgrimage. What has really gone wrong now?

February 26 is celebrated every year as Savarkar Divas in Vadodara. For the 2002 celebrations some leaders approached me requesting that I speak on that occasion. Their argument was that no Muslim ever speaks on such an occasion. With much reluctance I agreed, on condition that I would be honest to myself, and that they would hear me out. I concluded my speech with the comment, that the country faces two options: either follow the path of Gandhi, in which each Indian child will feel that this country is his/her own. Or the path of Savarkar, in which some of our Indian children will be marginalised; and were bound to feel alienated from the country. To my horror, Godhra train burning incident occurred just 12 hours after I finished my Savarkar talk. I immediately reached for my media friends, urged them to carry a statement denouncing what occurred at Godhra; and calling upon both Muslims and Hindus to unite at that critical hour.

Strangely my house was the first target of the mob on the morning of February 28. My daughter’s car parked at the entrance was completely reduced to a skeleton within a short time. Fortunately many neighbours stepped in, and the mob dispersed. The press came enquiring and I urged them to highlight the fact that my Hindu neighbours had saved me. I contacted a few leaders, and was told that the attack on my house was a mistake, and it will not occur again. The police immediately sent two armed constables for my protection. But what followed was pure horror.

The very next day, I found all my neighbours, quietly leaving, or closing their doors and windows. They wanted to avoid me at all cost. On inquiry I was told that they had been warned to stay away from me or face a similar fate. Yet I was confident that nothing would happen, secure in the feeling that there were two armed constables for my security. My young daughter was alone with me; my wife had died of cancer, a few months earlier. Fortunately some friends were brave enough to stay with us. Around 1 pm a number of phone calls from friends, urged me to leave immediately. I urged my daughter to leave, yet her faith was strong. I quietly left the house. Because of the eerie silence and the closed doors, no one saw where I turned at the corner and reached a friend’s house near by. Friends were good enough to immediately take me inside. I was rushed to a bathroom, where I locked myself.

Within minutes the mob arrived, shouting my name, asking for my death. From the slight openings in the curtains, I could see the horror unfolding. I prayed, urging God that if this is my last moment, let me die in dignity and prayer. It was almost as if the Grace of God did not want me to die. The mob now turned to my house. Most shockingly the two constables, at my house, were of little help. The frenzied mob turned towards the back door. Again the Grace of God saved my daughter and her friends. As the mob was breaking the door, my daughter and friends ran out of the front door and went into a neighbour’s house.

J.S.Bandukwala

J.S.Bandukwala

The religious frenzy gave way to looting and destroying of my house. Within fifteen minutes the once beautiful house was reduced to a complete mess. After that a police van reached the site. The police party shifted us to a police station and later to a friend’s place.

Yet anger at my escape was high. The police urged my close friends to remove me from Vadodara, as they could not protect me. I left early the next day for Mumbai and then to New York, to be with my son. No one has been arrested or even investigated on this case.

On my return from the USA, the police enquired about the two policemen. I said, I have no interest in their dismissal from service. I leave justice to God …

J.S.Bandukwala

X