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Woes abound for Godhra victims

Woes abound for Godhra victims

Author:
Publication: UNI
Date: March 8, 2002

That the survivors of the February 27 Sabarmati Express blaze at Godhra are a bitter lot will be an understatement. Few politicians, human rights activists or media persons have had a kind word for them.

Nearly 3,000 Ram Sevaks had left for Ayodhya from Gujarat on February 22 to participate in the Purnahuti Yajna and most were returning on February 27 by the Sabarmati Express when four of its coaches were set on fire at Godhra.

These coaches were overcrowded with more than 100 passengers in each, mostly Ram Sevaks. Of these 400-odd passengers, 58 in the Second Class reserved coach number S-six, perished in the train blaze, while about 20 sustained burns. The others had somehow managed to escape, with varying degrees of wounds, by breaking windows as the doors were all locked from outside.

And some of these survivors, who were not Ram Sevaks until February 27, are now the new recruits to the cause. Like Mahadev Prajapati of Kalol, who told UNI that he was not serious about the cause until that day. In fact, he even had a verbal duel with a Ram Sevak on the train just before it reached Godhra. "Now, I will myself go to Ayodhya," he declares.

Arun Kamalkar of Ahmedabad, who was in S-eight coach, claims he heard the miscreants chant slogans eulogising Osama bin Laden, Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan, outside the burning train. He, too, is now packing bags for Ayodhya.

Gayatri Harshadkumar Panchal(16) is among the lucky ones to have survived the blaze. She had left for Ayodhya, accompanied by her parents and two elder sisters. Only she came back alive.

Gayatri, and her three sisters Avani, Priyanka and Komal started crying as she narrated the incident that took place one km from the Godhra station. Fifth of the six sisters of a carpenter's family, Gayatri recounted how stones were rained on the train forcing them to close the windows. She also saw her two sisters, Pratiksha and Chhaya getting injured and her father attacked by sword on the neck when he was coming out. Her mother, Nitaben, was a Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist who had persuaded many people of Ramol Janata Nagar to go to Ayodhya.

She complains that no political party, media person or official came to her with a helping hand. Sitting in their first floor residence of four rooms, the four girls in the age group of 16 to 22, now wonder about their future in the absence of their parents.

Mandaben Bhatia, a housewife, and her factory worker husband Nilkanth Bhatia were lucky to come out alive from the ill-fated S-6 compartment of Sabarmati Express. While Nilkanth got burns on his left leg, Mandaben was admitted to the Civil Hospital, for treatment of giddiness and black vomit.

They said the stone-pelting started on the train as soon as it stopped due to chain-pulling. Closing the windows, the Ram Sevaks climbed up the upper berths to save themselves from raining stones.

They sensed fire, and inflammable liquid on the floor of coach filling it with smoke. The stone-throwing continued by the massive mob for nearly half-an-hour, followed by fire. The mob was also raising slogans condemning the Kar Sevaks.

Mandaben said after the glasses of the windows broke, she saw burning missiles and torches being thrown inside the train. This forced the couple and others to run for their life. Finally, Nilkanth broke a rod of a window and called VHP activist Rakesh Patel for help. Patel had already got down and virtually threw himself out from the window.

Mandaben thinks that the attackers had used some sort of solvent, when burnt made more smoke, and for three days after the incident she was spitting black phlegm. The couple is, however, raring to go again to Ayodhya.

Yoginaben Vitthalbhai Panchal, who had also gone to Ayodhya with her son Chirag(12), has an interesting story to tell. A middle-aged man came to her coach at Dahod, before Godhra, and warned her not to go ahead to coach No (S-6) as there was a "threat". The man also said if somebody asked her, she should identify herself as "his" wife.

Soon, she said, the stone-pelting started and their bogey was gutted. The same man helped her and her son to get down on the opposite side of the attackers and run to a farm.

Octogenarian Dr Girishchand Raval, a retired medical officer with the Gujarat Government, had tears in his eyes when he spoke about his wife, Sudhaben(65), who was burnt to death in the attack. Their son Ashwin, a VHP activist, is all set to go to Ayodhya again and questioned as to what was the Human Rights Commission doing when such incidents took place.

Bharat Panchal and Prakash Chondkar, both rickshaw-drivers, also lost their wives Jyoti and Nilimaben. The last rites of ten Ram Sevaks from Ramol Janata Nagar in Bapunagar locality were performed together.
 


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