POLITICS
08/12/2018 11:00 AM IST | Updated 08/12/2018 11:28 AM IST

Gujarat Riots: What Went On In The Minds Of The Men Who Made Up The Mob?

An excerpt from journalist Revati Laul’s new book, which examines the 2002 violence from an intimate angle—and steps into the shoes of the perpetrators for the first time.

SEBASTIAN D'SOUZA via Getty Images
A 2002 photo of a Hindu mob waving swords during communal riots in Ahmedabad.

Of all the signs telling Abdul Majid his world was about to crumble, the khichdi is the one that truly hit home. It was the middle of the afternoon on 28 February 2002 when the mob closed in on Naroda Patiya. Majid was hiding on a terrace when Jai Bhawani spotted him from below and went up to talk to him.

'Majidbhai,' he said, 'you guys have been hungry since the morning. Come down and bring me those large cooking vessels from your kitchen. I'll make some kadhi khichdi.'

Majid stood up suddenly. 'Kadhi khichdi? Kadhi khichdi! But that's food for a funeral,' he said, feeling a sudden surge of panic.

'Yes,' Jai Bhawani replied. 'You are all going to die.'

Majid ran down the stairs. He had locked his wife and kids and mother-in-law in a temple right behind the house, where he assumed that Jai Bhawani would keep them safe. The friendly neighbour he thought he could trust.

Majid scrambled to let them out. They ran together. Separately. Then in broad daylight, everything went dark. Majid lay in a heap near Teesra Kuan, the Third Well, struck in the back of his head by what felt like a sword. As he was fading in and out of consciousness, he heard his daughter calling out to him from the nearby park. 'Abba, abbaaaaa ...' By the time he came to, her body was cold. He had lost six children, his pregnant wife and mother-in-law. Looking back, Majid counted the signs he had missed the day before.

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There had been signs. At the street corner, away from the screeching buses on the main road, Majid had overheard traders and autorickshaw drivers discuss the possibility of violence erupting in this part of Ahmedabad. Revenge, he heard, was spreading its tentacles across the state of Gujarat after fifty-nine Hindu volunteers from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP, the World Hindu Council, were burnt alive on a train. The bogey they were in had caught fire in a Muslim-majority town called Godhra.

Some said that was so far away—130 kilometres, a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from the industrial wasteland of Naroda Patiya. Even though this was also a Muslim neighbourhood, Majid thought it was too insignificant to matter. But then he thought about the fact that Hindus had been killed. What if they decided it was time to teach Muslims everywhere a lesson? If Majid was unsure of how to read the signs, the afternoon news spelt it out in bold. A headline in the Gujarat paper Sandesh, being sold at the railway stall, screamed 'Khoon ka badla khoon'. Blood for blood.

Later that night, as Majid was downing the noisy metallic shutter to his grocery store, he had seen Jai Bhawani go past, lugging a heavy thirty-five-litre barrel with him.

'Is that alcohol you're carting home?' he had asked.

Jai Bhawani had said, 'No, Bhai. Actually, it's petrol.'

That certainly should have been an early warning sign. Why was he carrying so much fuel? Instead, it was the khichdi the next day that finally sank in. Bhawani and his friends killed Majid's family, tossed their bodies into Teesra Kuan, poured petrol and set them alight. 'They came prepared with snacks and drinks,' he remembered. Over fifteen years of telling, his narrative was now set in rigor mortis. There is a blankness to his description of how his mother-in-law's polyester sari had melted in the fire so that the two daughters who had clung to her—Afreen Bano and Shaheen Bano—were found stuck to the grandmother in their charred state.

On that day, the mob had also encircled Kauser Bi near Teesra Kuan. She was pregnant and due any day, so she could not run. Her husband, Firozbhai, was stuck on the other side of the road, unable to cross because everything was blocked off by fire and an out-of-control mob. He only heard later, when he went to claim his wife's body, of how Suresh Langdo, Babu Bajrangi, Jai Bhawani and Guddu Chhara had surrounded her, murdered her, ripped out the foetus within her with a sword and killed it. He was sure of it, because of the state her body was found in, and also because her fourteen-year-old nephew Javed saw it while hiding under a pile of bodies, pretending to be dead. He described it in court eight years later.

Ever since, Firozbhai has been talking to Kauser Bi in his dreams. 'We were both exactly alike. One kind of people,' he said, looking back. He has been scattering flowers on her grave every year since then. Red roses. She had worn a lovely red salwar kameez on their wedding day.

'The Anatomy of Hate' by Revati Laul

Revati Laul is an independent journalist and film-maker based in New Delhi. This is her first book.

Excerpted with permission from The Anatomy of Hate, Revati Laul, Context/Westland