In Godhra, a burnt train and a divided neighbourhood
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A policeman sleeps on the cold stone bench beside the burnt and corroded S-6 coach parked outside the railway yard. Children who have grown up seeing the coach here play cricket in the open ground next to it. This abandoned bit of the Sabarmati Express that halted here on its last journey from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh on February 27, 2002, doubles as the boundary of this make-believe cricket pitch. Inside the coach are plants that have dried up. Remains, such as a dusty rigor-mortified leather shoe under a side berth, a blackened steel plate between the two seats, are the only signs of this ill-fated train journey.
Hadu, a labourer from Ratlam, bangs the steel plate of the railway sleeper with the back of his spade to clean the caked earth inside. With him are other labourers from Madhya Pradesh. "Saleepar bana rahein hain (We are making new sleepers)," he says.
'Dibbe ke time' (from the time of the coach-burning) is an often-heard term in Godhra.
Ismail Jhaba, a Ghanchi Muslim who says he was 16 when the Sabarmati went up in flames, now runs a newspaper, a three times-a-week edition. "From being a source for bigger newspapers, I have become an editor," he says, offering to guide you through the sites that are now part of the police files.
"Those who made Godhra infamous will now know this place for positive things like communal harmony," says Firdos Kothi, president of the Godhra Ghanchi Muslim Samaj. On January 20, he gave a cheque of Rs 21,000 under the 'girl child education programme' to Modi, who was fasting here as part of his Sadbhavana Mission. Kothi's gesture didn't go down well with many Ghanchi Muslims.
Kothi brags about his closeness with local VHP leader Ashish Bhatt and about how for the sake of communal harmony, they have together managed to keep Hindu and Muslims girls and boys from getting into relationships. "We returned four Hindu girls (who eloped with Muslim boys) recently. We have a pact now. Love-shove wears out after some time and our children come out of it soon," he says.