Why Sophiyabano is still terrified of train journeys


One of the first stories to emerge after the attack on the Sabarmati Express train returning from Ayodhya on February 27, 2002, was that a Muslim girl had been molested and dragged into the S-6 coach, triggering a fight between the Muslims vendors at Godhra station and the kar sevaks. Sophiyabano Dhantiya nee Shaikh, a quiet 27-year-old mother of a five-year old, still shudders at that memory.

Sophiyabano's statement was first recorded on March 28, 2002, with her mother's and sister's, by the CID (crime) which was probing the case, but it was never included in the first chargesheet filed in May that year. It was annexed only to the supplementary chargesheets. Later, almost 18 months ago, the police came to take her to the SIT court to record her statement on the incident.

Sophiya had gone to Godhra with her mother Jaitunbibi Shaikh, 57, and younger sister Saheda, to celebrate Eid at her aunt's house in Signal Falia on February 23 that year. They were to take the MEMU (the local train) train back to Vadodara. "We reached the station around 7.30 a.m. and the Sabarmati Express had just come in from Dahod. We were standing near the drinking water point. There were many people with kesri pattas (saffron bandanas) who got off the train shouting, 'Jai Shri Ram'. We saw one of them beating up a bearded man and got scared. We started walking towards the ticket window and thought the train would go. A kesri pattawala came from behind and clamped his hand on my mouth and tried to drag me towards the train. I screamed for my mother who was ahead of me with Saheda. Hearing me shout, he let me go. Then I saw some kesri pattawalas tug at a burqa-clad woman's veil. They were screaming, 'Musalmaano ko maaro'. We were not wearing burqas. I was very scared. My mother then said we should go back to Signal Falia," she says. Sophiya first said this before the first investigating officer in the case DSP KC Bava, who is now retired.

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