My name is Nishrin Hussain. I was born in a small town called Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh, India, my maternal grandparents’ hometown. My grandfather was a farmer in a nearby village called Rustampur. My paternal grandfather was a doctor from Burhanpur who moved with his family to Ahmedabad. This is the town my mother Zakiya Jafri called home.
Like any other family, my father’s family was struggling and juggling between work and studies. They felt safe surrounded by a mixed community of both Hindus and a few Muslims and settled in a small two-bedroom house. My father worked for Kuber Seth, our local bike repair shop owner, and Rama Seth, our local grocer shop owner, to meet his expenses by doing their books while continuing his law degree. This was a normal Indian household, a normal Indian family. Except that we were Muslims.
The 1969 Gujarat riots brought unthinkable devastation. My ammi, as she recalls the tragedy of the night the violence hit us, says she had no time to pick up the only wedding picture they had from the shelf. As the mob closed in, burning, looting and killing, my parents, grandparents, uncle and aunt ran with us and hundreds of other Muslims trying to find their children and their way in the dark and chaos. As a five-year-old, the only light from faraway I remember that night was the light of the fire from the burning Muslim homes, homes which included my own. Walking for hours in the dark night on the
train tracks, my family finally climbed on to a coal train with scores of other survivors. The house with the meagre belongings they had was gone. Then started the long days in refugee tents in Maleksaban stadium in Ahmedabad, and those long lines for food.
Note at this point that in a democratic country of my birth, I was in a refugee camp not because of a natural disaster, but because of a growing hate towards Muslims – because of hate politics, because of hate speeches and because of the Rashtriya Swayamevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
My father and his side of the family were very active in politics. My grandparents (yes, even my dadijaan, or grandmother), father, uncle and aunts – all had been to jail during the Quit India movement against the British, arrested in protests and rallies.
After the 1969 riots, my father was determined to return back to his home and rebuild. And he did. He returned to rebuild his home from the ashes with his family and neighbours. Kuber Seth and Rama Seth accommodated my parents in a small room behind their shop. Once again, with my father’s efforts, we settled and resumed a new life after 1969. As we grew older, we children made friends with our neighbours in the area, went to school together and attended social events. I moved to the the United States after my marriage in 1983. My children spent their summers in Ahmedabad with my parents every year.
Ammi always said that with our father’s determination and the donated “german ke bartan” (aluminium kitchen utensils) to cook, what else did we need. These donated utensils were neatly kept as a reminder of her hard times in the new kitchen in 19, Gulberg Society until they too turned to ashes in 2002 along with my father. Yes, I am talking about India, my country; the city of Ahmedabad, my home.
My mind wanders to that day and as I force and struggle to keep myself from thinking of that moment when the mobs linked to or inspired by the RSS/VHP pulled my 73-year-old father, an ex-Member of Parliament, Ahsan Hussain Jafri, from the house. This was on February 28, 2002. They dragged him out while the police stood a couple feet away in a van outside the complex, as if waiting for the goons to confirm his death. They cut his legs and his hands, while he was still alive. Then the final blow as the witnesses described, was to his head. They hung his head on a “trishul” or trident and paraded it around saying, incredibly, “Jai Shree Ram, Jai Shree Krishna”.
By the time they finished burning his body parts, the rest of the goons had looted, raped, killed and burned young children, women and men. With their bodies on fire, young children jumped into the open water tanks. And entire community of young and old was chopped and burned to ashes.
This actually didn’t end that day. The whole of Gujarat burned as the politicians in power gave speeches to incite the mobs and newspapers spread fake news across the state with full support from the ruling BJP. From Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society and Naroda Patia to villages all over Gujarat, bodies were dumped from trucks in deep wells to remove evidence. All the Gods above, below, homes and hearts remained silent.
As the entire state of Gujarat burned and women and children ran on streets looking for help, the top police officers of the state said ‘We have no orders to save you’. Human Rights Watch in its report confirmed after full investigation what took place in broad daylight in 2002 in the state under BJP rule.
It is unthinkable. But this happens all over India. For politics and power, we stooped so low. So low that in years to come our own children will not recognise us for what we are doing to a section of our society.
My father was a lawyer, politician and a poet. In his book, Qandeel, he wrote about India:
Har Dil Mein Muhabbat Ki Ukhuwat Ki Lagan Hai
Ye Mera Watan Mera Watan Mera Watan Hai
Politics is a game of hate. Elections are fought on and by spreading hate on the basis of Hindu-Muslim. This has to stop. India is a secular country. Our founders laid down a beautiful constitution. Let’s live that.