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Gujarat public hearing shows how life for a "Hindu" riot victim of 2002 communal flareup turned for worse

Rekha with one of her brothers
By Our Representative
In what was described by the organizers as a “glaring example” of how Gujarat’s powerful rulers have been treating victims of the 2002 riots belonging to the Hindu community, the Dalit Hakk Rakshak Manch (DHRM) presented at a public hearing at Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad, a 22-year-old girl Rekha, who has been living as a destitute ever since the gruesome incident took place in which her house was burnt. While Rekha, who was asked to speak, sobbed even before she could tell her sorrowful tale for 12 long years and withdrew, a DHRM volunteer said, “She lost her parents, and was forced to take care of four siblings.”
The DHRM volunteer found Rekha, already an adult, in an anganwadi along with pre-school kids, eating food with them. “When we inquired why was she there, we were told that Rekha and her younger brothers and sisters would take food at the anganwadi as they had no other place to go”, the volunteer said, adding, “Our contact with Rekha began, and we found out how her house was burnt during the 2002 riots, how she first turned into a child labourer to take care of her siblings, and then was married at 12, two years later, by neighours, and how a child, who was born to her in her teens, was taken away from her, and she was abandoned.”
“Until six months back”, the volunteer said, “nobody came to even place a roof over the house, which was razed during the riots in the Bhil Vas area of Shah Alam, Ahmedabad. During rains, she and her siblings would go out and sleep under any shed they would find in the neighbourhood. While thankfully an NGO found funds to put up a shed on her house, it is still devoid of power. It has been a cruel life of this riot victim, who has not been paid any compensation. Indeed, she has remained untouched from the Government of India’s Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), aimed at building “a protective environment for children in difficult circumstances.”
“What is worse”, said the volunteer, who is in touch with her for the last about a year, “is that, whenever we approached for any help that she should get from the government, officials demand the proof that she was a riot victim. The girl and her siblings lost everything in the 2002 riots. They have no way to keep proof. They have remained illiterate, and the minors among them work as child workers.” Commented Raju Solanki, who heads DHRM, “We have introduced Rekha only to point towards how the Hindutva brigade has not cared even those who were Hindu victims of the 2002 riots, not to talk of Muslim victims.”
At the public hearing shought to suggest how the ICPS is allegedly not being implemented by Gujarat officials, DHRM also introduced several children who were either ill-treated at juvenile homes or were victims of child labour. Dipak Dabhi, a tribal activist from Banaskantha district, presented the case of a child worker Kamla (name changed), who ran away from a Bt cotton field, where she was confined and forced to work as a virtual bonded labourer. “She managed to run as sh was educated till 9th standard and thought this would get her jobs, but was raped hooligans”.
Then there was the case of 12-year-old Suresh, who works as a tea stall worker in Chandkheda in Ahmedabad, whose parents are beggars, and he was implicated in a theft case and kept in a cell in the juvenile home amidst teenage murderers and rapists. Also introduced was physically challenged Laljibhai, a former manual scavenger from Dhandhuka town in Ahmedabad district, whose child was refused admission in Ahmedabad only because it was sought in the middle of the session. “When we intervened and showed the authorities the rule, the district education office (DEO) issued instructions to admit the child”, a DHRM volunteer said, wondering if there were similar cases also.
Members of the Juvenile Justice Board, present at the public hearing, agreed that in several cases the children are ill-treated by the police. A board member said, “I know of one Dharmesh Patel, who on being caught for petty theft was so badly beaten up that he be could not walk. At 18, he started plying a rickshaw, but whenever there was any case of loot in Amraiwadi area of Ahmedabad, this child would be identified, was pushed in police lockup, and beaten up. I have just been told that he has died. It is a bad day for me, though I do know of several children who are brought to the juvenile home also become good citizens. Police must behave more humanly to these children.”
When asked for reaction, a flabbergasted senior government official present at the hearing told Counterview, “There is a need to look into these issues. The children must be helped, and every effort must be made to ensure that they get justice. I ensure, on behalf of the government, that everything will be done to help these children, or whenever we come to know of such cases." On being repeatedly queried whether he considered these as cases of human rights violations and the state was responsible, he said, "These may be considered like this”, and walked away.

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