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  • ‘I want the case to be reopened’ : Zaheera


    Zahira Sheikh, the prime witness in the Best Bakery case, is the most visible and controversial riot victim from Gujarat. She has changed her stand thrice. After describing the massacre on her house in detail in her police statement and to the National Human Rights Commission, she turned hostile in the Vadodara Sessions court. The accused were convicted.
    Soon after, she appealed to the Supreme court asking for a re-trial outside Gujarat. She lied in court because she was threatened by local BJP MLA Madhu Shrivastav. During the re-trial in Mumbai, Zaheera turned hostile once again. In this interview with Zaheera just before she appealed to the Supreme court for a re-trial, she talked of the threats to her family and the risks of being a witness against the powerful.


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    DIONNE BUNSHA
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    • It ain’t only about the rain

      Bitter Harvest – 2

      DIONNE BUNSHA

      YAVATMAL, MAHARASHTRA:
      The monsoon, in Vidarbha at least, has washed away an enduring myth. “The age old notion of farmers jumping with glee when the first monsoon showers fall is now merely a delusion confined to primary school text books. The reality here is quite different,” says Suryapal Chavan from Nandgaon taluka in Amravati.
      Extensive damage to the cotton and jowar crop in this region last year due to unseasonal rains, hail storms and a pest attack shattered the local economy, leading to 60 people committing suicide.

      “Most farmers here are in a peculiar dilemma. While they want to make up for the previous year’s losses, they are unable to find the money for ploughing, preparing and sowing their fields. The majority have not yet begun work on their lands,” Mr Chavan explains. This dilemma has led to other forms of deprivation which have been overshadowed by the public attention directed towards the dramatic suicides in Vidarbha.
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      • The cotton farmers nightmare

        Bitter Harvest – 1

        DIONNE BUNSHA

        AMRAVATI, MAHARASHTRA:
        For weeks, Lakshman Gadwe (65) watched helplessly as his cotton crop was ravaged by pests. He could not afford to buy pesticides to salvage his crop. When he finally bought a bottle of the potent chemical, he did not use it to save his crop. He swallowed it and took his life.

        After spending almost Rs 70,000 on his land holding of 28 acres his returns were less than Rs 30,000. His crop yield was 20 per cent of the normal crop. “Since the cooperative bank loan did not cover the costs, he had borrowed from money lenders and relatives. To repay the debts, he forced to sell the land that he worked so hard to buy,” says his son Prakash, a resident of Januna in Nandgaon taluka of Amravati district.
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        • If you want to stay alive, run to the graveyard

          Overnight, thousands were made homeless during the Gujarat massacres. Their only refuge were dargahs, schools, and even graveyards.

          DIONNE BUNSHA

          When Fatima (name changed) went to celebrate Eid at her mother’s house in Randhikpur village, Patan district, she never imagined she would finally land up being a refugee in a relief camp in Godhra, her family and her life totally destroyed. After their houses were burned by a mob in the village, Fatima fled with a group of 35 people. “We didn’t know where to go. For three days, we walked from village to village asking for protection. We stayed one night in a masjid, another in adivasi houses. By then, our number had dwindled to nine women,” says Fatima.
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          • Blood in the fields

            They were chased from their homes. Hacked in the fields. Thrown into wells. Rural Gujarat had never seen such widespread brutality—and all planned in cold blood..

            DIONNE BUNSHA
            in rural Gujarat

            “Cleanse the village of cow-eaters. Remove all Muslims. Chase them and kill them,” blared over a loudspeaker around three weeks back in Pandharvada village in Panchmahal. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was holding a public meeting. Local police guards and a district official were present. They sat on the sidelines, drinking tea, laughing and soaking in the atmosphere. Pandharvada’s Muslims stayed out of harm’s way, fearing the worst. Three weeks later, the VHP’s supporters carried out their threat. Around 21 people were killed when the Muslim bastis were burned. The survivors fled. The VHP had achieved its end.
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