March-April  2002 

Victims’ voices

After pelting stones they started pouring kerosene in our compartments and set them afire. Only a few of us managed to come out of the broken windows. The adults and the old people were stuck inside. The old women were pleading, ‘don’t kill us’ but they just didn’t listen," says Gayatri Panchal (16), who says 3-4 people ran after her as soon as she jumped off the train.

(The Indian Express, 28 February 2002)

Sixty-five-year-old Devika Luhana was trembling with anger as she alighted from the ill-fated train. "It was vandalism at its worst. They did not even spare old people like me and pelted stones indiscriminately. They will all go to hell for this act of malice," said Devika, who could not even retrieve her bag as she ran for her life.

"They stormed inside the women’s bogey, and before we could react they set the entire bogie on fire. Some of us managed to escape, but a number of our sisters got trapped… it was horrifying," said Hetal Patel, a member of Durga Vahini.

Terror still haunts 13-year-old Gyanprakash as he bursts into tears from time to time. "I cannot forget the sight of people burning in front of me," he says while recuperating at the Ahmedabad city hospital.

Gyanprakash was on the S2 coach of the Sabarmati Express when it was set ablaze in Godhra on Wednesday. His family was returning to Ahmedabad after attending a relative’s funeral. They had boarded the train at Kanpur.
Gyanprakash recalls the horror: "The train had just left Godhra but stopped a little way away from the station. Suddenly, stones were being thrown at the train. The pelting continued for almost an hour. Then something was hurled into our coach and there was smoke everywhere.

"It was so suffocating I could hardly breathe. I heard my father telling me to get off the train. I went to the door but saw that people trying to get off were being stabbed. I went to the other side and jumped off."

(Mid-day, 6 March, 2002)

Bhattacharya, probably one of the few survivors of coach S-6, recalls how he had to virtually choose the "manner of his impending death," which he thought had become certain then — whether to stay back in the compartment and get burnt alive or crawl out of the coach through a broken window and face the stone-pelting, weapon-wielding mob. Bhattacharya, a retired employee of a private sector firm in Lucknow, knew the journey wasn’t going to be a comfortable one, what with a large number of Ram sevaks boarding the train at the Lucknow station.

"In Rudiyali, close to Lucknow, we had our first brush with stone-pelting," says Bhattacharya. Luck ran out for the Sabarmati Express at Godhra station. "Like at every other station, the Ram sevaks had got down on the platform on Wednesday morning, shouting Jai Shri Ram slogans, even breaking into an impromptu dance." But, Bhattacharya realised that all was not well at Godhra when we saw the Ram sevaks scurrying in and barking at fellow passengers to pull the shutters down as the train pulled out of the station.

"I saw a broken window. Its bars had also been twisted apart." He had not missed the irony. "The attack itself had actually opened up a way for me," Bhattacharya said. "At that moment, it was a choice between the devil and the deep sea. The flames were leaping up close to me. I would have been engulfed in them or asphyxiated if I stayed back. The other choice was to climb out of the window and face the rampaging mob. I chose the latter," he said.

(The Times of India, 28 February 2002)

‘I am extremely disturbed over what is happening in our area. I had pleaded with folded hands to all who came to my son’s cremation to please restrain themselves and maintain peace," Govind Makwana told Times News Network on the day of besna of his only son Umakant, 22, who was burnt alive on board the Sabarmati Express. "Killing other people is not the solution. Losing a son is shattering, and I want no father or mother to suffer from this feeling," pleaded Govindbhai.

Rajendra Singh Thakur and his father were among the few who managed to escape death at Godhra railway station. They had miraculously crawled out alive from the blazing S6 compartment of the ill-fated Sabarmati Express, and would like to put the gory incident behind them. Vengeance is not on their agenda and with good reason too.

(The Times of India, 3 March 2002)

RATLAM (MP): Many lives could have been saved yesterday when the Sabarmati Express was set ablaze by arsonists at Godhra, if the Railway Protection Force(RPF) jawans had not left the spot following the stone-pelting by the miscreants, according to an eyewitness.

Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) Sajjanlal Raniwal, who was in charge of S-3 and S-4 three-tier coaches yesterday, told UNI here today that an armed RPF party had reached the spot soon after getting information. Despite being armed with rifles, they fled in panic as soon as miscreants started throwing stones on them.

After that, he said, the miscreants, equipped with sharp-edged weapons, virtually brought about a reign of terror for more than an hour and finally set ablaze S-6 sleeper coach which had nearly 125 passengers, he added.

(UNI, 1 March 2002)

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