by Atul Sharma
I was feeding my two-month-old son Zahir when I heard frightening chants of “Jai Shri Ram” in front of our housing society in Ahemdabad, Gujarat in 2002. I called for my husband Yaseer who was getting ready for office in the other room.
“Oh! Ho! Zaheera at least allow me to wear my clothes in peace,” said Yaseer infuriated at my calling for him.
“Yaseer come and see I think there is some disturbance at our society’s gate. I can hear a crowd shouting.”
Yaseer came to the living room struggling to get his leg into his black trousers. He looked out of the window.
He rushed to me and grabbed my hand said, “Zaheera we need to run. The riots have begun. The rioters are here.”
“ Let me see,” I said to him giving Zahir to him who by now had slept.
And what I saw from my window was enough to shudder my soul. A large crowd of about two hundred had gathered in front of our housing society’s gate. There was no security guard present at the gate though two guards always manned the gate. The mob was armed with swords, axes, long knife, and some of them might be carrying a revolver hidden in their clothes. They were not trying to enter the society but seemed to be looking for some instigation. There was no person visible of our housing society. I think all of them were hiding in their homes frightened by the prospect of… No policeman was visible to me. I dreaded at the prospect of a riot breaking out soon and I being lynched by this unruly mob.
“Yaseer call the police.”
“ I called them fifteen minutes back Zaheera but no one has arrived as yet.”
An eerie silence engulfed our two bedrooms flat. I looked at Zahir sleeping peacefully in Yaseer’s arms oblivious of the mayhem that might erupt anytime soon. Neither of us said anything.
“I think we should run Zaheera.”
“ But from where Yaseer. Can’t you see the indignant mob outside clamouring for our blood.”
Again, there was silence. The silence was more nerve breaking than talking.
“ We can scale the boundary wall from backside Zaheera.”
“And the mob will thrust upon us like wolves Yaseer. They will definitely see us climbing down the stairs which face the gate.”
Then I heard a police siren approaching our society’s gate with agility. Yaseer and I ran to our window that had become source of our impending predicament by then.
I saw one jeep and two vans full of police personnel. However, the mob did not budge at their arrival. Now one by one all of the police personnel alighted from their vehicles. There were at least fifty of them well armed supervised by two of their seniors. They stood in formation. However, none of them until now had pointed their guns at the mob. The mob still did not deter from their place instead they were becoming more
and more agitated as their chanting grew louder and louder.
I was now feeling more terrified. As the police was our last hope then but it seemed something was restraining them to act.
What if the police won’t do anything? What if the police will remain a mute spectator relishing our lynching one by one instead of saving our lives? All these thoughts were reverberating in my brain.
Then suddenly I saw an ambassador with a red beacon atop it approaching the police jeep stationed there. I saw a tall officer alighting the vehicle. Every policeman standing there saluted him. The officer talked to the police officers already present there. He seemed to me only ray of hope in our flickering life.
Every minute was passing like an eternity. Half an hour had passed since my first panicked calling of Yaseer.
Suddenly all the policemen pointed their guns towards the mob. The officer pressed a mini loud speaker into service. His words are inscribed in my brain till today. Those were:
“ I ask all of you to disperse now.”
There was no sign of dispersal in the mob. However, their chanting noise receded.
Now the officer pointed his gun towards the sky and fired a shot.
The whole mob turned towards him at once who was by now facing our society’s gate and ignoring the presence of police. They ceased to raise any slogan. They were looking at each other.
The officer fired again up in the air. At this, the whole mob charged upon the policemen. The officer ordered all policemen present there to open fire. Now what I witnessed was enough to send a shudder of horror to me.
None of the policeman fired at the mob except the officer. They kept on moving back slowly-slowly leaving the officer alone to brace the onslaught of the mob.
On seeing, this Yaseer dragged me towards the stairs. We climbed down like lunatics and stealthily we reached the back of our housing society. The wall was just five feet high. We scaled the boundary wall while the mob was busy butchering the officer in front of his juniors. I saw some of my neighbours standing at their windows witnessing whole of this in horror.
We hid in the house of Jai Parkash best friend of Yaseer. I read in the newspaper that the police officer was killed by the mob while trying to protect our society where everyone was lynched by the mob and the whole society was set on fire. The police arrived late that is why they were neither able to save any of the society’s residents nor their own police officer who bravely grappled with the rioting mob alone.
Ten years have passed to this incident. I now reside in England with my family. Zahir is ten years old and goes to school. While Yaseer works as a supervisor in a bread factory here.
However, the recall of this event is enough to send shivers to my spine.