In India, a Child's Life Is Cheap Indeed

NY Times, March 7, 2002


In India, a Child's Life Is Cheap Indeed


AHMEDABAD, India, March 6 ? The flatbed truck pulled up to the Muslim

cemetery today bearing a terrible cargo. Volunteers with plastic bags 


to their hands lifted tiny charred bodies from the back, where they 


piled without so much as a sheet for cover, and gently carried them 


the grounds as though they were just asleep.  These 21 Muslim boys and

girls, burned to death by raging Hindu mobs and unclaimed in the city

mortuary for days, were buried here this afternoon in mass graves for

victims of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots in nearly a decade.

No relatives were there to mourn them, just solemn young men with

handkerchiefs over their noses who performed the final rituals.

If the children's families can ever be identified ? if, in fact, the

families did not perish in the flames ? they will be entitled to 


rupees, or $2,050, in compensation from the state, half the amount the

state has promised to the mostly Hindu families of the 58 people who

burned to death on a train loaded with Hindu activists.

"The government is pricing Muslims at 100,000 rupees and Hindus at 


rupees," Afaullah Khan, a businessman and volunteer, said bitterly as 


children's blackened, twisted bodies were laid on the sandy ground in 


commodious shade of a banyan tree.

The government says the train attack dead were victims of terrorism, 


the more than 500 people who died in the days of rioting that followed

were victims of Hindu-Muslim violence, hence the difference in 


But to the state's Muslim minority, the government's compensation 


has become one more piece of a puzzle that is fast convincing them that

officials here in the western state of Gujarat are discriminating 


them for political gain.

The 21 children and one woman brought today to the Kalandri mosque

cemetery joined 104 other riot victims already buried here, but no 


state official has yet come to console the Muslim community, the

volunteers said. None arrived today, though news of the funeral was on 


front page of this morning's Indian Express.

The disillusionment of Muslims here and at a nearby school that 


thousands who fled the mob violence reflects the broader anger and

disappointment of the city's Muslims at a police force that failed to

protect them and a state chief minister who blamed Muslims for 


the worst instances of mob violence directed at them.

Last Friday and again on Monday morning, people living on the school's

crowded concrete floors complained that the government had given them 


food, no water, no clothes, no blankets.

The state did not begin to help until five days after the riots began,

said Daud Bhai Ghariyali, a watch shop owner who is helping run the

shelter. Sure enough, as he stood in the teeming shelter, a state 


official finally showed up with doctors to give women and children


Asked why help had not arrived sooner, the official, S. K. Nanda, said 


job was really the municipality's responsibility, not the state's, and 


did not know why the city had not responded earlier. The state's home

minister, Govardhan Bhai Zadafiya, insisted in an interview today that

food was provided, but Mr. Ghariyali was emphatic that it was not.

At the cemetery today, volunteers tried to cover the sickening sweet 


of the dead children with bowls of burning incense sticks. The bodies 


on the ground for two hours, but no one from the shelter came to claim


Among those waiting to witness the burial was M. R. Mansouri, 69, a 


resident. He tried to explain the cruel math of Indian politics ? a 


that tempts politicians to try to turn Muslims and Hindus against each


"Politically, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is down," Mr. Mansouri


In Gujarat, the last large state the party governs, the party wins if 


can unite the Hindus, normally divided by caste and other factors ? and 


accomplishes that by setting them against the Muslims. "The advantage 


them is a polarization of votes," Mr. Mansouri said. "At election time,

they'll be the beneficiary."

Shortly after 5 p.m. today, as the dirgelike call to prayer sounded, 


men carried the children's bodies, modestly covered with small white

sheets, to the mass grave. They were laid in a layer on top of other

bodies already buried there. A dense swarm of flies did a crazed dance

above them.

First, the men who carried them threw clumps of reddish dirt into the 


grave by the handful, then by the bowl full, until the bodies were

completely buried and ready for the next layer of victims.


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