The Ghosts of Gulberg

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A decade after the massacre, the footsteps of some of those who once called it home will be heard here again

Nothing prepared me for my meeting with Rupabehn Mody (the subject of the film Parzania) in Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad, last month. These walls, blackened with soot and neglect, were once her home. I had first met her in 2002, days after her son went missing during the massacre of members of the Muslim community by a Hindu mob on 28 February. Sahmat and Citizens for Justice and Peace (led by Teesta Setalvad) had brought survivors to Delhi for a public hearing. I saw tears in the eyes of President KR Narayanan, his wife and even his hardened military attache when they met the survivors (even as the riots in Gujarat carried on). At another hearing for justice in 2006, I took portraits of these survivors— and now witnesses to acts of unspeakable brutality.

For 10 years, Sahmat has worked with Teesta and her team in support of their fight to bring justice to these survivors. But the charred and abandoned site of Gulberg even a decade later is testimony to the cruelty that communal politics can inflict on hapless citizens. As an architectural photographer, these images for me are of the site of a sacred space. Salim Sandhi guides me into the shell of what had been his home. Standing in the bedroom of his late son, listening to how his four family members were slaughtered and burnt, my camera shakes. I have not seen Bergen Belsen or the other Nazi ovens in Europe, but maybe these blackened walls are like those, and we stand here in Gujarat amid ghosts.

This year on 28 February, Gulberg will witness a memorial for those who perished, an event that will bear testimony to the resilience of those who continue to fight for justice against the might of a state that would deny them that right. Rupabehn Mody, Teesta and Salim will be there with their police guards, who follow them everywhere in their daily life. Shubha Mudgal, Aneesh Pradhan and Sudhir Nayak will bring their tribute of song. And there will be memorials to the missing and the dead—and tributes to the witnesses, lawyers, press persons and ordinary citizens who have stood by the victims.