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Healing the orphans of Gujarat's riots - BBC, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Healing the orphans of Gujarat s riots By Zubair Ahmed BBC correspondent in Raigarh, Gujarat http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/3335559.stm Shafiq is
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 31, 2003
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      Healing the orphans of Gujarat's riots
      By Zubair Ahmed
      BBC correspondent in Raigarh, Gujarat


      Shafiq is eight and wants to be a policeman. Perhaps
      that is because his most vivid memories are not of law
      and order, but carnage.

      "They surrounded us from all sides and set us on fire
      inside our compound. Of the 11 family members, my
      father, grandmother, uncle, my sister, my auntie,
      died. Eight died. Three of us survived - me, my
      younger sister and my mother."

      Shafiq comes from Narora Patia, the area of the Indian
      state of Gujarat worst affected by riots between
      Hindus and Muslims last year.

      He too was set alight. He has the physical scars but
      the emotional ones run deeper.

      Now he is here among a clutch of young children in a
      classroom in Raigarh, 200 kilometres from Bombay

      This special school, tucked away on the edge of the
      Arabian sea, is where more than 100 Gujarati children
      are undergoing a unique process of rehabilitation.

      Horrific tales

      The children are busy rehearsing for their school

      "Let me tell you about the 16th century. Do you know
      what a century is?" asks a boy, playing the role of a
      history teacher.

      The youngest in the group replies eagerly: "Yes sir, a
      century is 100 runs [in cricket], Tendulkar's

      The mock teacher mockingly corrects him: "A century is
      100 years, silly boy."

      The laughter is slowly returning.

      Just 20 months ago, many of these Muslim children saw
      their parents, grandparents and other relatives burned
      or hacked to death in the western state.

      At least 1,000 died, hundreds of families were made
      homeless and many children orphaned in India's worst
      communal violence since independence.

      The burning of Hindu pilgrims in a train in Godhra
      sparked a fearful retaliation by Hindus against

      Yasmin is one of Shafiq's schoolmates and just little
      older than him.

      She is clearly a lot more affected. Her dull eyes and
      expressionless face tell her story.

      Like Shafiq, Yasmin saw her family die. She is working
      hard on her English because she wants to become a

      The horrific tales seem endless. It seems hard to
      believe the school's activities and games of cricket
      can make life simple again for these children -
      children like 13-year-old Raja Bundu Bhai Qureshi.

      "They killed my sister and my mother right before my
      eyes," he says. They were burned to death by a mob.

      "They tore the clothes off my neighbour. I was hit by
      a stone and fell unconscious. When I regained
      consciousness I saw the woman had no clothes on."

      The organisers of the school, run by the
      non-governmental organisation the Royal Education
      Society, say it is important to bring stability back
      to these lives.

      Rehana Undel Begum and her staff have been looking
      after these 121 boys and girls for more than a year.

      She says she treats them like her own children.

      "In the beginning they were missing their parents.
      Especially they missed their mothers. I thought I was
      like a mother to them, so I had to allow them to do
      what they did with their mothers," says Rehana.

      "Sometimes they want to comb my hair, they want to sit
      on my lap, want to sleep on my lap, they want to sit
      on my shoulders, they pinch my cheeks, they want to
      feel as if I am their mother."

      It looks like Rehana's nurturing is paying off.

      The children are neat, well-fed and reasonably focused
      on their studies.

      Constant monitoring

      But what of their emotional scars? How can they cope
      with thoughts of revenge?

      Alfraj Bano, 10, says: "When I grow up I'll find out
      who killed my grandmother and my sister."

      Raja Bundu Qureshi wants to leave it to God:
      "Sometimes when I remember I feel like taking revenge
      when I grow up. But Allah is with us and he'll take

      It's obvious why Shafiq wants to become a policeman:
      "Sometimes I feel I should avenge the killings of my
      family when I grow up. I want to become a policeman so
      that I can arrest them and put them in jail."

      Psychiatrists say these emotional wounds will not be
      easily healed even though the children are now leading
      fairly normal lives.

      Dr Shamsah Sonawalla, a child psychiatrist, says:
      "Psychological rehabilitation is one of the most
      important things because while physical needs are
      taken care of a little bit more easily, the
      psychological scar remains for a long time

      "The outcome can be quite disastrous, from children
      experiencing depression to post-traumatic disorder to
      extreme anger, a sense of revenge and this is how we
      might be creating future rioters. So, psychological
      rehabilitation and constant monitoring are extremely

      Rehana Undel, though, believes religious instruction
      will help heal her children, so that the cause of the
      Gujarat orphans' sorrow may become their salvation.

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