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Muslims in riot-hit Indian city prepare for long haul
( 2002-03-02 10:13 ) (7 )

In the heart of this riot-hit western Indian city about 80 Muslims fearing attacks by Hindu mobs have been holed up in a 16-apartment complex without food for three days.

Residents of Nasir Apartments, all Muslims, located near a railway track ringed by policemen, are virtual "prisoners" and witnesses to India's worst sectarian violence in a decade which has seen hundreds of people killed in a few days.

"I feel I am in a prison," said 56-year-old Nazir Mansuri, a retired government employee. "I am a peace-loving man and have never indulged in any sort of rioting in my life.

"But look at me now. I cannot take any decisions on what to do... I am tense and under pressure," said Mansuri, who like the other men in his apartment, stays awake through the night in constant fear of being attacked.

"I thought this is going to end in a day or two. Now it seems we have to be prepared for a long haul," Mansuri said.

The residents in the apartments are doctors, advertising executives, retired judges, bureaucrats and businessmen who have settled near Ahmedabad's posh Ashram Road over the past six years.

Ashram Road, leading to Sabarmati Ashram, the famed retreat of India's assassinated independence hero Mahatma Gandhi's, is part of what residents call the "new city", which is separated from Muslim-dominated old Ahmedabad or the Walled City by three main bridges.

The "new city" built roughly 15 years ago has pockets of Muslim influence, such as Nasir Apartments, which residents say are being targetted by the rampaging mobs.

Muslims in the apartment complex have been sharing whatever little rations and food they have. They fear stepping out as that could cost them their life.

Garment dealer Mehmood Mansuri, 47, said a group of 150 rioters shouting anti-Muslim slogans tried to enter Nasir Apartments twice.

"They had swords, iron rods and axes," said Mehmood Mansuri. "Somehow the presence of police and our people kept them at bay. "During the 1984 riots my shop was destroyed and it happened again in 1992. Now it has happened to some 50 Muslim friends of mine."

Mansuri, who earns 50,000 rupees (1,063 dollars) a month, said he failed to understand why people like him were targetted.

"It is three days since I stepped out," he said. "I am a well-behaved citizen and to me this (riots) looks like a well-planned operation.

"We are getting police protection as senior police officers are staying close to our complex."

The violence was triggered earlier this week when a Muslim mob killed 58 mostly Hindu activists on a train in Gujarat's Godhra town.

Since then the spiralling violence has claimed hundreds of lives in the state's commercial capital Ahmedabad and elsewhere.

Computer hardware dealer Said Bukari, a resident of Nasir Apartments, said his shop in the busy C.G. Road was reduced to ashes on Thursday.

"Later in the evening I went and saw that nothing was left of the shop," Bukari said. "I lost 1.5 million rupees and now do not know where to start as my shop was only partially insured."

J.H. Hussain, 34, a freelance advertising professional, said his food stocks were depleted.

"I am surviving on fruits and some food dished out by my neighbours. People in this apartment say their daily prayers in a make-shift hall. The neighbouring mosque has been shut," Hussain said.

He said Nasir Apartments was "in a sense lucky" as other Muslim blocks in the city had been torched and many people burned to death.

"My feeling when the mob came to attack us was incomparable. It was a complete sense of helplessness," Hussain said. "This is the first time I am facing such a situation."

"Looking back, I feel we were lucky as we might be the only Muslim apartment complex in the city which has a semblance of police security and that has helped."



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