Ten years after he lost everything, Ibrahim Sheikh wants his life back. He cannot get back the 18 members of his family who died in the 2002 post-Godhra Gujarat riots, but he wants to be reinstated as a CRPF jawan, the job he lost.
CRPF jawan Ibrahim Sheikh was on duty in Chandigarh in early 2002, when he learnt that his village, Randhikpur, 100 km from Godhra, was engulfed in riot violence. “I called up my Commandant and told him I needed 15 days off as I was unable to trace my family. The Commandant called up the Superintendent of Police and District Collector there and said ‘you must help my jawan find his family or their dead bodies’. He then gave me a five-ton vehicle and two pilot Gypsies to help me,” Mr Sheikh recalls.
He reached the Godhra camp where hundreds of Muslims fleeing the riots had taken refuge and found that 18 members of his family had died in the violence. “My family members were killed for no fault of theirs. A train was burnt in Godhra, that’s far from our village. We had nothing to do with it. All that we had ever possessed, our belongings, property everything had been burnt,” Mr Sheikh recounts.
The immediate need then was to rehabilitate what was left of his family. He sought more leave, but his application was rejected. “I returned to the CRPF after two months and served for three or four years”, Mr Sheikh says. But he was shattered and the need to be with his family was paramount. Mr Sheikh says one day, without permission, he just left to be with his family. He says, ‘At that time I was broken economically and psychologically ruined. I kept thinking I fight to keep the country safe, but I couldn’t protect my family.”
Back in Randhikpur village, Ibrahim started helping Bilkis Bano fight her case. Bilkis Bano, a 19-year-old pregnant woman was gangraped and left for dead and 13 members of her family, including her two-and-a-half-year old daughter, were murdered in the 2002 communal violence. Trial in the Bilkis case ended in 2008, with a Sessions court awarding life imprisonment to seven accused.
Ibrahim now lives a displaced existence in a grim resettlement colony, home to about 80 families from Randhikpur village. He wants to return to the CRPF. “I am ready to fight for my country. I can give my last drop of blood for my country,” he says. Scarred by the communal violence that changed his life, the former jawan nevertheless has complete faith in the secular fabric of the armed forces. “The armed forces are different, our forces are the best. Whether it is the CRPF, BSF, the Army, Air Force or Navy, our forces are unique. The 110-crore population of our country can live in safety only because the forces are on duty,” he says.