I wrote this piece a while ago for a newspaper that wanted articles on “hostel life.” They never expected something like this and eventually didn’t publish it.
I just dug it out recently when I needed samples of my past writing to bolster my c.v.
In the aftermath of the Godhra massacre and the resulting riots across Gujarat, a curfew was imposed in the cities of Baroda and Ahmedabad. At the M.S. University of Baroda, it meant that the students living in the vast hostel complexes had to remain cooped up, three to a room and couldn’t even venture beyond the hostel campus gates.
The inevitable had to happen. As the saying goes, a lie can run halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, rumours sparked across the thirteen boys’ hostels, “mobs 5000-strong are marching to attack the hostels!” “students are being killed elsewhere in the city” “the family living across the street is plotting the torching of the hostel” and so on. Groups of students in a frenzy splintered much of the furniture in the hostel common room to make clubs. Bricks, sticks, stones and even a couple of drums(!) were stockpiled. Far from “mobs” coming to attack us, it appeared that we would form a mob and go on the offense. At nights, some students, from behind the safety of the campus gates and in the cloak of darkness would taunt the policemen stationed outside the gates. And when the policemen reached their breaking point, they opened the gate and drove in, dressed in full riot gear, lashing out with lathis and spewing abuses… not a pleasant memory at all.
The second night of the curfew, is the one that remains painfully burned in my memory. For whatever reason, the policemen in their jeep were not stationed outside the hostel gates. Students, once again from behind the safety of the gates and the walls, began stoning and torching the vehicles of a Parsi family that lived across the street as well as the carts of a couple of vendors just outside the hostel. Those same vendors that provided us with breakfast and tea every morning now bore the pent up aggression, ire or frustration of students.I woke up the next morning to find “Jai Shri Ram” chalked all over the hostel walls. Down the corridor from my room lived a Muslim medical student. He had left the hostel after he was “warned” that he was not safe there. I still remember him as a quiet, studious chap. I remember his room. While we all had posters of movies stars or musicians on our walls, he had a large poster of the Kaaba, a map of India and the Indian tricolour. On that morning which apparently some people thought was a victory of Ram, I peeked into his room, the poster of the Kaaba was ripped to shreds. In its place was “Jai Shri Ram.”