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Since the last week of February till date, the western Indian state of Gujarat witnessed the brunt of the countrys worst anti-Muslim pogrom for nearly a decade which raged across the state following an incident on February 27, 2002. More than 2,000 Muslims, have been killed in this carnage and over 100,000 have been rendered homeless and have taken shelter in 85-odd crammed relief camps. Nearly 270 mosques and Islamic religious and cultural monuments were destroyed or damaged. Like Bosnia and Kosovo, rape was used in Gujarat as an instrument for the subjugation and humiliation of the Muslim community.
The central government led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has been strongly criticized by the various human rights and civil rights groups for failing to control the sectarian strife while several European nations have expressed their concern at the violence, which has been directed against the Muslims. Inside the country, Vajpayee is under tremendous pressure from opposition and human rights groups to sack his partys chief minister Narendra Modi he resigned on his own on 19 July for failing to control the violence and to restore trust among Muslims. Modi has been accused of turning a blind eye to the bloodletting when it was at its peak and not doing enough to control the mayhem.
Train accident: Not preplanned
Burning villages: Preplanned,
An independent fact-finding mission claims that a clutch of Hindu radical groups led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS) the ideological mentor of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayees Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were responsible for the killings. The direct and circumstantial evidence, confirming that there was a systematic and planned pogrom and that the agents responsible are the various organizations of the Sangh Parivar (RSS and its affiliates) is simply overwhelming.
The precision with which the attacks were planned are shocking. Days before the actual attacks, VHP functionaries trawled through municipal records, employment registers, telephone bills, electoral rolls and even PRO lists of businesses identifying Muslim names and addresses. This accounts for the manner in which pedantic identification of Muslim homes and businesses occurred in the cases of arson.
Reporting on how it was pre-planned, Kuldip Nayar wrote in Saudi Gazette: A gathering of NGOs, human rights activists, Gandhians and all those who were working for relief and rehabilitation in the state told me how the entire city of Ahmedabad had been mapped out locality-wise within a few hours of the Godhra incident. Areas, houses, shops and factories of Muslims were marked and the specific task of killing, looting and burning was assigned to different groups. They were in touch with their bosses who directed them on mobile phones. A pamphlet was distributed to urge the Hindus to boycott the Muslims economically not to buy anything from their shops and not to have any transaction with them. The police behaved as if the force had been given instructions not to interfere. (30 March, 2002)
Many analysts of the Indian scene have sought to find out for this unprecedented carnage against Muslims. The motives behind this anti-Muslim riot can be summarized as follows:
Border with Pakistan: The Indian ruling party was scared of Pakistan so much so that it wanted to clear the border areas of Muslims.
Hindu votes: Secondly, in February, the BJP and its coalition partners were routed in elections to four provincial assemblies. Hard-line Hindu groups affiliated to the BJP have been accused of stoking the reprisal killings of Muslims and destroying their property. After suffering setbacks in four key state elections earlier this year and a virtual rout in New Delhi civic elections, the BJP appears to be going back to its old formula: Hindu revivalism. While commenting on this issue, M.J. Akbar, wrote in his regular column in Arab News, Those who are protecting Narendra Modi for the single reason that he will be rewarded with a Hindu sweep in the next assembly elections have learned nothing from their own experience even, albeit in a less corrosive way, in Uttar Pradesh.
Opposition parties have accused the BJP state government in Gujarat of encouraging reprisal killings of Muslims to try to win Hindu votes ahead of state elections expected in June this year.
Economic boycott: There was a drive to boycott Muslim businessmen. An anonymous leaflet campaign urging Hindus to boycott Muslim-owned shops and other establishments gathered steam since the Godhra incident of February 27. The pamphlets distributed hand-to-hand urged Hindus not to frequent Muslim restaurants, work in Muslim offices, hire Muslims or see films starring Muslim actors. Like chain letters, they ask recipients to distribute the pamphlet to 10 more Hindus. One leaflet contains the chilling warning the boycott will break the backbone of Muslims. A strict boycott will throttle these elements. It will break their backbone. Then it will be difficult for them to live in any corner of this country.
Though no group or individual has claimed responsibility for the leaflets, the boycott call coincided with a warning to Muslims by the RSS, another communal and rabidly anti-Muslim organization and parent of both the BJP and the VHP, that they should realize their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority. The BJP is facing a storm over the activities of its affiliate groups.
We know we have been thrown out of the market permanently. It is an organized Hindu game-plan to starve us to death or to herd us out of Gujarat, said the thousands of Muslim men and women have been thrown out of their businesses and jobs in the same way in Gujarat. For weeks the VHPs pamphlets spitting venom against Muslims urged patriotic Hindus not to have any business connections with traitors. Wake up! Arise! Think! Enforce! Save your country! Save your religion! Lets pledge: Not to buy anything from Muslim shops, not to sell anything to Muslim buyers, not to employ Muslims in your establishments, not to work at Muslim establishments in this way we can break the backbone of the Muslim community, the pamphlets say.
Ethnic cleansing: Drive Muslims out of Hindu neighbourhoods: An estimated 90 percent of Gujarats 51 million people are Hindus and nine percent are Muslims. The idea of the fascist Hindu forces which led the reprisal attacks was to drive Muslims out of Hindu neighbourhoods, or the state, once and for all, said Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest and director of the Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. The attitude is to isolate the Muslims, he said.
The militant Hindu outfits conducted a thorough survey of Muslim students in the states schools. By conducting the survey, these religious maniacs are trying to force Muslim families to get their wards to leave these schools for good. A kind of cleansing of the education system, without spilling any blood, said a police officer. On 27 February (a day before the riots began) meetings were reportedly held in several pockets of Ahmedabad to identify Muslim properties and houses. This information was then passed on to mobs that attacked the targets. Information, it is reported, was also collated by the same group of Hindu activists on what remained of Muslim business establishments across the state. Such behind-the scenes legwork continues even as eight areas with some minority presence in Ahmedabad alone remain tense and under curfew, said National Human Rights Commission Report.
Real Mask of Vajpayee
In an angry first reaction to Vajpayees comments, the All India Christian Council said that the Prime Ministers statement marked the darkest day in the history of democracy and rule of law in India. In cold-blooded cynicism, Vajpayee has in one fell swoop defamed world religions.. condoned state terrorism, forgiven the Gujarat chief minister and sought to convert bigotry and hate campaigns . into votes, a statement from the independent organization said. Terming Vajpayee a violent protagonist of Hindutva (Hindu revivalism), the Council said the premiers remarks have poured salt and acid on the wounds of all victims of sectarian violence.
Reacting to his speech at Goa, M.J. Akbar wrote, Indian Muslims are today shattered by Vajpayees speech in Goa, and observed, Perhaps it was the personal accusation that he had become a sponsor of Hindutva policies rather than a bulwark against them. Only he can say what happened, and what made him sweep every Muslim under the pockmarked fundamentalist carpet.
The question today is where the country stands over its minority Muslim population. That is the challenge thrown before every political leader, every political party, and every Indian. That is what the next general election will be fought on, said M.J. Akbar. The Muslims of India stand today at a place where Arundhati Roy is compelled to describe, It must be terrifying to be a Muslim in this country today.
Main opposition party leader Sonia Gandhi accused Vajpayee and his Hindu extremist BJP of exposing their communal face by refusing to sack Gujarat Chief Minister Modi, who has been charged with letting the sectarian violence in his state spiral and claim over 2,000 lives since February-end. The BJP is a communal party and the mask of the prime minister of trying to project a secular image is totally exposed and gone, she said.
Pakistan denounced Vajpayees remarks, calling the Indian leader a promoter of the Hindu fanatic and fascist agenda. The remarks reveal Vajpayees anti-Muslim bias. They are a pathetic attempt to divert attention from the recent massacres of hundreds of Muslims by Hindu fanatics in Gujarat state of India, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Role of Police
The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which had sent a mission to Ahmedabad, said police had completely failed to protect the mainly Muslim victims of the unrest. The selective targetting of Muslim houses and shops, the storage and availability of weapons are some of the elements pointing toward an organized elaboration of the crimes, the FIDH said in a statement.
the responsibility of the Gujarat government is inescapable. The complete failure of the Gujarat police to provide adequate protection to victims of brutality is the most glaring illustration of this responsibility, the human rights federation said. It said, numerous cases of active police collusion with attackers had been reported to the group and some police officers had said they were subject to political pressure not to arrest certain offenders.
Stories of brutal killings of Mukhtar and Bashir came to light when National Human Rights Commission members visited Gujarat last week. The fact that police incited and colluded with Hindu mobs in the killing of these two Muslims reveals an ugly truth that the police sponsored the riot and blindedly sided with the Hindus. They (police) have done little to prevent the carnage not because of their incompetence but because they share the prejudices of the Hindu gangs who were busy pulping their Muslim neighbours, writes the London Observer.
Criticizing the role of the police some Indian newspapers too echoed the same sentiments. (In Gujarat) police simply acted as an extended arm of the (Hindus) communal elements, indulging in looting and killing, said the newspaper analysts. NGOs, and human rights activists all opined it was a lopsided riot, militant, Hindus killing defenseless Muslims, apart from looting and destroying their properties. Out of 135 (135) killed in police firing more than hundred are Muslims. The number clearly shows how our policemen were over-enthusiastic to point their guns at Muslims, said an official. Ahmedabad police commissioner P.C. Pandey admitted the partisan role played by police in the riot.
Julio Ribeiro, known as Indias super cop for his success in quelling religious riots, battling militants and fighting crime, says he has never seen communal hatred on the scale that exists in riot-hit Gujarat. Im almost 73 and Ive never seen this kind of fanaticism among the Hindus, said Ribeiro, who was brought out of retirement to help restore trust in Gujarat police, accused of standing aside and watching the savage events. They (Hindu hard-line groups) have brainwashed people. Even children of four go around with (symbolic Hindu) tridents saying theyve got to kill the Muslims, he told Reuters.
New York-based Human Rights Watch names police officers close to RSS, BJP and VHP leaders and Hindu rightwing leaders who took an active part in the fury. It says a section of the state police were brazenly anti-Muslim, pushing back Muslims who were fleeing the violence back into the hands of killers gangs.
Now the question naturally arises why this has happened. The background of this could be traced to the policy of the party which is now ruling not only the state but also the country. This background has been created systematically and in a planned way. Since assuming power in 1998, the BJP government of the state was following a deliberate policy to saffronize, the state police. At the behest of the ministers, senior police officers were forced to fill up lower ranks of home guards and constables with recruits from VHP and Bajrang Dal activists. According to a confidential report, in the year 2000 Gujarat recruited 2,410 constables and out of them only 32 were Muslims.
For every 75 Hindus there was only one Muslim recruited. At the senior level, the state had eight Muslim Indian Police Service (IPS) officers. All of them are in insignificant support systems positions. None of them are in active policing. According to norms when an IPS officer gets the first promotion he is given a field posting. Here in Gujarat if a Muslim IPS officer is promoted he is sent to the computer cell, police training academy or given charge of police housing. We are always put on secondary duties never do we get the job of an executive officer, a Muslim IPS officer said.
However, one doubts if Muslim IPS or other middle ranking officers could really protect the suffering Muslims had they been in the field. Recently, 27 IPS officers all Hindus were transferred. Their crime: They acted against the establishment by arresting BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders and suspending some subordinate police officials charged with rioting.
Commenting on the role of the police force, Kuldip Nayar in his regular column in Saudi Gazette wrote, The advice was to allow Muslim houses to burn and to prevent aid from reaching the victims. The police instigated and protected the rioters. The day of partition came back before my eyes. He also added, 10 districts out of 23 in Gujarat have been affected. The official figure of killed is put at 800. Nearly 100,000 men, women and children are living in inhuman conditions in what are called refugee camps.
Both the central and state government involved Muslims, human rights groups and secular and opposition parties of India blamed the BJP government, in general and Chief Minister of Gujarat in particular for the genocide in the state. It is also reported by the Human Rights Watch, The government allowed the violence to spread, did not take adequate preventive measures, did not keep the army on standby, and once carnage had been unleashed, revealed its non-representative character further. There has not been one word of apology or regret from Modi or his government. The Paris-based The FIDH said it was concerned that officials of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayees BJP party and its affiliates, who were suspected of taking an active part in the violence, were being shielded from prosecution through political intervention..
Leaders of the Peoples Front, a group of secular parties, said that they had launched a campaign to force the ouster of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. A front team that visited the states principal city Ahmedabad accused Modi of trying to destroy secularism. They (Modi and his BJP) want to make Gujarat the base of militant Hinduism and fascist ideology, Communist party of India-Marxist (CPM) General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet told reporters. Amar Singh, the senior Samajwadi Party leader said, The humanity has been brutally murdered in Gujarat in an unprecedented manner. He added the people, specially the minority community, has lost confidence in the state administration and they prefer that the state should be handed over to the army for some more time.
Commenting on the utter insensitivity and callousness displayed by New Delhi to the international criticism of its inept handling of the anti-Muslim killings in Gujarat, one observer remarked, The motives of the Indian government have been exposed in the ministry of external affairs statement alleging that the European Union and others are interfering and taking sides in the ongoing highly politically charged internal debate. The killings and rape are not an issue of debate they are a bitter and shameful reality. By turning the killings into a political debate, the government mocks not just the dead but also insults Indian democracy and the rule of law, Muslim and Christian organizations said.
Human Rights Watch quoted a woman at a mass grave in Ahmedabad who washed female victims charred and mutilated bodies before burial. Some bodies had heads missing, some had hands missing, some were like coal you would touch them and they would crumble. I washed 17 bodies on March 2; only one was completely intact. All had been burned, many had been split down the middle, the woman said. The Human Rights body added that the pogrom launched by Hindu right-wing groups in response to the train killings at Godhra Feb 27 sits well with what the UN defines as genocide against the innocent Muslims of Gujarat.
The Booker Prize winner Author Arundhati Roy compared the religious violence carried out by Hindus in Gujarat to a Nazi pogrom in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. Writing in the latest issue of the Outlook, Roy said there was a fundamental difference between the Godhra Sabarmati Express train carnage and the killings that followed.
A former police commissioner in Ahmedabad, Ribeiro who has an impressive record of controlling communal fury and battling militancy, added, If the world took notice of (massacres in) Rwanda and Bosnia, it should take notice of this, he said, referring to the countrys worst Hindu-Muslim violence in which more than 3,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
Muslim and Christian organizations slammed the central government for terming as an internal affair what they called genocide in Gujarat. They said the gang-rapes of hundreds of women and murder of thousands of innocent children and adults in Gujarat could not go unchallenged. Stating that the UN system was on test in Gujarat, the organizations said in a joint statement: Neither India nor the United Nations members can run away from their responsibilities in this case. Indias record shows its interventions in many different countries which faced similar situations of racial and religious violence of such magnitude, said the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, the (All-India Muslim Consultative Council), the All India Catholic Union and the All India Christian Council.
The London-based Muslim News wrote: The horror stories which are slowly emerging of the techniques used to murder and maim Muslims smack of a sick and sadistic conspiracy akin to that of Nazi Germany. The brutality witnessed in the Gujarat pogrom far outstrips even the worst violence the Indian subcontinent endured during the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947.
It continued, Eyewitnesses recount how a young pregnant Muslim girl begged for her life in the name of her unborn baby. The VHP hounds responded by ripping open her abdomen. They took out her foetus, stabbed it repeatedly before her eyes, and then sprinkled paraffin on the mother-to-be and set her aflame. In another incident, 19 members of a family were first sprayed with water as they huddled together in a room, and then a live high-tension electric wire was thrown on them. All of them died of electrocution. Other incidents are too horrifying even to recount. There has been untold number of incidents of gang-rape of women, often in front of their relatives, before they were set on fire and killed..
Rape as a strategy
Peter Pohpam reporting from Delhi wrote in The Independent: A woman identified as Reshma recounted how she saw a heavily pregnant woman called Kausar Bano being brutally raped Her stomach was carved open, her baby flung into the fire before she was sexually abused, cut up and burnt. (1/5/2002)
The state government says some 850 people have died in the violence, but a secret report by British diplomats leaked to the BBC says at least 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, died. The report claims that far from being a spontaneous eruption of Hindu anger after the Godhra outrage, the violence was pre-planned and carried out with the support of the state government. The British officials said the violence had all the marks of ethnic cleansing, and that reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims was impossible.
Refugee camps & Relief
Even a-month-and-a-half after sectarian violence broke out in Gujarat, no compensation has been paid to victims and the situation in relief camps is deteriorating, rights activists were quoted by newspapers as saying. Fleeing their homes for life, Muslims have taken refuge in makeshift relief camps, many of which lack basic essentials.
But members of Citizens Initiative, a platform for peace activists and religious groups that has been working in relief camps, said nothing had come the way of victims. The activists also complained of shortage of food and other relief material at the camps. Prakash Louis, director of the Indian Social Institute, said: People in the camps immediately need at least some initial compensation. Though there were several announcements, the process has not yet started.
The relief camps, on open ground, in schools and mosques, have an overpowering stench due to a lack of sanitation and are packed with Muslims left homeless or too scared to return home.
Ahmedabad city officials say 48,000 people are housed in 45 relief camps. Voluntary groups put the figure at 60,000. The anger against the authorities is palpable. In the Bapunagar camp, where 8,000 Muslims have barely enough space to stand, Deputy Collector A.V. Zala had a difficult time pacifying them.
H. D. Deve-Gowda, the former Indian Prime Minister, who visited the Muslim refugee camps in the city with other members of the front, said the conditions there were miserable. Except for a little grain, the state government has not given the victims anything, let alone compensation, the former prime minister said. More than 100,000 Muslims are living in 85-odd camps in Gujarat.
Human rights and other international groups demanded an early investigation of the incidents and said that the criminals should be brought to justice; otherwise, this type of incidents will be replicated in other states of India. Kuldip Nayar posed the following questions to the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary, Why did not any official in Gujarat resign? Was there nothing called conscience, not even in the land of Mahatma Gandhi? Why none of them had even gone round to the refugee camps? The state machinery was conspicuous by its inaction. Must a BJP-run government be saved from dismissal because the Centre is led by the BJP? What happened to New Delhi? Should Home Mionister L.K. Advani have defended the state Chief Minister when his failure was palpable? Would successive rulers follow these parameters of governance?
Kuldip Nayar wrote a letter to the prime minister in which he said that the riots in the state were not Hindu-Muslim clashes in the sense that one community fought against the other. It was really a pogrom, a well-planned and executed scheme .I find the bureaucracy and the police have been communalized. There are umpteen instances to show that the government machinery was biased as if there were unwritten instructions not to act against the rioters. Chief Minister Narendra Modi should have been asked to quit long ago.
He also said, I have made a suggestion to expand the one-man commission to a 3-member panel to be presided over by the Supreme Court judge.
Muslim and Christian organizations demanded an international investigation into the Hindu hard-line groups allegedly behind the violence, saying their actions not just threaten the minorities of India and civil society but also endanger international peace. It said the Gujarat government had rubbed salt in the wounds of victims by its cynical, callous and coercive claims in newspaper advertisements that it had brought the situation under control. The daily killings and the travails of victims are proof that the state government is trying to fool international opinion, it said.
Fascisms firm footprint has appeared in India. Let us mark the date: Spring 2002, Arundhati Roy said. She said the Hindu Revivalist RSS - the ideological force behind BJP and its affiliates have been stirring sectarian passions at meetings and schools that it runs. The RSS has embarked on, indoctrinating thousands of children and young people, stunting their minds with religious hatred and falsified history. She said she regrets that Indias secular parties have failed to stand up against the menace of communalism.
This is a crisis of impunity, Smita Narula, Human Rights Watchs Senior Asia researcher, said. If charges against members of these groups are not investigated and prosecuted accordingly, violence may continue to engulf the state and may even spread to other parts of the country, The rights body said mass graves have been found around Gujarat and that the death toll from the riots could be as high as 2,000.
The massacre in Gujarat does not indicate spontaneous action. It was pre-planned, state-sponsored, organized ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Hindu radicals led by the Rashtriya Samajsevak Sangha (RSS), the ideological mentor of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayees Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affilates, VHP and Bajrang Dal.
Almost all the international human rights groups such as London-based Amnesty International, Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and New York-based Human Rights Watch are unanimous in their condemnation and accusation against the state machinery bureaucracy, police force and the establishment for the genocide-type of massacre in Gujarat.
In this carnage, innocent people whether 3,000 or 900 were roasted alive for no fault of theirs. Hundreds of Muslim women were gang-raped and thousands of innocent children and adults murdered. Death toll from the carnage could be as high as 3,000. Mass graves have been found around Gujarat. Thousands and thousands of Muslim men and women have been thrown out of their businesses and jobs. Nearly 270 mosques and Islamic religious and cultural monuments were destroyed or damaged.
Like Bosnia and Kosova, rape was used in Gujarat as an instrument for the subjugation and humiliation of the Muslim community. Among the women surviving in relief camps are many who have suffered the most bestial forms of sexual violence including gang rape, stripping, insertion of objects into their genitalia and molestation. A majority of rape victims have been burnt alive.
It is not simple communal Hindu-Muslim riots as it frequently happened in India. It was a well-planned and executed ethnic cleansing scheme to throw Muslims out of Gujarat initially. The state of Gujarat is an operational experimental laboratory for the RSS; if successful, it would be applied in other areas. The experiment launched by the Hindu militants contains the following salient features: spread the anti-Muslim hatred and poison the minds of the Hindu masses; psychologically intimidate and scare Muslims to leave Gujarat; attack Muslim people and Muslim concentrations, with the well-armed Hindu mobs, attack them with swords and other lethal weapons and make them incapable of defending themselves and then finally burn them by dousing petrol or kerosene on them. In the carnage that was perpetrated in Gujarat a cynical pattern was followed all over the state which ultimately sought to ethnically cleanse the state of Muslims. That is the reason that Narendra Modi has been re-christened as Narendra Milosevic Modi, who should also be brought to the International Criminal Court, at The Hague.
This selective murder of Muslims and plunder of properties was also seen in attacks on the Muslim properties, shops and businesses. In the busy market-places shops owned by non-Muslims stand unscathed, side by side those completely gutted by the rioters. A list of shops and businesses owned by Muslims was prepared with exceptional precision and targeted by the violent, but highly-motivated mobs.
There is a demand from the international human rights and civil rights groups for an international investigation into the violence and internally, there is a demand for the removal of the Modi government of the state and the declaration of Presidents rule in Gujarat.
If the charges against members of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal are not investigated and prosecuted accordingly, violence may continue to engulf the state and may even spread to other parts of the country, warned Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy.
Phillip Cosby wrote a letter from Dammam, complaining that the Muslim world stood and watched shamelessly while barbaric criminals slaughtered innocent Muslims. He said unless Muslim countries learn to raise their voices strongly against such crimes against their fellow Muslims where they are a minority, there is little hope.
I think, the least the Muslim governments could do is to consider to ban the VHP and should issue statements that anybody found in Arab countries giving money to VHP, should be arrested and thrown out, even that would be a support for the Gujarat and Kashmir Muslims cause, suggested Lord Nazir Ahmed of the British Parliament, who came recently to attend the 4th General Islamic Conference organized by the Muslim World League in Makkah.
The blood-curdling events in Gujarat have left a harrowing impact on Indias body-politic. While the Indian Muslims are stunned by the trauma and tragedy which has engulfed that western state since the end of February, the thinking sections of the country are clueless about the future course the things will take. As Vinod Mehta, Editor-in-Chief of the Outlook, New Delhi, asked, Is India a confident, mature, increasingly prosperous world superpower? Or is it a barbaric, tribal, banana republic akin to Rwanda? Can revenge become an instrument of state policy?