On February 27, late by over four hours, the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express pulled into Godhra station. After a 25-minute halt, against the scheduled 5-minute stoppage, the train pulled out of the platform. Even before it could gather speed, the pulling of the alarm chain brought the train to a halt near the Muslim-inhabited Signal Falia locality, less than a km. from the station. Twenty minutes later, compartment S-6 was on fire, as a result of which 58 passengers, including 26 women and 12 children were either choked or burnt to death.
Nothing, absolutely nothing can justify the killing of innocent people, whatever the provocation. But for Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, and many leading lights of the sangh parivar, this heinous crime became the justification for the ‘natural reaction’ against Muslims across the state.
Even 50 days later, it is evident that only a full-fledged inquiry will be able to finally settle the issue of who was, and the motive behind, the torching of a few compartments of the Sabarmati Express. That such an inquiry must be conducted and the guilty punished is without question. Meanwhile, taken together, the comments of Ahmedabad’s former commissioner of police, MM Singh ("Godhra has a history of communal riots. It was known that kar sevaks were coming by that route. This fact necessitated preventive deployment. That was, apparently, not done;") and those of Major General (retired) Eustace De’Souza, who on more then one occasion has been involved in dousing the fire in communally-sensitive Godhra ("I see a fiendish plan;") demand immediate attention. (See box, page 14.)
In a report published on February 25, the Jan Morcha, a Hindi daily published from Faizabad, detailed instances of provocative behaviour by kar sevaks, who allegedly beat and threatened Muslim passengers, insisting that they chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’. They even unveiled Muslim women. (See box, page 12).
The Jan Morcha report published two days before the incident at Godhra, reports the conduct of kar sevaks from Gujarat headed for Ayodhya. But by several accounts, the conduct of kar sevaks returning to Ahmedabad by the ill-fated Sabarmati Express on February 27 was no better:
The Hindu reported on February 28: "Eyewitnesses said that about 1,200 ‘Ram sevaks’ were travelling in the train. The local people in the Muslim-dominated Godhra town had been ‘irritated’ by the ‘abusive language’ used by the ‘Ram sevaks’ while they were going to Ayodhya by the same train a few days ago. They had reportedly raised slogans as the train approached Godhra on the return journey this morning."
A report in The Times of India, on February 28 stated: "Officials said a mob, enraged by the provocative slogan shouting by the VHP activists, attacked the train just after it left Godhra railway station at 6.30 a.m.… Officials said it was possible that some passengers from Godhra travelling by the train had been harassed along the way by the VHP activists returning from Ayodhya and they had incited the mob to attack the passengers after getting off the train… However, other accounts say that the mob was waiting to pounce on the train because they knew the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists were returning from Ayodhya."
And on March 7, Akbarbaig Sirajuddin Shah, a Muslim passenger who was returning to Ahmedabad with his family, in an interview with the Gujarati daily, Gujarat Today, recounted the misbehaviour of the kar sevaks throughout the journey. (See box.)
As stated earlier, no provocation whatsoever can justify a heinous crime like burning people to death. But the misconduct of kar sevaks is nonetheless important to record for two reasons: One, given such persistent hooliganism, where was the intelligence machinery of the law enforcement authorities? Why was no preventive measure taken by the police? Two, if the attack on kar sevaks was pre-planned, as chief minister Modi and Union home minister LK Advani have maintained, was the outrageous conduct of kar sevaks a part of the pre-planning?
The former Ahmedabad CP, MM Singh’s has observed:
"Burning nearly 60 passengers alive at a district headquarters railway station is unprecedented. Godhra has a history of communal riots. It was known that kar sevaks were coming by that route. This fact necessitated preventive deployment. That was, apparently, not done. With modern means of communication it should be unlikely that the multifarious safety and security installations at Godhra itself were not informed on the first sign of trouble, Even one determined man in khaki firing a few effective shots could have checked the worst, as witnessed in Parliament.
"Godhra railway station has RPF. Godhra has a railway police station, too. A district headquarters with police HQ, armed police, control room, town police station with eight chowkies, all equipped with telephones and a taluka police station. It is the HQ of SRP Bn, too and has a municipal Fire Brigade. These are the points one has to ponder instead of a routine probe, whose report gathers dust". (Letter to the editor, The Times of India, 1 March 2002.)
Godhra is a small town with a roughly equal population of Muslims and Hindus and a long and bloody history of communal tension and violence. The Muslims living at the Signal Falia area near the railway station, who allegedly attacked the Sabarmati Express with tragic consequences, are ‘Ghanchis,’ a largely uneducated and poor community, reportedly conservative and prone to react quickly; records and accounts also say that they have been quick to assemble and participate in earlier rounds of communal violence. Godhra has had tensions (that were incidentally quickly controlled by a quick recall of the army in 1948, in 1953-55, and again in 1985). This time this did not happen.
Local accounts say that stories of the behaviour of kar sevaks (believed to be as many as 1,200 or so on board) had preceded the train’s arrival. Dahod, an-hour-and-a-half before Godhra, had seen the eruption of tension and the news had already travelled. As the train pulled in and stopped at Godhra railway station, locals who live just outside the station recounted (see box on testimonies of witnesses) that they heard abusive shouts and sounds of stone throwing from the station. Vendors near the station recounted that tea stall owners at the station (who incidentally hail from the same Ghanchi Muslim community) had an altercation with the kar sevaks who refused to pay. One elderly vendor on the platform was threatened by the kar sevaks and asked to shout slogans; they pulled his beard and assaulted him when he refused.
At this point, according to some locals who spoke to this writer on March 22, a local Muslim woman, Jaitunbibi was waiting for the train to Vadodara scheduled to arrive at around 8 a.m., with her two young daughters, Sophiya and Shahidi. On observing the altercations, they tried to flee the station. Suddenly, a kar sevak obstructed their departure, grabbed Sophiya and tried to drag her inside the compartment. He did not succeed in doing so.
(By the time this writer reached Godhra, on March 22, e-mails were in circulation, claiming that she had been dragged inside and the attempt to rescue her was the trigger that culminated in the torching of bogey S-6. Later, this family left for Vadodara. When this reporter spoke to Sophiya’s kin in Godhra, where she had come with her family for Id, she confirmed that Sophia did not get dragged into the train.) The train was stationed at the Godhra railway station for 20-23 minutes before it began to move away.
By now tempers ran high and stone pelting had begun from both sides. As the train began to pull out, the emergency chain was pulled in one of the three general compartments in the front of the 16-bogey train, (bogeys S5 and S6 were eleventh and twelfth respectively in this chain). The train halted briefly. In a few minutes, the train reached Signal Falia, about a kilometre away from the station. Here, it was stopped again when the emergency chain was pulled. Who pulled the chain? In which compartment was the chain pulled?
Reports of misbehaviour, repeated provocation, the rumour of abduction of a young Muslim girl, allegedly incited a 2,000 strong mob of Ghanchi Muslims from Signal Falia to attack the train with stones and fire bombs. The kar sevaks also resorted to stone throwing. The main target of the Ghanchi mob appears to have been coach S6, which was badly burnt. It was in this coach that 58 passengers, including 26 women and 12 children were killed. In comparison, the adjoining coach, S5 was not badly damaged, with only a few windows broken.
That day, there were only 3 SRP men on duty; of the 111 GRP (Government Railway Police) officers stationed at Godhra, only 2 or 3 were on duty; though the Fire Brigade station is only 5 minutes away from the railway station, it took a while for the fire brigade to reach the torched coach. Two GRP jawans reached the spot within minutes; it is a matter of serious conjecture why they did not fire shots to disperse the mob. The arrival of fire-fighters was delayed allegedly by Bilal, a local leader according to one version; a second version says he was helping the victims.
Was the attack pre-planned? A senior police official in charge of investigating the Godhra incident, while requesting anonymity, gave the gist of his findings as follows:
Ø Chaiwallas in the train come from the same community (Ghanchis). On the Dahod-Godhra sector there was an altercation between the kar sevaks and the chaiwallahs on the train. They reached Godhra.
Ø Tea Vendors at Godhra station collected, as again there was an exchange of words about payments. The vendors from the station got on to the train and at Signal Falia they were the ones who pulled the chain. Other Muslims collected from the basti. Many local Muslims got into the train.
Ø They procured diesel from the garages near the tracks. That diesel was thrown, using cloth balls dipped in diesel. Stones were also pelted.
Criminologically speaking, in the assessment of this officer, the fire was not intended. It ‘caught more than they expected.’ ‘There was no pre-planning.’
Interestingly, the following report published by The Times of India March 29, quotes the inspector general of police, PP Agja as stating that there is no evidence at all that the attack was pre-planned:
"The case is still being investigated and if there was some deep conspiracy, then we are yet to find it,’’ said inspector-general of police (railways) PP Agja. Agja, who for the better part of the last one month has been camping at Godhra, spoke with The Times of India standing in front of the railway police station on the platform where trouble began.
"According to the sequence of events as found by the police, all was not well in coach S-6 of the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express on that day. A group of unruly Ram sevaks had boarded the train at Lucknow without reservations and had put to discomfort the 66 genuine passengers of the coach. Some of the ticket-paying passengers had to sleep on the floor, so overcrowded had the compartment become that the ticket collector who came aboard the train at Ratlam (two stations before Godhra) was not allowed to enter the coach.
"At Godhra station, the hawkers on the platform started stoning the train after an unsavoury incident, especially targeting coach S-6, because some occupants of the coach had given offence. At any point of time, there are some 250 hawkers on the station. Some of them carry stoves with kerosene in them. All of them live in the slum called Signal Falia next to the station," said Agja.
He added: "This means it is not surprising that a crowd could collect at the station so fast. The people who live cheek by jowl in the slums next to the station include a fair share of criminals indulging in railway crimes like looting, pick-pocketing and stealing of goods of passengers and also railway property. All of them are Ghanchi Muslims and they are uneducated, without any jobs and poor.’’
From 8.30 a.m. when the Godhra attack on the Sabarmati Express took place until 7.30 p.m. that evening, repeated statements by the Godhra district collector, Jayanthi Ravi relayed on Doordarshan and Akashwani (radio) stated that "the incident was not pre-planned, it was an accident." It was only after 7-7.30 p.m., when CM Narendra Modi spoke and called it a ‘pre-planned, violent act of terrorism’ that the official version changed.
As we have seen above, investigating officials have yet to find any proof of the Godhra atrocity being pre-planned. Nonetheless, Modi, Union home minister LK Advani and others continue to reiterate the distorted version of the motive behind the incident at Godhra. When and why the government’s version changed needs serious investigation because it is widely believed that it is the ‘pre-planned, violent act of terrorism’ theory, pronounced by politicians and given a huge splash by much of the Gujarati press, which provided the lethal charge to the ‘backlash’.
Signal Falia, where the Godhra Railway Station is located, is home to auto-repair workers, rickshaw-pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, small time wagon-breakers and criminal elements reportedly living in the slum. As such, the gathering of a large mob at a short notice and the availability of improvised petrol bombs and other weapons and implements, do not by themselves support the theory of any deep-rooted conspiracy, with or without the support of the foreign agencies.
(This reporter has been told about a confidential meeting between the top brass of the BJP cabinet, the VHP, the RSS and the Bajrang Dal on the evening of February 27, allegedly to plan details of the carnage that was to follow. (See ‘Police’ section.) If true, this might offer some clue as to why the official version underwent a dramatic shift).
News of the deaths enraged the kar sevaks who then tried to attack a nearby mosque at Signal Falia. The police fired 30 tear gas shells and fourteen rounds of live bullets to disperse them. The damaged coaches S5 and S6 were detached, and the train departed with the rest of the passengers at 12.40 p.m. On the way to Ahmedabad, some kar sevaks reportedly stabbed 2-3 people at the Vadodara railway station, giving a clear warning of things to come. The inquest and post-mortem of all the recovered bodies was undertaken by 4.30 p.m. Under instructions from the administration in Ahmedabad, all the bodies, excluding those of the five passengers from the Godhra region, were dispatched to the Civil Hospital, at Sola, Ahmedabad.
By the evening of February 27, a well-hatched scheme to make maximum political capital out of Godhra had been launched. As part of this scheme, around 2.30 a.m., bodies of the kar sevaks were brought to Ahmedabad. Around 500 people were waiting outside Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad for the charred bodies to arrive from Godhra. By 3.35 a.m., a convoy of five trucks led by a pilot Gypsy entered the hospital compound.
Sloganeering started: ‘Kar sevak, amar raho!’ and ‘Hindu ekta zindabad’ as small bundles carrying the victims’ remains were off-loaded on to waiting stretchers. The mood was morose but tears were few. Anger welled in the eyes of bereaved relatives as each bundle – the remains of the Godhra massacre victims – was placed on ice slabs. Vows for vengeance and shouts of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ resounded throughout the hospital compound as a martyrs’ honour was accorded to the Godhra victims.
"For the nine from Amraiwadi who laid their lives for the country, there will be 90 more to replace. We had gone there for ‘Yagna’ only, yet the kafirs (read Muslims) butchered the devotees. This time we will go and construct the Ram temple," says a waiting VHP man outside the hospital. The corpses of the unfortunate victims of the Godhra arson were used to launch a statewide pogrom of decimation that has not entirely stopped to date.
Gujarat and the whole country were on a red alert due to the aggressive mobilisation by the VHP for rebuilding the Ayodhya movement. In Mumbai, the police made as many as 8,000 preventive arrests in the first week of March, to keep the situation under strict control; In contrast, even after Godhra happened, the Gujarat police arrested only two persons in Ahmedabad. And both were Muslims.
On February 27, after the Godhra tragedy, though the RAF was called in, no adequate powers were given to the forces. Though curfew was declared in Godhra, the RAF men were made to sit in the officers’ mess, helpless, unable to do anything.
On the afternoon of February 28, while Godhra was entirely under curfew, 200-300 cabins (shops) that line the railway station selling their wares and belong to Muslims, were demolished, using a bulldozer belonging to the Godhra municipality, under police protection. The economic loss of this destruction is Rs. 3-4 crores. The Muslim owners of these shops see nothing but a "teach them a lesson" motive behind this act.
An investigation into the background of Godhra shows that when disturbances erupted in 1965, the then collector promptly arrested both Muslims and Hindus whose names appeared in FIRs and within a couple of days, the disturbance was curbed. Even after the October 1980 disturbances, the then collector Smt. SK Verma, had immediately put the miscreants behind bars.
If a similar, no-nonsense and non-partisan approach had followed the Godhra incident on February 27, by promptly apprehending the suspected criminals, tension would have been contained. And the chances of a vengeful and a highly-organised spree of retaliatory killings that demonstrate every element of ethnic cleansing and genocide, would have been pre-empted. That this did not happen suggests a lack of intent on the part of those in government to take prompt preventive measures in order to de-escalate the situation.
Though all accounts suggest that there was provocation enough by the kar sevaks, little can justify the crime that burned 58 persons alive. The guilty need to be brought to book and punished. The tragedy and crime simply need to be placed in the charged and venomous atmosphere that our country and our polity has been held victim to, where sane, rational impulses are being overwhelmed by rage, revenge and violence.
The immediate uproar that this ghastly attack led to, the subsequent police action and political manipulation of the motives has caused many witnesses to simply dither from giving evidence. The day I visited Godhra, the area around the station and Signal Falia was eerily quiet. It was also the day the NHRC was visiting. Twice, the vehicle we were moving around in was attacked. Curfew was imposed and even as we were driving through the city, tense as it was, two persons were shot at in police firing.
Among those arrested for the Godhra tragedy (first under POTA; later charges under this law were removed) are municipal councillors, Abdul Dhantiya and Salim Shaikh. Shaikh Abdul Hamid Gaffar who was also arrested, is a brother of Salim Shaikh. Godhra nagarpalika president Mohhamad Hussain Kalota and another councillor Haji Bilal, who have also been accused of violence, are absconding.
Some locals point out the local politics of the Godhra municipality which, in their opinion, has also contributed to the schisms. In April 2001, the BJP party was ruling the municipality but failed in a ‘no confidence motion’ through which a Muslim was elected president. For the first time in its history, Muslims dominated the Godhra municipality.
While one section of those interviewed clearly blames Bilal for attempting to disrupt the fire department workers, another version says that Bilal and Abdul Rehman were actually getting ready to go for a hearing (scheduled at Gandhinagar that day) on the disqualification case. Suddenly, they got a call from workers of the municipality informing them that the train had caught fire. At that stage, according to the second version, Bilal rushed there and actually helped control the angry Muslims and assisted in putting out the fire. The persons who gave this information said that the DSP of Panchmahal district, Raju Bhargava, knows these facts about Bilal’s conduct but is quiet because of pressure from the government.
After the Godhra tragedy the Gujarat police arrested 62 persons including at least seven boys, all said to be under the age of 16. They were booked under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance by the government railway police (GRP) for the February 27 attack on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra. Following a report in The Indian Express on the biased manner in which POTO was used, the government withdrew the ordinance against the 62, all Muslims, in mid-March. But the accused, including the seven boys, still face charges of murder, attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, arson, rioting and damaging public property. All are in the GRP lockup here since February 27.
In violation of the orders of the Supreme Court in the Joginder Singh case, which held that family members of arrested persons should be informed within 24 hours, the parents of these boys were never informed, say their lawyers. The boys are: Haroon Iqbal, Farooq Kharadi, Firozkhan Pathan (residents of Signal Falia); Asif Kader, Altaf Diwan and Naseer Pathan (residents of Vejalpur Road); and Hasankhan Pathan of Dahod.
The inspector of Godhra Town police station K Trivedi said it was not possible to check their age at the time of arrest. "They were seen near the site of the incident, so we arrested them. The rest will be taken care of by the judiciary," he said. Hasankhan Pathan, who is a Class IX student in Dahod in the Panchmahals district, 150 km. away, had come to Godhra to meet his aunt and uncle on February 26. His date of birth according to school records is October 31, 1986.
His relative Hussain Khan Pathan said: ‘‘In the morning, he was playing with some other local boys, including Firoz and Mustaq, when they heard of something going on near the railway track. They got scared and came inside their houses. After a few hours, the police came and picked Hasan near Ali masjid on charges of mass murder.’’
Under the Juvenile Justice Act, minors below 16 have to be sent to a juvenile home, not to a police lock-up. ‘‘But they have been kept in police custody along with other accused in this case. We showed the age-proof documents of these minors to police, but they did not listen to us,’’ said Soukat I Samor, a senior advocate, who represents some of the accused.
Here is one more instance of police misconduct in the context of the Godhra tragedy and the genocide that followed.
Bajrang Dal activists on Sabarmati Express beat up Muslims, force them to shout, ‘Jai Shree Ram!’
(Jan Morcha, edited by Sheetla Prasad, is a Hindi daily published from Ayodhya. The paper carried the following story on 25 Feb. 2002. This is an English translation of the text)
Bhelsar (Faizabad), 24 February: Trishuldhari Bajrang Dal workers, travelling to Ayodhya on board the Sabarmati Express this morning, let loose a reign of terror upon dozens of helpless Muslim passengers, burqa clad women and innocent children. They also targeted the people waiting at the platform, forcing them to shout the slogan, ‘Jai Shree Ram!’ A few even declared themselves to be Hindus in order to escape their wrath.
According to eyewitnesses, close to 2000 trishul carrying Bajrang Dal workers, on board the Sabarmati Express coming from the direction of Lucknow, began indulging in these activities from the Daryabad Station. Anyone identified as a Muslim on the train was mercilessly attacked with trishuls and beaten with iron rods. Even women and innocent children were not spared. Burqas were pulled off, women were beaten with iron rods and dragged, people waiting at the platform were also similarly targetted.
This continued between the Daryabad and Rudauli Stations. According to an eyewitness, a youth who protested against this barbarism was thrown off the train between the Patranga and Rojagaon stations. Several women, badly wounded and covered in blood, jumped off the train as it pulled into Rudauli around 8 a.m. The Bajrang Dal activists also got off the train and started attacking those whom they identified as Muslims from among those present on the platform.
Ata Mohammad, from Takia Khairanpur, waiting to catch a train to Allahabad, was badly beaten, some others were forced to shout, ‘Jai Shree Ram!’ Some escaped by declaring that they were Hindus. 50-year-old Mohd. Absar who lives near the station was grabbed as he stepped out of his house. His long beard was rudely pulled before he was repeatedly stabbed with trishuls. Another man from the Rudauli police station area who happened to be at the station was badly beaten with iron rods. Local residents rang up the police.
By the time the police chowki-in-charge, Bhelsar, arrived at the station, the train had left and the injured were being rushed to the hospital. No report was registered at the police station since the officer-in-charge was unavailable. The injured have no idea why they were attacked. Rumours are rife. The people are petrified; respected Hindus and Muslims of the area have condemned the shameful attack, Muslim religious leaders have appealed for peace and requested that there be no retaliation.
‘Sir, we are in great trouble’
‘Sir, we are in great trouble. We started from Faizabad and from there to here we had a lot of problems. We have come in fear and we are afraid here also. Please get us to Ahmedabad, we want to go to Ahmedabad," pleads Akbarbaig Sirajuddin Shah.
A witness to the harassment and bullying kar sevaks from Faizabad to Godhra, 18- year-old Shah was travelling on the Sabarmati Express train on the night of February 26 with his father-in-law, Fateh Mohammed and his wife. They are originally from Kadhra village in Basti zilla of Uttar Pradesh. All three of them live in Gulamnabi Sheth’s Chawl, which is in Shah Alam, Ahmedabad. They earn their living by making and selling brooms.
Akbarbaig related the story of his trip to Gandhi, a correspondent of Gujarat Today. He related the bullying ways of the kar sevaks, saying that from the time these people got in the train, they were brazenly bullying and shouting slogans against Muslims.
"They were hitting them, not paying for tea and snacks and hurling filthy abuses and raising obscene slogans. Every time the kar sevaks saw any Muslim on the train or on any station, they would force him to put a red tilak on his forehead and shout, ‘Jai Shree Ram!’
The injustice shown to a Muslim family has been narrated by this 18-year-old married lad, Akbarbaig. He stated that at night, while the train was moving, the kar sevaks tried to force a Muslim woman to say ‘Jai Shree Ram!’ The woman fearlessly refused and her husband also joined her in protesting against the acts of the kar sevaks. On this they mercilessly beat up the couple. Not only that, in the middle of the night they pulled the chain and pushed the family, including children, out of the train.
"In the darkness we could not find out which station or town it was and we did not even try to find out. The kar sevaks were wreaking such terror that we could only see our deaths before us.’ But one TT was kind enough to put the Muslim family in the last coach. This is only one incident — there were innumerable such incidents. While this family (mentioned above) was pushed out after stopping the train, one or two Muslims were pushed out of the moving train.
"Even at night, at every station, the kar sevaks would chant hymns to Ram and start dancing on the platform. But they behaved like Ravana, which would not only shame a true Hindu and hurt his feelings but also shame Lord Ram."
(Interviewed by Gujarat Today correspondent, Yunus Gandhi, in Godhra on March 7).
The fallout in Godhra
(In Godhra, among others, CC spoke to two women whose homes are situated just outside the Godhra railway station)
When I rushed out of my house on hearing the shouting and screaming, I could not make out what was happening. I saw stones coming from the train and stones being thrown back. Later, we heard that Muslims had set fire to the bogey. Still later, we heard that the kar sevaks had ordered chai, puri from the vendors and refused to pay. At that time there were only 5-10 Muslims on the platform.
We also heard later that the kar sevaks tried to pull a Muslim girl from Baroda, who was waiting to catch the 8 a.m. mail train, inside their compartment. It was then that Muslims came out in large numbers. But I want to ask you, what were the RPF and the station master doing?
Since then, our whole basti has had to suffer for the tragedy that took place on the train. Every night there is combing and our young men are threatened and arrested.
When the shouting and stone throwing started, we women also came out. We were shocked at what we saw. About 20-30 kar sevaks in bhagwa dress were making obscene gestures at us. Some of them stripped and started showing their private parts while the police were standing and laughing. For 20-25 minutes this went on. What was the police doing at this time? I saw with my own eyes that the police were passing stones to the kar sevaks to throw on us. Their behaviour was one-sided.
It is now nearly 25 days (interviewed on March 23) since the train tragedy but the whole basti continues to be treated as if we are all criminals. Every night the police come, force open our cupboards, threaten us, and behave badly. We feel terrorised. "Ham Muslimon ki sunwai na pardes mein hai, na des mai." ("We Muslims have no justice, in India or abroad.")
For 12 hours every day our electric connection is put off. When we call up the Vidyut Board to complain, we are told, "Kya aap log light ke layak ho kya?" "Do you people deserve to be provided with electricity?") Our water supply has been reduced to one hour a day; it is clear that we are being harassed. The irony is that the sarkari godown for grains is located in our area. Government servants come here happily and there is no danger to them. Only we are being harassed. We know that Muslims won’t ever be employed in the Home Guards.
Godhra’s communal history
(Godhra has had a long history of inter-community tensions. But over the past 60 years or so, the conflicts have been quickly contained because of sensible and responsible governance. CC spoke to retired major general Eustace De’Souza of the Indian army who thrice during his military career was called upon to quell riots in Godhra and who succeeded in controlling the situation within hours each time. The first time was in 1948 when he was a captain with the Maratha regiment (Adjunct One). Excerpt from his conversation with CC:
"We had just returned after seven years from Italy and Japan. Our first peace station was at Ahmedabad, in 1948, when the tensions in Godhra first broke out. Two flying columns of the (Hindu) Marattha regiment were immediately sent out. We were given full powers and within hours we did our job to the joy of the locals. Why did this happen? Simply because the authorities could anticipate that the police may not/or could not control the tensions that had erupted and we were called in.
‘The next time was in 1953-55. Again, it was the Marattha Regiment, the Fourth Battalion located at Baroda. We were called out because the situation became tense and we did the same thing.
"And in 1985, when I was general of the 5th Battalion of the Marattha Regiment, we were summoned to Godhra and within hours peace reigned.
"Why were a few columns of the army not kept on alert, summoned back from the border where there are tensions and kept on standby and given full powers to intervene in a critical situation?
"I see a fiendish plan concocted at the beginning of 2002, knowing that all troops had been pulled to the border. The government did not keep even a few columns on alert that could have done the job effectively. It functioned on the assumption that even after violence was unleashed, it would take the columns of the army stationed at the border at least 72 hours before they could arrive. Even then they were not given full powers."