Ordeal by Fire in the Killing Fields of Gujarat
Editors Guild Fact Finding Mission
AAKAR PATEL, DILEEP PADGAONKAR, B.G.VERGHESE
Delhi, May 3, 2002
Terms of Reference
Fuse is Lit
Sandesh: “Something happened”
Gujarat Samachar Story
with Narendra Modi
as told by Gujarat Government Press Notes
Criticism of the “Secular Media”
Other Side of the Fence
TV and Radio Networks
Pamphlets and Handbills
and Warped Mindsets
by Fire in the Killing Fields of Gujarat
Guild of India Fact-Finding Mission Report
Terms of Reference
Gujarat erupted on February 27, there were those who blamed the print and
electronic media for aggravating tensions and inflaming passions by their
graphic or sensational coverage. While some thought it fit to shoot the
messenger, there were voices from the media alleging impediments, threats and
attacks to thwart their independent and objective functioning. Responding to
these very divergent points of view, the Editors Guild of India Executive,
with its President, Mr Mammen Mathew, Editor of the Malayala Manorama, in the
chair, decided to depute a fact-finding mission to Gujarat to report on the
three-member team was appointed consisting of Dileep Padgonkar, Executive
Managing Editor of the Times of India, Aakar Patel, Editor of Mid-Day, Mumbai,
and B.G.Verghese, columnist.
decided to and go to Gujarat after Holi and other up-coming festivals. The
visit was actually undertaken between March 31 and April 6, 2002.
visited Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Anand, Godhra and Vadodara and met the Chief
Minister and his senior officials as well as district officials, both civil
and police, and the Railway’s Station Superintendent at Godhra. We were able
to obtain copies of official documents through the good offices of Information
Department and other officials. We met a whole range of non-officials, jointly
and severally, including media representatives, academics, writers and
cultural workers, NGOs, social workers, judges, Gandhians, community leaders,
ranking politicians, senior VHP officials, business representatives from the
small scale and market sectors and the chamber of commerce, members of the
minority community and dalits. Many offered moving personal narratives,
representations and memoranda, much documentation and analysis of events,
media monitoring reports, newspaper clippings, copies of pamphlets and
handbills and other background material.
were, however, unable to meet the Governor, the Gujarat DGP and the DC and
Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad from whom we had sought separate
are grateful to all those individuals and associations, named and unnamed, who
took the time and trouble to meet us. In Delhi, Aruna Patel and Juhi Sharma
kindly helped translate material from Gujarati and Hindi into English. Kusum
Malik assisted with computer glitches and formatting. Other individuals and
associations readily provided
at their disposal or assisted us in procuring various references. We owe them
all thanks for their presentations, the valuable data they provided and
Mehta and Sumit Chakravartty, Secretary-General and Treasurer of the Guild
respectively, helped with logistical and other support. The Times of India,
Ahmedabad and the Guild office in Delhi provided staff support.
Our thanks to them.
critics felt or implied that Dileep Padgaonkar’s presence on the
Fact-Finding Team was inhibiting as his paper, the Times of India Ahmedabad
edition in particular, was also under scrutiny. Mr Padgaonkar, however, made
it clear to all interlocutors that while he may have a personal point of view
as Executive Managing Editor of his paper, this would in no wise colour his
objectivity as a member of the Team. The members of the Team approached their
task with an open mind, exercising the best professional judgement they could
individually and collectively summon.
Gujarat burned and was convulsed with barbarous violence for over 40 days
from February 27, 2002 when the Sabarmati Express, running from Faizabad to
Ahmedabad, was attacked and torched at Godhra killing 58 passengers, many of
them women and children. Whatever the provocation, as alleged by some, nothing
extenuates the outrage. This utterly horrible crime calls for the swift pursuit
and punishment of the perpetrators. Even as the Godhra tragedy was roundly
condemned, the anticipated backlash took on the dimensions of a holocaust
primarily aimed at the Muslim community. This soon engulfed central, north and
northeastern Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, Vadodara and parts of the eastern
Nearly 800 persons were killed according to the official count;
unofficial estimates are far higher. It was a slaughter of the innocents. The
brutalities were unprecedented, especially against women. The targeting of
Muslim homes, establishments and sources of livelihood was precise and bears
evidence of premeditation. The term “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”
have been used to describe the horror. Later, there were retaliatory strikes on
Hindus, albeit on a lesser scale.
of Sandesh was to tell us that “Something happened”. What ?
first week of April, some 120,000 victims of both communities were still to be
found taking pitiable refuge in makeshift relief camps run by NGOs with some
What remains is a miasma of fear, hatred, insecurity, guilt and grim
foreboding. Gujarat and India have suffered a grievous moral and material loss
from which it will take much time and effort to recover. A whole community was
targeted for the alleged sins of its co-religionists at Godhra long prior to
that event and far beyond Gujarat. Ancient wrongs, real and imagined, were
sought to be collectively avenged by the savage violation of the rights of a
living, demonised “enemy”. There has been an appalling emotional
partitioning of minds into “we” and “they” among all too many across
Gujarat and elsewhere in India. Millions in the country and throughout the
civilised world have been appalled. Yet, in the midst of the carnage, there were
innumerable stories, many yet to be written, of courageous and moving
interventions by friends, neighbours and even strangers in defence of the
helpless and endangered across this divide. That lends hope.
our finding is that the prompt and extensive portrayal by sections of the local
press and national media of the untold horrors visited on innocent people in the
wake of the Godhra carnage was a saving grace. The exposure of the supine if not
complicit attitude of the State and manifest outpourings of communal hatred,
stirred the conscience of the nation, compelled remedial action, howsoever
defensively and belatedly, and activated the National Human Rights Commission,
the Minorities Commission and other safety mechanisms. However, the role of
sections of the Gujarati media, especially the Gujarat Samachar and more notably
Sandesh, was provocative, irresponsible and blatantly violative of all accepted
norms of media ethics. This cannot be lightly passed over.
certain inadequacies and lapses in general media coverage that we shall address;
but the charge that the media was a major aggravating or even causative factor
in the situation is specious and self-serving and must be dismissed.
official information machinery of the State was clearly inadequate to the task
and preferred to sing the praises of the Chief Minister rather than deliver
timely and authentic information. Official attitudes encountered ranged from
complacency to helplessness; but some officers were clearly uneasy at being
disabled from doing their duty.
was the first large scale “television and cable riot” covered in real time.
This poses delicate issues and difficult choices that merit discussion. Finally,
the role of digital communications, the mobile phone, SMS (smart mail service),
email, web sites, autonomous computer generated handbills and posters, and the
digital camera, was pervasive, insidious and oftentimes dubious, being prone to
misuse. This “new media” has introduced an altogether new dimension of
global and person-to-person communication that must be carefully assessed.
Censorship is not the answer; sobriety, training, professionalism and codes of
conduct are necessary.
Freedom of the press is a derivative of the citizen’s fundamental right
to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the
Constitution. It is, however, subject to “reasonable restrictions” under
Art. 19(2). While the media enjoy the right to freedom and independence in the
discharge of their duties, they are essentially trustees for the larger freedom
of speech and expression. Through judicial pronouncements and international
covenants to which India is a signatory, this includes the citizen’s right to
inform and be informed. The right to know is a precious democratic right and is
through this means that the citizen is ensured participation, transparency and
The Indian media is privileged to enjoy a wide measure of freedom By this
very token, it must exercise this freedom with responsibility in matters
relating to public order, decency and morality, defamation and incitement to an
offence. It is incumbent on the media to strive for objectivity, fairness and
balance, to avoid sensationalism or anything that is liable to inflame passions,
especially during periods of stress and tension. It is also obligated to make
corrections and afford injured parties the right of reply. In situations of
communal strife, the Indian tradition has been to avoid naming the communities
involved so as not to exacerbate tensions.
These conventions were evolved in the 1950s and 1960s when the media was
far more limited in terms of reach and circulation. There was no TV and even
radio was largely confined to more affluent homes (until the transistor
revolution). News bulletins were few and by and large there was a 6 to 24-hour
news cycle. No more. The information revolution and new technologies have
created an instant, interconnected world intricately and extensively networked
by large, small and inter-personal means of communication. The new media does
not respect 24-hour deadlines. News is disseminated in real time. The 24-hour TV
news channels enter homes and work places with immediate announcements and
updates of “breaking news”. Email, the web and mobile phone are ubiquitous.
Despite the speed with which electronic news moves, rumour travels
faster, like greased lightning. There are many voices, big and little, formal as
well as personal carrying it here, there and everywhere. So truth and
authenticated information are in constant competition with disinformation. To
use the terminology of nuclear warfare, the legitimate media must therefore
enjoy first-strike capability. Else it will trail behind disinformation,
speculation and rumour, never quite catching up and merely reacting to the
agenda set by master manipulators and vested interests. Technology has
critically altered the rules of engagement between truth or objective news
reportage and falsehood or concoction. Old norms therefore require careful
review and revalidation or amendment.
This is obviously a complex and delicate issue that requires extensive
debate and reflection so that appropriate norms are devised for the future.
It is in this context that modern media coverage and the reportage of
Gujarat must be evaluated. It might be irresponsible not to portray the facts as
they are with all dispatch. Like war, riots too begin in the minds of men and
truth can be a defence against “information terrorism”, incitement and
panic. Sensationalism, horror and excitement of passions can be moderated, if
not averted, by the manner of presentation, the choice of words and commentary,
the editing of footage and pictures, the headlines, positioning and general
treatment. This is where professionalism, experienced “gatekeepers” like
chief reporters, news editors and chief sub-editors or page editors and anchors
can exercise discretion under overall top editorial control not merely during
“office hours” but in anticipation of major deadlines around the clock.
The Sabarmati Express, running
some hours behind schedule, was torched in Godhra just before 8 a.m. on February
27. Local reporters soon reached the spot and filed the news. Aaj Tak was
probably the first news channel to flash the breaking news. Zee TV’s local
cameraman in Godhra rushed his footage to Ahmedabad. This was aired soon after 2
p.m. Others, including Doordarshan, followed, deputing camera crew from
Ahmedabad, Baroda and Delhi. An anonymous email message was widely circulated
attributing what purported to be an eyewitness account obtained by two local
correspondents, Anil and Neelam Soni, whose designations and telephone numbers
were given. This spoke of an altercation at the station between karsevaks, who
alighted from the train for tea and snacks, and local hawkers of the minority
community. (See Annexure 1).
is more than one version of what followed. The “molestation” and
“abduction” of a girl is alleged. The train began moving out of the station
when incensed hawkers pulled the alarm chain to stop it within a few hundred
metres, beside the Godhra Railway outer signal cabin adjacent to the Ghanchi
bustee to which the vendors belong. The train was mobbed and stoned and Coach
No. S-6 was set on fire.
exactly this email message was actually sent is not clear. However, on being
queried, the Sonis denied having filed the story. They disclaimed it as a
fabrication. Nevertheless, others purportedly gave out somewhat similar
versions, embellished by reports of earlier misbehaviour along the entire route
as reported by a Faizabad newspaper, Jan Morcha. (See Annexure 1A). First
official reports of the Godhra incident spoke of a terrorist plot with
cross-border connivance. The Railway Police has conducted preliminary
investigations and the one-man Commission of Inquiry appointed by the Gujarat
Government is now seized of this matter and its fallout. The facts are yet to be
Two points need to be
kept in mind about the Godhra incident. As some people were known to have
escaped from the ill-fated S-6 coach, the number that had perished was
officially assumed to be relatively moderate until quite some hours later when
the charred remains of all those trapped inside were finally extricated. The
first press release issued from Gandhinagar on
February 27 quoted the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Gordhanbhai Zadaphia
as stating that “as per preliminary report, six people were killed, 38 injured
and out of them 18 were discharged from the local hospital after necessary
treatment. He said that the number of deaths could be on the higher side
also”. The Government Press Note
is at Annexure 2.
magnitude of the horror only unfolded several hours after the tragedy. The
evening TV bulletins and the next day’s papers told the grim story. Even then,
most national and possibly several regional channels remained fascinated by the
presentation and analysis of the Union Budget through much of February 28.
Crawlers at the bottom of TV screens and occasional news updates developed the
Meanwhile, on February 27 itself, subsequent incidents of violence in
Godhra town were brought under control but trouble erupted elsewhere in the
district and other parts of the State. The torched carriage No. S-6 was detached
and the Sabarmati Express continued its journey, disgorging trumatised
passengers en route at Vadodara, Anand and Ahmedabad. Word spread. The return of
badly charred bodies to grieving families stirred passions. The VHP sounded a
call for a Gujarat bandh on February 28 which was endorsed by the ruling party.
A “ashti yatra” was mooted but fortunately called off in time. However,
Gujarat was already in flames.
There was little doubt that the Godhra carnage was likely to provoke a
strong backlash in view of Gujarat’s sad record of periodic riots on a variety
of issues. Preparations were according made to meet the situation. However, mob
fury took over. The subsequent seeming justification of the brutal reaction by
linking it to the ‘original sin’ of Godhra
lends credence to the widespread charge of official passivity if not
connivance and a clear lack of political will within the ruling establishment.
Innocent Muslims (“Babar ke aulad”) were deliberately and calculatedly
targeted for dastardly crimes attributed to their co-religionists not merely in
Godhra but earlier elsewhere. There can be absolutely no sanction for such
‘transferred guilt’. Though Muslims defended themselves and did indeed
retaliate in some cases, the reported breakdown of deaths, arrests, fatalities
and casualties from police firing and “refugees” huddled in the relief camps
tell their own story. The “riots” were clearly one-sided.
The national print and electronic media documented the holocaust and the
meticulous targeting of Muslim homes, mohallas, shops and establishments,
factories, hotels and eateries and other economic assets as well as dargahs,
mosques, shrines and kabristans. Neighbouring Hindu properties were spared.
Obviously these targets must have been marked out as even Muslim establishments
with names like Tulsi Restaurant or Tasty Bakery largely catering to a Hindu
clientele, were looted and fired.
Sheela Bhatt posted an interview with K.K.Shastri, the 96-year old
President of the Gujarat unit of the VHP, on the rediff.com portal. This makes
chilling reading. According to Mr Shastri, the list of Muslim-owned shops was
prepared on the morning of February 28. It was done as “we were terribly angry
(over Godhra). Lust and anger are blind”. “Hindutva was attacked. This
is…. a tremendous outburst that will be difficult to roll back”. Further,
“we can’t condemn it because they are our boys”.
VHP has formed a panel of 50 lawyers to help release the arrested people accused
of rioting and looting. None of these lawyers will charge any fees because they
believe in the RSS ideology”.
Mr Shastri is said to have denied making these remarks. The two VHP Joint
General Secretaries, Mr Jaydeep Patel and Dr Kaushik Mehta, whom we met at the
VHP office in Ahmedabad, also contradicted the report, making out that Mr
Shastri was old and hard of hearing. They rejected the theory that Muslim
premises were targeted. Sheela Bhatt has the tape. The text of the rediff.com
story as reproduced by “Mainstream”, Delhi, is at Annexure 3. The tenor of
the April issue of “Vishwa Hindu Samachar” published by Rashtra Chetna
Prakashan and edited by Mr K.K.Shastri lends credence to what he told rediff.com.
A two-page article therein praises “Chhote Sardar” for his handling of
Godhra and its aftermath.
Many media persons experienced the anger of Hindutva forces. So did the
Guild team. One of its members was closeted with some print and TV journalists
at Ahmedabad’s Circuit House on April 1, when there was a loud commotion. A
group of six or eight VHP storm troopers burst into his room shouting and
gesticulating, jostling those present, vehemently accusing them of hatching a
dark conspiracy behind closed doors. A Gujarat Information Directorate official
sought to intervene and said that discussions were in progress with a
representative of the Editors Guild. The mob thereupon turned on the latter
vociferously demanding to know whether he was Hindu or Muslim. He replied that
that was irrelevant, said he was a “Hindustani”, gave his name and asked the
intruders to introduce themselves and state their purpose. They refused to
identify themselves, shouting “hum Hindu hai”, each insisting in turn that
this was his name. It was explained that the Guild Team was in Gujarat to
inquire into the media scene and wished to meet everybody and hear all sides of
the story. It was going to Gandhinagar the following day to meet with ministers
and officials. This evoked the derisive retort that they, the intruders, were
the “ministers” we should hear. They were then invited to sit down coolly
and relate their version of events.
The group slowly simmered down. Its spokesmen charged the English media
and national TV channels, with defaming the majority community with one-sided
and totally biased coverage. “They only listen to Muslims and ignore
Hindus”. They do not focus on Muslim rioters and damage to Hindu property.
Hindus who escaped from the Godhra inferno and admitted to hospital in Ahmedabad
and Hindu refugees in the Prem Darwaza and other relief camps had not been
interviewed. Aaj Tak invited the harshest rebuke, especially for its prompt
coverage of the first few hours. The demand was that this channel should be shut
down and its “licence” revoked. Aaj Tak was probably first on the air with
live footage of the rioting. The Times of India and Indian Express, both of
which have Ahmedabad editions, were also singled out for mention.
The VHP vigilantes left after about 30-40 minutes to cries of Jai Sri Ram
and the two ringleaders did finally give their names and calling cards. They
expressed regret for any offence caused but insisted we should meet the VHP
leaders and provided the mobile telephone number of Mr Jayant Patel, Joint
General Secretary, who was at that time travelling in Kutch. By now a small
posse of policemen had arrived and as the Guild Team went to the Prem Darwaza
and Shah Alam relief camps, a DCP awaited us with a message from the Police
Commissioner seeking to know if we wished to lodge any complaint or sought
police protection. We declined both offers.
Mr Jaydeep Patel was contacted that evening and the Team did meet him and
Dr Kaushik Mehta, the other VHP Joint General Secretary, a couple of days later.
On our narrating the incident, they said that the VHP was so popular that all
sorts of people went about using its name. Earlier, in mentioning this same
incident to the Chief Minister, we said this little episode had told us more
than anything else about the mindset behind the riots. We expressed surprise
that “partners” of his Government should behave in this manner. Mr Modi
agitatedly denied such partnership.
A starker revelation of the Hindutva mindset at work in Gujarat was soon
to follow the encounter with the VHP when we visited the CMD and de facto
Editor-in-Chief of Sandesh. If there is one thing that can be confidently said
about Mr Falgun Patel, it is that he is honest to a fault. We met this press
baron on one of the higher floors of his plush and gleaming new office in
Ahmedabad, far above the dust and din of the city sprawled below. Let him tell
the story, as prompted by our queries.
The English media, he said, had sided “out and out” with the minority
community and the Gujarat papers were, by and large, pro-Hindu. He blamed the
English media for throwing all restraint to the wind by citing the religious
affiliation of various groups. Others therefore followed suit.
were not temperamentally prone to starting riots. Gujarat had known worse
disturbances, as for example in 1969. But this time Hindu anger “irrespective
of class” was inflamed by the burning of innocent women and children at
Godhra. “Something happened”. Even Hindu women felt “theek hai, salon ko
maro”. Some English papers carried baseless stories that Godhra was not
pre-planned and that karsewak misbehaviour at the railway station provoked the
Muslims. When it was said that the Times of India ran its story on the basis of
an on-the-record briefing by the IGP Railway Police (See Annexure 11, P 19),
this was dismissed as “bullshitting”.
Mr Falgun Patel described the Godhra incident as “unforgettable” and
the reaction to it as justified. “Can a 20 per cent minority take the majority
for a ride? There has to be a limit”. Muslims had done nothing to throw out
the Latifs in their community (a reference to a notorious Ahmedabad don who was
killed in an encounter some years ago). Dariapur (a Muslim dominated section of
the walled city) had a godfather and so the Muslims thought they could get away
with anything. When the BJP government assumed office, a clear message went out
to the Muslim mafia. Hence they were quiet. But asked by us why innocent persons
should be targeted, Mr Falgun Patel said the idea was “to pressurise ordinary
Muslims to put pressure on Muslim goons to behave”. After the way “these
Muslims” had behaved, “Hinduism ke naam per hum kuch bhi karenge”.
Mr Patel complained that outsiders who had “no feeling for Gujarat”
ran the local English papers. It was, however, pointed out to him that these
papers hired talent, irrespective of community.
Asked of checks and balances in the production of Sandesh, Mr Patel
remarked that all news obtained was “balanced by our own version”. The paper
“editorialises the news” as the regular editorials and articles carried
later “are too late”. He freely admitted in response to a query that the
paper’s reporters did lose balance and were communalised “all down the line,
even today” (April 2). This view was proffered as “a general statement”
and further amplified by a subsequent remark to the effect that “the Hindu
reaction is so strong that we have to be cautious. I get 200 calls a day”. Yet
the paper did have a Muslim readership and was not anti-Muslim per se.
Mr Falgun Patel was down to earth in his perception of the Gujarat media
scene. Running a newspaper is big business and Gujarat essentially has two
newspapers, Sandesh and the Gujarat Samachar, both bitter rivals. The Gujarat
Samachar has a circulation of around 8.10 lakhs and Sandesh about 7.05 lakhs.
But because of its pro-Hindu stand, Sandesh’s circulation had increased by
150,000 copies since the riots began. This newspaper competition was “not
healthy” and it was left to each newspaper to contradict inaccuracies in the
other. There was “no ethics or principles”. Gujarat Samachar, he alleged,
had a pro-Jain bias. “Hindu protection is my duty”.
Mr Patel complained that authentic and timely information was seldom
available from the Home Department, Police or Information Department. The media
had not been taken into confidence or fully briefed. The Police Commissioner of
Ahmedabad had held his first press briefing only on the 34th day of
rioting. The Chief Minister (who we were told personally conducted daily 4 p.m
briefings for the first ten days) was, in Mr Patel’s view, fond of TV
appearances and ignored the print media. The CM’s TV appearances were,
however, inadequate as he would only respond to queries and kept repeating that
everything that had happened was a reaction and that normalcy had been restored.
Incidents and casualty figures could not be easily confirmed.
Mr Falgun Patel said that on February 28 itself Sandesh appealed for
calm. It front- paged a story to the effect that Gujarat was still recovering
from last year’s devastating earthquake and a subsequent cyclone disaster and
should therefore keep cool despite Godhra. Positive stories of human interest
and communal harmony were also run “to send out a humanitarian message”.
Sandesh also praised the Bhavnagar SP for his firm and timely action (in
preventing harm to a large number of children huddled in a madrassa in imminent
danger of being attacked). Incidentally, soon thereafter, this officer was among
those who were summarily transferred on what we were told by the CM was
The Guild Team questioned Mr Patel about some of its more sensational
reports in screaming headlines, many of which were unsourced, speculative or
without any basis. One of these was a dire warning about Hajis returning to
Gujarat with arms and RDX to wreak vengeance. This caused considerable panic and
was contradicted as baseless. Mr Patel’s plea was that the report had appeared
in the Asian Age a day earlier and that Sandesh had followed it up and made its
own inquiries with the Intelligence agencies and others. Thereafter the Chief
Minister had been alerted but had taken the report rather casually. (The Team
subsequently saw the Asian Age report and found its contents and alleged
Intelligence background to be very different in purport and tenor. It in no way
justified the Sandesh story). Mr Patel’s defence was that the Asian Age story
had not been contradicted.
Mr Patel was also asked about the Sandesh banner headline about the
breasts of two Hindu women having been chopped off by the mobsters at Godhra. He
replied that the information came from the DSP Panchmahals. This was promptly
contradicted and the contradiction appeared in the Gujarat Samachar. This, we
were told, was a fall out of “competition” between the two rival papers.
Sandesh’s own policy was “not to carry corrections and clarifications”.
Mr Patel countered by referring to the coverage of the destruction of the
Wali Gujarati dargah by the Times of India. “Was this right?” he asked. (Wali
Gujarati lived in the 17th century and was India’s first Urdu
ghazalkar. This well known cultural landmark, dear to all communities, was razed
to the ground on February 27 and a paved road built over it within days. Some
240 large and small Muslim dargahs, mosques, shrines and kabristans were
similarly vandalised throughout Gujarat and Hulluria Hanuman (riotous Hanuman)
murtis installed at some sites. In Vadodara, the tomb of the famous Baroda court
musician, Ustad Fayyaz Khan was desecrated.
Asked about the killing of Ehsan Jafri, a former M.P and several others
by fire in Gulberg colony despite desperate calls for help over several hours,
Mr Patel said that Mr Jafri had a “bad record”. (Many others told us later
that on the contrary Ehsan Jafri was a poet and much respected figure who worked
for the masses and preferred to live in a cosmopolitan residential area rather
than in a Muslim ghetto. Justice Akbar Divecha’s flat was vandalised in
Ahmedabad and the residence of Prof J.S. Bandukwala, who teaches physics at M.S.
Baroda University and is a votary of communal harmony, was similarly ravaged.
Finally, Mr Patel showed us a letter dated March 18 sent to him
officially as owner and chief executive of Sandesh by the Chief Minister. In
this, Mr Narendra Modi, personally expressed his high appreciation for the
newspaper’s restrained coverage of the recent events in the best traditions of
journalism. Mr Modi told us later that similar letters had gone out under his
signature to a number of Gujarati language papers. Gujarat Samachar and 14
others were sent such letters according to a hurried listing by the Information
Department. The text of the original letter in Gujarati and its English
translation is at Annexure 4.
parting company, we mentioned that we were going to Gandhinagar to meet the
Chief Minister and others. Mr Patel wryly remarked, “The Government dances to
our tune. We can get them to do anything”. Others, later, made much the same
comment - in reverse.
The owner-editors of the Gujarat Samachar, Mr Shreyans Shah and Mr
Bahubali Shah were generally reticent but said their competition with Sandesh
had in no way compromised journalistic standards. “I never publish news
keeping circulation in mind; the paper’s policy is to promote communal
harmony, Mr Shreyans Shah asserted. However, there had been a rise in
circulation of about 50,000 to 60,000 copies, “though these things do not
An article in the Samachar had implied that Ehsan Jafri, who was brutally
slain, “got what he deserved”. Queried on this, Mr Bahubali Shah said he
stood by what the paper had written.
Both Shahs said there was inadequate official information during the
first weeks of the riots.
There are a large number of Gujarati
papers, 32 large and small vernacular publications in Ahmedabad alone. Fulchab,
in Rajkot, was characteristically the first to take out a peace rally
immediately after Godhra.
In Ahmedabad we met editors of three other dailies, Sambhav (four
editions), Prabhat (Ahmedabad and Mehsana) and Gujarat Today (which has a Muslim
ownership). All three are seen to have been moderate and balanced in approach.
Sambhav’s CMD, Mr Kiran Vadodaaria, avoided publishing pictures of
corpses. The paper received an anonymous threat on April 1 because it had
carried a column by M.J. Akbar, the Asian Age Editor. The Editor told us that
though no curfew passes were distributed to his staff, they were able to move
about quite freely with their formal press cards which were honoured.
Prabhat’s Director, Mr Ashish Kothari, spoke of swords and liquor being
distributed on February 27. Its Editor felt that TV had played a very positive
role by exposing the machinations of those behind the rioting mobs.
Aziz Tankarvi is Editor of Gujarat Today, the only daily newspaper owned and run
by Muslims in Gujarat. He told us that his paper had carried more editorials on
the developments in Gujarat than any other published in the State. His endeavour,
he said, was to cool tempers. Independent observers confirmed that Gujarat Today
generally carried balanced reports – an assessment that VHP officials whom we
met strongly contested.
Prabhat, Gujarat Today too did not receive Mr Narendra Modi’s letter of
Senior administrative and police officers in Anand told the Guild team
that local newspapers incited violence through irresponsible reporting. One
paper, Madhyantrar, edited by Mr Jashwant Rawal, was specifically named. The
paper’s April 3 edition, shown to
us, alleged that a Muslim police officer was behind the local riots. An
eight-column commentary on the front page was headlined: “Muslims will have to
prove that they are full Indians”.
The Kutch Mitra ran a statement by a prominent Moulvi on its front page
for several days condemning Godhra and expressing regret over what had happened.
The Saurashtra Samachar, Bhavnagar, of March 2 carried a special supplement
devoted to religious harmony.
We had asked for separate meetings in Gandhinagar with the Chief
Minister, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, the Information Minister, the
Chief Secretary and the DG Police the better to serve focussed discussion.
However, Mr Narendra Modi met us without his ministerial colleagues or the DGP
but collectively in the presence of the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary. a
senior police official, the Revenue Secretary (who looks after relief and
rehabilitation), the Director of Information and several others.
A large bust of Gandhiji is installed in front of the Sachivalaya and
looks across the road at the adjacent Old Secretariat that houses various
Government Directorates. The Old Secretariat is a protected area. Yet the
Gujarat State Wakf Board, located just below the Directorate of Information, and
the Gujarat Minorities Finance and Development Corporation housed in the Block
opposite, both Government offices, were attacked and torched by a mob during
office hours on February 28. Staff in all the Directorates ran for cover. The
Old Secretariat was closed; later, curfew was imposed in Gandhinagar. No arrests
had been made until April 2, the day of our visit. Records pertaining to dargahs,
mosques, madrassas and kabristans were lost in the fire.
We told Mr Modi of our mission and asked for his assessment of the
media’s role in the ongoing crisis in Gujarat. He was coy; it was too early
for him to say anything about the media as CM, he said. But if Narendra Modi
were asked that question, that would be a long story. Coaxed to say something
more, he said the media, especially TV, was very powerful. None in the media had
appealed for peace. Yes, maybe editorials had appeared, but ordinary people did
not read editorials. He himself had gone on the air and repeatedly called for
peace. (In his address over Doordarshan on February 28, Mr Modi referred to
Godhra and went to state: “Gujarat shall not tolerate any such incident. The
culprits will get full punishment for their sins. Not only this, we will set an
example that nobody, not even in his dreams thinks of committing a heinous crime
like this”. In a separate Doordarshan soundbyte he is reported as stating:
“If raising issues relating to justice or injustice adds fuel to the fire, we
will have to observe restraint and invoke peace”. Ambiguous words these.
Responding to queries regarding various statements attributed to him by
the media, Mr Modi denied citing Newton’s law. Nor had he spoken of
“action-reaction”; he had wanted neither the action (at Godhra) nor the
subsequent reaction. When we cited footage in Zee to the contrary (Annexure 4A),
there was no reaction from Mr Modi The Chief Minister said he had merely only
narrated the facts and justified nothing. He was pained by a “Diary” item
about his “feasting” while Gujarat burned that the Times of India had
carried the previous week. He had merely gone to his constituency in Rajkot to
thank party workers after his recent by-election victory and had had a quick,
Spartan meal before hurrying away to inspect some continuing earthquake relief
works. The Indian Express too had had carried unkind references to him in its
He had not said “normalcy” had been restored in 72 hours but only
that the situation had been largely brought under control during that period,
unlike on past occasions when rioting had continued for weeks. Firing had been
ordered and a large number of arrests had been made. Scare stories in some
papers, such as about returning Hajis and breast-cutting
in Sandesh, had been officially denied but the contradictions had not
been carried. This was because newspapers sought to sensationalise issues. Asked
why the State did not prosecute offending newspapers under the law, Mr Modi said
“we prefer to move on”.
The Chief Minister justified the presence of two Ministers in the
Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad Police Control Rooms. This was standard practice in
Gujarat, even during the earthquake last year; moreover, the control room was a
convenient place from which to interact with the public. (Later we were to hear
of reports of a Minister’s son sitting in the police control room in Godhra.
When we queried this with official interlocutors, we were informed that no
action could be taken unless an FIR was filed. None had dared do so).
He went on to deny reports of his comparing his term of office to a
“one-day cricket match”. What he had said when he took office was that there
were 12,000 hours to go before the next Assembly elections. Just as in a one-day
cricket, achieving a given run-rate is critical, he had appealed for a better
“work-rate” to fulfil the Government’s promises to the people. This remark
had been twisted.
He said he had visited both Muslim and Hindu relief camps and had spoken
to all camp organisers. He would not like to comment on the National Human
Rights Commission’s report but the media had omitted many positive references
made by the Commission about the Government’s performance. The NHRC had also
called for a media code and self-policing under the terms of Article I9 (2) of
The Chief Minister had little to say about the killing of Ehsan Jafri and
the attack on the two Justices of the Gujarat High Court, apart from pleading an
inadequacy of forces to control large mobs roving across far flung areas of the
city. He denied saying that “private firing” by Jafri had enraged the mob.
Words had been put in his mouth as he had merely referred to a newspaper report
that said this is what had happened. He also denied any pre-planned targeting of
Muslim establishments and said that local people knew the who and the what of
these things as they lived in the same community.
Mr Modi had no explanation for the widespread destruction of Muslim
dargahs and shrines and how it was that in at least one case the rubble had been
cleared and a tarred road built over the site. The Team pointed out that the
usual complaint was that damaged rods and pavements were never repaired for
months on end and that tarring a road is a major operation that calls for
organisation, mechanical equipment and efforts beyond
capability of stray hoodlums. The CM pleaded lack of knowledge but did say that
he had ordered the removal of makeshift Hindu shrines and idols installed in
some of them. He then went on to ask if it was helpful for TV to have shown a
decapitated Hanuman idol at a desecrated Hindu shrine at Anjar in Kutch that
very morning (April 2).
The CM defended the recent transfer of several police officials,
including some who had dome commendable work in controlling riots. He felt these
“long-pending promotions” would act as an “incentive”. He said there
could be two views opinions on this count but agreed with the suggestion that
perhaps promotions might have been announced but the actual movement of the
officers deferred until after the law and order situation had stabilised.
He also accepted that he would have done well to call local editors for a
frank briefing. This would have enabled him to explain the Government’s
concerns and solicit their cooperation.
Mr Narendra Modi, like certain other official spokesmen in Delhi, also
drew a comparison between media coverage of the Gujarat riots and the restrained
and responsible role of the American media after the September 11 attack on the
World Trade Towers in New York. Dead bodies were not shown on television or in
press photographs. The fact is that on September 11 and for some days thereafter
none other than firemen could approach, let alone enter, the WTC and very few
bodies were recovered until much later. People were shown jumping off higher
floors and clinging to windows. The two episodes are very different and there
was no arson, rape, loot and rioting in New York of the kind witnessed in
Before we left, the conversation turned to how confidence and mutual
trust might be restored. The Team said that commissions of inquiry in India had
lost credibility because of delays and obstructions in their working and
inaction on their findings. In the circumstances, the Gujarat Government could
not do better than to enable the K.G.Shah Commission to complete its task
expeditiously and thereafter take immediate action on its findings. Mr Modi
thought this a good idea.
on visiting the shell of the burnt out carriage No. S-6 at Godhra station (with
a Railway escort) on April 3, we were surprised to see this prime exhibit
standing in the yard unguarded and stray people entering it at will. Anyone
could remove or plant anything in the carriage, tampering with whatever evidence
it has to offer with none being any the wiser.
it was only on April 1 that Justice K. G. Shah, heading the one-man Commission
of Inquiry, reportedly visited his office, having been provided with some staff
and other wherewithal with which to commence his labour. Interviewed over TV he
is reported to have said that his inquiry could quite take time. As of April 6,
when the last of us left Gujarat, none seemed aware of any notification having
been issued by or on behalf of the Commission calling on people to come forward
with relevant evidence or announcing any programme of work or schedule of
visits. (See Annexure 5 for K.G. Shah Commission’s terms of reference).
Even before leaving for Gujarat, we had requested the State Information
Department for a set of relevant press notes and other official documents,
statements and appeals that would enable us to understand the situation from the
official perspective. We were provided a set hurriedly put together Press Notes
in English. These are briefly analysed below. All citations are in the actual
language used in the official releases.
The phraseology most often used for the Godhra incident was “inhuman
genocide”, “inhuman carnage” or “massacre” while the subsequent riots
were invariably described as “disturbances”, and occasionally as “violent
disturbances/incidents”. The Chief Minister visited Godhra on the evening of
February 27 itself and the Press Note issued thereafter described the torching
of the Sabarmati Express as a “pre-planned inhuman collective violent act of
Several releases refer to the situation having been brought under control
within 72 hours. An official release on March 5 carried twin headings: The State
Government has taken stringent action to stem riots and violence: Narendra Modi;
and “Chief Minister’s Appeal to Trade and Industry, Religion Heads and
Intellectuals for the Revival and Restoration of Economic Activities has evoked
Encouraging Response”. The
occasion was a Citizens’ meet organised by the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and
Industry in response to an appeal by the CM “to revive and restore economic
activity”. The release notes that “Modi said it was the duty of the state
government to provide security to the citizens even by taking drastic actions.
Referring to the keen interest shown by the people around the globe in the
‘Resurgent Gujarat’ after devastating earthquake, he said that entire world
was looking at the progressive and fast developing Gujarat”.
After again referring to “the pre-planned collective terrorism against
Gujarat”, Pakistan’s proxy war and its “clandestine role…behind the
Godhra genocide”, “Modi asserted that at this critical juncture, interest of
Gujarat was maintain peace and said that the Government had discharged its duty
to stop violence”. Further, he said, “the elements wanting to perpetuate
violence and destabilise Gujarat were disappointed. Making a reference to
Shabana Azmi’s demand to file a case of mass murder against the Chief
Minister, Modi said that he would not have any regret to be hanged at the Bhadra
Fort if restoration of peace within three days was considered an offence”.
Another press release dated March 9 was headed “We will not surrender
to the elements out to malign Gujarat says the Chief Minister”. The occasion
was another address to “leading business men and the merchant community”
under the auspices of the Maskati new Cloth Market Mahajan.
He said Mahatma Gandhi had taught Gujarat to fight against injustice.
Health Minister Ashok Bhatt who also spoke “was cheered when he said that the
trading community hails the Chief Minister as ‘the Sardar opposed to
terrorism’, because he restored peace to Ahmedabad in only 72 hours”. The
press release concluded with the observation that “businessmen, traders and
the owners of process houses were full of praise for the strong will power of
the Chief Minister and described him as ‘Chhote Sardar’”.
A March 4 press release from Ahmedabad on the occasion of Mr L.K.
Advani’s visit to Gujarat stated that “Home Minister L.K.Advani today said
that the Godhra genocide had given a setback to the four year of peaceful
Bharatiya Janata party Rule in Gujarat”. The comment was reflected in the
There were a couple of press notes on community amity. A release dated
March 2 quoted the Chief Minister as denying newspaper reports of people having
been burnt alive in Pandarwada
village in Panchmahal. We were later to learn that this was one of the worst
instances of rural violence. (This has been documented by Communalism
Combat, Mumbai and figures in its Report “Genocide, Gujarat 2002”,
March-April issue, No. 77-78).
We were not given any releases issued by the Police Department or by the
Ahmedabad Police. So we do not know to what extent, if any, they filled the
gaping holes in the narrative offered by the Press Notes issued through the
Information Department. It is quite possible that the latter file given to us
was incomplete and consisted of no more than a representative sample. Be that as
it may, the media and, through it, the people of Gujarat were not kept properly
or fully informed through the official information channels. What was put out
was a travesty of the horrific events that engulfed the State. Much of it was
one-sided and self-serving, eulogising the Chief Minister and focussing on a
particular section of the trading community while Gujarat burned.
The file of official Press Notes given to the Guild is at Annexure 6.
The Directorate of Information also gave us a file contained 11
clarifications issued by it in respect of certain statements and views
attributed to the Chief Minister in various news reports, editorials and
articles by columnists. The Chief Minister himself referred to certain of these
comments when the Guild Team met him. The file of “Clarifications” is at
vocabulary of discourse, like much else in Gujarat, has come to reflect the deep
emotions and divisions aroused by events in the State. Thus, the term “secular
media”, is used pejoratively to describe those papers and channels which are
only critical of violence against the minority community.
critic wrote to the Guild as follows after its Fact-Finding Mission was
announced: “Till date, only politicians were coddling and flattering this
(Muslim) community under the cover of “secularism” for their selfish motive
of securing votes. But now, media people, especially Xavierites and convent-ites
having recently entered this field, have also joined their bandwagon and have
given completely biased and one-sided coverage… Not a single educated and
forward Muslim like Shabana Azmi or Dilipkumar have defamed their fanatic and
downtrodden member in very clear and true words (sic). While our own journalists
have played pivotal role in depicting VHP members as hardliners and fanatics
causing great harm to the prestige of our community and of our nation…. Try to
understand one thing – “If you are defaming your family member, you are
undermining your own interest…..”.
Sections of the media have been criticised for directly or indirectly
linking the Godhra incident to Ayodhya. Vir Sanghvi, Editor of the Hindustan
Times had this to say: “The sub-text to all secular commentary is the same:
the kar sevaks had it coming to
them. Basically, they condemn the crime; but blame the victims”. (Annexure 8)
Others, like Jaya Jaitley, the Samanta leader, argued in the Indian Express that
“there is a whole mass of feelings out there that these people
(Opposition/intellectuals) are missing and will continue to miss if they remain
comfortably secluded in their make-believe worlds”. Her conclusion: “If
Godhra had been adequately condemned, perhaps the retaliation would have been
more easily contained. If the intellectuals and the so-called secular Opposition
leave it to the fundamentalists, violence is all we will get. Whether we like it
or not, they were the only ones who reflected the anger against Godhra, when
both secular media and politicians had failed”. (Annexure 9).
only is the logic flawed, but Godhra was roundly condemned by all. Leaders of 11
prominent national Muslim organisations denounced “the barbaric and brutal
violence in Godhra” on February 28. (Muslim India, April 2002). The Prime
Minister and Leaders of the Opposition were signatories to a joint appeal to
maintain peace and communal harmony the following day.
Jain, writing in the Pioneer of April 23, 2002 under the heading “Perceived
fair play will cool Hindu rage”, opines that “majority bashing has assumed
such alarming proportions that there is growing concern among analysts that the
proverbial Hindu patience may be reaching breaking point. Serious commentators
are of the view that political parties and the media should understand the
Godhra-Gujarat conflagration from this point of view, and resist the temptation
to fish in troubled waters”.
The Guild Team received a letter from Bhopal labelling marked portions of
“Outlook” (March 18, 2002) a gross misuse of the right to freedom of
expression. The impugned reports included several reports and columns by the
Editor, Vinod Mehta, Prem Shankar Jha and Priyanka Kakodkar (reporting from
Godhra). Vinod Mehta wrote: “ ….Are we equating state terrorism with an act
of terrorism committed by a group of crazy, bigoted individuals?…When
law-abiding citizens are being
burnt alive by mobs, objective journalism needs to be jettisoned; the media has
no option but to tell the story
from the side of the victims so that the country can see the grisly events”.
are sore because the media did not se through the sinister plot underlying
Godhra, namely to bring about the economic destabilisation of India, beginning
with Gujarat. At the same time, some critics are of the view that the media has
carried exaggerated accounts of the economic loss suffered by trade and industry
in Gujarat. A letter to the Times of India calls for balance. It reads: Please refer the Sunday Times, March 10, P 1.
“Razed dargahs pave roads to mystery”: it is a title biased against Hindus.
The report under the title states that Hanuman Mandir was also razed. So the
correct title is “Razed dargahs and Hanuman Mandir pave roads to mystery”.
Hotline, a Gujarati weekly published from Surat, carried a long piece in
its edition of April 6 by its editor, Vikram Vakil, under the heading “English
media exposed”. He cites and comments on 10 examples of “indulgence in
gossip” citing the Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook and Star TV.
Particular mention is made of reports on the burning of the Sabarmati Express in
Godhra on February 27 and on a Times story (March 19) of 150 persons being burnt
alive and thrown into a disused well. Hotline says this was just a rumour and
was denied by the police. (See summary translation at Annexure 10). This is
precisely what the Times had said too. (See Annexure 11, P 13).
The Gujarat Janhati Rakshak Samiti of Vadodara led by Ajay Dave
represented to the Guild Team against the pro-minority mind-set of the English
media. It noted their failure to cover and analyse the reasons for adivasi anger
against Muslims in rural Vadodara and spoke of “provocation” such as the
azan being called 40 times a day in a single village (eight mosques each calling
the faithful to prayer five times). The Hindus were “oppressed and
suppressed”. “White collar indignation” over Godhra had spilled on to the
streets, taking the form of looting instead of killing ! The “topiwalas”
were at the root of all wrongdoing and thought they had license to crime. The
backlash being witnessed was “a natural reaction” to Godhra.
Samiti presented a memorandum, with a number of newspaper clippings appended,
excoriating the “nasty role” of certain English and minority language
newspapers and TV channels. They were charged with “one-sided coverage”.
Their aim was to defame Gujarat and bring it down to the level of Bihar
“so that industrial investment in Gujarat is inhibited and its economic
prosperity suffers a setback”. (See Annexure 11).
A Muslim liberal in Ahmedabad complained, more in sorrow than in anger,
that many contemporary and contextual articles he had sent in recent times to
the local English newspapers were never used. He pleaded that the media,
especially the English language press with its national reach, should find space
for local liberal, modern Muslim voices and enable them to network. Muslim
Indians must know that there is an alternative discourse to what they hear from
traditional sources or radical forces. Likewise, it is imperative to rebuild
inter-community links and bridges that have been destroyed. The point, made with
feeling and eloquence, is well taken.
Other Side of the Fence
number of civic and human rights groups and NGOs in Ahmedabad and Vadodara have
been monitoring the media and shared their perceptions and findings with the
Guild Team. Among these, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Shanti
Abhiyan in Vadodara and a number of other community groups in Gujarat have
meticulously tracked media trends in Gujarat.
attitude of Sandesh has been noted earlier. Gujarat Samachar (Vadodara edition)
is again shown as using provocative, instigative headlines for unsourced,
unverified, exaggerated or even fictitious stories. (See Annexure 11A). A lack
of objectivity and balance is evident in much of the coverage, though some
positive stories were also published. The Muslim-owned Gujarat Today is seen to
be more restrained and balanced and mindful of carrying stories of communal
harmony despite the violence. The Times of India and Indian Express are
commended on the whole. But some matters could have been more adequately covered
such as combing operations, atrocities against women, conditions in relief camps
and the involvement of persons named by local people in various areas. The
Express is cited for some of its investigative stories but there is criticism of
headlines such as ‘Dial M for Modi, Murder’ and ‘Modimeter’, the latter
being a daily tally of casualties.
overall conclusion of PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan is that “When Muslims were at fault,
names were taken, perpetrators were clearly identified. When Muslims were the
victims of murderers, arsonists, looters, etc, then it has not been clearly
stated who attacked whom. No sources have been quoted for headlines, even when
they have simply been lifted from speeches by VHP leaders (like “Khoon ka
badla Khoon”). Headlines are also misleading and often followed up by reports
that do not substantiate headlines…. The anti-minority stand is obvious in the
slant in news reporting. Editorials and news items are often written in a way
that implicitly and explicitly justifies carnage after the Godhra incident”.
Memorandum presented by the Anjuman-e-Imdad-e-Bahami, Vadodara, is revealing.
The mendacious reportage of Sandesh is exposed. Yet the representation concludes
with a reaffirmation of the secular ethos of the average citizens of Gujarat”.
Memorandum presented by the Shahpur Seva Samaj, Ahmedabad, on “Provocation and
Instigation of Violence ….” contains a detailed analysis of the Gujarati
press. It lists a number of fabrications prominently published and subsequently
not corrected when officially denied. (Annexure 14).
another Memorandum against Sandesh in particular was submitted by K.R.Kazi of
Vadodara together with copies of offending stories along with a gist of
offensive passages/inferences given in English. (Annexure 15).
representation by residents of Tandalja, a Muslim majority area in Vadodara,
speaks of a media campaign in Gujarat Mitra and Sandesh to have the locality
declared a disturbed area" as it is a “mini-Pakistan”. (See Annexure
edition, March 1, 2002) is cited as inciting Hindus to avenge Godhra. An
unsourced report reads: “Hindus were burnt alive in Godhra and leaders in
Bhavnagar did not even throw a stone in the name of bandh. Ahmedabd, Vadodara and Rajkot partly avenged the
killing of Hindus in Godhra. In the case of Bhavnagar, the gutless leaders are
hiding their faces under the guise of non-violence. (Annexure 17).
Today was found to be generally balanced and moderate in tone. The visuals it
published were sober. The paper sought to promote communal harmony and carried
editorial page articles by liberal Hindus and Muslims including translations of
columns from the mainline English press.
and Radio networks
Aaj Tak and ETV (Eenadu) operate Gujarati channels in addition to Doordarshan.
There were few critics of ETV and its coverage was described as balanced. Aaj
Tak in particular received a lot of flak for its candid coverage. It had earned
praise during the earthquake for going off the beaten track and picking up
special nuances. This same approach possibly proved an embarrassment to some on
this occasion. Like the other networks it used mobile OB vans that allowed
quicker and more exhaustive coverage.
Star TV (NDTV)
carried some graphic footage and interviews in the thick of the riots – in
Ahmedabad and along the Vadodara-Godhra highway where a number of industrial
establishments and trucks were burnt. There were strong critics of its coverage,
including what was termed as the arrogant and hectoring tone of its
correspondent while interviewing a tired Ahmedabad police commissioner at the
end of a long day and its insistence that the Army’s deployment was unduly
delayed. Rajdeep Sardesai, NDTV’s Political Editor, responded to this
criticism in a subsequent newspaper article. Star also carried an extremely
moving interview with Professor J.S Bandukwala in Vadodara, a man whose secular
ethos continues to burn bright even after going through a terrible ordeal.
little doubt that some of the television coverage unmasked the State Government.
It hit back by banning Star on March 2 for several hours. In an interview to
“Outlook” (March 18, 2002), Mr Narendra Modi was asked why he had sought to
muzzle the press. His response was that “There was no ban on the media. I
blacked out just one channel because of the provocative reporting methods used.
Traditionally the print media has used its own methods of self-censorship,
taking care not to mention the names of communities while reporting riots. If
every half an hour names of communities are going to be mentioned, without any
substantiation or any attribution, it inflames the situation instead of allaying
it. It is not difficult to see what
impact it will have. I must also tell you that since then the channel has
tendered an apology and made amends”. Asked about this, Star News commented
that it met Mr Modi at a press conference and requested him to lift what it
termed an unfair ban. The Chief Minister complied. It must also be added that Mr
Modi was given opportunity on the channel to air his point of view on events in
Gujarat by prior arrangement before the ban.
coverage by Doordarshan and AIR’s Ahmedabad kendras was staid. There were
viewers and listeners who said that they appreciated this though others
expressed dissatisfaction. One of our interlocutors said that while AIR reported
the facts, Doordarshan siad the
situation was under control. The Chief Minister’s peace appeal was replayed
several times by Doordarshan. Peace rallies in different parts of the State and
programmes emphasising communal harmony were aired. These included sound bytes
in Gandhiji’s voice, culled from archival material, and stories of Hindus
sheltering Muslims. Efforts were made to counter rumours and scenes of joint
Holi celebrations were screened.
to a report in the Indian Express (March 8, 2002), AIR, Delhi was quizzed by
somebody in the Prime Minister’s Office regarding an English discussion that
was critical of the manner in which the Gujarat riots had been officially
handled. This is said to have resulted in an inquiry and the transfer of the
concerned Programme Officer. The discussants, Bhishma Narain Singh, a former
Governor, Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed of JNU and Amulya Ganguli of the Hindustan Times
were admittedly critical. However, if the issue was an alleged lack of balance
in the programme, the answer is that Prasar Bharati cannot be totally anodyne
about stark events and hope to enjoy any credibility; nor is balance always
possible in a single programme and may often only be achieved over a series of
broadcasts that allow all legitimate points of view a fair airing.
Local Electronic/Cable Networks
cities in Gujarat have local cable-television channels that broadcast several
hours a day. Gujarat Samachar has such a channel in Ahmedabad. There is another
in Anand known as the Charotar Area Network Link or CAN-Link which is a 24-hour
channel and also publishes a local newspaper, Naya Padkar. What subscribers
wanted from their local media was positive stories of community living and hard
information about incident-prone areas, curfew hours, safe routes for commuting
and so forth. This was not forthcoming and such information as was provided was
has four cable channels. While they did carry some official peace messages, it
is alleged that they were politically exploited and some of their coverage
amounted to incitement. PUCL and Shanti Abhiyan were particularly critical of
the JTV and Deep channels. (See Annexure 12 P 27). The Police Commissioner
Vadodara felt the cable networks had “played havoc” and warned them. The
licenses of two operators were suspended on March 17 after they showed live
footage of rioting in the sensitive Macchipith area on March 15, when the VHP
celebrated news of the performance of shilinyas at Ayodhya. This same live
footage was repeated the following day. The licenses were restored after 48
hours. FIRs were, however, registered against News Plus and the VNM Channel
respectively and the operators released on bail.
other hand, some observers told us that the cable coverage exposed violation of
Section 144 or curfew by large crowds and instances of police inaction. However,
even these sources admitted that the live coverage did arouse passions.
Networks are subject to rules framed under the Cable Television Networks
(Regulation) Act, 1995. Operators have to seek registration by an authorised
officer who may be a district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate or police
commissioner within his/her area of jurisdiction. The Rules prescribe a code for
programmes and advertisements. No programme may be carried which offends good
taste or decency, attacks religious communities, incites violence, contains
false and suggestive innuendoes and half-truths, or is unsuitable for
unrestricted public exhibition. Any authorised officer may prohibit certain
transmissions infringing the code or otherwise if expedient to do so in the
public interest. Penalties include fines and seizure of equipment.
Team was informed that during long periods of curfew between March 1 and 15,
some cable channels made it a point to screen “patriotic” or
“nationalist” films such as Gadar, Border, and Ma Tujhe Salaam.
The new media was actively used for positive and negative ends through
riots. Computer generated or more crudely and clandestinely printed
pamphlets and handbills, without any imprint line, were brought out and widely
circulated. Some of earlier vintage were recirculated. Among those we met, some
testified to seeing handbills being openly distributed in large numbers at
street corners and traffic intersections. The dissemination of such material was
reported in the press. Their authenticity is difficult to establish and it is
entirely possible that some are products of disinformation wilfully distributed
with diabolical intent. Others appear more plausible in view of circumstantial
evidence from other quarters. Either way, this is a most dangerous development,
even if not altogether new, as means of instant and widespread dissemination are
now technologically available.
A pernicious piece of hate propaganda, officially disseminated by the
VHP, calls for the economic boycott of Muslims. This was admitted to the Indian
Express by Mr Chinubhai Patel, the Parishad’s Gujarat treasurer. (See Annexure
18). A more recent four page pamphlet circulating in Ahmedabad by this same
organisation carries an appeal for funds to provide security for Hindus. It
reads: Your life is in danger, you can be murdered any time… We are collecting
funds for securing the interests of the Hindus..…there are thousands of more
Godhra carnages being planned”. Mr Chinubhai Patel has confirmed that these
pamphlets are in circulation. (Times of India, April 26, 2002).
Abhiyan has summarised the content of several other pamphlets (See Annexure 12,
P 30-31). The most damaging of these is an alleged secret RSS circular listing
ways of killing or debilitating minorities. The economic boycott theme figures
again and was found to be circulating by chain distribution in Sadhari, Pali
district, Rajasthan. The Express, March 24 (Delhi edition) reports the police
seizure of a pamphlet urging Hindus to create a “jagrut Hindu rashtra”,
allegedly circulated by the Bajrang Dal president, Hastimal, who is said to have
been arrested. The theme: “Don’t purchase anything from Muslim shops,
don’t travel in their vehicles or visit their garages; don’t watch films
which feature Muslim stars. In this way we can break their financial
backbone”. The same news item says that the police seized a pamphlet in
tribal-dominated Banswara, exhorting Hindus to hang a saffron flag outside their
homes to help identification during Moharram.
A bunch of vicious handbills was handed over to us in Ahmedabad by one of
the groups we met. These call for economic boycott of Muslims and warn Hindus
against Christian schools and praying at dargahs. Others appeal to the police
and Army and salute Narendra Modi. One handbill has a message for Muslim youth
and instructs them on how to deal with kafirs. This is attributed to a Dr
K.M.Farukh but carries no address or other identification. All the other
handbills are unsourced. (Annexure 19).
A Hindi leaflet attributed
to the Bharat Bachao Sangh, Allahabad and said to have been found in Coach No
S-6 of the Sabarmati Express was also given to us. (Annexure 20).
Gruesome coloured photographs depicting the charred and mutilated remains
of Sabarmati Express victims are reportedly being circulated at meetings,
accompanied by fiery speeches. (Hindustan Times, April 9). The Guild Team was
officially given a set of such photographs with provocative captions at the VHP
office. This evoked extreme horror and disgust.
In Ahmedabad we were told of the seizure a booklet titled “In Defence
of Hindus” purporting to be a “riot manual” from Nagpur containing a list
of do-it-yourself brutalities.
Corresponding reports have appeared of pamphlets allegedly circulated by
Muslims. One of these, titled
“Give Challenge to Open Terrorism by Covert Terrorism”, is said to have been
distributed at the Shah Alam refugee camp in Ahmedabad, a charge denied by
organisers of the camp. It is said to be attributed by intelligence sources to
an unknown organisation called Lashkar-e-Khelendeen and calls for guerilla
strikes to destroy the “Narendra Modi terrorist organisation”. (HT, April
In Ahmedabad, the National Medicos Organisation on April 2 gave the Guild
Team a “provocative” Hindi leaflet ending with the slogan “Pakistan
Zindabad”. The same “medico” representation was strongly critical of the
English press and spoke of “a
… series of events like Kargil, hijacking of Indian Airline plane,
attack on J&K Assembly and Indian Parliament, capture of RDX and other
weapons at various places and series of bomb blasts. It said “we need to break
this pattern in order to protect security and integrity of this country and
To counter these sinister campaigns, Shanti Abhiyan and the Baroda
Chamber have sought to disseminate positive messages. But the day the Guild Team
left Vadodara, the papers reported that large billboards sponsored by a
citizen’s group with messages of communal harmony had been defaced. The
advertising agency contracted for the job was also threatened. (Times of India,
Ahmedabad, April 6).
Equally significant is a widely distributed publication entitled
“Godhra and After” produced by the Vishva Samvad Kendra, Gujarat, and given
to us at the VHP office in Ahmedabad. It lists “facts” that give “several
reasons to believe that this (Godhra carnage) was a pre-planned conspiracy”.
Travellers of a particular religion were asked to get down at the previous
station, namely, Dahod; patients of a particular community were discharged from
the Godhra civil hospital a day before February 27 and not a single case from
that same community was registered that day; and no student or teacher of a
particular community was present in Godhra’s schools on February 27. From this
it is surmised that not only was the torching of S-6 a pre-planned attack but
there was forewarning of something untoward likely to happen that fateful day.
The Guild Team checked these “facts” with district officials, the
Railway authorities and local journalists. There was no corroboration
The Gujarat riots probably mark the first occasion when digital media has
been so extensively used, if at all. Rioters and middle class looters were
directed by mobile phone. Accordingly to some who monitored it, the Gujarat
State web site had little reference to the riots, barring information about
forthcoming examinations. SMS messages were reportedly sent to some people
warning them that milk supplies had been poisoned. Others received telephone
calls about a threatened rocket attack, setting off alarm and pancic. Chain
messages were sent by email.
A liberal Muslim, M.H. Jowher of Manfin Infotech Ltd, started a web site
www.riotinfo.com on March 7 following the eruption of mass violence. He
preaches communal harmony and writes of the law and the Constitution. Here is
someone trying to build fraternity anew amidst the smouldering ruins of hate and
despair. He advertised for support on April 12 and received a dozen positive
responses from Hindus interspersed with some threatening calls. He has sought to
put out correct and authenticated information about the riots and specific
events in order to counter mischievous propaganda. He has done this in part by
mailing assumed addresses. Many have bounced back but others have scored hits.
Mr Narendra Modi too is something of an internet buff and has a personal
www.narendramodi.org. This has posted ardent fan mail with some messages
hailing him as a god and “asli mard” for protecting Hindus. (See Annexure
12, P 28-29). It is conceivable that a hacker may have broken into Mr Modi’s
domain to post material calculated to cause him embarrassment. Even so, it would
appear incumbent on someone in his position to have a web manager to monitor the
site and remove any offending material rather than assume legal and moral
ownership by letting it remain on his site.
We were told of a number of e-mail boards such as E-fore from Ahmedabad
and Vadodara which carries an account of Gujarat developments with daily
updates. This was started at the time of the Kutch earthquake in 2001 and is
said currently to network about 1000 persons. Teesta Setalvad’s Communalism
Combat from Mumbai operates a portal known as www.sabrang.com. Help Asia is the
name of another e-group; ekta.online.com is said to be run by an NRI group based
Film too has come to play a role in Gujarat. An NGO, Concerned
Citizen’s Initiative, has 22 hours of video footage on Gujarat compiled from
various sources. An edited version of this has been screened in Delhi and is
available with Sahmat. Such scenes captured by amateur filmmakers can offer
candid and revealing information, unobtrusively obtained. (See Annexure 21).
The Police too have also now started employing videography more
intensively than before. This has enabled them to film rioting and crime and
garner material evidence for identifying criminals, making arrests and launching
Email, like the telephone, has been used to threaten, intimidate and send
hate mail. Hindus sheltering their Muslim neighbours received threatening calls
which had a chilling effect. Two serving Muslim Judges of the Gujarat High
Court, Mr Qadri and Mr Akbar Divecha were threatened and had to flee their
homes. The residence of one was attacked and burnt. A Hindu brother judge who
offered him a safe haven in his own home was reportedly the recipient of
threatening calls. The greatly respected Dr J.S Bandukwala of M.S. Baroda
University, who has devoted his life to communal harmony, was similarly
threatened. Ehsan Jafri frantically phoned for assistance repeatedly, but in
vain. He was cruelly tortured and burnt alive with others in the Gulberg Society
colony in Ahmedabad.
Nothing flies as fast as rumour, now given wing by electronic technology.
Reference had already been made to rumours of milk supplies being poisoned and a
possible rocket attack on Ahmedabad. According to Ahmedabad’s Police
Commissioner, vested interests spread rumours which created tension and in
certain cases became a self-fulfilling prophecy. What is worse, he says,
educated people have “repeatedly been disobeying curfew restrictions and
moving out of their houses just to participate in rumour-mongering”. He felt
that many incidents in Juhapura and Gomtipur were “initiated” by rumours.
(See Annexure 22). Rioting is becoming an instrument of information war.
Such mischievous tendencies are best countered by timely and
We heard many accounts, possibly apocryphal, and saw some handbills of
“quiet” districts being marked out for “action” and local politicians
and activists being sent bangles to stigmatize their pusillanimity. This evoking
of the macho spirit must be linked to the feats of “manhood” exhibited by
mass rape and bestiality towards women.
Reporting can be a hazardous occupation in situations of tension and
conflict. Its intrusive reporting of what some possibly thought would have
better been allowed to remain a quiet vendetta, invited trouble.
Print and TV journalists told the Guild team of the harassment they faced
from VHP and other activists. In Vapi, activists snatched the camera from an ETV
crew but returned it later. In
another incident an ETV cameraman, a Muslim filming a shop being burnt in Dakor,
a pilgrim town, was taken away by activists but later let off.
ETV received threatening calls for showing the severed hand of a Muslim
man. This portrayal was deemed partisan. A Zee TV crew, filming a restaurant
being burnt, was similarly attacked. On February 28, Muslim miscreants in
Behrampura burnt an ANI camera and car and confined the crew in a State
Transport bus for over four hours. An office of Gujarat Today in Ahmedabad was
attacked and damaged.
A member of the Guild Team had to deal with an excited VHP mob in the
Ahmedabad Circuit House on April 1.
Ms Medha Patkar, the NBA activist leader is a red rag to the bull to many
in Gujarat for her opposition to the Sardar Sarovar project. That, however, was
no reason for her to be attacked by an unruly Congress-VHP crowd at Sabarmati
Ashram on April 8 while attending a Gujarat peace meeting. The Police rescued
her and was leading her to safety but then suddenly lathi-charged the newsmen
covering the scene. The Chief Minister expressed his regret over the incident
and appointed a one-man judicial inquiry under retired Justice S.D.Dave of the
Gujarat High Court. He was to report by the end of April.
Barkha Dutt of NDTV reported of vigilantes armed with swords surrounding
her car on a Gujarat highway screaming “what’s your religion?” Hindu, she
replied, “privately cringing for my cameraperson, Ajmal Jami”. (Outlook,
Indian Express photographers were targeted and its chief reporter,
Janlyala Srinivas, threatened. Its Rajkot man, Parish Joshi was mobbed and his
camera damaged while photographing a shop being set on fire. In Ahmedabad, its
photographer’s flash-gun was damaged though this could have been by accident
when the police was trying to control crowds. In Surat, the Express cameraman
along with a colleague from Sandesh and another media person were attacked by a
Muslim mob. Kerosene had been poured on them but a passing RPF posse was
fortunately able to rescue them in time.
Bhargav Parikh, the news coordinator of Zee News and Tejas Gondalia, his
cameraman were beaten up and had their camera smashed in Ahmedabad. The Times of
India’s Sudhir Vyas was beaten by the police in Rajkot. NDTV crew had to cry
Jai Sri Ram before their vehicles were allowed to move.
Sonal Kellog of Asian Age and a local reporter of another paper were
barred from entering part of Surat’s walled city where they had gone to
interview a woman who had been attacked. They were themselves beaten and were
unable to file a complaint with the police. (Hindu, April 9, 2002).
The Resident Editor of the Indian Express, Mr Virendra Kumar told us that
the office van used for dropping night staff home was routinely and repeatedly
searched by prowling mobs armed with swords and pipes looking for Muslims.
Identity papers had to be shown. All this during curfew hours. A Muslim member
of the staff sometimes slept at the office. Another, finding his house
surrounded by a mob, phoned the office which in turn alerted the police. Mr
Kumar himself received a stream of hate mail accusing the Express of being
anti-Hindu. The tenor of what seemed like an orchestrated campaign was, “You
have no right to live in India and write like this”.
and warped mindsets
Over and beyond the dreadful killings and
bestiality in Gujarat and a lowering threshold of tolerance and restraint, what
is deeply worrying is the purveying of hatred and divisive prejudice by narrowly
sectarian groups. If wars begin in the minds of men, so do riots. Children, in
particular, need to be taught to be good citizens and imbued with values
conforming to the high ideals of the Constitution. Textbooks and history must
therefore be written and prescribed with due care.
One of the basic values of the Constitution is Fraternity. Yet one finds
some of the books published and prescribed by the Gujarat State Board of School
Textbooks of poor quality in terms of content, context and style. (It would be
good to look at other states’ textbooks too). Take for example the Social
Studies textbook for Class 9.
9 is on Problems of the Country and their Solution. The very first section
(problem?) is “minority community” (P 93). Children are told that “apart
from the Muslims, even the Christians, Parsees and other foreigners are also
recognised as the minority communities. In most of the states the Hindus are in
a minority and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are a majority in these respective
states”. So the Class 9 child is told that Muslims and Christians are
foreigners and that Hindus are in a minority in most states”.
measures are suggested for the minority community alongside their economic
progress. But things can go wrong and lead to communal violence. “Therefore a
special riot police force should be raised to tackle such explosive
situations” and “victims of communal violence also should be properly
compensated…”. Here, children are being suggestively told of the perils of
communal violence almost as part of everyday life. Barkha Dutt, quoted above,
saw a boy of 10 clutching a bottle of petrol at one of the barricades she
encountered on a Gujarat highway when she was asked her religion. What was he
going to do with it, she asked. “It’s for self-defence against them”, he
Then we come to “Problems of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”
(P 94). What ails them ? “They have not been suitably placed in our social
order, therefore, even after independence they are still backward and poor. Of
course, their ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blamed for lack of
progress because they still fail to realise importance of education in life”.
The message: the Scheduled Castes and Tribes have only themselves to
blame for their sorry plight. (See Annexure 23). The sections on Women and
Anti-Social Activities are not more inspiring.
Class 12 students sitting for their Board examinations in Gujarat on
April 22, 2002 were put to a grammar test. The English paper asked them to
remove the word “if” and rewrite the sentence, “If you don’t like
people, kill them”. This was followed by another question asking students to
rewrite a short passage as a single sentence. The passage read:
are two solutions. One of them is the Nazi solution. If you don’t like people,
kill them, segregate them. Then strut up and down. Proclaim that you are the
salt of the earth”.
consternation this singularly insensitive question understandably aroused was
sought to be assuaged by an official explanation that the passage was culled
from E.M.Forster’s “Tolerance”, a prescribed text and that the question
paper was set last September by a “minority teacher”.
A horrified father was reported as saying his son had come home agitated
and asked whether he should disown all his Muslim friends. “We are at a loss
for words to explain things to him”, the distraught parent said. (Asian Age,
April 23, 2002).
framing of school curricula has become a subject of controversy of late. Gujarat
is planning to revamp its curriculum, which is by no means objectionable in
itself. But again the spirit that animates it is important. On January 26, 2002,
the first anniversary of the great earthquake that devastated parts of Gujarat
last year, the State Education Department issued a circular to schools to
observe “Dharti Puja”, enclosing a list of shlokas by which to propitiate
the Mother Goddess. This as India enters the 21st millenium and needs
to move fast forward rather than backwards.
(See Annexure 12, P 32-35).
have even been reports of betting over the riots. Bookies have been placing bets
on who would start riots and where and whether the Gujarat riots would spread to
Rajasthan. There has been betting on the death toll. (Times of India, April 10).
So now we have rioting as a blood sport.