March-April  2002 
Editors' Note 


The torching of bogey S-6 of the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, in which 58 passengers, including 26 women and 12 children, were burnt to death, is an unpardonable act. The perpetrators of this grossly inhuman crime must be tried swiftly and given the most stringent punishment. But, for the burned corpses of the ill-fated passengers to become the justification for armed squads of the ruling BJP and its ‘brother’ organisations — RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal — to launch a pogrom that sits well with what the UN defines as genocide against the innocent Muslims of Gujarat?

Even during the unspeakable horrors that communities inflicted on each other in 1946 and 1947, all organs of the state had not been directly involved in stoking the fires. Not so in Gujarat, 2002. The chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, called the targetted attacks in 16 of Gujarat’s 24 districts, a ‘natural reaction’. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is guilty of worse: "If there was no Godhra, there would have been no Gujarat," he said, at the meeting of the national executive of his party in Goa in mid-April. Both the CM and PM have opened themselves to the charge of complicity in ‘crimes against humanity’.

The BJP, flanked by the RSS, VHP and BD combine in Gujarat had laid their grounds well. Both the Modi, and his predecessor, Keshubhai Patel had systematically implanted, through insidious hate propaganda and school textbooks, the mindset to justify such a pogrom. They had their men in key jobs to prevent any hindrance to their plan. They used threat and intimidation to numb conscience-keepers. And they trained their cadres well. They bestialised the ‘art of killing’.

Dead bodies no longer resembled human beings: they were reduced — whenever they had not been burned to ashes — to a grotesque and pathetic sight that were a haunting reminder of the depth of hatred and the intense dehumanisation that the politics of inherent superiority and exclusiveness generates. Nowhere did eyewitnesses and victims, survivors and observers, put the crowds who terrorised them at less than 2,000; most often, even in far-flung villages, they were closer to 10-15,000-strong mobs, armed with deadly agricultural implements. Key men carried guns and rifles. (The number of cases of private firing has astounded the state police). A few in the crowd even carried mobile phones to enable military co-ordination in the attacks.

Rape was used as an instrument for the subjugation and humiliation of a community. A chilling and hitherto absent technique was the deliberate destruction of evidence — barring a few cases, women who were gang raped were thereafter hacked and burned.

Twenty-fix hours after the Godhra tragedy, 58 bodies were brought to the Sola Civil Hospital for the arthi, vengeful slogans were raised. Thereafter, from February 28 to March 6, the raging fires of hatred and venom consumed 16 of Gujarat’s 24 districts.

Many ministers in the Gujarat cabinet are members of the RSS, VHP and BD. It is, therefore, not surprising that survivors have named many key leaders of these outfits, even cabinet ministers, as mob leaders. Modi and his mobs have brazenly flaunted the CrPC, the Arms Act and the Indian Constitution itself. Should they be allowed to go scot-free, the very future of Indian democracy would be in peril.

Even as we go to press, violence continues in Gujarat. The police shot dead two persons on April 16; another met a similar fate on April 18. Twelve and 13-year-old girls were terrorised by mobs as they appeared for their eighth and ninth standard examinations.

In the last four years, CC has put Gujarat on the cover five times and published several special reports, drawing attention to the ominous signs of the build-up in the state. Hence, for Teesta Setalvad to travel through Gujarat, to record the accounts of traumatised victims and survivors to put this fact-finding report together was both painful and heart-rending.

We gratefully acknowledge the unstinted support extended to us in this effort by numerous survivors presently in the relief camps and those managing them in Gujarat — in particular Rais, Ilyas and Mahir whose full names are being withheld for obvious reasons –; father Cedric Prakash and Prashant, the management and staff of Gujarat Today, friends and colleagues like Batuk Vora, Indubhai Jani, Hanif Lakdawala, Gautam Thaker, Sophia Khan, Uves Sareshwala, Sheba George, among many others in Gujarat; SAHMAT (Delhi), and Dr Uma Seth, Sufiya Pathan, Rashmi Gera and Gitanjali Dang, Najeeb Khan. And the entire Sabrang team in Mumbai. But we alone assume full responsibility for the contents of this report.

Gujarat has thrown an unprecedented challenge for all individuals and groups working for the restitution of sanity, humane principles, representative democracy and the rule of law in this country. Do we have it in us to challenge the fascist onslaught on the Indian Constitution?


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