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Genocide Gujarat 2002, Communalism Combat, March-April 2002, Year 8, Nos.77-78 

The March-April issue of Communalism Combat, entitled Genocide -- Gujarat 2002, is now available. Its 150 pages of carefully-researched evidence are an invaluable resource for all those who (a) want to have a comprehensive picture of what has been happening in Gujarat since 27 February 2002, as well as the background to those events; (b)  are engaged in trying to obtain justice for the victims of the terrible violence that has been visited on them during this period; and (3) engaged in trying to stop the violence in Gujarat and prevent it from spreading to other parts of India. The contents are as follows:


Build-up: Ayodhya

     This section describes the systematic anti-Muslim hate propaganda used by leading members of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP as part of the build-up to the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, which they had scheduled to begin on March 15. (pp.7-8)


Inferno: Godhra 

     A painstaking enquiry into the Godhra tragedy in which 58 passengers of the Sabarmati Express were burned to death on February 27. It includes published reports and interviews with police personnel, survivors of the fire and other witnesses, including the young woman whose alleged abduction by a Ram sevak on the train infuriated the Muslim mob which attacked it, but who in fact escaped his clutches.


The account suggests that what transpired at Godhra, according to the Railway Police and District Collector, was a spontaneous communal riot, with aggressive behaviour from kar sevaks on the train being met by equally aggressive behaviour from a mob of local Muslims, who eventually set two bogies of the train on fire. Prompt action by the local administration and police, which could have prevented the tragedy and saved 58 lives, was conspicuously absent. And unsubstantiated allegations by Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister LK Advani that the burning of the bogie was pre-planned were read by the communal forces as the go-ahead for their subsequent actions, while open incitement by members of the VHP added fuel to the flames. (pp.9-16)


3 Genocide: Gujarat 

     The bulk of this section (pp.17-91) is a meticulous, detailed and shocking location by location account of the violence which followed. It consists of statements by survivors and eye-witnesses, some of which have been filed as First Information Reports with the police, as well as utterly gruesome photographs of corpses, and pictures of survivors. Witnesses are named, victims of rape and murder are identified wherever possible. Most importantly, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are identified by name in many cases, along with the organisations they belong to and/or their occupation or place in the government or police.


The picture that emerges is one of unspeakably barbaric atrocities committed on a massive scale by armed militias numbering several thousands. Particularly striking is the unprecedented targeting of women and girls: no one was spared, from a three-and-a-half year old girl to old women; almost all were gang-raped, often in front of relatives, pregnant women had their wombs cut open and the foetus ripped out, most were hacked to death and burned. Kerosene was poured down the throats of small children before they were set alight. Homes and businesses of Muslims were systematically burned or bombed using gas cylinders.


One inescapable conclusion is the active involvement, amounting to much more than complicity, of the state government. In statement after statement, the names of BJP corporators, MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) and Ministers appear as directing and participating in the violence. Members of affiliated organisations, the VHP and Bajrang Dal, are also prominent and ubiquitous.


The role of the police, too, was certainly more culpable than mere inaction, although inaction by itself would have been bad enough, allowing mobs to kill thousands of victims whose lives could have been saved, and destroy the homes and livelihoods of lakhs of people. In fact, there were many instances where police allowed thousands of stormtroopers to move around freely and do their deadly work even during curfews, participated in the violence themselves, arrested the victims or fired on Muslims when they tried to defend themselves. The most widespread police abuse of the law was their refusal to file proper FIRs and their filing of false FIRs, leaving out the specific crimes (especially rape) as well as the names of the perpetrators, thus attempting to make prosecution of the criminals impossible in future.


The rest of this section deals with

(a)    The continuing violence, right up to 16 April when the report went to press (pp.92-93), and in fact went on even after that, according to news reports. This once again reveals thoroughgoing involvement by the state government and police, who are in some cases themselves the perpetrators.


(b)    The systematic and amazingly rapid razing of hundreds of mosques and shrines, including many regarded as sacred by both Hindus and Muslims. (pp.94-97) These attacks clearly suggest a genocidal intent behind the VHP’s campaign to replace the Babri Masjid with a Ram temple in Ayodhya: it is part of a concerted plan to wipe out all traces of a community’s culture, along with the community itself.


(c)    Equally systematic targeting of all economic assets (factories, shops, restaurants and hotels, transport operations, agricultural crops) either belonging to Muslims, or where the Hindu owners had any dealings with Muslims. Identifying these involved the unprecedented step of obtaining confidential information from the Registrar of Companies, and Revenue and Sales Tax departments, demonstrating once again the complicity of the state. (pp.98-99)


(d)   Attacks on the media whenever they attempted to cover the violence in an unbiased manner. (p.102)


(e)   The background to the current outbreak of violence: systematic erosion of the democratic rights of minorities in Gujarat since late 1997, including physical assaults on them. (pp.103-106)


The Indictment

     The key parties indicted in Combat’s report are:

l The government of Gujarat which, under the BJP, ‘is a study in the systematic and steady 

erosion of basic Constitutional principles and the Rule of Law’ (p.108). This is strikingly 

evident in the role it has played since February 27. To take a few examples:


l   Modi declared that the Godhra incident was pre-planned without a shred of evidence to that effect, knowing the incendiary effect the words would have;


l    the BJP government supported the VHP’s call for a Gujarat Bandh on February 28 and Bharat Bandh on March 1, knowing from previous experience that violence would follow and implicitly giving a green light to it;


l    Modi’s statements since the 28th have consisted of denials or justifications of what was taking place, and again the message is that the state government will take no steps to stop it or punish the perpetrators;


l    other BJP ministers and MLAs openly participated in attacks on Muslims; blatantly partisan attitudes have been adopted towards victims of the pogrom, effectively denying relief, adequate compensation, justice, and even physical security to Muslim survivors, who continue to be attacked even in relief camps;


l    state complicity in the razing of at least 270 Muslim religious and cultural monuments, as well as the killing of over 2000 people and destruction of thousands of crores worth of property is evident;


l    no prosecutions of RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal activists named in FIRs have been made – yet another indication of the wholesale penetration of these organisations into the state government. (pp.108-112)


It follows that if what has occurred in Gujarat is genocide, then the Chief Minister is guilty of complicity and incitement to genocide, while many of his colleagues are in addition actual perpetrators. The evidence presented in this report fully supports the contention of a Gujarati lawyer (a Hindu, incidentally) that ‘There is more evidence [of crimes against humanity and genocide] against Modi than there is against Milosevic’!


The police. More evidence is presented of police inaction, complicity or    participation – e.g. on February 28, of 40 persons shot dead by the police in Ahmedabad city, 36 were Muslims (i.e. victims of the pogrom); on the same day, the police allowed two senior cabinet ministers, Ashok Bhatt and I.K.Jadeja, to sit in police control rooms in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar respectively, directing the carnage; above all, they allowed armed militias up to 20,000 strong to move around freely, doing their deadly work of arson, rape and murder.

What is most illuminating is the explanation why the police act in this way. One reason is systematic discrimination against Muslim police officers since February 1998, when Keshubhai Patel came to power, removing them from and keeping them out of any post in which they could play a role in quelling riots or maintaining law and order. Another reason is careful weeding out of Hindu police officers who actually do their duty in such a situation. This became patently obvious in the current round of ethnic cleansing. The few honourable exceptions to the general police complicity in the pogrom – those police officers who did their duty and protected innocent victims from arson, rape and mass murder – were immediately punished by being transferred to posts where they would be unable to take such action, and replaced with more pliable substitutes. A police protest against the transfers was made, but the Gujarat government was quick to file an application with the Central Administrative Tribunal, pre-empting any challenge to the transfers. (pp.114-126)


There could hardly be more damning evidence that police complicity in these crimes reflects not only years of active communalisation of the police force and the wider state bureaucracy, but the more specific detail that senior police officials colluded actively with the political authorities as part of a larger conspiracy to perpetrate genocide.   


Hate propaganda played a crucial role, both in creating an atmosphere where genocide could take place , and in inciting violence after the Godhra incident. Some Gujarati newspapers, most notably Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar, as well as the state-owned radio station (Akashwani), reported unfounded and untrue accusations. Sandesh played a particularly heinous and criminal role, publishing allegations of Hindu girls being raped, mutilated and killed which were found to be completely false, but which were effectively used to justify the gang-rape, mutilation and murder of hundreds of Muslim women and girls. State government ministers, including CM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Gordhan Zadaphiya (a VHP activist), made incendiary speeches, inciting violence against Muslims. The Central government added fuel to this frenzy with Prime Minister Vajpayee making overtly anti-Muslim statements, while Home Minister Advani echoed Modi’s allegation that the Godhra incident was ‘pre-planned’ and supported Modi to the hilt. The RSS reiterated its traditional stand that minorities must earn the goodwill of Hindus and justified the genocide; in fact, the whole idea of purging India of minorities has been the long-standing goal of the RSS. Finally, VHP pamphlets and leaflets purveying unadulterated filth and obscenity were used to incite correspondingly depraved actions on the part of their stormtroops (pp.127-38). 

5 To ban or not to ban?

    The final section examines the argument for banning the VHP and Bajrang Dal under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Quoting at length from the MP Chief Minister’s argument for such a ban in July 2001 and presenting evidence for regular arms training by these organisations, it concludes that now, after the genocide in Gujarat, ‘the need for a ban on the Bajrang Dal and VHP becomes compelling’ (pp.139-43). Appended are an excerpt from the preliminary report of the National Human Rights Commission (pp.144-48) and the UN Convention on Genocide (p.149).


As this summary shows, the latest issue of Communalism Combat is a must for everyone concerned about the ghastly events in Gujarat and their implications for the future of Indian democracy, and particularly useful for anyone who wants to take practical steps to end a situation where an entire community numbering millions faces the threat of genocide. As an example of investigative journalism, this is about the best we shall ever get! 


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