Build-Up in Gujarat
In the past four years of BJP rule in Gujarat, several unconstitutional measures have been initiated. Since February 1998, when the BJP was returned to power for a second term, fundamental rights of citizens have been violated, the rule of law flouted and the security of the life and property of citizens, particularly the religious minorities and Dalits, consistently threatened. No action has been taken against the culprits. A plethora of outfits like the Hindu Jagran Manch and Dharam Raksha Samiti spawned by the sangh parivar, have been engaged in the task of mobilisation for intimidation, threats, terrorisation and violence.
From the evidence placed before the Tribunal, it is evident that a full catalogue of the words and deeds of the sangh parivar in the last four years, and the BJP government’s unabashed support and encouragement to these on the one hand, and dogged refusal to book the perpetrators of hatred and violence on the other, is itself an appropriate subject for a separate report. Given below are mere examples to illustrate how the calculated spreading poison has been systematic and sustained, especially since 1998.
Targeting the Minorities
The whole of 1998 and 1999 saw a spate of attacks on minorities, especially on Christian institutions and Christian religious persons in remote areas of Gujarat state, as well as in cities like Rajkot and Ahmedabad. But no action was taken by the state government against the offenders.
Around Christmas time in 1998, 17 churches were destroyed in Dangs in south Gujarat in a concerted attack on the minority led by VHP leaders Janubhai Pawar and Swami Aseemanand.
During 1998, as part of the attacks on Christians by the BD, VHP, RSS, and BJP all over Gujarat, some incidents took place in Vadodara as well. One of the major incidents was the attack on the five-day National Convention of Christians (Alpha Group). The gang, led by Shri Niraj Jain (VHP leader) and others allegedly belonging to the VHP and Bajrang Dal, started threatening the participants to stop the convention and quit as "they resorted to forcible conversions of Hindus to Christianity." Police supported them.
In many parts of Gujarat, the police visited Christian institutions at Christmas time (1998) asking how many people attended Christmas mass. Should this be allowed in a country that calls itself both secular and democratic? Each act of violence over the past four years was preceded by hate-mongering and vicious propaganda through pamphlets signed by Janubhai Pawar of the Hindu Jagran Manch (VHP). No action was taken until a year later; in December 1999, he was arrested at Dangs before Christmas.
A private members Bill, "to prevent conversion by coercion or force", but which did not consider conversion to Hinduism an offence, was sought to be rushed through the state legislature in November-December 1999. It was ultimately held back because of the outcry by local groups. The campaigners pointed out that existing provisions within the Indian Constitution were adequate to prevent conversions by inducements and coercion and that the maximum number of conversions, post-Independence, have been of tribals to Hinduism.
In August 2000, Pakistan–trained terrorists shot down 33 Hindu pilgrims in Kashmir and in the cross fire another 100 died. The VHP leader, Shri Praveen Togadia, took it upon his organisation to ‘avenge’ these deaths and targeted unsuspecting Muslims of Gujarat. At a press conference in Ahmedabad on August 1, 2000, he declared, "We will give a fitting reply to these killings here, in Gujarat." For the next ten days, the law and order machinery was held to ransom, as gangs of the RSS/VHP/BD led by elected representatives of the BJP destroyed Rs. 15 crore worth of Muslim property in Surat, Ahmedabad, Khhedbrahma, Lambadiya, Rajkot, Porbander and other Gujarat cities. Not a rupee in compensation was paid to any of the victims. Leaders and activists of RSS/VHP/BD figure in the FIRs of the police, yet no action has been initiated against them.
In September 1999, police fired 80 rounds of bullets on Muslims from Rajpurani Pole near Mandvi, in Vadodara to stop any Muslim who would come out on the road to save his/her property or to protect the Jumma Masjid. Shri Nalin Bhatt, then a minister in the state government, personally directed the firing by the police. He even made the statement, "Muslims have no place in Hindustan. Either they go to Pakistan or Kabrastan (graveyard)." In the current riots, some BJP leaders and members of violent mobs made similar statements.
On February 8, 2000, a horde of people ransacked the homes of Muslim families who had bought homes in Paldi, a posh and predominantly Hindu inhabited locality of Ahmedabad. The families who had just bought a flat there were terrorised, their belongings destroyed. Two municipal corporators of the BJP led the mob, shouting, ‘Jai Sri Ram!’ One senior VHP leader was also present. The motive was to terrorise Muslims to move out of a pre–dominantly Hindu locality. (The Asian Age, February 9, 2000).
What happened in Paldi is becoming more and more common all over Gujarat state. This violates Article 14 (Equality before the law), Article 15 (Non–Discrimination on grounds of religion, race, gender, caste), Article 16 (Equality of opportunity in matters of employment), Article 19 (Protection of the freedom of speech, expression and movement), Article 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty), Article 22 (Protection against arrest and detention), Article 25 (Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion).
This was not an isolated incident. Social and economic boycott enforced through terror and violence is happening every other day in BJP–ruled Gujarat, where the writ of the RSS runs large.
Encouraging the RSS
In early December 2000, the then CM Keshubhai Patel took the lead in lifting the ban on government servants from joining the RSS. In response to a national outcry within and outside the Indian Parliament, on December 15, 2000, the Prime Minister, Shri Vajpayee, assured the Indian Parliament that there was no question of army or government officials being allowed to join the RSS. On February 6, 2000, Shri Vajpayee announced that he saw nothing wrong in the move since the RSS was a cultural organisation. However, the BJP government in Gujarat was forced to rescind its earlier directive following relentless pressure from the opposition parties and even some of the BJP’s NDA allies.
Soon after the Gujarat government announced its no ban on government servants from joining the RSS policy; it played the role of a generous host at a national meet of the RSS, an organisation that openly espouses its goal of a Hindu State. Photographs of the then union home minister, Shri LK Advani, standing alongside the then chief minister Shri Keshubhai Patel (the latter donned in the trademark khaki shorts of the RSS), at the head of the rally, were published by major national newspapers throughout the country.
On January 11, 2000, following its convention, the RSS heaped lavish praise on the state government for the "free services" it provided to the three-day ‘Sankalp Shibir’. Pucca roads were laid overnight especially for the event and free drinking water and sanitation services provided. The Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation stationed 260 new buses at the venue to facilitate transportation of participants. This amounted to a blatant misuse of government and semi-government machinery. Billboards put up by the VHP all over Gujarat since 1998, proudly proclaim: ‘Welcome to Hindu Rashtra’. (‘Welcome to a Hindu State’).
The Gujarat government has also taken a series of administrative measures that directly violate the Constitution. These are:
ŘA selective census specially directed at Christians and Muslims in the state.
Ř A selective census of SCs and STs initiated to ascertain ‘when they converted to Islam or Christianity.’
Ř A directive to the state police asking them to ‘investigate’ every case of inter–religious marriage. This followed spurious propaganda by the RSS–VHP–Hindu Jagran Manch combine that Muslims were abducting and marrying Hindu girls in order to convert them to Islam, while Christians were guilty of forced conversion.
Ř Inter–community marriages between couples are frowned upon by the state. In 1998, the government directed the police to set up a special cell to investigate every case of inter–community marriage. Recently a Christian groom was forced to convert to Hinduism even after his marriage to a Hindu girl took place in a civil ceremony before the courts.
Muslim children have had to sit for exams on Id day. A few years ago, the Gujarat government also tried to remove Good Friday from its list of public holidays. A volley of protests from the Christians forced them to shelve the plan.
In January 2001, the education department of the Gujarat government issued a circular, directing all schools in the state to subscribe to the RSS mouthpiece, Sadhana. The directive was allowed to lapse thanks to widespread criticism and protest.
In January 2002¸ the Gujarat state’s education department ordered that all grant-in-aid schools must perform dharti poojan on January 26, the day on which a killer earthquake had devastated Gujarat a year ago. The fact that such activity is contrary to the practice of religious minorities was deliberately ignored. A government circular issued earlier this year, informed tribal welfare institutions receiving grants from the government that a part of the sanctioned amount this time would be paid to them in kind — copies of Hindu scriptures.
Copyrights © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.