Relief and Rehabilitation
From the night of February 28, when brutal and systematic attacks against targeted sections of the Muslims population in Ahmedabad city began, distressed residents were shepherded out of their homes and localities, often in hired buses, in the dead of the night by community leaders. Over night, relief camps came up in the city and by March 5 a staggering 98,000 refugees were housed there. Even by the admission of the district magistrate and collector of Ahmedabad, there were 66,000 refugees in these camps. In none of these efforts was any state presence visible.
By March 1, a similar situation was observed in over one dozen districts of Gujarat. Independent sources show that outside Ahmedabad, as many as 76,000 refugees were housed in camps all over the state. Official figures put this amount at about 25,000. In any event, even by the state government’s own assessment, at least 91,000 persons were displaced as a direct result of the carnage. Independent assessments put these at closer to 1,74,000 refugees in the state of Gujarat after the first flush of brutal violence; a staggering figure by any standards. Besides, not all the survivors moved into camps — many went to the homes of their relatives and so on. Including them in the calculation, independent estimates put the total number of displaced Muslims in Gujarat at not less that 2,50,000.
In the days following the first bout of brutal violence, agents of the state, notably the collectors/district magistrates of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Mehsana, Himmatnagar, Anand, Sabarkantha, Banaskantha, Bharuch and Ankleshwar districts, as also the officials of some police stations, obstructed truckloads of privately mobilised relief material — milk, foodgrains, etc. — from reaching the camps. Thereafter, the same officials harassed and penalised the refugees by, among other things, not giving them sufficient food. The conduct of these IAS and IPS officials calls for strong penal action.
The Tribunal is greatly concerned and outraged by the fact that only the leadership of the Muslim community was involved in the running of the relief camps because others did not come forward. Though some non–Muslim NGOs did contribute substantial amounts of aid to these relief camps right until August, the vast bulk of relief assistance to the refugees came from the community itself.
For days and weeks, the Gujarat government adamantly refused to register the relief camps and denied relief assistance from state coffers. In blatant and brazen contrast to the Gujarat state’s attitude to the earthquake victims just one year earlier, when the ghastly earthquake of January 26, 2001 rocked the state, this time neither the Gujarat government nor the government of India applied to the UN and other international agencies for relief and rehabilitation measures.
Equally, the Tribunal notes with concern and anguish that an insignificant number of international aid agencies came forward in the case of the Gujarat carnage, to help the victims. Given the scale of the state-perpetrated violence and given the response of international aid agencies to such carnages in other areas in the past, it was incumbent on them to provide relief and rehabilitation assistance to all those displaced and dispossessed by the communal carnage in Gujarat, without discrimination.
Similarly, the fact that major national newspapers which, during such calamities in the past, have always set up independent relief funds, did not do so in the context of Gujarat 2002, speaks for the silence and complicity that surrounds relief and rehabilitation of the survivors of the Gujarat carnage.
Six relief camps had to approach the Gujarat High Court (special civil applications 3773 of 2002) through a writ petition — supported by the Citizens for Justice and Peace — and a senior advocate had to be flown down from Mumbai for arguments, before the Gujarat government gave an assurance in court that it assumes responsibility for providing adequate relief to the camps. Justice Pradeep PB Majmudar delivered the order on this writ petition on April 22, 2002.
The first time that the Shri Modi condescended to visit the Shah–e–Alam Relief Camp in Ahmedabad city was a full month after the carnage broke out, on April 4. As recently as September 9, at Becharaji, Mehsana, during his Gujarat Gaurav Yatra, none other than the chief minister made a shocking public declaration: ‘‘What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby producing centres?’’
Again on May 31, a public interest litigation (special civil application number 5311 of 2002) had to be filed in the Gujarat High Court by the Citizens for Justice and Peace and Communalism Combat to elicit an assurance from the state that relief camps would not be forcibly closed down. On June 4, the petitioners obtained an oral assurance from the government pleader that there would be no closure of the camps at least until June 30, 2002. It was on this precise date, that the state government began exerting pressure on camps and threatened penal measures against camp managers, if they did not ‘voluntarily’ sign a statement saying they wished to close down their camps. On June 26, when the matter came up for hearing, the petitioners, several camp managers and refugees filed 25 affidavits, detailing the extent of abdication of primary duty by the state and shocking instances of coercion and pressure being used against refugees and camp managers.
The writ petition pertaining to relief is still alive before the Gujarat High Court.
The Gujarat government showed itself in a crudely partisan and anti–constitutional light when it initially announced discriminatory amounts of compensation for the survivors of the Godhra tragedy and the post–Godhra carnage. Abdicating its primary role as protector and provider of all its citizenry, it has made no efforts to compute the extent of the loss of lives, the quantum of the destruction of homes, belongings, businesses and agricultural properties to date.
A measly Rs. 2,500 was given as dole to persons for loss of household goods (ghar vakhari) and, though the Prime Minister had announced that Rs. 50,000 would be given for loss of homes, less than 10 per cent of those who have obtained home compensation from the Gujarat government (at least 25 per cent of the total affected have not received anything at all) have got more than Rs. 30,000 each. For most of the survivors of the Gujarat carnage, the state government has rubbed salt on the wounds already suffered, by giving them paltry amounts of Rs. 1,200-2,500 each or less.
The Gujarat government has shown a similar callous indifference to the rehabilitation of the victims of continued violence. Barely a year ago, when a devastating earthquake struck the same state, the Gujarat government evolved an elaborate Earthquake-2001 Rehabilitation Package No. 1 for the earthquake affected and similar Packages No. 2, 3, 4, 4a, 4b, 5 followed.
The Tribunal has closely examined these packages. Details of these seven-eight packages announced by the government of Gujarat, run by the same party, just over a year before the carnage, clearly establish how deeply discriminatory, callous and objectionable the conduct of the Gujarat government is in the context of the carnage.
By its behaviour and action, the government has made it clear that it wishes to have nothing to do with the physical and psychological rehabilitation of its own people, the Muslims of Gujarat. Shri Modi has made public pronouncements, stating that there was no question of his government either buying land to re-house survivors, for whom returning to a threatening environment is an impossibility, or of repairing or rebuilding mosques, dargahs and shrines that have been damaged.
Situation of Muslims in Gujarat
The Tribunal notes with concern and dismay, the continuing misery of the victim Muslim community in Gujarat. In areas where the most brutal incidents of mass killing, quartering and killings (often after sexual crimes against women and girls were committed) took place, statewide surveys by independent groups show that there is no question of the victimised section of residents returning to their original place of residence.
These include survivors of Ghodasar, Sardarpura, Pandharwada, Ode, Sanjeli, Randhikpur and Chanasma massacres, as also residents of villages in Gandhinagar district itself, where Muslims were in a small and hopeless minority. They also include areas like Gulberg society, Ahmedabad. Though many residents of Naroda Gaon and Patiya have returned, this has been under duress, after the forced closure of the refugee camps where they had sought shelter. Many others have been rehabilitated by Muslim NGOs in different parts of Ahmedabad, while a significant number have migrated to other states.Agricultural land holdings owned by Muslims in districts are being callously taken over by miscreants and dominant interests.
In many villages, especially in Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Panchmahal and Dahod districts, Muslims who have returned to their battered homes were facing a strictly enforced economic boycott by the dominant castes and communities through their refusal to buy milk products from them, to hire them as labour on their fields, etc. A near permanent loss of livelihood, and therefore a reduction to penury, was an imminent and serious likelihood.
In welcome contrast to the above, in many regions of Sabarkantha and Banaskantha districts, it appears that a sincere effort was being made by members from the dominant community to isolate those in their midst who have led and fomented trouble, and to take a stand against violence in the future. In Chhotaudaipur, where sections of the Adivasi population have been misled and misused by dominant sections of their own and other castes, there has been a genuine expression of remorse, too, about the incident.
It is shocking and unfortunate that while the situation on the ground remains grim in the state, where no remorse has been expressed, no justice is in sight, where relief has only grudgingly been given and rehabilitation measures have been meagre, the sole desire of the government appeared to be to proclaim ‘normalcy’ before the country and the world. At no time was this babble of normalcy exposed more effectively than during the visit of the two teams of the Chief Election Commission to the state in August 2002.
The story of Gujarat today, especially of cities like Ahmedabad, is one of brutally enforced ghettoisation of the Muslim minority in their residential colonies as much as in their business and trade enterprises. In parts of Ahmedabad, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Muslim minority to live, inhabit and move freely in areas that are now seen as "Hindu". This state of affairs should be unacceptable in any part of Constitution–bound India.
For the religious minorities, the state of affairs in Gujarat is blatantly discriminatory and in violation of the Indian Constitution. The Tribunal regrets to record that with the connivance of the state, they have already been reduced to the status of second–class citizens.
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