March issue 2002
By Farhaad Yousuf | News & Politics | Published 21 years ago
On February 28, the day the Indian political class sat riveted to Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha’s budget speech for two or three hours inside parliament, a dangerous game was being played elsewhere. During those three hours, Muslim homes were being burnt in Gujarat with pointed and precise fury, with all the moral and logistical support that any fascist government can give to its organised storm troopers. Not that any of the parliamentarians cared. The left could have walked out. The budget is not a sacred document. It is meant to be rejected by the opposition. How many times has that happened in the past, when the budget could not be presented and parliament passed a vote on account to keep salaries and necessities provided for. The Congress could have excused itself from the speech. The Samajwadis or Laloo Yadav’s men, all champions of Muslims, could have got up to say a few words on the carnage under way in Gujarat. Or Behen Mayawati, the champion of dalits, and lately of Muslims too, could have used the occasion to save lives. Everyone in India knew what was happening. It was happening with state connivance, with police connivance. But it was the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Vinay Katyar, who stalled the proceedings over his very justifiable anger at the killings of Hindu activists in a train on February 27 at a small Gujarat station called Godhra. The arsonists are believed to have been Muslim. So Katyar shows them the way and our heroes of the secular brigade are tongue-tied.
Everyone knows by now much of what happened during the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, thanks to the unusually conscientious Indian media. According to reliable probe teams that visited the region surreptitiously, the actual death toll is in excess of 2000. Without doubt Rajdeep Sardesai and Nalin Mehta must have saved a few thousand lives by simply blowing the whistle on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s well thought out, pre-planned conspiracy to start communal riots in Gujarat. That could have been predicted the day results of four state polls came in. The BJP stood routed and humiliated. Even in Gujarat, considered the laboratory of the fanatical Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the BJP lost two of the three seats, leaving state Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the rare victor.
Gujarat’s communal violence was not spontaneous. It was triggered and then sustained with state help. The story begins with the attack on the Sabarmati Express. There are several eyewitness accounts slowly coming in. They reveal a common fact. The train links Ahmedabad to Ayodhya. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), activists, not different from Wembley beer louts when they are sober, use the train frequently to ferry supporters to Ayodhya. The day the election results came, an enraged group was travelling to Ayodhya from Ahmedabad.
The Jan Morcha Hindi newspaper published from Ayodhya recorded the following story on February 24, three days before the Godhra attack.
“Bajrang Dal workers armed with trishuls or tridents, travelling to Ayodhya by Sabarmati Express this morning, let loose a reign of terror upon dozens of helpless Muslim passengers, burqa clad women and innocent children. They also targetted people waiting at the platform, forcing them to shout slogans of Jai Sri Ram. A few of the passengers declared themselves Hindus to escape the assault.”
The newspaper quotes eyewitnesses as saying that close to 2000 trishul carrying Bajrang Dal workers, the lumpen arm of the ruling BJP, who were coming from the Lucknow side, “began indulging in these activities from the Daryabad station. Anyone identified as a Muslim on the train was mercilessly attacked with trishuls and beaten with iron rods. Even women and small children were not spared. Burqas were pulled off, women were beaten with iron rods and were dragged. People waiting at the platforms were also similarly targeted.” The long story of excesses continues its horrifying details. That’s what happened on February 24, as published in the Jan Morcha of February 25.
Corroborate this with the eyewitness account e-mailed to some journalists by Ahmedabad and Godhra-based journalists.
One such account in reasonably poor English goes thus: “The tragic incident that occurred one km from the Godhra railway station has thrown a question mark to those people who claim to be secular or liberal. Many aspects and facts have been ignored and which I would like to bring to your notice. Compartment no. S-6 and two other compartments of the Sabarmati Express were carrying the kar sevaks of the VHP. And it was due to these kar kevaks from compartment no. S-6 that the incident occurred. The actual story didn’t start from Godhra as is being told everywhere but it started from a place, Daahod, 75 km before Godhra railway station. At about 5:30 to 6:00 am the train reached Daahod railway station. These kar sevaks, after having tea and snacks at the railway stall, broke down the stall after having some argument with the stall owner, and proceeded back to the departing train. The stall owner then filed an NC against kar sevaks at the local police station about the above incident.
Then about 7:00 to 7:15 am the train reached Godhra railway station. All the kar sevaks came out from their reserved compartments and started to have tea and snacks, at the small tea stall on the platform, which was being run by an old bearded man from the minority community. There was a servant helping this old man in the stall. The kar sevaks on purpose argued with this old man and then beat him up and pulled his beard. This was all planned to humiliate the old man since he was from the minority community. These kar sevaks kept repeating the slogan, “Mandir ka nirmaan karo, Babar ki aulad ko bahar karo” (Start building the Mandir and throw the sons of Babar i.e. the Muslims out of the country). Hearing the chaos, the daughter (16) of the old man who was also present at the station came forward and tried to save her father from the kar sevaks. She kept pleading and begging to them to stop beating her father and leave him alone.
But instead of listening to her woes, the kar sevaks lifted the young girl and took her inside their compartment (S-6) and closed the compartment door shut. The train started to move out of the platform of Godhra railway station. The old man kept banging on the compartment doors and pleaded them to leave his daughter alone. Just before the train could move out completely from the platform, two stall vendors jumped into the last bogey that comes after the guard cabin. And with the intention of saving the girl they pulled the chain and stopped the train.
By the time the train halted completely, it was one km away from the railway station. These two men then came to the bogey in which the girl was and started to bang at the door and requested the kar sevaks to leave the girl alone. Hearing all this chaos, people in the vicinity started to gather towards the train. The boys and the mob (that also included women) that had now gathered near the compartment requested the kar sevaks to return the girl. But instead of returning the girl, they started closing their windows. This infuriated the mob and they retaliated by pelting stones at the compartment.
The compartment-adjoining compartment S-6 on both sides contained kar sevaks of the VHP. These kar sevaks were carrying banners that had long bamboo sticks attached to them. These kar sevaks got down and started attacking with bamboo sticks the mob gathered to save the girl. This was like adding insult to injury for the crowd gathered and their anger was now uncontrollable. The crowd started to bring diesel and petrol from trucks and rickshaws standing at the garages at Signal Fadia (a place in Godhra) and burnt down the compartment. They didn’t bring the fuel from any petrol pump as is being reported everywhere nor was this act of burning pre-planned as being mentioned by many people but it happened all of a sudden out of sheer frustration and anger.
After hearing about this incident, members of the VHP living in that area started burning down the garages in Signal Fadia, they also burnt down the Badshah Masjid, at Shehra Bhagaad (a small area in Godhra). Reliable resources have reported all this information. I will also mention my sources, namely Mr. Anil Soni and Neelam Soni (reporters of Gujarat Samachar newspaper and also member of PTI & ANI). They have worked hard to dig the true facts and they duly deserve words of appraisal for their hard work. The late arrival of the police at the scene of the crime resulted in harassment and arrests of innocent local people living in Godhra. Furthermore the police started blaming the Mayor of Godhra, Mr. Ahmed Hussain Kalota for this incident.
“Mr. Kalota, who is a member of the Indian National Congress, is also a lawyer. This blaming of Congressmen was also done to humiliate, defame and demoralise the Congress. The VHP’s plan is to weaken the country by planning internal conflicts between communities and bring a backwardness of 100 years in the country. Sorry to say but they are carrying out their plans successfully without the fear of being stopped by anyone. No one but only the innocents will have to bear the consequences of their plans.
“It is our humble request and prayers to all the members of parliament along with the prime minister, and the entire media circle to try and stop the sparks of a fire to gulp down the whole county in flames, to take some action against the kar sevaks of the VHP before they get out of hand and stop harassing the innocents and catch the real miscreants and culprits.”
Teesta Setalvad of the Mumbai-based Communalism Combat gave the following bone-chilling account of her visit to Gujarat.
“Today, on the second day of our stay in Ahmedabad, we heard more tales of horror in the different relief camps that we visited. Worse, the accounts of the survivors and victims highlight the systematic pattern of behaviour and complicity in the violence.
“Violence has not abated but is simply taking place in the more dispersed rural areas where even the media does not reach. Even as we write this update, reports of four persons being burned alive in Santrapur village have come in. Each one of the victims was a Muslim. In regions of north Gujarat, especially, violence continues and terror reigns in the countryside.
“To their credit, villages on the outskirts of Anand have doggedly resisted the violent threats to their Muslim inhabitants. To pressurise the Hindus from these villages, the local VHP has been sending them a set of bangles every day. But so far the locals have held out. We learn that the day before yesterday a minister from the state cabinet addressed a meeting of the villagers decrying them for not having taken to violence.
“We had stressed that the violence in Gujarat should not be referred to as a communal riot but an act of ethnic cleansing, genocide. We saw more evidence of this once again today, as we drove to the outskirts of Ahmedabad, to Vatwa that has given shelter to a total of 6,000 members in relief camps. The main relief camp here is a makeshift pandal where women, children and men eat and sleep. There is a serious problem of sanitation. There is also a problem of insufficient toilets. The administration has not responded to the repeated demand for mobile toilets and tents.
“We have also pointed out in repeated media interviews and updates that a factor in Gujarat’s violence is a trend in Gujarat over the past two years, the hiring of young men, on high salaries, by the Bajrang Dal for the express purpose of wielding the talwar and the trishul. In short, the creation of a trained, private militia.
“Every single account that this writer received before arrival in Gujarat, and which has been corroborated on reaching here is a strong pointer to the role played by such an outfit in the present carnage. In every incident in Gujarat over the past few days, the mobs leading the attacks were not the usual riot mobs.
“They were mobs of 5-15,000 that collected swiftly and with precision, wreaked total destruction of life and property in brief periods and brutal ways. It is not easy to collect such large mobs even in a city like Mumbai, let alone Ahmedabad and scattered villages. Strong indications of such a militia pose a challenge to Indian civil society and the ‘secular’ Indian state.
“Can we raise a demand for a judicial inquiry into the existence of and the disbanding of such a militia? The training given to this militia is not simply for the perpetration of violence. It is also a mental training in de-humanisation of the ‘enemy’, through the preaching of ideological hatred that enables men (and women, in some cases) to attack, dismember, de-humanise, kill, burn and then finally enjoy the loot.
“On our drive to Vatwa, along the outskirts of the city, evidence of selective destruction of Muslim shops was clear. Kilometre after kilometre, dhabas, garages, laundries, bakeries and garages owned by the minority community were burned, even as the shops next to them were completely unharmed.
“At Vatwa we met displaced persons from Burhani society where 80 homes belonging to Dawoodi Bohras were completely destroyed. Elsewhere the number of homes burnt down were as follows: Bismillahnagar (60), Roshni Park (105), Raunak Park, Bachubai Kua (80) Darbar Khetar (80) Syedwadi (150), Azimpura (100) Tufel Park, Iliaz Park, and Navapura (300).
“This entire area was targeted by Hindu neighbours living in nearby societies two days after the Godhra incident of February 27. The attack, all eyewitnesses maintain, was planned with meticulous precision as crowds of no less than 15,000, with saffron bands on heads, talwars, guptis and dharis in hand, arrived on four to six occasions over the next twelve hours to wreck systematic destruction on homes, reducing them to empty shells. The homes in Burhani society belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community were totally gutted.
“When Muslim women went to the sabzi mandi today, orders were issued by the local Bajrang Dal activist, Mahesh Patel (indicted for inciting the violence) ordering sabziwallahs not to sell any vegetables to Muslims. Stones were pelted at women trying to get a glimpse of what was left of their homes.
“In almost all areas, the police has not yet fulfilled its primary duty of registering the First Information Reports (FIRs) related to the violent incidents. Instead, in many cases, they have registered false cases against young men of the minority community who tried to defend themselves.
“The frightening aspect of the violence is the deep-rooted terror still in the minds of the survivors. On three occasions over the past three days we have been told of cassettes being played late at night, from the homes of perpetrators of the crime living in nearby societies, sending out the war-cry: ‘Looto, kaato, maro, Jai Sri Ram!’ (Loot, slaughter, kill, Jai Shri Ram!’).
“Provocative speeches, hate speeches by both the mainline Gujarati media, the statements of the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi and the surreptitious distribution of provocative pamphlets continue. CM Modi’s statement reported in the Indian Express this morning is telling: “The violence in Godhra was communal violence, the violence after that was ‘secular violence.’”
“The large circulation Gujarati daily, Sandesh, is probably the worst perpetrator of hate speech over past days. Today a report titled, ‘Hindu upar khatro-Haj Yatra pachi valta humla ni khaufnaak saajish’ warns Hindus in Gujarat that ‘Several state govt agencies say that after the Godhra incident, the fear of terrorism looms large all over Gujarat. With the help of international assistance, RDX bombs and aeroplane hijacks are likely to be used by these terrorist forces.’ Neither the police nor the state is taking any action against this publication.
“Schools re-opened in the ‘other’ Ahmedabad and further evidence of ‘normalcy’ was witnessed. When a few of us friends went for dinner to a Gujarati restaurant, I (Teesta Setalvad) was asked to lower my voice and preferably not speak of the only thing that I can speak of at the moment. Hunger is an equaliser and since our long day had meant no food, we ate, but ate in a locale that gave us a real taste of virtual reality. A friend on the table summed it up well, ‘Aaj kal jab log puchte hain, kaise ho to lagta hai ki in dinon mein woh shabdon ka matlab hi nahin raha.’ (When people ask, ‘How are you?’ these days it seems that these words have no meaning).
“A citizen’s initiative in Gujarat has resulted in a pamphlet on the destruction of the culture and heritage of Gujarat. The pamphlet is proposed to be reached to tens of thousands of people, including those living in villages and remote parts “Other small and larger peace initiatives have also begun. Two ex-prime minister’s, V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral, are scheduled to arrive in Ahmedabad on Thursday. An all-party delegation of MPs will also visit the city the day after. There are rumours that the state plans to sabotage the visit by taking them to makeshift camps where not many problems can be perceived.”
Finally, it seems, the political class has found the time from its busy schedule to tend to Gujarat’s riot victims, mostly Muslim.