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Report of the CPIM / AIDWA delegation to Gujarat

Introduction Read
Godhra, Panchmahal district Read
In the rural areas outside Godhra Read
Officially recognised deaths / Politics Read
Destruction of property, loss of lives, compensation Read
Ahmedabad Read
Relief Camps Read
Voices of anguish / Conclusion Read

March 11

The delegation visited Godhra town in Panchmahal district on the March 11 where it met the District Magistrate, Railway officials, Railway police officials, doctors and nurses at the Civil Hospital. At the Iqbal Primary School that is being run as a relief camp for about 1800 people, the delegation met the organisers as also the affected. It was the first day that the curfew had been lifted for the full day and was to be imposed at 6pm.

The District magistrate Ms. Jayanthi Ravi told the delegation that she had got a message from the Railway Station SS at 8.05 on 27 morning that the Sabarmati Express was being stoned. At 8.10, she got another message saying that some of the carriages were on fire. Her immediate concern she said was to ensure that the police and fire services reached there and that adequate medical arrangements were made. According to her the police reached there within a few minutes. The police and RPF fired to disperse the crowd and two Muslims were killed. The fire service reached at around 8.30. She also asked for additional forces. She refused to comment on any aspect of what was part of the investigations except to state that the mob was of a few hundred people from the area neighbouring the railway tracks and that all those injured had been rushed to the Civil Hospital and then later shifted to Ahmedabad.. She took the decision to impose curfew at 10 am and it was implemented fully by noon by which time all the children in schools had been safely sent home. The train left for Ahmedabad at 12.40.

The delegation was impressed by the firm actions taken by the DM that probably prevented a much bigger outbreak of violence in a town described as "communally sensitive." 

Later when the delegation visited the relief camp evidence of the positive role of the administration in providing relief and medical aid was also mentioned by those affected. The delegation could not get details of the actual damage in Godhra as it was not possible in such a short period to move around the town. 

The delegation also met senior railway officials including the RPF who were there on the 27th. Tragically, Puja Deshpande the wife of the Station Master Shri Deepak Deshpande had boarded the Sabarmati Express on that day travelling to Ahmedabad. She was one of those who had been burnt to death. The delegation tried to meet Shri Deshpande but he was not available.

According to the statements of the officials, the train was running late by 4 hours and 40 minutes. They had no information that the kar sevaks were on the train. Usually, said the RPF officer when rallyists travel there is prior information. Thus when the rallyists were on their way to Ayodhya the RPF post had received a message and the particular officer had in fact accompanied them till the next big junction. This according to him is essential because usually rallyists pick up fights at the station, not paying for the tea etc. so RPF has to be alert. The RPF official said he was later informed by two licenced tea vendors that some of the kar sevaks refused to pay for the tea and were harassing a Muslim tea vendor on the railway platform. However he could not tell the delegation their names or where they lived. Thus this report could not be confirmed. When asked about a press report that a girl related to the tea vendor had been picked up, he said that he had no knowledge of such an incident but there may have been a quarrel between the tea vendor and the kar sevaks. According to him the police have not recorded any statements of the vendors yet because of the curfew but will do so shortly.

The railway official said that the train arrived at 7.45 a.m. and left at 7.50 a.m. He believes the chain was pulled soon after because some passengers were left on the platform. He saw these passengers running to board the train after it had pulled out. The chain pulling occurred twice, first at 7.55 and then at 7.58. If this is so then the story that some people from the mob had climbed on to the train to stop it so that it could be attacked would not be correct. According to him a mob of about 500 600 people (Muslims, mostly Ghanchiyas from the adjacent colony, parallel to the track) had gathered. They were shouting and could be seen stoning the train, especially S6 from across the track. There were no crowds on the other side that is why other passengers could escape. Since the train was a few hundred metres from the platform they could not see exactly how and when the train caught fire. But all the officials the delegation spoke to stated repeatedly that in all their experience of train accidents and burning, never had they seen a coach catch fire and burn so quickly. According to them this could only happen if the entire coach had been doused with petrol or/and if there was inflammable material inside the coach. They also said that in a coach meant for 72 passengers there were at least 50 more that made it difficult for people to get out. The window shutters had been pulled down and the officials conjectured that this was perhaps to escape from the stoning. But then how could so much inflammable material have found its way inside to the extent that the entire coach was so badly burnt? By the time the fire-fighters came, there was no sound from inside. It was their conjecture that the victims of this terrible atrocity were mainly women and children because others stronger and bigger could reach the exit doors first. The delegation was horrified and deeply moved to hear this recounting.

Inside the burnt coach the delegation found heaps of foodgrains, sacks stacked near the windows. There were also stoves and jerry cans. Clearly the kar sevaks had taken this material to cook for themselves. This points to the possibility of inflammable substance inside the coach. In any case there were no restrictions on anyone wanting to go inside.

At the Iqbal Primary School camp the administration was giving them rations and also helping them with FIRs. There were people from the rural areas of Panchmahal and Dahod districts. They have faxed 300 FIRs to the police thanas but are not aware how many have been registered by the police authorities.

While the situation in the town seemed comparatively under control, the situation in the rural areas is serious with about 6000 people fleeing their homes and taking shelter in various camps. The delegation met some of victims from the rural areas in Iqbal Primary School camp and in the hospital who are from Panchmahal and Dohad districts.

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