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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

This report is a result of the visit to Gujarat by a central delegation of the CPI(M) along with representatives of the All India Democratic Women’s Association from March 10 to 13, to express solidarity with the victims of the communal carnage and to get a first hand account of the terrible events on and from February 27. The delegation spoke to over a thousand people including citizens of both communities in affected areas, victims of the communal attacks, administrative officials in Ahmedabad, members of relief committees, members of the Citizens Initiative, various NGOs and intellectuals. The delegation also met the Governor Shri S.S.Bhandari on March 12 and gave him a memorandum with the main findings of the team and demands including the removal of the Chief Minister Narendra Modi. 

The delegation visited camps in Shah Alam, Bapunagar Aman Chowk, Sundaram Nagar, Juhapura, Kankaria Municipal School No. 7 and 8 and Dariyakhan Ghummat in Ahmedabad. The delegation also visited the site of the horrific incidents of February 27 in Godhra, the Godhra Civil Hospital and the Iqbal Relief camp in Godhra. One member visited the camps in Mehsana district. The delegation also received memoranda from several of the camps and relief groups.

The delegation included Central Committee members Subodh Ray (M.P.) and Brinda Karat, Subhashini Ali, Kiran Moghe, Mariam Dhawale, along with Arun Mehta (Secretary CPI-M Gujarat Committee) and Mahesh Chand, Iva Mehta ,Nalini Jadeja and Yashoda behn.

There is condemnation, outrage and shock in the whole country against the inhuman attack on karsevaks travelling on the Sabarmati Express in which 58 persons the majority of them women and children were burnt to death. It is essential that the Central and State Governments act swiftly to identify and arrest the guilty. As mentioned in the memorandum to the Governor, the visit of the delegation to Godhra brought to light the surprising callousness and unconcern on behalf of the State Government to protect the burnt railway carriage that is surely crucial evidence in investigations into the horrific attack. The delegation saw bags of food grains, stoves, and jerry cans usually used for kerosene or cooking oil, inside the burnt bogey. This points to a possibility that there was inflammable material inside the railway coach. In any case investigation into the incident must be expedited. There is widespread disquiet in the state about the individual who is to head the investigation since he is known for his pro-Hindutva views and one of his judgements when he was serving in the High Court had been criticized by the Supreme Court for ‘relying more on imagination than fact.’

The events in Gujarat following February 27 have rightly been described as an example of a state sponsored carnage against the Muslim community. It would be quite wrong to use the term "riot." The justification of the carnage offered by the Chief Minister Narendra Modi of it being a spontaneous reaction to the burning of the railway carriage of the Sabarmati Express does not tally with the facts on the ground as shown in this report. If the Chief Minister’s logic were valid, the first place to be affected would have been Godhra where the incident actually occurred. The sequence of events in Godhra, gathered by the delegation showed that because the administration moved swiftly and firmly within an hour of the incident in comparison with elsewhere, the situation could be better controlled within the town. Elsewhere particularly Ahmedabad it was not the administration but the constituents of the sangh parivar that used the first twenty-four hours to mobilize their wide network. The two- day bandh in the State on February 28 and March 1 called by them were then used to unleash violence in urban areas. For the first time in the history of this admittedly communally affected State even areas inhabited only by the Muslim community like mohallas in Bapunagar, were also devastated. As this report shows this was possible because everywhere the police accompanied the VHP led mob. There is also enough prima facie evidence, some of which is available in this report to show the complicity of the top leaders of the ruling party, elected members and even Ministers in the attacks There was no curfew in Ahmedabad for them. 

The Government claims as an indication of its efficiency that it controlled the violence within 72 hours. 72 hours of freedom to loot, kill and plunder is long enough to destroy a whole community. Moreover, the violence is not yet over. Even the Governor in our talks with him admitted that the attacks went on far longer although according to him "there were no killings." At present the army is on standby to leave the State. Senior administrative officials were apprehensive given the coincidence of Moharram and Holi at the end of the month. The delegation had demanded that the army not only remain in Gujarat at least till the end of the month, but that it increases its presence in some of the affected rural areas. Even today, there are reports that fresh violence has occurred in some districts.

The pattern of violence and targeting of Muslim owned properties including those with names, which would not denote community identity, show careful planning. We were told that house checks in the guise of census data collection had been done only recently. The use of cranes, shovels and even trucks to demolish walls were not by any definition "spontaneous.’ The most shameful as also blatant example of state complicity is the demolition, levelling and then tarring over of the mazaar of a most revered sufi poet Wali Gujarati. So complete is its destruction that the delegation could not make out where it had stood. The destruction of masjids, 44 in Ahmedabad according to one estimate was done with the help of trucks and perhaps bulldozers. Clearly the symbols of religious identity were to be destroyed.

Analysts have compared the events in Gujarat to those following the assassination of Indira Gandhi when thousands of members of the Sikh community were killed and property destroyed in several parts of the country under the leadership of the then ruling party. However as clear from this report the comparisons are limited. In Gujarat the events are the bloody harvest of years of the systematic spread of communal poison and hatred against minority communities both Muslim and Christian by the constituents of the sangh parivar in the implementation of the political slogan of Hindu rashtra. The report contains a young woman B’s story. The area in Randhikpur village where this atrocity occurred is the same area where the VHP and the Bajrang Dal had attacked a whole village in early 1999 because they suspected that the village was sheltering inter-community couples ( two Hindu girls and two Muslim boys) who had got married.350 Muslims at that time had been forced to leave the village and had their property ransacked. There was a vicious campaign against them. A few months later the next target was the Christian community who were attacked in August 1999.It was reported at that time that 5000 VHP and Bajrang Dal members had attacked Christian houses for ten hours while the police took no action. The main areas affected in the current round of violence outside Ahmedabad have even earlier witnessed mob violence organised by the VHP against minorities in the last few years. The delegation was given copies of inflammatory leaflets brought out over the years by the sangh parivar that in any secular State would have put the publishers behind bars. These leaflets were widely used by the kar sevaks in the current mobilizations on the Ayodhya issue. The delegation found one such leaflet dated August 18, 2001 from the burned carriage of the Sabarmati Express. It is for these reasons that the violence in Gujarat is not a 72 hour aberration as made out by the Government but an ongoing project of the Hindutva forces.

The delegation spoke to several eyewitnesses of the looting of big shops. A well-known artist in Ahmedabad described to some members of the delegation how a neighbour had returned with a car full of looted goods. Another related how couples from a block of flats built and inhabited by NRG’s (non- resident Gujaratis) proudly displayed looted goods to neighbours. All the reports of looting in the posh areas of the city indicated that it was not the poor but the well-dressed middle class, including women who participated. However we could not visit any of the colonies where these looters reside so we were unable to actually get an idea of the number of middle class people involved. In one reported incident a woman went into a shoe shop while her husband waited in the car. The shoes she brought out did not fit him so she went in again to change them! Whether this particular story is true or not, it captures the amoral greed of supposedly educated people which was on full display for at least two days in Ahmedabad. The political platform of Hindutva directly encourages criminal acts directed against ‘the other" and converts looted goods from Muslim properties into trophies to be displayed as "politically correct status symbols. " It is difficult to find such parallels elsewhere in India. 

In Gujarat there are more affluent sections of the minority community than in any other State. The attacks have broken the economic spine of the community and helped rivals in many industries which they previously dominated For example Ahmedabad is dotted with the burnt remains of, according to one estimate, over 700 small and big hotels owned by the Muslim Cheliyar community. Lists of these hotels many of them with Hindu names were reportedly in the possession of the arsonists that explains how they could so easily identify Muslim properties. In many rural areas, sections of particular sects of Muslims are money lenders or traders and ration shop owners giving loans to tribal and other poorer sections. Survivors testified to the delegation that VHP groups trucked in tribals to loot and burn. These are clearly a cynical manipulation of feelings generated not by communal but by economic concerns. The RSS and its "Vanvasi "organizations have been extremely active in promoting communal divisions among the tribal communities which was earlier witnessed during the violence against Christian tribals. This base is now being used against Muslims in several rural areas.

The testimonies of the victims some of which are published in this report reflect a level of savagery that is truly shocking. Ahmedabad has seen many communal incidents and rioting. But everyone said they had never known of so many cases when children and women were burnt. The delegation spoke to many women who had been injured and attacked while trying to save their children and husbands. Almost everyone the delegation spoke to expressed horror at the burning of children and women. As the testimonies included in this report show, the number of dead and the property burnt is far greater than estimated by the State Government. There are serious doubts about the compensation since even 10 days after the mass burnings, killings and looting there is little effort to record FIRs. Worse still, the terrible insecurity felt by the minority community makes a mockery of the concept of rehabilitation. Where would the homeless and the violated be rehabilitated? Today the displaced families believe they can never go back to the areas or the villages where they lived. It would require a fundamentally different political situation and Government which would guarantee that Muslims could live in peace and security.

According to Government estimates there are at present almost one lakh people in relief camps. As is shown in this report, the condition of the camps continues to be horrible. Trauma and grief pervades the camps. Yet students of Class 10 and 12 are expected to start giving their board exams on March 18. When the earthquake hit Gujarat in January last year, the Government correctly made allowances for students in affected areas and postponed the examinations for another two months. Yet there is no such sympathy today. This means that students whether Muslim or Hindu who live in affected areas along with those in the camps will be forced to miss at least one academic year or risk failure.

Yet through all the horror of Gujarat, there were also the voices of sanity and humanity. The delegation was moved by the tremendous work being done by relief workers of all communities. It also met scores of people young and old, men and women who expressed their horror and anger at the communal carnage and against the forces who planned for its occurrence. They all expressed their helplessness. There were huge mobs with the police standing by, how could we have come out against them they asked. We are against what happened, but what could we have done? Questions that haunt the human conscience. There were cases where neighbours had saved Muslims. In some areas like in Juhapura, some Hindu families have left out of fear but their property is undamaged. The Shah Alam camp organizers are also running a camp in a mandir where a group of Hindu families have come. These are examples that provide some hope.

The delegation has made this detailed report available so that a wider section of people become aware of what the implementation of Hindu rashtra costs the nation.

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