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Citizens' Tribunal unearths
damning evidence on Gujarat riots 

Victim of the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat visit their burnt houses in Ahmedabad to salvage belonging and assess damage under police protection

New Delhi, May 15: The Concerned Citizens' Tribunal (CCT) has unearthed inside information on how the Bajrang Dal and VHP (World Hindu Council) targeted Muslims in Gujarat state. The information says that preparations went on for at least six months before the Godhra train tragedy was seized upon to unleash the terror. Another report by Indian human rights organisations has said that the Gujarat pogroms "were not the breakdown of law and order alone but that of the Indian state and human civilisation itself."

The CCT is investigating the pogroms as a private initiative amid fears that the official commission of enquiry headed by a pliant former judge will gloss over the basic issues. Such private tribunals have functioned earlier in India in similar cases like the Mumabi riots of 1992 and 1993. These 'tribunals' judiciously follow the legal norms albeit they lack official stamp.

Speaking to reporters in Ahmedabad yesterday, members of the tribunal, comprising retired judges of the Supreme and high courts and eminent social activists, said that former Bajrang Dal activists have deposed before them giving details of the modus operandi and the planning that went behind the riots.

"Some former Bajrang Dal insiders have given us information on how the riots were planned," said justice (retd) PB Sawant, a former Supreme Court judge. "According to them, preparations of these riots were made at least six to eight months in advance."

"Some former Bajrang Dal insiders have given us information on how the riots were planned," said justice (retd) PB Sawant, a former Supreme Court judge. "According to them, preparations of these riots were made at least six to eight months in advance."

The tribunal said in an official release: "Evidence has been received accusing the VHP and Bajrang Dal of recruiting volunteers, training them in the use of arms and ammunition, collecting information about houses, shops and other business establishments of the minority community and effectively using them in the violence."

The judges, however, refused to draw any conclusions at this stage as they have just completed recording evidence and testimonies. Their analysis and conclusions will appear first in their interim report followed by a final report which is expected by August 15. They will send a tentative report to the state government for its reaction on their findings after which the final report will be prepared. "If the government does not respond, we will take it that they have nothing to say," they said.

Although the state government is not legally bound to respond to the findings, the CCT assumes importance as it has legal luminaries like Justice (retd) VR Krishna Iyer, internationally known for his struggle for human rights in India. Other members include former Mumbai High Court judge Justice Hosbet Suresh, People's Union for Civil Liberties president KG Kannabiran, Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Ghanshyam Shah, historian Tarika Sarkar and Aruna Roy, a retired top bureaucrat.

The tribunal's case has also been strengthened by depositions of senior police and administration officers of the Gujarat government, whose identities have been concealed. They are believed to have corroborated much of the evidence that has been collected by the tribunal from other sources. More than 1,500 persons from a cross-section of society have deposed before the tribunal during its month-long functioning in Gujarat.

Reserving their observations for the final report, the CCT did give some insight into what to expect once the report is ready. Justice Suresh and justice Sawant said they believe at least 250 women were raped and murdered in the initial days of violence. The CCT held special hearings for women at Vadodara and recorded evidence of police brutality against them.

Against the 900-plus official death toll of the state government, the tribunal members believe the number is more than 2,000. Of these, 500 are still missing with their bodies yet to be recovered. Independent local and foreign human rights groups have arrived at a similar figure.

In a related development, a fact-finding team of Indian human rights organisations from the states of Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh has said in its interim report that "Gujarat events were not the breakdown of law and order alone but that of the Indian state and human civilisation itself." 

A panel of 14 activists visited a number of affected cities in Gujarat as well as most of the relief camps in the state. The visit ended last Sunday. The panel members hailed from Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties committee (APCLC), Associations for Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal (APDR), Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai (CPDR), Human Rights Forum, Andhra Pradesh (HRF) and Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana, Maharashtra (LHS).

In a signed joint statement the panel said that 'the events in Gujarat clearly show that the Indian state, legislature, executive and judiciary abdicated their constitutional and civilisational obligations, and the Indian state stood a silent spectator as the very values of human civilisation, cultivated over a millennium were assaulted'.

It concentrated on the victims' relief and rehabilitation, the response of the judiciary and police investigation. It severely criticised the government for its constant pressure on the Muslims that it would disband the camps and send refugees back to their burnt houses. The team also deplored that members of the RSS and allied Hindu extremist outfits were not detained though they were named in the complaints lodged by the victims. "Till today they are freely roaming around, sometimes in police vehicles," the team noted.

The team demanded among other things not to close down the relief camps or reduce the number of inmates, arrest of all those named in the complaints and protection from land grabbers and safety of the house-sites of the displaced persons, whether in rural or urban areas.

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