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Citizens' Tribunal indicts Gujarat government for genocide

New Delhi, November 22: In the worst-ever indictment of the Gujarat government, the eight-member Concerned Citizens Tribunal, headed by retired Supreme Court of India judge, Justice VR Krishna Iyer, has held the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the western Indian state responsible for the genocide perpetrated against Muslims earlier this year. The tribunal included retired judges, senior advocates, academicians, and distinguished human rights campaigners.

The tribunal report released here Friday, November 22, indicted the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, a number of his ministers, chief secretary of the state and the director general of police as well as many leaders from Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP-World Hindu Council) and its militia, the Bajrang Dal, for the genocide. The VHP and Bajrang Dal are sister organisations of BJP and are all part of the RSS family.

The 600-page report, "Crime Against Humanity", is in two volumes, the third is to come in near future. Releasing the report at the Press Club in Delhi, Justice PB Sawant, deputy chairman of the tribunal said, “Aftermath of Godhra (where on February 27 this year, a rail car was set ablaze killing 58 passengers) was not a simple communal riot but a state-sponsored, well-scripted and directed genocide.” The genocide had begun within hours of the arson attack.

Talking of the state's complicity in the violence, the report, released on Thursday, said: "The post-Godhra carnage in Gujarat was an organised crime perpetrated by the chief minister and his government." The report is expected to be submitted to President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam shortly.

The report has not spared anybody. The media, the secular outfits or the Central government. But it specially mentions Modi in the chapter on 'state complicity'. He is described as "the chief author and architect of all that happened in Gujarat after February 27". The report has also accused him of refusing relief and rehabilitation to the victims.

The report said that cadres of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal were trained to target Muslims "and the Godhra incident provided an opportunity". "The uniform pattern of violence in Gujarat, the day after the Godhra incident, showed that the killings were pre-planned," it said.

The report mentions the shifting of the bodies of the Godhra victims to Ahmedabad the same night, Modi's conclusion the same day that the attack on the train was pre-planned by the ISI and the bandh call given by the VHP and supported by the BJP the next day as "evidence of a well thought-out scheme to extract maximum political capital out of Godhra".

The tribunal said what happened in Gujarat was a "genocide and not a communal riot as generally perceived". "In communal riot, communities are at war with each other while in this case, 94 per cent of those killed were Muslims" 

"The centre must bring in a new legislation to implement the Genocide Convention which India has signed and ratified to punish all those participating in the planning and execution of murder, destruction and rape during communal carnages" the report said. 

Charging the police and bureaucrats with "criminal deriliction of duty during the violence", the tribunal asked the Government to adopt "stringent and extensive measures to de-politicise and de-communalise" these sections.

The voluminous report was prepared after recording evidences from more than 16 districts of Gujarat during field visits. The tribunal recorded 2,094 statements, written and oral in Gujarat, including over 1,500 testimonies of eye-witnesses, victims and survivors of the violence. The tribunal has also taken into account written evidence collected by others and placed before it.

According to the report, “The trained mob led by the BJP and VHP leaders used gas cylinders to explode houses, hotels and business establishments of Muslims.” The report goes on to say, “The bandh [strike] call for February 28 and March 1, given by the VHP and supported by the BJP and state government, made possible exactly what [chief minister] Modi and the BJP, VHP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal leadership wanted to happen after the Godhra incident.”

Justice Sawant pointed out, “Only coach S-6 was burnt, that too from inside and not from outside as Modi and Sangh leaders stated hundreds of times to justify the aftermath of Godhra.” 

Criticising the state government for its connivance in the genocide, Justice Sawant said, “The distinct and similar pattern to the violence point that it was a state-sponsored and engineered crime.”

Echoing him Justice Hosbet Suresh, member of the tribunal and a retired judge of Mumbai High Court, said, “Modi government failed completely on both the fronts ? in anticipating the Godhra incident and controlling the large-scale violence which stretched for more than three months.”

He added, “Modi’s support to the statewide bandh [strike] called by VHP was completely unconstitutional and the Centre should have interfered into the matter.”

The tribunal report said senior ministers from Modi's cabinet met hours after the train attack and drafted plans handed out to BJP leaders and far-right Hindu groups "on the method and manner in which the 72-hour-long carnage that followed would be carried out."

"We have collected enough evidence in our report on the basis of which charges of conspiracy can be framed from Narendra Modi downwards," said a panel member, Public Union of Civil Liberties president and senior advocate K.G. Kannabiran.

Addressing the press, KG Kannabiran said, “The riots against Sikhs in 1984 and the latest genocide of Gujarat in which Muslims were targeted indicate that minorities are unsafe in this country.” He further said, “Without secularism no democracy is possible in a plural society like ours.”

Advocate KG Kannabiran told reporters: "The report is comprehensive enough for any Central agency to file charge-sheets against everybody, from Narendra Modi downwards."

The report mentions many horrible incidents, in one of which a six-year-old child, Irfan of Naroda-Patia, asked for water, his assailants made him forcibly drink kerosene, or some other inflammable liquid, before a lit match was thrown inside his gullet to make him explode.

Justice Sawant informed the press that despite serving two notices to Modi government to testify before the tribunal none turned up.

According to the report, across Gujarat, over 1100 Muslim-owned hotels, more than 100,000 family homes, over 15,000 small and big business establishments of Muslims were badly damaged or completely destroyed in the attacks.

The report says, “The leaders from BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS leading the mobs running into thousands, often carried computer printouts mentioning names and addresses of Muslims. ? Formation of arson battalions, distribution of swords, trishuls [tridents], guns and other weapons and explosives in advance across large tracts of the state was clear indication of planned violence.” 

Besides, the report mentions names of many BJP leaders of Gujarat who led mobs ? Minister for Revenue Haren Pandya, Health Minister Ashok Bhat, senior state BJP leaders Bharat Barot and Maya Kotdani, a woman MLA from BJP.

The Tribunal report makes a series of short- and long-term recommendations. It has asked the government to implement all the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission and prosecute all, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. 

Other major recommendations are:

* Ban VHP and the Bajrang Dal under the relevant provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

* Prohibit the distribution of trishuls [tridents] and swords since attempts are being made to arm a section of Indian society to unleash violence against other sections.

* Gujarat government should crackdown on arms camps being conducted by the RSS, VHP and Bjarang Dal.

* Immediate detention and prosecution of Praveen Togadia and Ashok Singhal.

* A legal framework should be developed to institutionalise the rights of the victims of wanton violence to compensation and restitution from the state. Also, a legal framework should be developed to promote the rights of victims of violence and underdevelopment.

* Central government should amend electoral laws so as to disallow parties that espouse a particular religion.

* Centre should also bring in legislation to implement the Genocide Convention, which India has signed and ratified.

* A standing National Crimes Tribunal be established. It should be an independent body, the personnel of which should be selected by a committee consisting of the Chief Justice of India, the Prime Minister of India and the leader of the opposition. 

The indictment by the Citizens Tribunal comes in the wake of similar indictments by the National Human Rights Commission and the chief election commissioner of India.

(Nov. 22, 2002)
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