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Godhra: parallels with Mumbai, Coimbatore 

How business centres where Muslims too have large business interests were chosen by the rioters in all these cities and subjected them to communal propaganda over a period of time, analyses MH Lakdawala

In many important respects, events in Gujarat post Godhra Sabarmati Express episode, followed, the pattern of events in Mumbai in 1992-93 and events in Coimbatore in 1997-98. In all three cases industrial cities having substantial Muslim business interest were chosen, all were subjected to communal propaganda over a period of time. (Hindu fundamentalist organisations carried on this process of communalisation on a more sustained basis.) In all three events, incidents that were well within the competence of the police and civil administration to control (that is, tension following the death of two head-load workers and the arson in Radhabai Chawl in January 1993 in Mumbai and the killing of constable Selvaraj in Coimbatore in November 1997) and now burning of Sabarmati express in Godhra.In all these cases isolated incidents were used as a pretext for large-scale and savage attacks on the Muslim masses of the cities. In all three cases, large sections of the police force were communalised and colluded with Hindu communalists in the attacks on Muslims.

After midnight on January 7, 1993, homes of Hindu families, which lived in what is now Sadbhavana Bhavan, were set on fire. One man and five women lost their lives.Few riot incidents attracted as much attention as did the Radhabai Chawl case. Within hours of its occurrence, news had reached every part of the country.

The killings became Hindutva's pretext to begin a Mumbai version of Kristallnacht (the 'Night of Crystal', the night of violence against Jewish persons and property carried out by the Nazis on November 9-10, 1938 - so called in irony from the litter of broken glass left in its aftermath). Over the next 12 days, Shiv Sena workers, armed not only with swords and knives but lists of voters and shop owners' names, and with the collusion of many members of Mumbai's police force, executed a programme of terrible communal violence.8 years on, the history has been repeated this time in Godra Gujarat.

As in Mumbai in 1992-93, the primary victims of the communal violence of November 1997 in Coimbatore - in terms of lives lost, people injured in attacks by the police and communal rioters and property looted and destroyed - were the city's Muslims. To read the report by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), which focuses on the anti-Muslim aspect of the communal violence in Coimbatore between November 29 and December 1, 1997, is to relive, in part and on a smaller scale, the horrors of Mumbai in 1992-93. The report describes in detail the "shooting spree" that took place on November 30, in which 17 Muslims were killed and more than 100 injured. It describes also the different ways in which individual Muslims, caught by a mob, were singled out for killing. In Mumbai in 1992-93 as well, riot victims died in terrible ways: they were victims of police bullets, of beatings, of attacks with knives, choppers, acid and jagged pieces of broken glass. Many were killed and then burnt, their corpses rendered unrecognisable.

The report describes the looting and arson that occurred as having been "systematic, pre-planned and abetted". Muslim shops and homes and the makeshift establishments of Muslim pavement vendors were destroyed and people were encouraged to loot and burn. According to the report, the execution of the campaign of arson and loot was, "to a large extent, clinically precise". When two Muslim-owned shops were separated by a Hindu-owned shop, the Hindu-owned shop "remained unscathed". Compare this with Frontline's report on Mumbai in 1993: "A prominent feature of the riots was that gangs... worked to a plan, systematically identifying Muslim homes, shops and establishments, and destroying them." (Frontline, February 12, 1993).In Coimbatore and Mumbai, Muslims were attacked in public hospitals. (In Coimbatore, the premises of a hospital were also the location of a terrorist bomb explosion on February 14.) In Coimbatore, the PUCL reports, the Hindu Munnani asked Hindus to buy goods only from Hindu-owned shops; in Mumbai on January 20, 1993, bulletin boards that asked people not to give customers to "anti-national" (read Muslim) establishments or commercial vehicles appeared in different parts of the city. Continued

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