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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

Continued from

Very next day BBC carry report: Violence gripped Ahmedabad and other cities in Gujarat state as Hindu mobs took revenge on Muslims for an attack on a train on Wednesday which killed 58 people, mostly Hindu activists. There are widespread fears that the attack on the train could prompt a repeat of the nationwide communal violence that followed the destruction of the mosque.

"There is a fire inside us. Our blood is boiling," said Mangal Behn, a Hindu resident of Ahmedabad. Thick plumes of smoke rose above the city as Muslim-owned shops went up in flames. Eyewitnesses said that outnumbered police officers stood by, doing little to stop the crowds of rioters, who showed little sign of dispersing despite the curfew order. In towns across Gujarat, Muslim shops, offices and mosques were attacked in reprisals

Faced with a public outcry at the Radhabai Chawl incident, the police made the first arrests within six days. Six Muslims, including a woman, alleged to be the instigator, were arrested under TADA. Over the next eight months, 11 more were picked up. In October 1996, TADA judge S M Deshmukh sentenced 11 persons to life imprisonment for the crime. The woman was acquitted.

However, in April 1998, Justices G B Patnaik and G N Ray of the Supreme Court acquitted all 11, castigating the police for callousness and a cavalier investigation and noting regretfully that the trial judge had been "swayed away to record conviction without any legally admissible trustworthy evidence''.

The callousness arose from the manner in which the police "picked up indiscriminately people from one community as they were residing in the locality and booked them.'' They then tried to somehow get them identified through witnesses belonging to the victims' community. Terming all six witnesses as "totally unreliable'', the judges said that the "evidence consisted only of chaff'. Jogeshwari is still rife with rumours that the chawl murders were not communal, and were instead engineered by a building mafia, which wished to drive slum residents off their living space.

The Srikrishna Commission has concluded that the Radhabal Chawl incident was similarly exploited. He gives a day-by-day break up to show that 'gruesome" incidents took place between the first and second phase of the riots, in which Muslims were victims."While the occurrence is undoubtedly a ghastly one and exhibits the brutality with which the members of one community attacked the members of another community at a point of time when people had been deprived of their sense of judgment and decency and when people behaved like animals, still more painful is the manner in which the prosecuting agency picked up indiscriminately people from one community as they were residing in the locality and booted them under different sections of the Penal Code and TADA. - Justice G.N. Ray and Justice G.B. Pattanaik in Mohd. Iqbal M. Shaikh and others v/s State of Maharashtra (1998) 4 SCC 494 (Radhabai Chawl case where six Hindus were burnt alive), setting aside the TADA court's conviction of six persons..

A feature of the communalisation of Indian politics has been the increasing communalisation of sections of the police in different parts of the country. The press and the judiciary have noted this; so too, of course, have the minorities, who are the main victims of such communalisation. During the first phase of the communal violence of 1992-93 in Mumbai, the police were in direct confrontation with Muslims protesting against the destruction of the Babri Masjid. In the second phase, the police stood widely accused of collusion with Hindutva rioters - of direct collusion, of failing to take action against Hindu rioters and of failing utterly to protect the victims of violence. Perhaps the most striking feature of the PUCL report on Coimbatore is its description of the part played by sections of the police force in anti-Muslim violence. Police persons have been accused of abetting violence and, in some cases, of instigating it; the report also brings out the consistent failure of the police in Coimbatore to differentiate between hard-core Muslim fundamentalists and criminals and the broad mass of innocent Muslims in the city.In 1993, responding to the bomb blasts in Mumbai, a Frontline editorial said: "The ugly truth is that communalism begets communalism; majority and minority communalism and fundamentalism feed on each other; there is a challenge and a response; and the politics of revenge and reprisals and competitive savagery take over." That observation is as true of Coimbatore in 1998 as it was of Mumbai in 1993 and now in Gujarat.

Immediately after the Godhra event BBC reports that, police say they have arrested 21 Muslim men in connection with the attack and have detained a further 30 for questioning.So much for the police efficiency or its bias against Muslims?

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