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What really happened at Godhra
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Provocation helped set India train fire. Official faults Hindu actions, Muslim reactions for incident that led to carnage  


"Both sides were at fault," said a police official here, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The provocation was there and the reaction was strong. But no one had imagined all this would turn into such a big tragedy." B.K. Nanavati, the deputy police superintendent in Godhra, said the investigation does not support the contention by Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, that the assault on the train was a "terrorist attack."

  GODHRA, India, March 5 For two days, as the Sabarmati Express snaked across northern India, some Hindu activists in cars S-5 and S-6 carried on like hooligans. They exposed themselves to other passengers. They pulled headscarves off Muslim women. They evicted a family of four in the middle of the night for refusing to join in chants glorifying the Hindu god Ram. They failed to pay for the tea and snacks they consumed at each stop.

When the train pulled into this hardscrabble town in western India on the morning of Feb. 27, the reputation of its rowdiest passengers preceded it. When they refused to pay for their food, Muslim boys among the vendors at Godhra station stormed the train.

When the confrontation was over, 58 Hindu passengers mostly women and children were dead, incinerated by a fire that consumed cars S-5 and S-6. In retaliation, mobs of enraged Hindus descended on Muslim communities across Gujarat state, igniting riots that killed more than 500 people, India's worst religious violence in a decade.

Indian officials have characterized the riots as Hindu rage for an attack on innocent activists. However, interviews with passengers on the train, witnesses to the incident and police and railway officials suggest that the train fire was not a premeditated ambush by young Muslims, but rather a spontaneous argument, provoked by the Hindu activists, that went out of control.

"Both sides were at fault," said a police official here, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The provocation was there and the reaction was strong. But no one had imagined all this would turn into such a big tragedy." Continued


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