"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."
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
"It was not preplanned," Nanavati said. "It was a sudden,
The confrontation illustrates the volatile mixture of religion, history
and extremist politics that plague India, a Hindu-dominated but officially
secular nation of 1 billion people. In 1947, when India achieved
independence and was partitioned to create the Muslim nation of Pakistan,
thousands of Hindus fleeing Pakistan settled in Godhra. Enraged that
Muslims in Pakistan had evicted them, they vented their anger at Godhra's
Muslims, burning their homes and businesses with truckloads of gasoline.
Since then, government officials have deemed the city one of the country's
most "communally sensitive" places. In the 1980s and again in
1992, it was wracked by riots, some started by Muslims and others by
Today, the population of 150,000 is almost evenly split between Hindus and
Muslims, who live in segregated communities separated in places by the
train tracks. There is little interaction between the groups, which regard
each other with suspicion.
Hindus, who question the depth of the Muslims' loyalty to India, refer to
the other side of town as Pakistan. The Muslims contend they are
mistreated by the local Hindu-dominated government.
Enter the World Hindu Council(VHP), whose cadres want to transform India
into a Hindu nation with limited minority rights. The group, part of a
coalition of Hindu-nationalist organizations that includes the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party, favors a confrontational approach to push its
At council rallies, members brandish tridents and swords – symbols from
Hindu mythology – and shout Hindu slogans. And in 1992, the group led a
mob of Hindus who destroyed a 16th-century mosque in the eastern town of
Ayodhya. Since then, the council's followers have made pilgrimages to
Ayodhya, where they hope to build a temple to Ram on the site of the razed
Activists from Gujarat state, where the Hindu council has a strong base,
often made the trip on the Sabarmati Express. Along the way, witnesses
say, they frequently would scream out "Victory to Lord Ram" and
"Victory to Hindus" as the train passed through Muslim
"There was a history of provocation," said Syed Umarji, a wood
trader who lives in a Muslim neighborhood near the tracks here. "They
would say these things all the time."
On the train that left Ayodhya on Feb. 25, members of the Hindu council
were particularly boisterous because of a government order that they
vacate the Ayodhya grounds. Muslims who were on the same train say the
activists walked through the cars shouting taunts such as "Wipe out
"The train was full of them," said Fateh Mohammad, a Muslim
passenger who was traveling with his daughter and son-in-law. "They
were shouting and dancing all the time. All the Muslims were very
Savita Darbar, a member of the Hindu council who was on the train,
insisted that her group was not confrontational. "We were just
singing prayer songs to Lord Ram," she said. "We did not bother
As the train came to a stop in Godhra, however, all the elements were in
place for a fight.
The train was five hours late, largely because the activists' behavior had
forced the conductor to make several emergency stops. Instead of arriving
quietly in the middle of the night, the Sabarmati arrived at 7:43 a.m.,
just as word of the group's behavior had trickled in from vendors at other
The vendors in Godhra were resolved not to be victimized. The Hindu
council members, too, were ready for action: Rocks collected from near the
tracks were piled near the doors of their cars.
When the Hindus refused to pay for their tea and snacks, several young
Muslims jumped on the train as it started to leave the station and pulled
the emergency brake chain. With a piercing squeal, the Sabarmati ground to
a halt a half-mile from the station, in the middle of a Muslim
neighborhood. An argument ensued, drawing hundreds of residents.
Police and railway officials said they do not know who began throwing
stones first. But the officials said they believe that after about 10
minutes, one or more Muslims poured a flammable substance on a mattress
and ignited it between the S-5 and S-6 cars.
A few minutes later, a fire broke out at the other end of the S-5. Within
moments, the car was engulfed by flames.
Police officials said they are not sure how that second fire began.
Nanavati said the Muslims could have set another fire, or the Hindus,
trying to respond in kind, might have accidentally sparked a blaze in
their own car, which was filled with kerosene and cooking gas. "It
could have been an accident," Nanavati said.
Thus far, the railway police have arrested only Muslims – 41 of them –
in connection with the fire, a fact that galls Muslim leaders here.
"They should arrest the Hindus, too," said Shoail Sadamas, an
accounting student who witnessed the incident. "They were not
Special correspondent Rama Lakshmi
contributed to this report.
This is the full version of the report in the Washington Post, 5 March
2002. Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
wp-dyn/ articles/ A44252-2002Mar5.html