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Muslim villagers fleeing firebomb attack are electrocuted by murderous Hindus
By Peter Popham in Ahmedabad

The cement homes in the narrow cul-de-sac on the edge of the village stand open today, ready for their owners to return, to light a wood fire in the kitchen, turn on the small television on a shelf in the corner and bolt the door. But after what happened here early on Saturday morning, no one believes the Muslim labourers of Sadarpur will come back. 

The assault began soon after 2am. I was told that 10,000 people (likely to be an exaggeration), from surrounding Hindu-majority villages descended on Sadarpur and in little more than one hour slickly eviscerated this little community of about 140 Muslims.

Tree branches and lengths of concrete sewer piping were dragged across access roads to stop army and police reaching the village. When the thugs arrived they flooded the dead-end lane with water, then electrified the water with cables hooked up to the mains. They clambered on to the low roofs of the houses, smashed holes in them and hurled in petrol bombs and Calor gas cylinders that exploded inside, driving the residents out into the lane. There, many were electrocuted. Their bodies were dragged back into the houses to burn.

Others fled out of back windows into fields. Some got away, others were hunted down and incinerated. Some were sheltered in homes of sympathetic Hindus in the village, but the marauders tracked them down and butchered them. At least 28 men, women and children died. 

"Now it's not possible for Muslims to stay here," a Hindu living near by says flatly.

Fifty kilometres (30 miles) away, in the majority-Muslim village where the survivors have found shelter, one of them agrees. "We decided that we must leave that place," says MY Pathan, a teacher. "We left everything behind, we came with what we were wearing. And we don't want to go back, even to collect our belongings."

The Hindu-Muslim violence in the west Indian state of Gujarat has claimed almost 500 lives in the past five days, though senior police say privately the figure may exceed 1,000. The first 58 to die were Hindus, pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, incinerated in their train carriages. But in wave after wave of retribution that followed, almost all who died have been Muslims.

The violence spread yesterday to the country's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where Hindus and Muslims clashed. While arsonists continued to attack Muslim homes and businesses in Ahmedabad, the state's commercial capital, yesterday, Gujarat was struggling to come to terms with the fact that these new waves of murder and destruction have been different from anything the state has seen before. Across Gujarat, Hindu militants are seizing the opportunity to kick-start a programme of brutal communal cleansing.

Like many of last week's victims, the Muslim labourers of Sadarpur were extremely vulnerable: their simple homes are notably smaller and more primitive than those of the Hindus who surround them on three sides. But until last week, such exposure meant nothing. As well as a temple, the village has a sizeable mosque, and a higher-caste Muslim community living close to it.

Hindu-Muslim riots have broken out almost every year in Gujarat the fountainhead of Hindu nationalism but they have been confined to the big cities. With the killing of the Hindu pilgrims last Wednesday, a new era arrived. A Hindu hotel clerk in Ahmedabad said: "Now each and every Muslim is a target." There was rumour of trouble in Sadarpur on Friday evening. Mr Pathan says: "We were told some people will attack.So we called the police." An officer and five constables showed up, distributed bland assurances and went away again.

Far from being an outburst of communal frenzy, this was a surgical strike, carried out with military ruthlessness and discipline. All the bodies had been removed when The Independent visited the site, but evidence of the massacre was all around: the huge puddle in the lane, anomalous in this parched zone; a burnt-out jeep; bags hastily half-packed for flight; and in home after home, beds where victims had died, burnt out, nothing left but the charred frame and a stinking black spongy mess on the floor.

Yet there was no looting here. Televisions sit untouched. Shiny galvanised food dishes are still neatly aligned on sideboards. The murder of 28 people in Sadarpur one survivor claims the true figure is 55 followed precise instructions.

In Sawala, where 20 survivors from Sadarpur have taken refuge, I spoke to GM Bahelim, a teacher. about the Muslims' future. Hindus from surrounding villages have destroyed crops in Sawala, stolen buffalo and vandalised wells, but only two men have died. Mr Bahelim is bleak. "India is our country, our motherland. But the BJP [the Hindu nationalists who rule both in Gujarat and, in a coalition, at the centre] want the Muslims of India to go to Pakistan. They don't want to give us any protection. They are saying, 'If you want to live in India, become our serfs'."

Source: The Independent, London,
4 March 2002

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