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Riots continue in Gujarat, Army deployed as over 250 people killed and dozens burnt alive
By Zafarul-Islam Khan
New Delhi, March 1: It was only after a total collapse of the law and order machinery in Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat, and murder of over 250 people, mostly Muslims, that the authorities called in the army to restore order. But the army has been deployed in only four cities out of 36 cities in the state which are under curfew while extremist Hindus are still on the rampage to 'avenge' for the alleged involvement of 'Muslims' in the train incident on Wedenesday in which Temple volunteers were attacked by people of the washermen community after the volunteers misbehaved with their women.
VHP activists at
Union Defence Minister George Fernandes, who has rushed to Ahmedabad, met senior police and administration officials. He reportedly told the state government in no uncertain terms that the central government was viewing the events in Gujarat very seriously. Army has received shoot-at-sight orders against the violators of curfew.
As violence continued unabated on Friday ten more towns have been placed under curfew, which brings the total towns under curfew to 36 in Gujarat. Fresh communal violence in Ahmedabad and its outskirts early Friday claimed 30 more lives, including 27 burnt alive while asleep.
Despite the presence of the Army on the streets of Ahmedabad, which has borne the brunt of unprecedented violence, mobs are still out on the streets. In addition to the human casualties, over a dozen mosques have been damaged or demolished during the disturbances.
Some of the worst violence occurred in Naroda-Patia area of Ahmedabad where in one single act of carnage, a mob of around 5,000 persons killed nearly 65 Muslims in one stroke. The victims included a 20-day-old baby.
"There was a huge mob of around 5000 people who stormed our house and pulled me and my parents out. They doused us with petrol and set us ablaze...my parents are dead and see what they have done to me”, cried 15-year-old Shah Jahan, a resident of Noorani Masjid area in Naroda-Patia, pointing to her face that looked like a horror-mask dripping with blood. Victims said that they were targeted first on Thursday afternoon by a mob that torched the entire locality within minutes. At least 58 dead bodies had been recovered yesterday and scores admitted in the Civil Hospital with serious burn injuries.
Mohammad Farooq, a painter, has lost his three children and wife to the mob frenzy. He is left with three children, all admitted to hospital with serious burn injuries. "They burnt down everything. My wife is gone...I do not know whether these motherless children will be able to live or not...In one stroke, they wiped out all that I had," sobbed Farooq as he nursed his three children — Hamid (10), Ayesh (11) and Qamar (12) — all suffering from 50 to 70 per cent burns. Most of the victims in the Naroda-Patia area are women and children, many of whom are struggling for life alone in the hospitals. Their relatives are either dead or injured themselves.
There are reports of fierce attacks by mobs in other cities like Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Deesa, Palanpur, Khedbrahma, Bharuch, Nadiad, Viramgam, Mandal, Idar, Dholka, Kalol, Bhiloda, Visnagar and many other smaller towns of Gujarat. So widespread was the violence that police in smaller towns didn’t have the required force or the fire brigade to control the damage and enforce curfew strictly.
An official of Ahmedabad, who was worried at the flare-up in Viramgam and Mandal areas, said: “We can’t do anything. There is no police force out there.” VHP activists seemed quite emboldened by the backing that they got from the state BJP and did not hesitate to even burn the offices of the Waqf Board and Minority Finance Corporation located in the Old Secretariat in Gandhinagar. Despite the attack on such a high-security area, there was no attempt by the police to contain the damage.
As some senior ministers of his government encouraged violence, Gujarat chief Minister Narendra Modi said that “Fifty million people of Gujarat have been stunned and shocked due to the barbaric act committed by the terrorists in Godhra and obviously peace-loving people have been hurt…By and large people have observed restraint as the authorities have been forced to impose curfew only in 27 towns out of 200 towns of the state”!
Mr Modi had no words to condemn the violence of his own supporters but those who committed the Wednesday violence are terrorists in his view and they will be detained under the anti-terrorism law
One of the worst incidents of violence took place in Ahmadabad's Gulbarg Society in Chamanpura on Thursday when close to 50 persons were burnt alive. The victims included a former member of Parliament, Mr Ahsan Jafery who kept phoning the police and the administration for six long hours seeking help against a mob which had encircled his compound but no help arrived. The death toll, said senior police officials, could go higher. Jafery was pulled out of his house in Gulbarg Society and set on fire. Five family members of Jafrey, who were staying in the same locality, are also believed to have been lynched.
In another heart-rending incident a mob of 200 criminals caught hold of six Muslims on the highway near Dehrol railway station in Gujarat. They doused them in kerosene and burnt them alive. Of the victims, four were women.
Both houses of Parliament were adjourned today without transacting any business following uproarious scenes over Gujarat killings, with the Opposition accusing the Government of failing to control the communal flare up. Even before Lok Sabha [lower house] was called to order, opposition members shouted anti-government slogans and demanded resignation of the Government. The scene was no different in the Rajya Sabha [upper house] which was also adjourned after uproarious scenes about the violence in Gujarat under the protection of the state BJP-government. "Sarkar hatao, desh bachao; Advani ko POTO mein band karo" (Remove the Government, save the country. Lock up Advani under POTO), shouted opposition members. Members prevented Home Minister LK Advani from making his statement.
In Delhi this morning Opposition leaders led by Sonia Gandhi marched from Parliament to the Presidential Palace where they met President Narayanan to lodge their protest against the killings in Gujarat and sought the dismissal of the Gujarat government. The delegation asked the President to deploy Army in
As if the carnage in Gujarat was not enough, the VHP called for a nationwide strike today which was partially successful in some states like Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Stray cases of violence have been reported from some other places as well but there is no report of any fatality. 'Religious places' (read: mosques) have been targeted by the criminals including five in the northern states of Haryana and Punjab. These religious places have been partially demolished and one was set on fire by a mob in Kaithal in Haryana. Another religious structure was partially damaged in Kapurthala in Punjab.
In the southern city of Hyderabad three persons are reported to have been injured in police firing as a frenzied mob ransacked the Bhavaninagar police station in the Old City of Hyderabad on Friday in protest against the mob violence in Gujarat. Five or six rounds were fired in the air but reportedly three persons sustained bullet injuries in the firing. Trouble began in the Muslim-dominated Old City of Hyderabad soon after the Friday prayers at the Mecca
While the moribund National Commission for Minorities showed no movement, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken serious note of "escalating communal violence" in Gujarat and reports of "inactions of police and the highest functionaries". The NHRC today issued notice to the state government of Gujarat and its director general of police asking them to submit a report within three days on the incidents and the measures taken to contain them.
An all-party meeting was held this evening in Delhi at the invitation of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who told the meeting that the Government would firmly and effectively deal with the situation arising out of disturbances in Gujarat. A joint appeal by leaders of major political parties has been issued to all the communities to maintain peace and communal harmony. "We urge them (people) to isolate perpetrators of violence and defeat their sinister designs. It is our collective responsibility to promote brotherhood and national unity at all costs," the appeal said.
The United States, on the other hand, has expressed concern over the recent outbreak of communal violence in India. "The US condemns the attacks on innocent civilians and the senseless violence that resulted in the deaths of so many innocent people," State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said yesterday.
Meanwhile in a hard-hitting article in the Times of India today well-known commentator Siddharth Varadarajan said that the wave of murders and arson attacks against Muslims and their businesses in Gujarat is "a slap on the face of Prime Minister Vajpayee, whose grossly understated appeal for calm after Wednesday’s dastardly attack on train passengers in Godhra has clearly not been heeded by the Gujarat government." While the official inquiry will establish the extent to which the attack on the Sabarmati Express was premeditated, "there can be no doubt about the planned nature of the violence directed against Gujarat’s Muslims on Thursday. Property worth tens of millions was burned down by well-organised gangs, which went about their business in the knowledge that the police would do nothing," he added.