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Violence unabated in Gujarat, PM says 'nation disgraced'

Mob burn shops in Ahmadabad 

New Delhi, March 2: Even as violence subsided to some extent in Ahmedabad due to the army deployment, it continued unabated in other parts of the western Indian state of Gujarat. Previously unaffected regions, especially rural areas, are now engulfed in the riots which enjoy tacit government and police support. 

Violence has erupted in Surat, a large textile city in the state. For the first time since its becoming the capital of Gujarat in 1972 Gandhinagar has been placed under curfew following incidents of loot and arson. 

Stray incidents of rioting and arson were reported from several parts of Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar and Surat today. Curfew was partially lifted today from two areas of Ahmedabad following improvement in the situation in some areas.

Surat had remained largely quiet over the last three days but mobs were out on the streets Saturday. Mobs were pitted against each other in some of areas of the city. In Ahmedabad itself mobs were still out on the streets in Odhav, Vejalpur, Juhapura and were not allowing the firemen to approach the sites which were in flames. Shops were still being targetted in these areas, despite army deployment in the city. The army has not been given free hand and reportedly the local administration is not cooperating with the army. Deployment, in any case, is thin and as soon army convoys move out of an area hoodlums come out looking for their prey.

Rioters in Shahapur Throughout the night people maintained vigil in their neighbourhoods, carrying sticks and iron rods, as rumours about mobs on the prowl added to their restlessness.

A delegation of Opposition MPs returned to Delhi from Ahmedabad Saturday. It charged the Gujarat government of 'deliberately not taking action and colluding with the arsonists and rioters.' The delegation had gone to Ahmedabad on Friday night but had to return to New Delhi next morning after being denied permission to visit riot-affected areas.

Until this evening the death toll in the state is said to have touched 375, but it could be much higher as reports reaching us from the area indicate. This afternoon at least seven dead bodies were brought into the SSG hospital in Vadodara. Eleven people were killed in Sabarkantha district in massive rioting in the Chapariya locality of the district headquarters at Himmatnagar Friday evening. Nine people succumbed to stabbing while two fell prey to police bullets during clashes.

This morning police confirmed the death of 27 persons in Sardarpura village in Mehsana district in an incident which took place Friday night. The situation was still tense in the district and fresh trouble was reported today. Police officials said two more persons had been killed in Ladol town near Sardarpura on Saturday. Three persons have died in Bhavnagar where rioting began around 6 pm on Friday.

More details have come now about the ghastly incident in which about 65 persons were burnt alive in Naroda-Patia on Thursday by a mob of around 5000 people. "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've done to me," cried 15-year-old Shah Jahan, a resident of Noorani Masjid area, pointing to her face that looked like a horror mask dripping with blood.

A mixed population of Hindus and Muslims in Naroda-Patia area with the minority community numbering 1,000 people lived in a slum facing a state transport workshop. Victims said they were targeted first on Thursday afternoon by a mob that torched the entire locality within minutes. So far, at least 58 bodies have been recovered and scores admitted to the Civil Hospital with serious burn injuries. Most of the victims in the Naroda-Patia area were women and children. Many of the 50-odd who have survived are struggling for life alone in hospitals. Their relatives are either dead or injured themselves.

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 burns. "They burnt down everything. My wife is gone. I don't know whether these motherless children will be able to live or not. In one stroke, they wiped out all that I had," sobbed Farooq at the Civil Hospital as he nursed his three children - Hamid (10), Ayesh (11) and Qamar (12) - all having between 50 and 70 per cent burns.

Tell-tale signs of the devastation were evident at every nook and corner in the area which is still up in flames according to reports coming from Ahmedabad. Naroda Road, Memco crossroads, Nutan Mills, Bapunagar, Saraspur, Saijpur Bogha areas bore the burnt of rioters who gutted everything that came their way. Burnt remains of trucks, rickshaws, petrol tankers, gutted shops, residential localities are aplenty on Naroda Road. In Noorni Masjid area a platoon of SRP men awaits you, while the area surrounding them is littered with burnt trucks, houses, tyres and two-wheelers.

Unconcerned about the police presence and curfew restrictions, large hordes of people were seen roaming freely on Naroda Road and major thoroughfare. Restive youths were seen brandishing swords, daggers, rods in Memco road area. "The cowards have gone into hiding. They will dare not venture this side again," echoed the mob breaking into a thundering 'Jai Shri Ram'.

If Gulbarg society in Chamanpura's massacre was the worst of Thursday's events, then the focus shifted to Bapunagar in eastern Ahmedabad on Friday. A free for all, fight to finish ensued in Bapunagar since afternoon and bloodbath continued even after Army marched late in the evening. Rocket launchers, automatic firearms and bombs were used abundantly to deadly effect at Bapunagar as members of rival communities clashed.

In another violent act, at least 30 people were burnt alive at Pandarvada village in Khanpur taluka of Godhra district Friday afternoon when the whole village was set on fire by a group of miscreants. The incident took place about 50 kms from Godhra where the attack on Sabarmati Express took place on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Prime Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said Saturday that the violence in Gujarat was a "disgrace to the nation" and appealed for calm and communal harmony.
"This is a disgrace to the whole nation," Vajpayee said in a broadcast on the official TV, Doordarshan. "I am telling my countrymen that whatever the provocation, please keep calm," Vajpayee said. He failed to say that it was not a disgrace for the country but for his regime and his political party, the BJP, which found in the train incident a godsend opportunity to stoke communal fires, especially after its ignominious defeat in the elections held two weeks ago in four Indian states. The party survives only on a heavy anti-Muslim doze in order to keep its Hindu votebank which was clearly slipping as the election results demonstrated last month.

The bloodletting may ensure BJP's immediate political survival but it surely has put a question mark on India's political and social stability. Suddenly, India looks like an overblown version of the many violence-wrecked small states of Asia and Africa. Western press is once again questioning India's place on the world stage. With such cohesion and violence-mongering India can hardly aspire to play a global role.

A hard-hitting indictment of the Gujarat state government came today from the Attorney General of India, Soli J Sorabjee, who said that the state of Gujarat cannot absolve itself from the carnage it witnessed. He said that the Government was responsible for all kinds of human rights violations within its territory even if not perpetrated by state machinery. Speaking at a seminar organised by the International Law Association here he said that it was the State's responsibility if private persons or groups acted freely and with impunity to the detriment of the rights of the citizens. "The emerging principle is that state is responsible even for human rights violations committed by non-state actors residing within its jurisdiction," he said.
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