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"I am ashamed," Vajpayee says in Gujarat; Amnesty demands justice

New Delhi, April 4: During his first visit to the riot-torn state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee assured the riot victims that they will be taken care of by the government and that refugee camps will go on as long as needed. He said he was "ashamed" at what had happened in Gujarat and the fact that many people "had become refugees in their own country".

Addressing riot victims at Ahmedabad's Shah Alam refugee camp Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister said he was soon to visit some foreign countries and "I don’t know what face I will take to some of the Muslim countries I have to visit". 

He said when people from other countries ask him about the communal riots, he felt ashamed and did not know what to say. "You are not alone at this time of crisis, we all are with you. The entire country is with you," he told the riot victims. 

Mr Vajpayee said that the refugee camps will continue as long as required and the government will take proper care to rehabilitate the victims. The widows, orphans and destitutes should get special care from the government, he added.

While riot victims clapped for Mr Vajpayee, they shouted slogans against Chief Minister Narendra Modi who accompanied the prime minister to the camps. This was Mr Modi's first visit to the camps although he lives in the same city. Agitated riot victims shouted "Modi Hai Hai" (down with Modi) as the Prime Minister completed his address.

The victims branded Modi a "killer" and made detailed allegations about his government's involvement in the riots. Banners screaming "Save the Muslims" and "Please bring peace" hung on the walls of the camp right before Mr Vajpayee's eyes.

The demonstrators demanded that the inquiry into the communal riots be conducted by a Supreme Court judge. The demonstrators carried placards saying "we are citizens of India" and "remove Modi".

As the Prime Minister patted the head of a five-year-old, a young man pushed forward and pointing at Modi, burst out: "He is the killer". Heart-rending laments rose outside the enclosure — which was limited only to the VIPs.

Survivors of Naroda-Patia and Naroda Gam massacres openly abused Modi and the Gujarat police right in front of Vajpayee as the chief minister stood by his side staring into vacant space. The victims were allowed a brief tete-a-tete with the Prime Minister, where they alleged the state government’s direct involvement in the riots.

Naimuddin Shaikh of Patia, who lost six members of his family, told Vajpayee: "People attacked us, saying "oopar se hukum hai" (there are orders from the top) and they even named Narendra Modi as being the one who directed the killings." Nanumiyan Rasoolmiyan Malek of Naroda Gam said: "Modi ki sarkar mein insaniyat nahi hai, iski hukumat ko badlo, ye hamari qaum ke liye zaalim hai" (The Modi government is not humane, you must replace his government, he is evil for our community). He gave detailed accounts of how 50 metres from the Naroda police station people were killed. "VHP and BJP leaders were inside the police station distributing swords, and now they expect us to go back to this very place," he said. Husainabano Azgarkhan Pathan gave a graphic description to the Prime Minister of how men with swords hacked her brother on his bed, then poured acid on him and burnt him alive. 

The Shah-e-Alam relief committee submitted a memorandum to Mr Vajpayee, where they condemned the Modi government. "Even after claiming to have brought the situation under control within 72 hours, they have scores to settle with the members of the minority community,’’ the memorandum said.

They demanded that the Prime Minister should take the report of the National Human Rights Commision (NHRC) seriously and instruct the Gujarat government to implement its recommendations in letter and spirit. The Prime Minister's response to all this was a long speech which effectively said: Put the past behind, we’ll help you rebuild. 

The Prime Minister later left for a visit to the relief camp at Kankariya where Hindu victims of the riots have been lodged. Sources in Ahmedabad said this second camp is fake and has been hastily put together in order to impress the visiting prime minister that Muslims alone are not the victims. This "fake" camp houses about 575 Hindus said to have been brought from nearby villages.

At the end of his day-long visit Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced a comprehensive relief package for the victims of the Gujarat riots. The Prime Minister announced that the next of kin of the nearly 820 persons killed in the Gujarat riots will be paid Rs 0.15 million compensation each. The permanently disabled victims will be given Rs 50,000, while partially disabled persons will be given Rs 20,000. 

The Prime Minister also left a message for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi at the end of his one-day tour of the trouble-torn state: Rajdharma ka palan karo. "Raja ke liye praja-praja mein koi bhed bhaw nahin hona chahiye" (The ruler should not discriminate between his subjects). However, the prime minister ruled out the much-demanded change in the leadership in Gujarat and said "I don't see that possibility".

Despite the high profile visit, violence continued unabated in the state. One person was killed and three others injured in police firing in Modasa town of Sabarkantha district on Thursday even as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was touring riot-affected areas of Gujarat. Five other persons were injured in acid attacks in the town which sparked off the violence. The incident happened in the afternoon near the main bus stand in the communally sensitive North Gujarat town, which has witnessed several violent incidents in recent weeks. Curfew was imposed in Modasa to control the situation after the violence rocked the town around 2 pm in the afternoon. Reports said a truck was set ablaze on Malpur road.

Barely a day before the Prime Minister's visit to Gujarat, at least six people were burnt alive in different areas of the state. A youth was burnt alive in the communally sensitive Shahpur locality in the city on Wednesday afternoon. Earlier, five persons were burnt to death in Ahmedabad district late on Tuesday night. Another man died in Umbhrat town in police firing. Day curfew has been re-imposed in many parts of old Ahmedabad city following eruption of violence. The dead included two women.

Six others, including two women, were admitted to Civil Hospital with injuries sustained in clashes in Amdasa. In another incident in Sabarkantha district on Tuesday night, seven houses were set ablaze in Vadali village. While no deaths were reported so far from the area, about five persons sustained injuries.

Mobs came face to face in Khadia, Raipur, Gomtipur, Saraspur and Relief Road and some parts of the walled city areas of Ahmedabad where heavy stone-pelting was reported till well past midnight yesterday. About 15 houses in Dhana Suthar Ni Pol area of Relief Road were burnt by a mob. A place of worship was also burnt by the mob in this incident.

The total official death toll in the violence which began on February 27 with the Godhra train attack has now reached about 815. There are still no signs of a let-up in the violence despite claims by Chief Minister Narendra Modi that he had controlled the situation in "72 hours."

In a related development, Amnesty International has called upon Gujarat's Modi government to bring the culprits to justice. In a report strongly critical of the Gujarat administration, Amnesty International has cautioned that the Narendra Modi government’s failure to arrest and prosecute those guilty of heinous crimes in the state could lead to further violence.

Detailing the two main areas of immediate concern, the international human rights organisation said that unless the culprits were brought to justice, others might feel free to repeat the acts. The expectation of immunity from prosecution, may, in fact, have been a cause for the open, systematic and brutal nature of the violence in Gujarat, the report stated.

Questioning the legitimacy of the enquiry by a judicial commission appointed by the state government, Amnesty said the inquiry must be carried out by an agency appointed by the Central Government since the Gujarat government and its agencies were themselves suspected of culpability in the violence.

Focussing on the action taken by the government following the acts of violence and the displacement of people, Amnesty pointed out that little has been done to ensure the safety, well-being and rehabilitation of the displaced.

The absence of the authorities, the inadequacy of food, shelter and medical help, have been detailed as has the lack of security to survivors. Amnesty refers to reports of attacks on camps as well as on survivors attempting to return to their homes.The report also documents clearly the systematic and discriminatory violence targeted against Muslims and the discriminatory approach in providing relief subsequently.

Amensty has drawn attention to the forthcoming gram panchayat (village council) elections on April 7 and the fact that the displaced will not be able to exercise their right to vote in the absence of documents of identity and confinement in refugee camps.

Setting out restitution, compensation, rehabilitation and guarantees of non-repetition as benchmarks, the Amnesty report concluded by saying that until the government of Gujarat shows a clear political will to move in this direction, brutal human rights violations are likely to continue.

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