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Human Rights Watch: 
Gujarat Officials took part in anti-Muslim violence

United States top rights organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has concluded in an exhaustive report that government officials of the Indian state of Gujarat are directly involved in the killings of hundreds of Muslims since February 27 and are now engineering a massive cover-up of the state's role in the violence. HRW has asked international community to put pressure on the Indian government to end violence against minorities.

Entitled "'We have no orders to save you': state participation and complicity in communal violence in Gujarat", the 75-page report blames the extremist Hindu umbrella organisation, the RSS and its affiliates for engineering the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat.

Saying that police personnel in Gujarat were directly involved in the killings of hundreds of Muslims, the New York-based HRW organisation has urged the international community to put pressure on the Indian government to end "orchestrated violence against Indian minorities."

The police have been directly implicated in nearly all the attacks against Muslims that are documented in the report. "At best they were passive observers, and they acted in concert with murderous mobs and participated directly in the burning and looting of Muslim shops and homes and the killing and mutilation of Muslims," it said.

According to the report, several witnesses reported being told by the police, "we have no orders to save you." Phone calls made to the police, fire brigades, and even ambulance services generally proved futile. "Many of the attacks on Muslim homes and places of business also took place in proximity of police posts," the report said.

"Muslim girls and women were brutally raped. Mass graves have been dug throughout the state. Gravediggers told Human Rights Watch that bodies keep arriving, burnt and mutilated beyond recognition," the report underlines.

HRW report names the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), the Bajrang Dal, the RSS and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, collectively known as the "Sangh Parivar" [RSS Family], as the "groups most directly involved in the violence against Muslims." The report also said that the Gujarat state administration had been engaged in a massive cover-up of the state's role in the massacres and that of the Sangh Parivar.

Though officially more than 850 people have been killed, unofficial estimates have put the death toll as high as 2,000, the report states. Calling it a "retaliatory killing spree" after a Muslim mob in Godhra attacked and set fire to two carriages of a train carrying Hindu activists, killing 58, the report says, this incident led to the looting and burning of Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship.

Between February 28 and March 2, thousands of attackers descended on Muslim neighbourhoods, clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu ultranationalist groups, and armed with swords, sophisticated explosives and gas cylinders. They were guided by voter-lists and printouts of addresses of Muslim-owned properties obtained from the local municipality. In the weeks following the attacks, Hindu homes and businesses were also destroyed in retaliatory attacks by Muslims, according to the report.

In holding the RSS Family culpable, the HRW said that numerous police reports filed by eyewitnesses after the attacks had specifically named local VHP, BJP, and Bajrang Dal leaders as instigators or participants in the violence. But the police, reportedly under instructions from the state, face continuous pressure not to arrest them or to reduce the severity of the charges filed against them.

In a stinging indictment of the state machinery, HRW also said that, in many instances, police officials led the charge of murderous mobs, "aiming and firing at Muslims who got in the way." In some cases, they were merely passive observers while in others, under the guise of offering assistance, police officers led the victims directly into the hands of their killers, the report said.

"What happened in Gujarat was not a spontaneous uprising, it was a carefully orchestrated attack against Muslims," Smita Narula, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch who authored the report after visiting the state told the Times of India. "The attacks were planned in advance and organised with extensive participation of the police and state government officials," she added.

The report provides testimony on retaliatory attacks against Hindus, with Hindu homes and businesses being destroyed by Muslims. But it mostly documents excesses by lumpen mobs of Hindu militants and notes that while burnt Muslim shops and restaurants dot the main roads and highways in Ahmedabad, neighbourhood Hindu establishments were notably unscathed.

Describing the state of affairs in Gujarat as "a crisis of impunity," the report says that unless those responsible for the violence are prosecuted, violence may spread to other parts of India.
The report said that assistance from international humanitarian and UN agencies was urgently needed for the victims in relief camps. It urged the Indian government to actively seek the assistance of international agencies and to invite UN human rights experts to investigate state and police participation in the violence.

"'We have no orders to save you': state participation and complicity in communal violence in Gujarat" is available online at: http://hrw.org/reports/2002/india/

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