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India defiant in the face of rising international criticism
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Gujarat continues to burn

After maintaining an initial silence over the horrific anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, the international community has started condemning the on-going ethnic cleansing, which has now entered its third month. 

During the first month only newspapers, TV stations and human rights organisations at home and abroad covered the horrible events in which thousands of Muslims have been mercilessly killed and burnt alive, their homes and businesses burnt and about a quarter million forced to live in refugee camps. Now there are officially-condoned efforts to evict these hapless victims even from these camps which lack even minimum facilities.

During the first month only Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran came forward and condemned the brutal killings of the Muslim community in the state. Another Muslim country, Indonesia, made its displeasure known by cancelling an agreed Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate with India in fighting international terrorism.

But as India clearly failed to control the pogroms, the international attitude underwent a sea change with the advent the second month. For the last few weeks governments around the world have started showing displeasure and concern at what is taking place while the Indian government at the centre not only refuses to recognise the enormity of the situation but even gives one clean chit after another to the chief architect of the pogroms, Chief Minister Narendra Modi who has been confirmed in his job despite mounting internal demands for his removal. 

In a clear departure from the international practice, several major nations have asked the government of India to control riots in Gujarat. The visiting Finnish foreign minister, Erkki Toumioja, did so and was publicly rebuked by an official Indian spokesman. In a newspaper interview on April 19 Mr Toumioja had described the violence in Gujarat as "a matter of great concern"…."The pictures of carnage are very disturbing. We are concerned, as we are when something of that nature happens anywhere in the world," he added.

Many countries have expressed similar opinions. These include Switzerland, Canada, Germany and Holland. Though American human rights bodies have been openly critical, the Bush administration has avoided a direct comment on the carnage. State Department spokesman Phil Reeker as well as the the US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Christina Rocca, have expressed concern in mild terms amid reports that US Secretary of State Colin Powell has personally ordered that a close watch be kept on Gujarat since the state started to burn. US, UK and Canada have asked their citizens to avoid travelling to the state of Gujarat.

Britain has been harshest so far. A secret report leaked a few days back by the Hindustan Times newspaper here and later confirmed by the BBC, says that the continuing violence in Gujarat is 'aimed at removing Muslim influence from parts of the state.' The report placed the death toll at around 2000, against the government figures of around 800. The report adds that if the Sabarmati [train] tragedy hadn’t happened, another flashpoint would have been created to justify the pre-meditated violence as 'reaction.' According to the BBC (April 25) the report says that 'the violence had all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing' and that reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims is impossible while the chief minister remains in power.' The BBC quoted the document as saying that 'the violence, far from being spontaneous, was planned, possibly months in advance, carried out by an extremist Hindu organisation with the support of the state government..'

Since three British nationals have been killed in Gujarat while on a vacation there, Britain is taking special interest. The victims families have decided to file cases in British, American, Belgian and Indian courts and possibly even in the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The BJP leadership is shuddering by the very thought that soon an international red corner notice will be issued against their hero, the chief architect of the pogroms who still presides over the carnage. Proof of his direct responsibility is said to be stronger than that of Milosevic.

The strongest official reaction has come from the European Union which has issued a strong statement condemning the violence in Gujarat. Since New Delhi was reluctant, on one pretext or another, to receive an EU delegation, the EU delivered the demarche to the Indian ambassador in Madrid last Wednesday, according to reports in the Indian media Saturday, April 27.

Expressing concern, the EU statement said, inter alia, that 'the carnage in Gujarat was a kind of apartheid…and has parallels with Germany of 1930s.' The EU statement concludes that 'Godhra served as a pretext for triggering the violence that followed in the state; the post-Godhra violence was preplanned and the pattern suggests that the attempt was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas; the chief minister instructed senior police officers not to intervene in the rioting; the state and central governments failed to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the victims and the prime minister visited Gujarat only on April 4' [more than a month after the eruption of the riots].

It has come as a rude shock to Indian Muslims that most Muslim and all Arab countries have preferred to look the other way. There is no whimper of a protest on the official level. Indian Muslims have felt insulted and many writers have said that instead of showing undue concern for 'Arab' or Pan-Islamic causes Indian Muslims should now concentrate their eyes on the home turf. Indian Muslims (131.5 million) are the second largest Muslim community in the world after Indonesia.

The Indian government is highly embarrassed over the mounting criticism from leading world powers. But it has resorted to defiance to deflect this criticism. The most common refrain is that Gujarat is an 'internal matter' and that no foreign country should interfere in such cases. Critics at home and abroad say that the issues of ethnic cleansing and genocide are not internal matters, especially in view of the Indian government's clear failure and reluctance to arrest the developments and punish the criminals who enjoy official patronage.

Prime Minister AB Vajpayee claimed Thursday that India 'did not need any lessons in secularism from the West.' The government of India and its spokesmen still live in a fools paradise deluding themselves that 'normalcy' has returned to the ill-fated state and that what is happening there is an 'internal matter' of India. No one accepts this logic since Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor. (01, May, 2002)

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