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An open letter to president Clinton

Dear President William Jafferson Clinton,
As Salaam o alai kum
I file with you a report published by Communal Combat, a Mumbai monthly, on the recent communal outrages deliberately inflicted on Muslim minority in Gujarat State.

‘Tit for tat?

The Sangh Parivar makes Gujarat’s Muslims pay for the killing of innocent Hindus in J&K by Pakistani mercenaries.

The dreaded finally happened. The cynically targeted bullets of Pakistan’s mercenaries , that claimed the life of 100 innocent Hindu pilgrims headed for the Amarnath caves and ordinary laborers in different parts of Jammu & Kashmir (some died in the cross-fire between the paramilitary forces and the extremists) had a devastating fallout in far-flung Gujarat.

In Ahmedabad, Surat, Sabarkantha ( Lambadiya, Khed Brahma and Modasa villages), Palanpur and Rajkot, Muslim business establishments - powerlooms, granaries, printing presses, shops and godowns --were cold-blooded targeted by the indigenous terrorist squads. They were led by elected representatives belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and leaders of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal.

A senior correspondent of the Financial Express has estimated that in Surat alone the total damage caused by the selective destruction through full-fledged arson of Muslim-owned power-looms at Rs. 10 Crores ( US $ 2 millions - a colossal sum in India, specially for the economically weakest section of the population). In the Modasa village of Saberkantha district, of the 63 business establishments charred to ashes, 51 belonged to Muslims and 12 to Hindus.

Within hours of massacre on our northern border, the leaders of Hindu extremist outfits were gearing up for ‘retaliation’. In Gujarat, the intentions were clearly ruthless and sinister. The international general secretary of the VHP, Preveen Togadia, announced at a press conference in Ahmedabad on August 2 that the VHP was declaring a state-wide bandh to protest the massacres. The Gujarat government, rule by the BJP, formally declared its support to the bandh. Within hours, all-Gujarat-based textile manufacturing associations and the Surat Textile 

Federation and Diamond Merchants has also extended support.If Gujarat is ‘Hindutva’s laboratory’, as the proud proponents of this political ideology have so often declared, what happened in the State on the day of the bandh ---August 3, 2000 --- should be viewed as one more instance of Hindutva in action.

The fact that all sections closed down business and shops on that fateful day, to express their outrage at the killing of the Amarnath yatris and other innocent Hindus, was just not enough for the squads of Hindu Rashtra. Office bearers of VHP and BD --- in many cases helped by elected representatives of the BJP --- publicly bayed for revenge. And they got it. With the help of the government and the police. In the form of destruction worth Crores of property and businesses owned by Muslims in the state.

When asked what his organisation planned to do the next day, Raju Desai of the Bajrang Dal had declared in a live interview to the local Surat TV channel, Eyewitness, at 11.30 p.m. the night before the bandh: “Tomorrow, we will create problems, 100 people have killed at the border”.

When interviewed by this writer, Nikhil Shah, a journalist working for a local newspaper, Pratinidhi, revealed that on the morning of the bandh, he was present at a meeting of the Bajrang Dal at Varaccha Road attended around 400 activists. At the meeting, a leader of the Bajrang Dal was entrusting batches of 50 volunteers each with the responsibility of a particular area. All of them were given a specific brief, “ Create trouble. If shops are open shut them down. Where shops are already shut, destroy Muslim-owned ones.” The groups left on their assignments armed with iron rods, lathis and other instruments.

The role of the police in Surat and the rest of Gujarat has many questions. In Surat, police commissioner, Kuldip Sharma has been credited with evacuating to safety some 2000 Muslims from Vishramnagar and Ravitalao. He also arrested, on-the-spot, two corporators belonging to the BJP (Mr. Ganesh Prajapathi and Mr. Suresh Varodia) who were caught carrying iron rods, lathis and swords in their vehicles on August 4.Despite these steps, however, the failure of Sharma and his force to act on the publicly declared intentions of the Bajrang Dal and the VHP, in Surat at least, his instructions to strip the policeman of rifles the day before the bandh and the noticeable absence of the police in areas where homes and businesses were destroyed over a three-four hour period (Vishramnagar itself that had also suffered in 1992 in the post-Babri Masjid bouts of communal frenzy) on August 3, had generated outrage.Sharma’s explanation for some of his conduct is the barrage of political pressure that he came under from the goon squads of the BJP-VHP-BD after Ganpathi immersion day last year when the unruly behavior by the processionists had led to police firing in which three persons died.

Whichever way one looks at it, both the administration and the police were either browbeaten into paralysis, or they actually assisted the zealots. When a 1000-strong mob stormed into and destroyed the Famous Boot House in Saraspur, Ahmedabad, where were the cops? The assault of an elderly Muslim couple with a man wielding a trishul outside the Navapura Police chowky is Surat (see photo by Dharmesh Joshi of Indian Express, a prominent English Newspaper) only proves the point.
Eighty-seven incidents of criminal acts have been lodged under one composite FIR ( First Information Report - legally the first step in criminal prosecution) in Surat. State-wide offenses also record details of criminal and provocative actions in which VHP and Bajrang Dal activists have been named. If the past record is anything to go by, no arrests are expected to follow.

In other parts of Gujarat, squads of the Hindu extremist groups had a field day on Bandh day. As never before, the bandh-related violence exposed the lawlessness of not merely the VHP-BD squads but the BJP’s elected representatives.

The miscreants destroyed a Dargah ( a Muslim tomb ) in Ahmedabad, stoned the collectorate in Rajkot, destroyed 40 buses of the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation ( the tires of 283 buses were deflated to make a point), attacked the Birla Secondary High School in Porbunder, attacked St. Xaviers Society schools in Meghraj and Billimoria. It was well-planned anarchy meant to paralyze, threaten and browbeat even the law and order machinery.All the incidents in different parts of Gujarat were obviously aimed at economically crippling the minority community. Total number of lives lost were the five, from Surat. In Lambadiya village rocks were hurled at Muslim shops and even some homes continuously over two days ( August 4 and 5), destroying the harmony existing between adivasis (tribals) and the minorities (Muslims) for centuries. The scale and venom of stone throwing led to mass scale evacuation (ethnic cleansing?) from the villages in impoverished conditions.

Two years ago, when sustained violence broke out in Randhikpur and Sanjeli in Gujarat, (see Welcome to Hindu Rashtra, Communal Combat, Oct. 1998), the destruction had also been pre-planned to enable the take-over of the local transport business from the hands of Muslims once they were cleansed out of the area through terror tactics. From power looms in Surat, to the local granaries/godowns of grain merchants of Sabarkantha, to shops and printing presses elsewhere, the singular objective seems to have been the destruction of businesses and economic crippling of Muslims.

Gujarat state, the laboratory for Hindutva, has witnessed a qualitatively different kind of violence unleashed on both Muslims and Christians since the BJP returned to power in February 1998. Innocent Christians and Christian missionaries have been made targets of a venomous and unsubstantiated propaganda against the alleged “conversion motive” of their institutions, even as the same Hindu political elite patronizes convent schools! The sub-text behind the attacks on Muslims has of late been dominate by “ultra nationalist’ venom and discourse.

In July 1999, in the midst of a world cup cricket contest (in which Pakistan and India also played against each other) and the conflict in Kargil, the streets of Ahmedabad sprouted barely veiled threats in graffiti that came up in Muslim dominated areas overnight. Under the banner of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha ( Youth Brigade)m they hurled threats at Indian Muslims while abusing 

Pakistanis and Nawaz Sharif. On July 21-22 the charged atmosphere led to a communal skirmish. Again, the Bajrang Dal used this chance to attach Muslim shops and establishments.

Gujarat goes in for elections at the corporation level ( in Surat and some other towns) and panchayat ( village self governing) level all over the state in September 2000. Hindutva’s response to the tragic massacre of Amarnath yatris is being viewed by political observers in the state as preparation for the polls. And the ‘success’ of the bandh-driven violence is being evaluated as pre-poll success for the BJP.

An emasculated and important political opposition in the shape of the Congress (I) --- the tribal areas where the violence broke out is Amarsingh Chowdhury’s constituency --- will make the BJP’s march to victory ( that has little to tom-tom to the people about, in terms of performance) easier than before.A judicial inquiry into the post-bandh violence is what local and national (human) rights groups are demanding, given the serious questions about the conduct of the executive, administration and the police machinery. Though compensation has been announced by the state, in Surat at least the amounts dished out do not in any way reflect the extent of the damage.

The land that gave us Gandhi --- the subcontinent’s apostle of non-violence and communal harmony --- stands bloodied and battered once again by the brute force of Hindutva. (A fact-finding report on the evidence in Gujarat is being collectively prepared by various groups, including Quami Ekta Trust,Sanchetna, Dakshin Gujarat Adivasi Sangh, Vikas Adhyan Kendra, Gujarat,People’s Union for Human Rights.’

The writer of above article, Ms. Teesta Setalvad, co-editor of Communal Combat,, a monthly magazine, was part of the fact-finding team that visited Surat.)The facts cited in the report will convince you that BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal are bent on targeting Indian Muslims all around the country and this forebodes a grave future of social unrest and communal upheaval that is not conducive to a peaceful India, that is now vigorously soliciting foreign investments in its infrastructures and IT industries from US and allies.

One hundred fifty million Indian Muslims spread out in the length and breadth of India are not a minuscule minority, by any measure of reference. In your statements on Kashmir, you have recommended that both Hindus and Muslims should build bridges and live in peace. BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal, however, are determined to pursue their ultra-nationalist fascist policies and at the same time, go to great lengths in hiding their real agenda in very pious and acceptable camouflage. VHP is holding Millennium ‘peace’ conferences in various towns and cities in the US and intend to invite you personally too, to claim unwarranted legitimacy to their Fascist designs. I humbly urge you to take advance caution and forestall any untoward slide of India’s governing establishment towards a fate resembling the tragedies of Bosnia and Kosovo, though could be on much greater scale. Fortunately you have been successful in building leverages with India and your wise and frank counsel is not easily ignored. The best course will be for the BJP to ban the two notorious para-legal entities, VHP & Bajrang Dal that work as storm-troopers for the extremist Hindutva’s nefarious hate and terror campaigns. Their sources of funds from US are their life-line. One fails to understand if terrorist organizations, whose record of atrocities on minorities is factually established, can legally collect funds, from US citizens, without contravening US Federal laws.

I urge you to take notice of a developing crisis in India and through your good offices and through the active co-operation of US and UN agencies, forestall a major disaster in a very sensitive area of the globe, where two novo-nuclear cowboys are wantonly brandishing their new toy-guns, to settle age-old scores. The world should not be left paralyzed into inaction and prone to any accidents that threaten the very existence of human race on our planet. Part of your CTBT concerns, have to take into account the uncertainties of social upheavals and communal outrages, that may snowball into illogical train of events which destabilize the area and for which you personally and your government is so committed to build safeguards against.

With best regards
Sincerely yours
Ghulam Muhammad Siddiqui
Director, IDRAAK
601, Seacroft, Shirly Road, Bandra (W),
Mumbai - 400 050
Phones: (+9122) 6486473/6043698;
Fax:(+9122) 6486473

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