Friday June 14, 2024

Remembering the Indian Gujarat riots

By Ayaz Nabi
February 28, 2016

The 2002 Gujarat riots were a three-day period of unspeakable communal violence in the Indian state of Gujarat by extremist Hindus. At that time, the chief minister of the state was Narinder Modi, who at the local and international level was subsequently blamed for playing a partial role during the riots.

It was claimed that the riots were started by a Muslim cleric, who was allegedly responsible for the burning of 58 Hindu yatrees in a train in Godhra. The Congress government in New Delhi set up a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge in 2005 to probe the incident. The committee concluded that the fire had begun inside the train and was most likely accidental. But the Gujarat High Court ruled in 2006 that the matter was outside the jurisdiction of the union government, and the committee was therefore unconstitutional. However, the concerned cleric presented by the Nanavati-Shah commission as the prime conspirator was later acquitted along with 62 others accused for lack of evidence.

According to Professor Ram Puniyani writing in Tehelka, “…in the worst ever communal carnage of this century, the post Godhra Gujarat violence, over 2,000 innocents lost their lives. Most of the survivors not only lost their livelihood and shelter but also have been degraded to the status of second class citizens. Most of the perpetrators of violence have not only gone scot-free; many of them had an upward political mobility. The efforts of the victims and human rights activists had yielded very few results and majority of the victims are grieving and living with the scars of their losses.”

He added "the Human Rights Commission report (2002) pointed out that state machinery failed to protect the innocent people. Most of the citizens’ inquiry committees by human rights activists have pointed out about the role of state administration and Modi in particular in the violence. In the major such report of ‘Citizens tribunal’ headed by retired Justice Krishna Ayer and Justice P.B.Sawant, (Crime against Humanity), a Minister in Modi’s Government Haren Pandya gave description of the meeting which Modi had called on the evening of Godhra train accident. As per Pandya, Modi instructed all the top state officials to let the Hindu anger not be curtailed in the aftermath of Godhra. Modi popularized the thesis that Godhra train was burnt in a pre-planned manner by the international terrorism, in collusion with the ISI and local Muslims. Infamously, he announced that every action has an opposite reaction, meaning that now Hindus will take revenge and the state should sit back and let the opposite reaction take its course.

“While the carnage was on, the Central government, NDA led by BJP, kept watching and barring some stray noises by PM Vajpayee and Home Minister Advani, the carnage went on spilling the rivers of blood. Despite Modi’s claim that he controlled the violence in 72 hours, it took months for the din to settle. Modi’s acts of omission were more than obvious. Now as matters stand our legal system has lots of loopholes and most of the guilty are not punished. On the contrary, in the case of Gujarat, Modi ‘succeeded’ in splitting the Gujarat society along religious lines, and he took advantage of the communal divide by riding back to power and strengthened his vice like grip on the administration and state as a whole. And now, in Gujarat the matters are not seen as guilty versus innocents, they are seen as Hindu versus Muslim.”

Professor Ram Puniyani, who was awarded the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration, concluded: “Modi bloating his chest while sitting over the corpses of thousands is a symptom of deeper rot which has set in the society.”

According to another observer, "There is by now a broad consensus that the Gujarat violence was a form of ethnic cleansing, that in many ways it was premeditated, and that it was carried out with the complicity of the state government and officers of the law."

Following the Gujarat riots, the Human Rights Watch alleged that that state and law enforcement officials were harassing and intimidating key witnesses, NGOs, social activists and lawyers who were fighting to seek justice for the riot victims.

In its 2003 annual report, Amnesty International stated, "The same police force that was accused of colluding with the attackers was put in charge of the investigations into the massacres, undermining the process of delivery of justice to the victims."

Interestingly, exposing the Modi-government mindset, the 2003 International Report by the US State Department proclaimed: "The Gujarat State Higher Secondary Board, to which nearly 98 percent of schools in Gujarat belong, requires the use of certain textbooks in which Nazism is condoned. In the Standard 10 social studies textbook, the "charismatic personality" of "Hitler the Supremo" and the "achievements of Nazism" are described at length. The textbook does not acknowledge Nazi extermination policies or concentration camps except for a passing reference to "a policy of opposition towards the Jewish people and [advocacy for] the supremacy of the German race." The Standard 9 social studies textbook implies that Muslims, Christians, Parsees, and Jews are "foreigners."

The Gujarat riots and their subsequent handling have shown that India’s crumbling democratic multi-cultural societal structure is in the danger of total collapse.