Fifteen Years After the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom, the Fight for Accountability and Justice Continues

See also at: Countercurrents

gujarat-3JatiIndia: Flags of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future. Gujarat in the crosshairs of right-wing Hindu nationalism.

Salim Khan, a Muslim driver was burnt alive after a message was passed on the police wireless that a Muslim driver was coming that way. On the night of February 28, when people were attacked in Vatwa, all they could see was heads and more heads. Swords were being waved in the air, shots were fired by privately owned guns. “Tab hame malum pada ki hamara Allah ke seva koi nahin” [“Then we realized that none but Allah is on our side”], one witness said. The crowd had only one intention: Musalmanon ko khatam karo! [Finish off the Muslims!] And throughout, innocent people were killed.

— From an inquiry into the carnage in Gujarat by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) fighting for justice for the victims of the violence in Gujarat.

If someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is. If I’m a chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.

—Narendra Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister, in response to a Reuters interview eleven years after the carnage, when asked whether he regretted the violence.

It’s 15 years now and justice to some extent has been done compared to other communal and targeted pogroms. Some of the powerful perpetrators have been punished and the struggle to establish command responsibility continues.

—Teesta Setalvad, human rights activist, secretary of CJP and author of “Foot Soldier of the Constitution – A Memoir,” in response to my question regarding justice for the victims of the carnage in Gujarat and their surviving families and friends.

February 27-28, 2017 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the 2002 Gujarat genocidal pogrom in which, according to CJP’s tally, as many as 1926 people lost their lives in violence that erupted after the Godhra train tragedy in which 59 people—mostly kar sevaks (right-wing nationalist volunteers)—were burnt alive. They were among commuters on the Sabarmati Express returning from the Ram temple site in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. That site had been controversial ever since December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid, a 16th century mosque, was demolished by a mob of Hindus to make way for the temple.

Since then, that site has become a focal point for the riling-up of right-wing Hindu nationalism. And the pogrom that followed the 2002 train attack was a release of pent-up hate that was looking for an excuse to explode.

The bid for power by the right-wing had begun long before, in the 1920s. The BJP (the current ruling party) is an affiliate of a cultural guild known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which was established in 1925. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal (the youth wing of the VHP) are also affiliated with the RSS and along with the BJP itself were responsible for unleashing the carnage in Gujarat in 2002. The VHP have been trailblazers in the campaign to construct a temple dedicated to Rama on the site of the demolished Babri mosque. And a construction of a “grand” temple remains very much part of the BJP agenda today.

Gujarat, the state that birthed and raised the guru of non-violence, M. K. Gandhi—who himself was assassinated by a Hindu extremist—is not new to communal violence. The state’s history is steeped in it. For example, an incident during a 1969 pogrom “brings out the depth of animosity against the Muslims,” according to CJP: “A young Muslim, enraged by the destruction of his property said he would take revenge. Upon this the crowd seized him, showered blows on him, and tried to force him to shout Jai Jagannath (a Hindu slogan). Staying firm, the youth refused even if that meant death. To this, someone in the crowd responded that he might indeed be done away with. Wood from broken shops was collected, a pyre prepared in the middle of the road, petrol sprinkled on the pyre as well as on the youth, and he was set alight with ruthless efficiency. What is remarkable is that there was no resistance from any Hindu. The wails of the Muslim inhabitants of the area were drowned in the celebration of the incident by the Hindus.”

Between 1961 and 1971, 799 incidents of communal violence were recorded in Gujarat, with 1969 shouldering the biggest toll of riots. And since then, communal violence has erupted in the state many times. In just the years 1987 to 1991, 106 incidents were recorded. For most of that time Modi was serving as the general secretary of the BJP, and it was around then that the Ram Janmabhoomi (Rama’s birthplace) campaign took center stage in Gujarat, aiming to to construct the Mandir (temple) at the site. It is believed that the largest contingent of men, women, and youth responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya had come from Gujarat.

The ideology of Hindutva (Hinduness) is at the core of the RSS and its actions. And thanks to RSS and the other fanatical organizations that surround it, this ideology has penetrated every sphere of society—women, education, slums, youth, tribals, farmers, publishing, and more.

Narendra Modi, himself an RSS pracharak (volunteer) was the Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014. The BlP first came to power in Gujarat in the mid-nineties, amid a campaign of hate against the state’s minority communities. Literature included fliers proclaiming, “India is a country of Hindus…. Our religion of Rama and Krishna is pious”; anti-Christian propaganda; penetration into tribal areas; and training camps espousing hatred, distribution of Trishuls, swords and other weapons at religious functions.

According to CJP, “Sustained and systematic efforts were made by organizations like the BJP and its Sangh Parivar [RSS family of organizations] affiliates to communalize Gujarati society, through large-scale distribution of hate literature and other means. Hinduism was given more and more aggressive interpretations with a conscious design to promote a feeling among Hindus that they, the majority community, were being treated unjustly through appeasement of Muslims by various vested interests. The view that Muslims were fundamentalist, anti-national, and pro-Pakistan was systematically promoted. In some cases, Hindus were even exhorted to take up arms to defend their interests.”

gujarat-1JatiIndia: Flags of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future. Hundreds of Mosques and Dargahs were destroyed in the riots. 

The Hindutva campaign reached its zenith with the 2002 pogrom. Between February 28 and March 2, sixteen of Gujarat’s twenty-four districts were engulfed in unspeakable mob violence unleashed upon Muslims—children, babies, women, men, and elderly alike. Mobs of five to ten thousand people armed with swords, trishuls, lathis, agricultural implements, stones, acid bulbs, bottles, petrol bombs, and burning cloth balls were let loose on helpless residents. In tearful testimonies to the eight-member Concerned Citizen’s Tribunal, riot survivors recounted incidents such as these:

Nahi, aaj to upar se order aaya ke aaj tumhari jaan bachane ki nahi hai [No, today we have orders from above that you are not to be saved], one witness testified that a policeman, KK Mysorewala, clearly told her.

Many witnesses testified that when out of distress they screamed, Allah! Allah! they were taunted by the attackers, who said, “No, say Jai Sri Ram!”

The mob had started breaking windows. They threw burning tires inside and the women inside would catch them and throw them out. In fact the witness’ hands were singed.

They caught hold of innocent children and sliced them up. They were pulled out of their mothers arms.

Most of the dead bodies were charred or mutilated beyond recognition and an overwhelming majority of the survivors did not manage to have access to the bodies of their relatives in order to perform the last rites in a dignified manner.

Between 5 and 6 p.m., when the mob was at the height of its frenzy, many of our women were first raped and then doused in kerosene and petrol and burnt. I saw them doing this.

Ehsan Jafri, [a parliamentarian] who was clearly a specific target, allowed himself to be dragged out of his own house…for 45 minutes, he was brutally dismembered and then finally decapitated. He was stripped, paraded naked, and asked to say, Vande Mataram! and Jai Shri Ram! He refused. His fingers were chopped off and he was paraded around in the locality, badly injured.

So, where does justice and accountability stand today, exactly fifteen years later?

gujarat-2JatiIndia: Flags of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future. Artwork includes surviving victims of the carnage at various refugee camps.

Teesta Setalvad forwarded me a conviction sheet put together for the anniversary by CJP, titled Accounting for the Dead – A Battle Half Won. Here’s part of what it said:

CJP’s Major exercise to Commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Gujarat genocide has been to Account for the Dead and Missing to end for once and for all the Falsification of Figures by the State. Once Compiled we shall seek through Opposition Members of Parliament that the Figures on the Record of Parliament are also Corrected. Our Tally shows that as many as 1926 Lives were Lost in the Reprisal Violence that broke out after the Godhra Tragedy from February 28, 2002 onwards.

There is a calculated design to deny every aspect of the Violence, the Facts behind the Crimes, the Conspiracy, Planning etc.

The Zakia Jafri [wife of slain parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri] Case that seeks, for the first time in criminal jurisprudence to establish criminal and administrative culpability for the mass crimes that broke up in Gujarat is still pending having charted an arduous course from the Police, to the Gujarat High Court, down to the Magistrate’s Court and now is being heard in the Gujarat High Court. The perverse attack of State Agencies on CJP and it’s office bearers Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand have been [in] direct proportion to the furtherance of this judicial exercise: an attempt to establish for the first time in Indian History a Chain of Command Responsibility for the Mass Crimes that broke out in the state from February 28, 2002 and were not contained until May 5-6, 2002 when KPS Gill was sent by then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to oversee the law and order situation.

The Gulberg Massacre Verdict dated June 17, 2016 delivered by Judge PB Desai however discards that the Gulberg Massacre was part of any conspiracy. As stated by Tanvirbhai Jafri it was as if 12-15,000 strong mob had gathered “to have chai and smaosa” that day!

They [the victims and witnesses] are threatened and induced to retract testimonies by perpetrators and the henchmen of the state machinery that has been thrice elected to power with perpetrators now also holding sway in Delhi.

The Perpetrators in the face of those in Power or those part of allied/sister organisations of the Hindutva Right who enjoy Political Patronage have even used, and continue to use the Criminal Underworld to issue threats and offer inducements.

An estimated 400 girls and women were subject to brute gender violence; even the state of Gujarat has been forced to admit to 176 women being brutally assaulted. No reparation has been offered to women and girls or their families. Over 428 persons are officially admitted as missing since the 2002 carnage, the remains of 226 not yet traced and thus denied a dignified burial and last rites. At least 270 places of cultural and religious importance for the Muslim minority were destroyed: barely 40 have been since rebuilt, not by a repentant state, but by the community itself.

Police witnesses have stated in their testimonies that the mob was huge enough, nearing 4,500-5,000. Injured and traumatised eye-witnesses have said that it was closer 15,000 strong. That the mob was also shouting slogans like ‘Miyaon ne kapo, maro,” [Cut and kill the Muslims] is also part of the record.

The panchnamas of the site reveal how the embers were allowed to burn, undoused at Gulberg society for three days after the attack, ensuring that any forensic evidence behind the killings is properly destroyed. When survivors buried the charred remains of their loved ones at the Kalandari Masjid Kabrastan on March 3, 2002, these bodies had been reduced to ashes.

Citizens for Justice and Peace’s single most significant achievement has been the convictions, at the first stage of as many as 157 perpetrators (of which 142 were to Life Imprisonment) in over a dozen major criminal trials related to the Gujarat Genocidal pogrom of 2002. In appeal at the High Court, 19 of these have been since acquitted. CJP plans to challenge these further in the Supreme Court.

There has been no expression of Remorse for the Perpetrated Violence of 2002 either by the State Government or the Party it represents, Nationally.

In the last 10 months, the Gujarat police and administration has made several attempts to threaten, humiliate, and implicate Teesta Setalvad in a number of cooked up cases and even held out threats of impending arrest. The attempt is to divert the CJP secretary’s attention from her legal aid work to enforced self-defence. A price that human rights defenders must be prepared to pay.

Many thanks to Teesta Setalvad and CJP for their unwavering struggle for justice and reparations for the victims and the survivors of the cowardly attack on the Muslim communities of Gujarat in 2002. Please visit CJP, Sabrang and Khoj to learn more about Teesta and Javed’s work.

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