Painful memories — Gujarat riots

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Mohammad Jamil
ON February 27, 2002, a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire in Godhra station in Gujarat, which was said to be an accident by independent observers. Fifty-eight Hindu pilgrims died who were returning from Ayudhya, a venue where Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992. Gujarat riots had started with the rumours that Muslims had set afire the train coach. Within hours and without a shred of evidence, the then chief minister of Gujarat Narendera Modi had declared that the Pakistani secret services were involved. He then had the charred bodies paraded in the main city of Ahmedabad and had let his own party support a state-wide strike for three days. What followed was mass bloodshed – 1,000 dead on official estimates; more than 2,000 by independent tallies. The vast majority of those who died were Muslims; moreover, mobs had dragged women and young girls out of their homes and raped them.
In 2007, the investigative magazine Tehelka recorded boasts from some of the ringleaders including Babu Bajrangi, who bragged of how he slit open the womb of a pregnant woman. Indian state of Gujarat was governed by then chief minister Narendra Modi, which witnessed one of the country’s biggest pogroms. The riots flared up again on 15 March; killing, raping and looting continued until mid-June. More than 2,000 Muslims were murdered, and tens of thousands rendered homeless in a planned and coordinated attacks. The killers were reportedly in touch with police and politicians, and were provided protection. According to the 2011 Amicus report, two cabinet ministers even sat in police control rooms, and Narendra Modi explicitly instructed civil servants and police not to stand in the killers’ way. Special police squads were called from Punjab, who had the experience of controlling the Sikh rebellion through use of brutal force.
According to a senior police officer’s sworn statement to India’s Supreme Court in 2011, then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in the state. Sanjiv Bhatt, who was a senior police officer in the Gujarat intelligence bureau during the 2002 riots, said that he attended a meeting at which Narendra Modi said that the Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger. In a sworn statement to the Supreme Court, he said that his position allowed him to come across quite a lot of information and intelligence both before and during the violence, including the actions of senior administrative officials. He also alleged that in a meeting in the night before the riots, Narendera Modi told officials that the Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson following an attack on train carrying Hindu pilgrims, which was said to be to be stage-managed by some investigating reporters.
The pogrom was extensively televised by India’s TV channels. Many Indians were shocked to hear how even the very young had not been spared – the slayers of Muslims were seen smashing the heads of children against rocks. In a sting carried out in 2007 by the weekly magazine Tehelka, politicians, businessmen, officials and policemen were caught on tape, delightedly recalling how they murdered and raped Muslims with the blessings of their superiors. Anyhow, coordinated attacks on Muslims soon followed. Some 98,000 people were displaced in Gujarat due to the 2002 riots that were put up in relief colonies. Following the initial incident there were further outbreaks of violence in Ahmedabad for three weeks; statewide, there were further outbreaks of mass killings against the minority Muslim population for three months. Some commentators held the view that the attacks had been pre-planned and well-orchestrated.
In February 2011, the trial court convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 others based on the murder and conspiracy provisions of the Indian Penal Code, saying the incident was a pre-planned conspiracy. The death penalty was awarded to 11 convicts; twenty others were sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2012, despite substantial evidence of state’s backing, Narendra Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India. The SIT also rejected claims that the state government had not done enough to prevent the riots. In July 2013, allegations were made that the SIT had suppressed evidence; yet in April 2014, the Supreme Court expressed satisfaction over the SIT’s investigations in nine cases related to the violence, and rejected as baseless a plea contesting the SIT report. This explodes the myth of judiciary’s independence in so-called largest democracy of the world.
Since Narendra Modi’s coming to power, Hindu extremists have been on the rampage, and there have been reports of forced conversions of Muslims and Christians. Last year, they killed one Muslim alleging that he slaughtered cow, and many were beaten on mere suspicions. Apart from perpetrating atrocities on minorities and showing utter disregard to the UNSC resolutions, India has been interfering in the affairs of its smaller neighbours. Yet efforts are being made by the US and the West to make India permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has crossed all the limits. While addressing annual budget session in Parliament on February 07, 2018, he severely criticised Congress for the division of India due to its wrong policies. He added that India would have had gained control over entire Kashmir, if instead of Jawahar Lal Nehro, Sardar Vallabhai Patel was the PM at that time.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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