Carnage in Gujarat
Excerpts from Editors Guild Fact Finding Mission, New Delhi, May 3, 2002
Gujarat burned and was convulsed with barbarous violence for over 40 days from February 27, 2002 when the Sabarmati Express, running from Faizabad to Ahmedabad, was attacked and torched at Godhra killing 58 passengers, many of them women and children. Whatever the provocation, as alleged by some, nothing extenuates the outrage. This utterly horrible crime calls for the swift pursuit and punishment of the perpetrators. Even as the Godhra tragedy was roundly condemned, the anticipated backlash took on the dimensions of a holocaust primarily aimed at the Muslim community. This soon engulfed central, north and northeastern Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, Vadodara and parts of the eastern tribal belt.
Nearly 800 persons were killed according to the official count; unofficial estimates are far higher. It was a slaughter of the innocents. The brutalities were unprecedented, especially against women. The targeting of Muslim homes, establishments and sources of livelihood was precise and bears evidence of premeditation. The term "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" have been used to describe the horror. Later, there were retaliatory strikes on Hindus, albeit on a lesser scale.
In the first week of April, some 120,000 victims of both communities were still to be found taking pitiable refuge in makeshift relief camps run by NGOs with some official assistance. What remains is a miasma of fear, hatred, insecurity, guilt and grim foreboding. Gujarat and India have suffered a grievous moral and material loss from which it will take much time and effort to recover. A whole community was targeted for the alleged sins of its co-religionists at Godhra long prior to that event and far beyond Gujarat. Ancient wrongs, real and imagined, were sought to be collectively avenged by the savage violation of the rights of a living, demonised "enemy". There has been an appalling emotional partitioning of minds into "we" and "they" among all too many across Gujarat and elsewhere in India. Millions in the country and throughout the civilised world have been appalled. Yet, in the midst of the carnage, there were innumerable stories, many yet to be written, of courageous and moving interventions by friends, neighbours and even strangers in defence of the helpless and endangered across this divide. That lends hope.
Over and beyond the dreadful killings and bestiality in Gujarat and a lowering threshold of tolerance and restraint, what is deeply worrying is the purveying of hatred and divisive prejudice by narrowly sectarian groups. If wars begin in the minds of men, so do riots.....
Excerpts from People's Union for Democratic Rights' May 2002 Report
Attacks on Muslims: A Sample of Incidents
Pandarwada, Taluka Khanpur
Trust Betrayed; 38 Known Dead
Pandarwada village has 500 to 600 Hindu families and about 70 to 80 Muslim families. The Hindus are Brahmans, Patels and Vanias who are prosperous wholesale traders and own cloth and grocery shops in the village. The Muslims are largely agricultural labourers and small peasants, some of whom own land on both sides of the canal that flows by the village. ...
The main chowk (square) of the village where Hindu and Muslim festivals were held together earlier was named 'Ayodhya chowk' after 6 December 1992 and Muslims stopped using it since then. In the past six months several VHP meetings were held where Bajrang Dal activists were also called. ... At a meeting held about 15 days before the ghastly massacres took place in the village on 1 March, provocative statements were made by BJP/VHP/Bajrang Dal leaders from loud-speakers to frighten Muslims and to instigate the Hindus to arm themselves to confront the Muslims. The meeting was attended by nearly 400 men and women from Pandarwada and nearby villages.
The killings in Pandarwada were organized in amazing detail. The local Hindu leaders had mobilized a mammoth 15,000 strong mob of Bhils of nearby villages who came on 28 February and again on 1 March when they went on a rampage for nearly the whole day. The mob looted the goods and took away Muslims livestock, destroyed and set fire to their houses and killed several of them as they ran to save their lives. It is said that they were offered Rs. 50,000 for every Muslim killed. One of the leaders of the mob was the franchisee of the ration shop, Jaswant Patel, who is also taluka up-pramukh. He had not given any kerosene to the Muslim villagers since Id, and this very kerosene was then given to the attackers.....
Anjanwa, Taluka Santrampur:
Women and children thrown into wells; 11 known dead
Anjanwa is a village with 39 Muslim and about 500 other families. All except 3 Muslim families have about 2 to 3 acres of land in the village. The Hindus (all backward caste, mostly Baria) and the adivasis also have land. Muslims have lived in this village since Santrampur was a princely state. The settlement is scattered with each family having a house on their own agricultural land. The Muslim houses are in fact two kilometres away from the main road. There are no newspapers, television or telephones in the village. Vehicles can go only up to a point on the undulating kuchha road in the village. The houses are accessible only on foot. The sprawling village is surrounded by hills on all sides.
With no communication facilities Anjanwa had no news of the Godhra incident. On March 2, two Muslim shops belonging to Idris Abdul Sheikh and Burhan Abdul Sheikh were burnt. The owners used to commute from Lunawada so were not there at the time. On 3 March, a mob of 500 men came in the morning from the east, armed with weapons and beating drums. They burnt the mosque and then the Muslim houses. Then they went off at 3 pm and came back again at 6 p.m. again with the frightening beating of drums and shouting 'Maaro! Kaapo! Baalo!' (Kill! Hack! Burn!) and stayed till the early hours of the next morning. According to the sarpanch, one of the attackers was wearing a helmet, and some others had covered their faces. They were dressed in shirts, trousers, boots, socks, and one of them was carrying a camera bag.
The Muslims who had been hiding in the hills during the attack, returned after the mob left, in the early hours of March 4. They asked the sarpanch to call for police protection. According to the sarpanch he called the Congress MLA (an adivasi) of the area on morning of 4 March, who in turn told the police. The police said they would send a force. When it did not arrive he tried the police again and was passed between the Mamlatdar and the PSI, each of whom said it was the other person's responsibility. The police van finally did arrive at around 7.308.00 p.m. on 4 March. However, some villagers told them that nothing was wrong, and unable to see signs of the attack from the main road, the police returned to Santrampur. On the 5th morning the sarpanch once again made frantic phone calls to the Santrampur police station, and was told that a van would come to collect the villagers. He asked the Muslims to collect in the village highschool so that they could leave immediately when the police came.
In the evening two sets of mobs came from opposite directions and attacked the waiting Muslims. As the Muslims ran to save themselves in different directions, sections of the mob followed them. 42-year-old Rukaiya Gafur and her two daughters were not able to run fast enough. They were surrounded by the mob at one end of the village. Rukaiya was brutally hacked to death with swords. Her body was thrown into a dry well (known as Wazir Amdu's well). Her two daughters, 13 and one and a half years old respectively were also attacked, but managed to survive. Two men, one over 75 years old and moving slowly with difficulty and another too sick to run were also caught by the mob. They were burnt alive in the fields. The bodies of Rukaiya and the two men were recovered on 6 March when the collector and SP visited the village.
Some women and small children who were unable to escape were gheraoed by a section of the mob near the sarpanch's well. They were attacked with swords and dharias, and eleven of them were thrown into the well. Three women managed to survive in the crevices of the well and were pulled out later by the army, which arrived on the 5th evening. Eight others who had been hacked and thrown died, including four children. Their bodies were pulled out on 6 March.....
Delol, taluka Kalol:
Conversion through cremation; 24 known dead, 13 year old raped
Delol village is located at a distance of about 5 km from Kalol taluka town. It had about 60 Muslim households and about 500-600 Hindu households. On 28 February, the day of the Gujarat bandh, a crowd of about 2000-3000 (mostly outsiders) came at about 10 a.m. and attacked, looted, burnt and destroyed the mosque, shops and establishments of the Muslims and left at 4 p.m. Later at night Ismailbhai was dragged out of his house by a crowd which included people from his own village, made to go through the village twice with a garland of shoes and asked to say 'Jai Shri Ram'. When he refused to say this, he was doused with kerosene and burnt to death in the early hours of the morning.
At 10 a.m. on 1 March, a larger mob of about 3000 to 4000 came to the village shouting, "Today is Bharat Bandh drive the Muslims out, hack them, kill them." A local BJP MLA Prabhasingh Chouhan was involved in the attack. In the late afternoon, a group of about 50-60 Muslims who had taken shelter with the Hindus in the village were chased by a large group of attackers to the main road and from there to the fields. The fleeing Muslims knew many of the members of the mob, but disregarding all their pleas, 8 of them were killed. In another incident on the 1st morning, a family of 11 members who had hidden in a Hindu house on the night before was attacked. They first ran towards the Delol bus stand, chased by attackers who hit them with dharias and sticks, many of whom were known to the fleeing Muslims. They then ran towards the dry bed of the river Goma, and managed to hide under a tree all day. At night a crowd of 500 to 700 people surrounded them, comprising people from Delol as well as surrounding villages. First they told the petrified Muslims that they would not kill them and gave them water to drink. Then they asked them to leave. Just as they started to leave, they attacked them from behind and hacked and burnt 10 people. According to one account, 13 year old Yasmeen, the daughter of Mohd. Ibrahim was gang raped before she was killed. In a symbolic act of conversion, the dead were put into a pile and set on fire. Ten and twelve year old Hameed and Aijaz, the sons of Kulsum Ayyub (who was also killed) were made to go around the pyre and shout 'Jai Shree Ram'. They were then shoved into the fire. Only one survivor, Javed, managed to reach the main road, where someone he knew helped him to reach Kalol.
The victims have filed complaints with the Kalol PS on 16 and 18 March, and say they can and will return to the village only if the action is taken against the guilty. The culprits continue to threaten the victims.
From Delol to Kalol, taluka Kalol:
Attacks on the highway; 13 dead, 2 raped
At about 4 p.m. on 1 March one tempo driven by Firoz Rasulbhai Shaikh, filled with about 20 men, 11 women and 11 children, all Muslims from Delol, fleeing towards Kalol were attacked by a large Hindu mob near Ambika Society, on the outskirts of Kalol. Themob had blocked the road using barrels, stones, heaps of sand and a car. In attempting to escape, the tempo skidded and overturned. As people fell out of the tempo, 13 of them (5 women and 8 men including the driver) were killed by the mob with swords and dharias amidst shouts of "Maaro! Kaapo! Baalo!" (Kill! Hack! Burn!). The mob then burnt the dead bodies along with the tempo. The rest of the Muslim men on the tempo managed to escape. The children begged the mob to spare their lives by falling at their feet. The children and the surviving 6 women then ran on the road towards the Goma river, with a part of the crowd following them.....
Eral, taluka Kalol:
Mob took money to save lives and then killed; 7 killed, 2 raped
On 28 February, mobs began to attack Muslims in Eral and villages around. People started to flee from the villages. However, in village Eral, Madina's family (husband, children, brother in law's family etc.) hid in the fields and temporary huts made by farmers to keep watch on their crops. The maize crop was standing in the fields. The mob found them on 3 March. About 150 people surrounded their group of 12 people. The attackers included some persons from their own village. They were carrying swords, guptis etc. The Muslim family then gave the attackers all the money they had - about Rs. 10,000 and begged them not to kill them. The mob took the money, then launched their attack. Madina survived because she managed to hide in the fields of standing maize and could not be seen by the attackers. She saw them kill 7 people in front of her and also chop off a two-year-old child Taufiq's thumb.....
Boru, taluka Kalol:
Police can't find the victims though they live across the road; 1 known dead.
Boru is about 5 km from Kalol. It has about 165 Sunni Muslim households and an equal number of Hindu house holds. It is the only village in its immediate neighbourhood with any Muslim houses. Among Hindus, Barias are the largest in number with about 70 households, followed by Christian Vankars (50 house holds). There are also sizeable numbers of Harijans, Banjaras, Bharots, Bharwads, Naiks, and a few households of Brahmans, Sutars and Solankis. About one-fourth of the Muslims have some land, while another fourth are agricultural labours. The rest run small shops or are engaged in trades like autorickshaw driving and masonry. Some of them have menial jobs in Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC). All the Hindus have agricultural land. One of the leaders of the attacking mob, Shankar Sinh Chandrasinh has 40 acres, a tractor, tubewell etc. He lost the panchayat elections to a Congress sarpanch. He blamed Muslims for supporting his opponent, and is said to have gone around villages mobilising people to attack in revenge.....
What the Incidents tell us: Emerging Patterns
Organisation and Mobilisation
One feature which has been strikingly visible in the entire region has been the organisational activity of the Bajrang Dal/VHP/RSS especially among groups like the adivasis. Muslim refugees from Pandarwada (Panchmahals) Randhikpur (Dahod), Sanjeli (Dahod), Por (Gandhinagar) and several others reported the steady build up of such activity through meetings, leaflets etc. over the last decade and more intensively over the last couple of years. Anti-Muslim propaganda has been the central plank of this build up. 'Kodar Doctor', one of the chief accused of Pandarwada would tell the Muslim villagers that Pandarwada was the land of the five pandavas, and Muslims were not wanted, and they should go to Pakistan.
A further increase in the tempo of communal mobilisation is reported in a number of villages from around 6 months ago, when the planning for the shilapujan to build the Ramjanmabhoomi temple began. Trishul-diksha programmes, where trishuls were distributed to large gatherings were organised in a number of areas beginning from around this period. Prantij (Sabarkantha), Sanjeli, Pandarwada and in fact villages across Khanpur taluka (Panchmahals) reported such meetings. These meetings were only held in villages where there were Muslims, and publicly issuing threats against the community appeared to be one of the objectives. In Pandarwada, people from 50-60 neighbouring villages are said to have come to the meeting at Ayodhya Chowk held only about a fortnight before the fatal attack on Muslims. Faiz Mohammad Ahmadbhai recalled,
Nearly 300 to 400 people from nearby villages, men and women, had collected at the meeting. There were VHP leaders, sadhus and others. The entire meeting was broadcast on the loudspeakers, provided by Anil Modi. One leader said, 'there were 2-3 households of Muslims earlier. Now they have 100-125 houses. The Muslim population is increasing. We must do something now. We have no arms. In Muslim houses arms are ready for use. We must prepare to fight them. The Principal of Shri K.M. Doshi High school, Kantibhai Ambalal Pandya, who chaired the meeting said, 'We must give serious thought to what the speakers have said today; and we must prepare ourselves so that we can confront them.' The Muslims don't believe in family planning so their population increases. Let our population also increase.....'.
Finally in almost all the villages affected, meetings were held on the evening of 27 February or on 28 February to plan the attacks. With prior preparation, availability of weapons, gas cylinders and incendiary materials, these meetings were aimed at organising and operationalising the exact details of the attacks and targets in each village. Some of the places where such meetings were held are: village Leach (Mahesana), village MoteraGandhi Nagar), village Prantij (Saberkantha) and village Sanjeli (Dahod) among others. These meetings were described in some places as 'Shanti Samiti' meetings, but curiously participants in these so called 'peace meetings' led the attacks the following day (as in Sanjeli). In Piplod (Dahod) the attack was launched on 28 February at 4 p.m. after a meeting of the attackers and main leaders in the adivasi ashram shala in the 'phaatak-paar' area of the town from 12 noon onwards. They began their attack immediately after leaving the meeting, destroying the handful of Muslim houses in the area.
It was partly this organisational base built upon the targeted deployment of hate that enabled the assembly of mobs as large as 7-10,000 or even more. Dalsukh Maharaj of Sanjeli, for example, tapped into a combination of existing organisation and the immediate local issue of an adivasi wedding party being fired upon to mobilise a mammoth crowd of 30-35,000 people, mostly adivasi to slaughter the Sanjeli Muslims, burn and loot their houses. "Adivasi women abducted by Muslim men", "Muslims as traders and exploiters", certain catch-phrases repeated in identical ways across the region indicate some of the strategies of Hindutva mobilisation among Bhils and other tribals. Similarly, sustained propaganda of rumours and myths about "alarming increase in Muslim population", "Hindu women being violated by Muslims", "more Hindus than Muslims killed in all earlier riots", "Muslims collecting weapons to attack Hindus" were used throughout Gujarat to mobilize mobs to attack Muslims.
Money, in several instances, was an added factor in mobilising mobs. In many villages in Panchmahals and Dahod monetary incentives and liquor were offered to adivasis to kill Muslims.
Informants from Mora said that two Sindhis from Godhra had come to Mora on the 28 night and given money and liquor to adivasis to kill Muslims. The mob collected only after they came. They also held meetings in Methral and Suliath to plan attacks.
While Godhra provided the occasion, it was prior mobilisation and organisation that made possible the systematic and calculated preparations that preceded many of the massacres - such as the repair of the electric line in Sardarpura (Mahesana) used to electrocute 29 persons to death, the knowledge of exactly how to torch the fire proof showroom of Harsoliya Motors (Sabarkantha), or what kind of blasting devices and detonators were required to destroy Muslim owned factories and establishments in the GIDC area in Modasa (Sabarkantha) while the area was under curfew (from 1 to 3 March).
To reiterate, all these point to an organised massacre and economic destruction of Muslims resulting from a history of focussed anti-Muslim mobilisation among different social groups in which the party in power and the state machinery also participated. In the face of such widespread evidence of prior organisation the spontaneous 'pratikriya' or 'reaction' explanation for the post Godhra violence favoured by officials and political leaders is hopelessly inadequate.
Method of attacks
Distinct patterns have emerged in the methods of attack across the area. For instance, weapons used in the attack such as swords were of the same brand and distributed in advance across large tracts. The large-scale use of gas cylinders to blast houses and commercial establishments especially in urban areas like Ode (Kheda) or Himmatnagar, a district town, is a common pattern. Perhaps the single most common method used to destroy property and lives has been burning. Whether as a gruesome echo of the Godhra train incident or the easiest method of destroying evidence, or as the most comprehensive way of destroying property, both rural and urban areas saw large scale arson, and numerous incidents of torching people alive, raping and burning, hacking and burning large groups of terrified Muslims on the run.
The Interdependence vs. Competition
Political economy explanations for the violence have limited use value as a master explanation in this context. Economic factors work both ways with interdependence tending towards the need to limit attacks and competition in certain sectors fuelling the communal mobilization. For instance, Palanpuri Muslims monopolise a chain of vegetarian restaurants. But the main suppliers of basic items such as atta, milk, vegetables, spices, and so on are Hindus. Most of the workers are also Hindus. In Ahmadabad, Italian Bakery, owned by a Muslim, depends on a large number of Hindu agents to sell its products. Many hawkers of the products (e.g. bread, cakes, biscuits) are also Hindu.
In spite of the many instances of economic inter-dependence between the two communities, however, each may pursue an independent trajectory to outdo the other in the world of competition. In this connection caste ties could function as important factors in the development of economic enterprise. This is evident in the critical area of finance capital. The functioning of two cooperative banks in Modasa (Sabarkantha) may be cited as an example. The elected members of the management of one of them, Nagarik Sahakari Bank (NSB), are all Hindus, while those of the other, Sarvodaya Sahakari Bank (SSB), are all Muslim. The rules provide for only a token representation of the other community the elected members of the management may nominate one person of the other community.
One of the reasons advanced for setting up NSB was that its counterpart was biased against Hindu clients. While it is difficult to substantiate such statements, the dominant perception is that support can be obtained only from an institution constituted by the members of one's own community. The development of the trucking business in Modasa is a case in point. The business is operated by a cooperative called Modasa Road Transport Cooperative Society. It has about 3,800 members and covers four talukas, comprising half the district. Muslims dominate the membership, Hindus constituting only about 20 per cent of the members. The latter include Patels and Banias, while the former include Ghanchis, Bohras, and Sepahis. Among the Muslims, the Ghanchis played a leading role in the development of the trucking business. As a former chairman of the cooperative told us, the transportation of goods was one of the traditional occupations of the caste, and hence it was 'in their blood' (the other traditional occupation was oil pressing). The community was extremely successful in adapting their skills to handling modern forms of road transport.
Till the 1960s Ghanchi truckers borrowed from private sources dominated by Patels, paying huge amounts as interest (at 3% per month). Following the nationalisation of banks in 1965 the trucking business in the district received a boost, because loans for the purchase of trucks could be obtained on an interest of 12% per annum. However, it was the establishment of SSB around the same time that proved to be a landmark in the development of the business. Unlike nationalised banks, which provided up to 10% support for purchasing a truck, the cooperative bank advanced up to 90% of the cost. Thus, even a person having about Rs. 10,000/= could become a truck owner in the late 1960s, as the price of a truck at that time was only approximately Rs. 60,000/-. The period witnessed a fantastic expansion in the trucking business in the Modasa region, the Ghanchis being among the main beneficiaries.
One of our informants believed that the prosperity of the Muslims of the area aroused the envy of the Patels and Banias, and ironically communalised the atmosphere in the town. When riots last occurred in 2000, about 60 business establishments belonging to Muslims had been damaged. The fact that the victims found succour only from their own community added to the polarisation between Hindus and Muslims. For instance, following these riots, the governing body of SSB decided to advance loans to those who had suffered damages, offering a rebate of 50% on the normal rate of interest.
One consistent pattern seems to be the specific targetting of the economic basis of the Muslims, be it shops, implements, trucks, autorickshaws and other means of livelihood. 85 auto rickshaws driven by Muslims lie idle in Sawala, Mahesana, as the situation in neighbouring Visnagar where they used to ply is too tense and unsafe for them to go. 65 trucks owned by Modasa based Muslims alone were burnt (as in the case of the Bayad incident cited) on the Godhra Modasa highway during this communal carnage.
destruction of evidence by burning of dead bodies aided by cylinders and petrol etc. whether at Ode or Limbadiya Chowkri or in several other places across the state has left the survivors without access to the dead bodies of their loved ones. The lack of bodies has also made it easier for the state to minimise the death toll, and thus avoid paying compensation.
The horror of such deaths is still reflected in the eyes of survivors- men, women and even small children, in relief camps, left with just a few brittle charred bones. Odd things remembered by survivors bring out the pathetic nature of these deaths - in Modasa where remains of the truck drivers killed at Madhopur Kampa were handed over to the Transporters Cooperative, all that remained of each man fit into small cardboard cartons.
Another pattern that has emerged throughout the region is that the Muslims in a number of places trusted their attackers. In Por Hindu attackers, mostly Patels, had eaten a meal in the house of their Muslim victims on the occasion of Id on 23 February. The victims of Por, who are not being allowed to go back to their village unless they withdraw the names of the accused, could hardly believe that their fellow villagers had turned attackers. In Abbasana the 3 families of Muslims trusted the Hindus with whom their families had lived for generations. Their sense of betrayal and grief when the same neighbours attacked and killed 5 men of the village on 2 April was immense. In Pandarwada too attackers like Jaswant Patel offered protection to the Muslims and asked them to take shelter in his fields. He then directed and led the mob against them killing 8 people. Another leader Mahendra Vakil offered them protection in a house and told them to put inside the firewood lying outside the house to 'prevent the attackers from setting the house on fire.' He then locked the doors and led the mob against the Muslims in the house. It is such total and deliberate betrayal of trust after pretending to save them that will leave the deepest and most permanent scars.
In a number of places attacks on Muslims took place inside public buildings and institutions like government hospitals as in Kalol and Visnagar on 28 February where mobs entered the premises to kill and injure 1 and 3 persons respectively. Another pattern we came across in some rural areas in Panchmahals was of the same mob roaming about the countryside with impunity, telling victims that they would come back later, going from place to place over days, led by prominent people from the rural areas- such as in the case of the mob attacks on Mora Suliyath and Anjanwa in Panchmahals.