Voices of collective conscience

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

A synthesis of the major findings of independent citizens' groups which attempted to study Gujarat post-Godhra.

IN the desolate sombre landscape of the brutal massacre that was played out in the killing fields of Gujarat in the spring and summer of 2002 and its aftermath, stray but significant glimmerings of hope still stubbornly shine through. Among these are an entire body of independent citizens' reports, more than 40 at last count, which with an unwavering fearless commitment to truth and justice, have gathered overwhelming evidence of the enormity of the brutality, state complicity, long advance preparations for the carnage and the deliberate subversion of relief and rehabilitation. Those who spontaneously volunteered to research and write these reports include several of the most respected retired judges, activists, writers, school and university teachers, lawyers, doctors, trade unionists and retired civil servants in the country, women and men of unimpeachable integrity and social conscience.

Collectively these reports, with masses of hard evidence and heart-wrenching testimonies, piece together what builds into unassailable affirmation of one of the gravest mass crimes in India's recent history. It is imperative that we look hard without flinching into the mirror that these independent reports hold up before us, however grotesque the images, however agonising the lessons. For it is only in this mirror that we can see the world that we have lost, but also the world waiting to be reclaimed.

Details of savagery

The majority of reports elaborate most exhaustively the harrowing details of the savagery. Beyond a few pages, it is hard to read, even less imagine or reconcile with evidence of the abyss of bestiality and mass sadism. The report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal marshals evidence which shows how "in the macabre dance of death, human beings were quartered and the killing protracted while the terrorised survivors looked on; the persons targeted were dragged or paraded naked through the neighbourhood; victims were urinated upon, before being finally cut to pieces and burnt. Hundreds of testimonies before us show how this manner and method of killing has left an indelible imprint on the minds of the survivors." It notes that "the burning alive of victims was widespread". A particularly tragic incident was one in which "when 6-year-old Irfan asked for water, his assailants at Naroda Patiya made him forcibly drink kerosene, or some other inflammable liquid, before a lit match was thrown inside his gullet to make him explode within."

The Tribunal echoes many Reports in its observation: that "a distinct, tragic and ghastly feature of the state-sponsored carnage unleashed against a section of the population, the Muslim minority in Gujarat, was the systematic sexual violence unleashed against young girls and women. "Rape was used as an instrument for the subjugation and humiliation of a community. A chilling technique, absent in pogroms unleashed hitherto but very much in evidence this time in a large number of cases, was the deliberate destruction of evidence. Barring a few, in most instances of sexual violence, the women victims were stripped and paraded naked, then gang-raped, and thereafter quartered and burnt beyond recognition. According to the evidence recorded by the Tribunal, the leaders of the mobs (many of whom have been identified) even raped young girls, some as young as 11 years old. The young girls were made to remove their clothes in front of 1,000 - 2,000 strong mobs who humiliated and terrorised the girls. Thereafter, they were raped by 8 to 10 men. After raping them, the attackers inserted sharp swords, knives or hard objects into their bodies to torture them before burning them alive. In the many bouts of communally incited pogroms that have taken place in various parts of the country, never has there been this depth of perversion, sickness and inhumaneness. Even a 20-day-old infant or a foetus in the womb of its mother was not spared.

The unprecedented bestiality of mass sexual violence on women is recorded with particular sensitivity by various women's groups. In one such report `The Survivors Speak', there are several wrenching testimonies of mass rape Sultani, for instance, from village Eral in Panchmahals, escaping from a mob speaks of how she "fell behind as I was carrying my son, Faizan. The men caught me from behind and threw me on the ground. Faizan fell from my arms and started crying. My clothes were stripped off by the men and I was left stark naked. One by one the men raped me. All the while I could hear my son crying. I lost count after 3. They then cut my foot with a sharp weapon and left me there in that state".

A mother, Medina, from the same village testifies that two villagers pulled away her own daughter. "My mind was seething with fear and fury. I could do nothing to help my daughter from being assaulted sexually and tortured to death. My daughter was like a flower, still to experience life. Why did they have to do this to her? What kind of men are these? The monsters tore my beloved daughter to pieces. After a while, the mob was saying `cut them to pieces, leave no evidence'. I saw fires being lit. After some time the mob started leaving. And it became quiet."

Many reports describe the use of children as instruments of terror. The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Vadodara, for instance, states, "in what is surely the most perverse dimension of the violence, children were used to torture and terrorise victims. In one particular tragic incident in Tarsali, an old Muslim man was shown the head of his beheaded son on a tray before he was himself brutally slain. Another woman surrounded by a mob had to watch as her son, who had climbed up a tree to escape the mob, was brought down, his fingers cut off and the rest of his body dismembered in her presence, all before she herself was killed."

The impact of such merciless violence on children is excruciating even to imagine. Thirteen-year-old Azharuddin, while hiding on the terrace of Gangotri Society in Ahmedabad testifies, "I saw Farzana being raped by Guddu Chara. Farzana was about 13 years old. She was a resident of Hussain Nagar. They put a saria (rod) in Farzana's stomach. She was later burnt. Twelve-year-old Noorjahan was also raped. The rapists were Guddu, Suresh and Naresh Chara and Haria. I also saw Bhawani Singh, who works in the State Transport Department, kill 5 men and a boy."

An independent team of citizens, supported by Citizens' Initiative, attempted specifically to assess the impact of this trauma on children. In their report `The Next Generations' they speak of the training of children in relief camps. "Some were tiny adults who seemed to have learnt the importance of narrating to the world the terrible horrors they had witnessed. They would talk to us stoically, then suddenly bury head in arm, when it came to the rape of a mother or an aunt. Others would break down howling when reminded of a beloved cat that had been brained by a hostile neighbour or a buffalo that had disappeared. Every minority camp also had at least one or two who sat with head drooping into neck after giving us his/her name and that of the only surviving parent or grandparent."

Eight-year-old Saddam described to this team how men attacked and "then... Then they stripped my mother naked... usko nanga kar diya." A nine-year-old volunteered to explain to another women's team what balatkar (rape) means. "Balatkaar ka matlab jab aurat ko nanga karte hain aur phir use jala deta hain (Rape is when a woman is stripped naked and then burnt). And then looks fixedly at the floor." The writer goes on to observe: "Only a child can tell it like it is. For this is what happened again and again in Naroda Patia women were stripped, raped and burnt. Burning has now become an essential part of the meaning of rape."

Planned pogrom

A second thread that runs through most reports is the systematically planned character of the massacre, reflecting an elaborate sinister blueprint drawn up well before the horrific torching of the railway compartment in Godhra. As put in the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) Report,"the official use of the word `riot', evoking images of group clashes, is not just wrong but a deliberate effort to obfuscate the issue. What happened was a systematic effort to terrorise Muslims and reduce them to the status of second-class citizens by taking away their lives, livelihood and shelter. It was a genocide that was almost unprecedented in its spread and intensity, the degree of organisation and attention to detail, and the extent to which representatives of the state participated in the attacks".

In similar tenor, an Independent Fact-Finding Mission comprising two respected academics and two retired civil servants, noted "certain crucial aspects of the carrying out of the pogrom required systematic planning well in advance of the Godhra incident. The lists the rioters possessed and used must have been compiled over time. The targeting of Muslim homes, institutions, establishments and shrines was very precise and accurate. Even when there was only one Muslim shop or home in a congested Hindu-dominated area, it was attacked, ransacked and burnt".

Various reports describe a frightening congruence in modes of attack. The Concerned Citizens' Tribunal 2002 concludes: "The evidence recorded before the Tribunal shows that, while Godhra provided the pretext, there was prior mobilisation of men and materials, and an organisation in place that made possible the systematic and calculated preparations that preceded many of the massacres." It goes on to state "the evidence before the Tribunal clearly points to scores of key actors leading large mobs, fully aware of what they had to do and achieving their task with precision. This suggests the existence of a private, trained militia running into thousands in Gujarat. A militia, moreover, established and made fighting fit through training camps, distribution of weaponry and hate propaganda glorifying violence. Weapons used in attacks, such as swords, were of the same brand, and must obviously have been distributed in advance across large tracts of the State".

ANOTHER menacing motif that characterised the mass violence across the State was the extensive religious and cultural desecration. As stated in the Sahmat report, "along with the butchering of human lives, there has been widespread destruction of masjids and dargahs".

The Concerned Citizens' Tribunal in its Report finds this to be a common pattern across Gujarat. "Mosques, dargahs, small shrines and other Muslim religious and cultural places were systematically destroyed and desecrated in the first 72-hour round of violence all over Gujarat. Copies of the Koran and other religious books were despoiled and damaged in many places all over the city of Ahmedabad, in Vadodara, Ankleshwar and Bharuch and in many smaller towns and villages all over the State. In all, over 270 mosques and dargahs have been thus destroyed. In many cases `Jai Shri Ram!' was scrolled all over the desecrated shrines. In many shrines, idols of `Hulladiya Hanuman' (translated, it means `Riot Hanuman') were installed."

The constant invocation of caste Hindu symbols, militant and aggressive posturing, the possession of trishuls and swords and regular weapons' training were elements of the methodical preparation of these cadres. At the advanced stage of training, the more seasoned members were told they would have to participate in fights or riots (ladhai-jhagda, danga-fasaad) whenever necessary. The Tribunal collected concrete information about the kind of mental training and brainwashing imparted to young men at the secret, weekly meetings "We were told that until now it is the Muslims who have been harassing Hindus. `They have molested Hindu sisters and Hindu daughters. In Hindi films today, all the top heroes are Muslims, but there are no Muslim heroines. It is Muslims who are forging ahead in our country. They don't let their daughters out in public but they spoil our Hindu daughters. Muslims are the ones who always use force. Our country was once a Hindu nation. The Muslims invaded us by force, married our mothers and our daughters and converted us to Islam'."

Partisan role of the state

Another blood-drenched chord that runs through the terrifying reconstructions of the mass violence in Godhra and its bloody aftermath in various Reports, is the unashamed partisan role of the state authorities, the political leadership, the police and civil authorities.

There is extensive and deeply damaging documentation of the criminal partisanship of the State police. The PUDR Report states that "police action has ranged from active collusion with the mobs to silent inaction in the face of cognisable and serious offences; from state apathy towards formulating and executing preventive measures to the unjustified and frequently biased resort to gunfire". The Concerned Citizens Tribunal is even more categorical that there is overwhelming evidence that "clearly establishes the absolute failure of large sections of the Gujarat police to fulfil their constitutional duty and prevent mass massacre, rape and arson in short, to maintain law and order. Worse still is the evidence of their active connivance and brutality, their indulgence in vulgar and obscene conduct against women and children in full public view. It is as if, instead of being impartial keepers of the rule of law, they were a part of the Hindutva brigade targeting helpless Muslims."

The PUDR Report painstakingly documents how the police actively assisted the guilty to escape prosecution. The first document through which crime is cognised is the first information report (FIR). Its contents form the basis for subsequent investigation. Discrepancies in the recording of this document can lead to improper investigation and later to acquittal of the guilty. The single major shortcoming (pointed out in the PUDR Report) is the grouping together of a number of unrelated crimes into one FIR. These are being referred to by the state administration as `Running FIRs'. Different incidents separated over days, concerning different crimes, committed by different groups of people and with different sets of victims are clubbed together in one FIR.

Yet another aspect is the deliberate distortion in the FIRs. To facilitate this, the informant for the recording of the FIR is a member of the police force. This distortion could only be intentional since survivors were easily available to provide an eye-witness account of the happenings.

An anguished police officer, V.N. Rai, respected for his integrity and courageous activism for a non-partisan police force, wrote an open letter to his colleague in the police force (quoted in the Communalism Combat Report).

"I am writing to you at a very difficult time as an Indian Police Service officer and with a sense of anguish. The recent events related to the communal holocaust in Gujarat are a matter of great concern for the country and should inspire serious introspection among all of us IPS officers. The terrible carnage that occurred at Godhra was an early warning of the fact that big events of communal destruction could occur the next day all over the State and the expectation from a professional police force was that it would oppose all actions of revenge and counter-violence with all the force that it could muster. But this did not happen. Not only was the police unsuccessful in containing the violence of the next few days but, it seemed, that in many places policemen were actively encouraging the rioters. The failure of the police should not be attributed to the lower ranks but must be seen as a failure of leadership, that is, a failure of the IPS."

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