A relentless hate campaign

Published : May 01, 2002 00:00 IST

Violence continues in Gujarat even two months after it started and the Sangh Parivar campaign to spread communal hatred gains strength by the day, seemingly aided by governmental apathy and worse.

* After unleashing mayhem in Gujarat, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is now cashing in on its campaign of hate. A fund-raising pamphlet published by the VHP's State treasurer, Chinubhai Patel, exhorts the people to "save our country by boycotting Muslims economically and socially". The pamphlet, being circulated in Ahmedabad's middle class colonies, elaborates: "Those who talk of Hindu-Muslim unity are only maligning their own religion. There can be no equality between Hindus and Muslims." Playing on the fear and insecurity that the VHP has created through engineered violence over the past two months, the pamphlet goes on: "What is your security even in the most decent and secure locality in spite of having security guards? Traitors and terrorists are coming by the truckloads. They will kill your security guards and enter your bungalows. They will murder you in your drawing rooms and bedrooms." Finally, after raising the level of hysteria sufficiently, the VHP's pamphlet gets to the bottom line - the moolah. "We must organise ourselves, join Hindu organisations and make financial contributions... After Godhra, cases against several VHP members and Hindus have been registered and many of them are in prison now... It is our duty to protect their families and keep them from starving... You will only be following your dharma by doing so... Contribute to the VHP and avail of 50 per cent tax saving."

* During the recent senior secondary and higher secondary school examinations held on April 21, the Gujarat government did not miss a chance to sow the seeds of hatred in thousands of young minds. A question in the English examination paper asked students to join the following sentences to make them one: "There are two solutions. One of them is the Nazi solution. If you don't like people, kill them, segregate them. Then strut up and down. Proclaim that you are the salt of the earth."

CONSIDERING the extent to which the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have been given free rein to kill, burn and terrorise people, it is no surprise that there is no end to the violence. The past two months have seen over 850 deaths, more than 2,000 persons injured and upwards of 24,000 homes and shops destroyed - by official estimates. More than 1,000 people are missing. Unofficial estimates place the death roll at 2,000. Refugees in relief camps and those who have not yet fled their homes in Ahmedabad's ghettoes within the walled city, remain under siege. The perpetrators roam the streets with impunity, stemming hopes that the State's 1.5 lakh-plus refugees will be able to return to their homes anytime soon. The fascist BJP government has no interest in stopping the carnage in the State which the BJP calls its 'Hindutva laboratory', the only State where its party has a majority government. Its interest lies in keeping the flames burning, in order to ensure that its hate campaign generates enough terror and insecurity to translate the fear of minority retaliation into votes. The pogrom against Muslims has the silent approval of Narendra Modi; and some of his Ministers are involved too.

The most aggressive of them has been Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bharat Barot. For the past two months, he has been targeting the Dariya Khan Ghummat camp at Shahibaug in his constituency, which shelters 6,520 refugees. Barot wrote to Home Minister Gordhan Zadaphia asking him to shift the camp since his Hindu voters felt insecure with the refugees living close by. The local police, supported by Barot, raided the camp on the afternoon of April 23, claiming that it housed rioters and terrorists. The police lobbed teargas shells into the municipal school where the camp is located. An elderly woman died of shock, a camp organiser was injured and three young refugees were arrested. The police filed a case against 16 members of the camp, including the organisers, accusing them of instigating Hindu mobs to burn Muslim shops (those who actually burned them were not named in the first information report). Realising the dubious nature of the complaint, senior police officers transferred the case to another inspector. Mohammed Sadiq, one of the refugees who was arrested, said he was on the top floor of the school, calming down women refugees, when the police dragged him and his friends to the police station and beat them. "They kept asking us 'How many people in the camp are terrorists from Godhra? How many people have weapons?' Finally, they released us at midnight. Not only have they made us refugees but now we are also the accused," he said. Other refugees from the nearby Mahakali Mandir also allege that Barot was involved in the attack on their homes on April 27. The Dariya Khan Ghummat case clearly highlights the complicity of politicians and the local police in the continuing witch-hunt against the minorities.

Finance Minister Nitin Patel was reportedly instigating trouble in his hometown of Kadi in Mehsana district. Subverting the government machinery, Health Minister Ashok Bhatt and Urban Development Minister I.K. Jadeja were monitoring police control rooms in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar during the first few days of rioting. It was during this time that desperate calls were made to the police by former Congress member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri pleading for help. Hours later, he and 40 others were killed and burned in the Gulbarga society massacre.

While the Sabarmati Express tragedy was considered a "terrorist act", the subsequent planned pogrom against Muslims has not been considered so. What distinguished the violence from Gujarat's previous rounds of communal clashes is the fact that these attacks were premeditated. Planned with utmost precision, using gas cylinders, swords and trishuls, the initial violence was not spontaneous. The VHP identified Muslim shops and homes to be targeted with the aid of survey and voters list data. It is even alleged that some members of the mob had been trained, much in advance, to create mayhem. Although the administration anticipated trouble, it did nothing to stop it. It was an orchestrated failure of the government machinery. The Sangh Parivar had its men placed in key posts of the police and the bureaucracy to ensure that all went according to plan. Those police officers who dared to do their duty by quelling the attacks were punished with transfers. The VHP continued to stir trouble during the Ram temple campaign on March 15 and the Holi festival on March 29. The third phase of violence has been kept hot by playing on insecurity and rumours at a local level.

Another reason why there is no end to the violence is the bias of the police force. Not only did it stand back and watch when mobs attacked Muslim bastis, but in many recent cases, the police have themselves gone on the rampage, often shooting innocent residents at point-blank range. Wali Mohammed Ansari lost his brother Mehmud Husain (45) and niece Nazia (18) on April 21. They were both shot in the head when the police opened fire inside their home in Patel ki chawl in Gomtipur following the stabbing of a policeman in another neighbourhood. Patel ki chawl has never seen a communal riot, not even during the violence in 1969. "The police just entered the chawl and started firing. My niece was studying for her examinations along with her friends. My brother had just returned home from work. Even when I was taking them to the hospital we were stopped on the road by the police," he says.

In the adjacent Modi ki chawl, Bashir Sheikh's wife Hanifabibi also died when a police bullet pierced her skull. The hospital issued a certificate to Bashir citing the cause of death as "shock as a result of firearm injury". Seven people died when the police went on the rampage that afternoon. In other areas like Chandola in Ahmedabad, there have been similar reports of police excesses as recently as April 27. "There is no accountability in the police force anymore. The entire system has been subverted," says a senior police officer.

The police are making it difficult for victims even to file FIRs. Taking advantage of the fact that most refugees cannot step outside the relief camps, they filed vague cases without naming the accused. In instances where victims named the perpetrators, the police refused to accept the FIRs until the names were withdrawn. In many cases, FIRs have been clubbed together, reducing the number of cases against the guilty. "Everyone knows who is behind all this. So why aren't the main culprits being arrested? Even the two big leaders, VHP secretary Jaideep Patel and member of Legislative Assembly Maya Kodnani, who were named in the Naroda Patia case, where 92 people were killed, have not yet been arrested. Unless there is justice, how can there be peace?" asks a senior police official.

In an incident which epitomised the police's mute response to the violence, Muslim shops located just outside the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner's office were burned on April 23. Hindu shops adjacent to Muslim ones remained untouched. Nothing was done to stop the mob. The next day, Narendra Modi assigned Director-General of Police K. Chakravarthy to oversee the functioning of Ahmedabad Police Commissioner P.C. Pande. It was a stern but half-hearted dressing down.

Others who have benefited from the violence are local slumlords, many of whom have links with politicians. Slums in many locations have been cleared. In some cases, local criminal elements have ensured that residents do not return, either by burning or clearing the destroyed houses. In the 60-year-old Khariwadi slum in Khanpur, where violence broke out on April 22, both Muslim as well as Vagri residents fled, each blaming the other for the attack. The end result has been the evacuation of the hutment, which lies on a prime piece of property adjacent to several hotels. The municipal authorities had been trying to evict the residents for several years in order to make way for the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, in which a BJP bigwig reportedly has a stake. The residents obtained a stay on demolitions from the High Court four years ago. However, the recent riots ensured their evacuation without bulldozers. In Naroda Patia too the compound has been walled off, making it difficult for the tenants to return, according to Shah Alam camp organiser Mohsin Kadri.

Logic should dictate that given the mayhem that the BJP has unleashed in the State, the so-called 'peace-loving people of Gujarat' will topple the government in the next elections, which the BJP is in a hurry to hold. But logic has no role in an atmosphere vitiated by hatred and fear, where the slightest rumour can spark violence. This is exactly what the BJP is hoping to cash in on. Using deftly propaganda through the Gujarati press, pamphlets and rumours, it has managed to portray itself to the middle class as the only 'protector of Hindus' from the 'terrorist Muslims'. In the tribal areas of Panchmahal and Dahod, it has used its fascist techniques to pit Adivasis against Muslims, both the poorest sections who would otherwise be natural class allies. Similarly, in urban Ahmedabad, it has managed to divide the working class, mobilising Dalits and the other backward classes against Muslims.

The BJP has also targeted Congress strongholds in north and central Gujarat - Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Dahod and Panchmahal. Forty-seven of the 61 Congress constituencies were riot-hit, as compared to only 57 of the BJP's 121. Saurashtra and south Gujarat remained largely unaffected by riots. In these regions, the real problems facing the State - poverty, water shortages, industrial slowdown, unemployment - may still be the decisive factors.

More than two months of sustained violence is not unprecedented in Gujarat. The 1985 anti-reservation riots lasted five months (see separate story). However, what distinguishes this latest round from past violence is that these attacks were not riots. They were an anti-Muslim pogrom. The State machinery was also complicit in many crimes. Its negligent attitude towards refugees in relief camps also reflects the extent to which Muslims were hounded out. Peace is not likely to return until the culprits, many of whom are within the government, are brought to book.

Narendra Modi's latest gimmick - doing the rounds of peace marches - has come under much public ridicule. Even as he and Union Defence Minister George Fernandes marched in Ahmedabad on April 28, surrounded by heavy security, five people were killed in the city's streets. On May 5, at least four persons were killed and 20 were injured in violence in Ahmedabad and Vadodara. Two of those killed were reported to have been burnt alive.

It will clearly take more than token public relations measures to get Gujarat back on track. Unless firm steps are taken to restore peace, the violence seems set to stay. But since hate is the BJP's trump card right now, it is unlikely to do anything that may reduce the emotions of fear and insecurity that it hopes will bring it back to power soon.

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