On the edge, still

Print edition : June 08, 2002

Sporadic violence continues, tensions still run high and the communal forces remain emboldened, even as bomb explosions in public places create panic in Gujarat.

"IT is a kind of peace since people are tired, but you can't really call it peace. The violence has lessened but not stopped. Anything can happen at any time." Human rights activist Trupti Shah's opinion seems to sum up the prevailing situation in Gujarat. Shah lives and works in Vadodara, one of the cities worst affected in the last three months. Her views are echoed by social workers all over the State.

It is a little over a month since K.P.S. Gill arrived in Gujarat. When he arrived, on May 3, officials in the Gujarat government preferred to pretend that they had no idea why he was there, despite his stated designation of Security Adviser to the Chief Minister. Others in the State did not know what to expect, having known only of Gill's tough, no-compromise 'super cop' reputation. One month on, Gill's role still seemed to be unclear. Rohit Prajapati, a human rights activist from Vadodara, says he was mildly optimistic about Gill's presence at first, but it has not really made much of a difference. "He listens to everything with great patience, but at the end of it all there is no action. I don't think he has the power to take any action. He only provides feedback to the Chief Minister. He is just there to create hope in the minds of the people."

A bus damaged in a bomb blast in Ahmedabad on May 29.-SIDDHARTH DARSHAN KUMAR/AP

Gill's presence is seen as a token gesture by the State and the Centre. "Appointing him was the government's way of saying they are doing something," says social activist Achyut Yagnik. This view is reiterated by Prajapati who says, "The State never thought to dialogue with the people. It cannot, because it has lost the trust of the people and yet the State has realised that it needs to save face and so it pretends to initiate a dialogue. Obviously an outsider had to be brought and so Gill is here."

This is not to say that Gill is ineffective, but rather that his powers are limited. Prajapati says he specifically asked Gill about the extent of his powers but received no answer. He uses the analogy of a pressure cooker and its whistle. "Everyone needs a breather. Even those who started and fuelled the riots need to get back to their jobs. Gill is the whistle - his presence is allowing people to let off steam. In reality all he is doing is dampening the anger."

The authorities - both administrative and police - are yet to regain the confidence of the people. "Justice can only come after peace," says Prajapati, "and the authorities are not making any effort towards justice." Registering a first information report (FIR) is still a daunting task, with the police either refusing to do so or leaving the formalities incomplete. Even when an FIR is registered, the police often refuse to give the complainants a copy of it. Action is not taken on the basis of the FIRs. Though a few arrests have been made, none of the leaders have been arrested.

In Vadodara, particularly, tensions still run high. Government officials at the so-called 'peace' meetings between Hindus and Muslims do not intervene even though atrocious conditions for 'peace' are laid down by some members of the majority community. Peace, say the Hindu leaders, is conditional on Muslims not wearing caps, not calling out the azaan (call to prayer), not being on the streets after 9 p.m. Prajapati says that "the police are continuing the work of the mobs".

In an interview with Frontline on May 18 Gill had said, "I would wait a while before saying there is nothing to worry about any more." (Frontline, June 7, 2001.) On May 21 the Army began a gradual pullout from Gujarat. Though the paramilitary forces stayed on, the withdrawal of the Army seemed to embolden the communal forces as the following sequence of events indicates.

Children stand in queue to enter a classroom set up in a relief camp in Ahmedabad on May 27.-DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP

On May 24, Godhra town, which had been relatively calm after 11 weeks of communal frenzy, suddenly erupted into violence, leaving two persons dead. However none was injured. On May 25, the suppressed tension in Ahmedabad erupted again in violence, resulting in one death by stabbing. In Godhra, a Muslim owned house was torched. On May 29, a series of bomb explosions threw Ahmedabad into panic once again. Three crude bombs exploded almost simultaneously in three city buses, injuring 16 people. The three bombs, which were placed in tiffin carriers, were the crude country-made type called sutli bombs - essentially explosive material mixed with nails and other sharp items all bound together with rope (or sutli). Two more bombs were defused by the bomb disposal squad.

On May 30, there were two bomb explosions in Godhra. On the same night, the police conducted a combing operation in the Memon colony in Vadodara that was described as a "brutal" one. Two men were killed at Kadi, in Mehsana district, one person was stabbed in Godhra and one was burnt alive in Mehsana.

The immediate reaction of Narendra Modi's government was to label the explosions as "terrorist attacks" inspired by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's "provocative speech" televised the previous day. There are others who said that the May 29 and 30 explosions could have been a reaction to the arrest of three Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists on May 28. The three were arrested in Ahmedabad for their alleged role in burning alive about 60 labourers, most of whom Muslims, in the Naroda Patia area of the city in March.

Operation Crackdown was launched by the Crime Branch of the Ahmedabad police to arrest those accused in the most gruesome cases of violence in the city during the riots - Naroda Patia and Narodia village, in which about 90 people were burnt alive on February 28 and Gulbarg Society, in which the former Congress MP Ashan Jaffrey was killed along with about 40 others. However, the arrests of the accused inspire no confidence. Take, for instance, the May 29 arrest by the Ahmedabad police of the local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kishan Korani. A member of the board of directors of the Gujarat Minorities Finance and Development Corporation, Korani was arrested in connection with the Naroda Patia massacre. The Gujarat government says that he will stay in his post till proven guilty. Commenting on the arrests made so far, Yagnik says, "There is no qualitative change in the government's attitude even now. If there was, they would be arresting the big fish. All that they are doing is to go for some of the small fry. These are just token arrests."

On May 28, the London based Indian Muslim Federation placed the matter of the communal riots in Gujarat before the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Commission in Geneva. They demanded the appointment of a Special Rapporteur and a Special Tribunal to conduct investigations and ascertain responsibility.

In a memorandum submitted to the High Commissioner, U.N. Human Rights Commission, Mary Robinson, the Federation asked for diplomatic pressure as well as economic sanctions to be exerted on India to enact a law in compliance with Article V of the Genocide Convention of 1948. This, the Federation demands, should be applicable to various communal riots in India including the recent ones in Gujarat.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor