Orchestrated terror

Print edition : June 08, 2002

Reports of fact-finding teams sent by organisations with a Left and secular outlook reveal credible evidence of official complicity in the post-Godhra violence against the minority community in Gujarat.

"We lost all hope when the police came with the crowds."

- statement made by a Vatva resident to the fact-finding team from a women's organisation.

THE extent of the tragedy in Gujarat and the insidious role the Bharatiya Janata Party government and its ideological allies played in it would not have drawn so much public attention and opprobrium but for the efforts of several organisations. The reports of their fact-finding teams, record boldly the testimonies of survivors; delineate the inimical role played by sections of the media, especially the Indian language ones, and expose the bias and mistrust among the State's medical community. Most of the reports bare the ugly face of majority communalism, which has been abetted by government agencies as well as lumpen elements of the Right wing. In contrast, reports brought out by commissions appointed by Parliament, such as the National Commission for Women, present wishy-washy accounts of the situation.

Riot victims salvage belongings in Ahmedabad on May 31.-DIBYANGSHU SARKAR

The fact-finding reports have been a visible manifestation of a secular response to the state-sponsored communal carnage. While mainstream political parties have confined themselves to limited street action and the constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to mouthing platitudes, organisations with a Left and secular outlook have reached out to expose the various dimensions of what actually happened in the State.

Reports by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M), All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), which appeared in the early weeks of March, indicted severly the Gujarat government, the State police and outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Several other reports containing almost similar findings were released in March and April. The report by a group, which comprised a journalist and representatives of the Muslim Women's Forum (Delhi), National Alliance of Women (Bangalore), Nirantar (Delhi), Sahrwaru (Ahmedabad), Accord (Tamil Nadu) documented the atrocities committed on women in particular. The report was released on April 16.

Its purpose was to lay bare the character and impact of the violence against women and children, list evidence of the role of the police, identify the new elements in the current phase of violence, and determine the role of organisations such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal in perpetrating the violence. The report, titled "How has the Gujarat massacre affected minority women: The survivors speak", is a testimony to the barbarity committed on hapless women and children, in the name of teaching Muslims a lesson.

Another report, titled "Gujarat Carnage - 2002: A Report to the Nation", released on April 10, was compiled by Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University; S.P.Shukla, former Finance Secretary and former member, Planning Commission; K.S. Subramanian, former Director-General of Police, Tripura; and Achin Vanaik, Visiting Professor, Third World Academy, Jamia Millia Islamia University. While the main focus of attention of the team was the "truth of the Godhra incident", it also looked at evidence of official complicity in the subsequent conflagration. The Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad commanded a 10,000-strong police force, including a force of 3,000 armed men and 16 companies of the Special Reserve Police. Yet mobs of about 5,000 men were allowed to run amok, loot, rape and murder, the report states. A senior police officer told the team members that the problem was not "lack of force, but lack of will".

The report looks into the background of communal violence in the State and rules out categorically the application of the word "riot" in respect of the recent carnage. The first major communal riot since Independence took place in 1969. The next occasion when a communal conflagration occurred was in 1984, when the anti-reservation agitation acquired communal overtones. The largest number of communal riots took place in 1990, during L.K. Advani's infamous rath yatra, when the violence spread to rural areas. A communal atmosphere was being created steadily through various channels, including the media and public lectures, the report states.

The report rules out the possibility that the tragic attack at Godhra was a planned one. Neither available information, nor the circumstances that prevailed at the time of the incident support the theory of a conspiracy with or without the involvement of foreign agencies. In fact, what seemed planned is the subsequent attack on Muslims and their houses and establishments. The report says that it is evident that the lists had been prepared over a period of time and that the Godhra incident merely gave the communal elements an excuse to carry out their agenda. The use of buses and trucks and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders points to the planning behind the carnage, it says.

The report of the Editors' Guild of India, titled "Rights and Wrongs: Ordeal by fire in the killing fields of Gujarat", narrates the positive and negative aspects of the way in which the New Media were used. Computer-generated handbills and clandestinely printed pamphlets were circulated widely. The e-mail facility was used to threaten and intimidate and to send hate mail. Members of the Guild team were shown pamphlets that called for an economic boycott of Muslims and warned Hindus against sending their children to Christian schools and praying at dargahs - (monuments of Sufi saints). The team came across reaction that showed the extent to which suspicions on communal lines had seeped into a significant section of Gujarat society.

The team found a deliberate attempt by the VHP to spread "facts" about the "pre-planned" Godhra incident through a widely distributed publication titled "Godhra and After". The teams cross-checked these "facts" with district officials, railway authorities and local journalists but found no corroboration. Several print and television journalists told the Guild team of the harassment that they faced from the VHP. The Resident Editor of The Indian Express told the team members that the office van had been searched repeatedly by armed mobs looking for Muslims and that he himself had received a lot of hate mail.

The Editors' Guild report noted the mischievous role played by certain Gujarati newspapers such as Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar, and some local cable television channels. But the coverage by the national media and some sections of the Gujarati media was exemplary. The report has expressed the Guild's reservations and anguish over Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's speech in Goa where he used the "us" and "them" paradigm to drive home the point that "India was secular even when Muslims hadn't come here and Christians had not set foot on this soil."

The report by the Medico Friends Circle documents the massive brutality and the systematic use of rape as an instrument of violence. It points out the gross deficiency in the provision of amenities and medical care in the relief camps. In some of the camps, that the team visited, many children reported acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea. The team found that psychological trauma was one area that had been grossly neglected. The report notes that the efforts by the State and municipal services have been commendable, given that even in normal times the functioning of the health services was inadequate.

A comprehensive approach to health care in this context would necessarily include treatment for severe injuries, chronic illnesses and psychological trauma resulting from experiencing or witnessing brutal acts of violence. The existing services do not address the psychological trauma or the specific health needs of women, especially pregnant or lactating women. The medical community could have provided medical evidence to prove instances of sexual assault, the report states. No serious efforts have been made by the government to protect the health services and ensure that people have access to them. The report notes that at several places Bajrang Dal and VHP activists had threatened Muslim patients from going to hospitals. There were also attempts to assault patients within hospitals.

The report expresses concern over the trend of medical professionals propagating the ideology of hatred. Notable among persons facing this accusation are Praveen Togadia, international general secretary of the VHP; Maya Kodnani, MLA from Naroda Patiya; and Jaideep Patel, joint secretary of the VHP. The medical community in the State was found wanting in its attempts to safeguard the rights of their patients and even their peers.

THE report by the journal Communalism Combat, titled "Genocide: Gujarat 2002", exposes the magnitude of the brutality that took place across 16 districts; the systematic hate propaganda unleashed through pamphlets, posters as well as school textbooks over the years; and, most important, the role of the State government, the police and Right-wing outfits such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. With the help of many testimonies, the report exposes the role of some Ministers and key members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. The report makes use of powerful photographs to convey the scale of the bestiality that was unleashed. The build-up to the violence included the orchestration of communal rhetoric by several prominent persons. One of the chief issues was the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. The report states that the economic decimation of the Muslim community was one of the prime objective of the attacks. It documents the selective destruction of Muslim establishments with the help of information collected from the Registrar of Companies and the Revenue and Sales Tax departments.

All reports point to overwhelming official complicity, evidence of which was gathered either from official sources or from direct testimonies of the survivors. So far, what is common in all the fact-finding reports is the dominant role played by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP in inciting and leading mobs. The women's panel have put together testimonies of survivors across seven relief camps in the rural and urban areas of Ahmedabad, Kheda, Vadodara, Sabarkantha and Panchmahals districts. Broadly, the reports point to a planned and targeted form of violence, under-reporting of sexual violence against women, official complicity in perpetrating violence, unprecedented attacks on women in rural areas, ghettoisation of the Muslim community in rural areas and the role played by the Indian-language press, particularly in provoking sexual violence against women.

From the testimonies of survivors as well as eyewitnesses, it is apparent that the most extreme forms of sexual violence were committed between February 28 and March 3. Minor girls were also not spared. The team heard narratives of rapes, gang -rapes, mutilation and then murder by burning. The testimonies were corroborated through the versions of victims' relatives located in scattered camps.

A resident of Vatva told the women's team: "we lost all hope when the police came with the crowd." She said that the police told the Muslims: "Tum lad lo. Jitni takat hain mukabla kar lo." (You fight the mobs with whatever strength you have). The police excesses did not stop even as late as March 20. Farzana, a young resident of Vatva, was killed as the police fired indiscriminately in response to some commotion. A young man was killed and a physically challenged girl was shot in the leg. Several women told the panel that a new form of harassment had started in the form of combing operations in which several young men were being picked up randomly.

As each fact-finding report comes out, it is becoming clear that the post-February 27 incidents in Gujarat were not an aberration. It was a Sangh Parivar-sponsored carnage, a truth that will refuse to die despite denial and repeated references to the Godhra incident.

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