A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Ethnic Cleansing In Ahmedabad|
|04/01/02 at 09:48:41|
This report has been carried out in one of the frontline magazine of India (Outlook).
Pls pray to Allah SWT that he protects the muslims of Gujrat.
Ethnic Cleansing In Ahmedabad
A preliminary report by the SAHMAT Fact Finding Team to Ahmedabad, 10-11th March 2002
DR. KAMAL MITRA CHENOY, VISHNU NAGAR, PRASENJIT BOSE, VIJOO KRISHNAN
The recent widespread communal violence in Gujarat has shocked the world. The UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has also voiced her deep concern. People from all walks of life in India have reacted with shock and dismay. The BJP government of Gujarat, as well as the NDA government at the Centre, have attributed the communal violence which broke out in Ahmedabad and other places on 28th February 2002, to the anger of the Hindus over the gruesome burning of ram sewaks in Godhra in the early morning of 27th February. The spontaneous outburst of the people following the massacre of the VHP activists, they argue, reached such proportions because of the ‘failure’ of the Opposition parties to condemn the incident unequivocally as well as the role of the national media which publicized ‘one sided stories’. The Home Minister has also commended the role of the Narendra Modi government in the Parliament, in having created a record of sorts by controlling the violence within ’72 hours’ as opposed to previous instances of communal riots under non-BJP regimes.
This theory of a spontaneous outburst of popular Hindu anger contrasted to the pre-planned massacre of VHP ‘pilgrims’ by ISI funded Islamic fundamentalists, lies at the core of the overt and covert justifications of the post-Godhra events, put forward by the Sangh brigade along with some allies of the BJP. For a preliminary assessment of the Gujarat situation, and as an act of solidarity with the suffering victims, SAHMAT organized a two day visit to Ahmedabad by a fact-finding team of Dr. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Vishnu Nagar, Prasenjit Bose and Vijoo Krishnan on 10th and 11th March, 2002. The team visited several relief camps including two of the biggest in Bapunagar and Shah Alam, and a number of affected localities, and prepared this Report based on its experiences. We are grateful to Fr. Cedric Prakash of Prashant, Ahmedabad, and Teesta Setalvad, joint editor, Communalism Combat, Mumbai, and many other volunteers for the advice and help they gave us.
Ethnic Cleansing not Communal Riot
At the outset it is important to underline the fact that the events in Ahmedabad do not fit into any conceivable definition of a communal riot. All evidence suggests that what happened there was a completely one sided and targeted carnage of innocent Muslims, something much closer to a pogrom or an ethnic cleansing.
Moreover, the selective violence that was perpetrated was done with remarkable precision, suggesting meticulous planning and collation of information over a protracted period, rather than the spontaneous mob frenzy characteristic of a communal riot. It also clearly indicates collusion and not merely indulgence of the state machinery and the ruling political establishment. The condemnable Godhra massacre was of course the trigger in this case. But the point is that it could have been anything else, any provocative act on the part of any Muslim individual or group, possibly even of a lesser magnitude, would have led to similar consequences. The ground for this communal genocide was cleared in Gujarat much prior to the Godhra massacre. It is noteworthy that the attacks on the Muslims in Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat started a day after the Godhra tragedy, further indicating that this was no merely spontaneous reaction, but one connected to the Vishva Hindu Parishad [VHP] Gujarat Bandh call on 28th February.
The casualties reported officially are understatements. According to those involved in relief and rehabilitation work (who are also involved in collecting information regarding the actual number of casualties) the number of people killed in Ahmedabad alone would be nearly 1000. As against the total of around 700 including the victims of Godhra, which the government has cited as the total figure of casualties for the whole of Gujarat, they say that the number would be around 2000 if not more. Since the violence has spread to remote villages, access to which has been denied by the government, any estimation of the number of casualties by non-governmental sources has been rendered difficult.
An overwhelming majority of those who have been killed are Muslims, including women and children. While most of the dead fell victims to killer mobs led by VHP-Bajrang Dal activists, there were several instances of death due to police firing on helpless Muslims. Some eyewitness accounts of those who had fled from nearby villages (45-50 kms. from Ahmedabad) and taken refuge in the relief camps, suggest large-scale massacres of Muslims continuing in the countryside. Entire families have been exterminated in villages with nobody left to lodge complaints or claim the dead bodies.
Almost everybody suggested that the carnage this time have surpassed all previous instances of communal riots in Gujarat (1969, 1985, 1989 or 1992) both in terms of loss of lives, as well as in terms of the barbarism involved. It was added everywhere that never before had the killings been so one sided, which makes comparisons being made with the earlier riots also quite misleading.
Nature of Violence
The most prominent form of violence experienced in Ahmedabad were in the form of pogroms led by local level VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders in Muslim dominated areas. The long history of riots had already altered the geography of Ahmedabad an communal lines with majority of the Muslims being ghettoized in certain areas. This time several such Muslim dominated areas, mostly working class localities were targeted, some for the first time, by huge mobs numbering 5,000 to 15,000.
The worst instance of such an attack was at Naroda Pattiya where a big settlement of Muslims of about 25,000 inhabitants was completely destroyed by the rioters. Survivors of the attack who are now spread over several relief camps in the city recall that the local police totally sided with the riotous mob. The Noorani masjid was first attacked and burnt with the help of LPG cylinders, tyres, petrol and kerosene. When some of the Muslim youth tried to resist the mob, the police fired at them and even killed some. Residents in the camps claimed that the Special Reserve Police [SRP] force present refused to provide them sanctuary and forced them towards the waiting rioters. Once the resistance was broken with the help of the police, the rioters stormed inside the settlement, burning and looting at will. Eyewitness after eyewitness in the relief camps described gory incidents of children being burnt alive and women being raped. One expectant woman’s belly was cut open, her foetus wrenched out and dashed to the ground. The enormity and ferocity of the attack forced all the surviving residents of the settlement to run away.
Every house was looted and burnt and the entire settlement completely devastated.
The falsity of the official figures suggesting only around 70 deaths in the Naroda Pattiya incident was evident from the testimony of so many survivors from that area who named their kith and kin whom they had seen dying in front of their eyes. The actual death toll will be much higher. Many also narrated how the SRP misguided a large group of people who were trying to escape into a trap, where the mob killed them and threw the bodies into a well. Most of the dead bodies were charred or mutilated beyond recognition and an overwhelming majority of the survivors did not manage to have access to the bodies of their relatives and perform the last rites in a dignified manner. Residents of Naroda Pattiya identified Vipin (owner of an Auto Agency), Jai Bhagwan of Gangotri Society, Mukesh (alias Gudda), Naresh and Chotta , all local level BJP/VHP workers, as having murdered and raped before their eyes. Inspector Surela of the local Police Station had it seems visited Naroda Pattiya after the Godhra incident and had assured safety to the elders of the area. Several eyewitnesses recalled his active participation along with others in his force, in the carnage.
Another such major organized attack was carried out on a Muslim settlement at Sundaramnagar near the Bapunagar locality. A visit to the affected area, disclosed a similar pattern of attack, from the eyewitness accounts. A local madrassa situated near the boundary of the settlement was attacked by a mob of nearly 15,000 accompanied by the police who fired at the Muslims who tried to offer resistance. Truckloads of LPG cylinders were brought and used to cause explosions inside the buildings. Trucks were also used to batter down the boundary wall to create a breach for the rioters to enter. A pitched battle was fought here between the Muslim inhabitants and the rioters who had surrounded them from three sides, for nearly 36 hours. During this period fresh batches of rioters were reportedly brought in luxury buses and fatigued ones taken away. Finally the resistance collapsed and the Muslim dwellers had to run away for their lives. The rioters entered into the settlement from all sides and carried out loot and arson on a large scale using petrol bombs and gas cylinders. Most of the dwellings in the settlement as well as private vehicles like scooters, bicycles or auto rickshaws were burnt completely. Even metallic furniture and ceiling fans had melted under the impact of the explosions.
The graffiti left behind by the rioters on the charred walls of the completely burnt madarasa at Sundaramnagar boasted of the police support:
Yeh andar ki bat hai
Police hamarey saath hai.
[This is inside information, the police is with us].
Jaan se mar dengey
Bajrang Dal zindabad
Narendra Modi zindabad.
[We will kill. Long live the Bajrang Dal, long live Narendra Modi.]
Other Muslim settlements in the vicinity at Akbarnagar, Rahmatnagar, Islamnagar, Madinanagar and Ansarnagar, some being at a stone throws distance from the local Police Station or the local police officer’s office, were similarly attacked, looted, with many of their buildings burnt and razed to the ground.
Similar instances of such pogroms reveal certain common characteristics. Firstly the rioting mobs were huge ones and with a substantial segment properly trained for such activities. In fact, they more resembled a militia rather than spontaneously mobilized fanatics. The premeditated nature of the attacks is indicated by the almost exclusive selection of Muslim commercial establishments, residential areas and individual residences. After the experience of earlier riots, most of the Muslim establishments had non-Muslim, mainly Hindu names. Yet the attackers reportedly had lists, and specifically targeted Muslim properties. In instance after instance, we saw Muslim shops, workshops, and flats burnt and looted while the neighbouring Hindu owned properties were untouched. The modus operandi was often the same. Vehicles including trucks were brought to cart away the loot. In the cases of factories and commercial establishments that had strong grills and metal shutters, gas cutters were used to gain access. LPG cylinders were used to blow up residential rooms and shops. Thousands must have been used. Such massive provision of LPG cylinders must have involved official collusion, if not sanction.
Secondly, in most of the cases the attacks were organized on 1st March, i.e. the day of the VHP sponsored Gujarat bandh which was also supported by the State BJP unit. The Godhra incident having taken place on 27th February, it is evident that the day of 28th February was utilized to gear up and mobilize the huge machinery deployed for the pogroms. Thirdly, the connivance of the local police as well as the SRP was absolute. 1st March being a Friday, the attacks almost invariably started with police firing or provocation on the congregation of Muslims at masjids during the jumma namaaz . Fourthly, the brutalities were excessive including sexual violence against women and children and burning alive of helpless people. Fifthly, the attacks were led by local level VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP leaders who had no fears of being identified or booked. These leaders, as well as leading attackers were allegedly carrying both mobile phones as well as water bottles. Finally, the entire effort suggests a concerted attempt to terrorize, uproot and drive away the Muslims even from their hitherto ghettoized settlements.
Since the entire purpose of the attacks was to kill and brutalize a particular community, irrevocably damage its economic interests, and force it out of earlier settlements to existing Muslim ghettoes, these attacks can only be described as ethnic cleansing. The partisan role of the state, the government, police, civil administration, the ruling party, the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the rest of the Sangh brigade, all point to this ethnic cleansing being state sponsored.
|Re: Ethnic Cleansing In Ahmedabad|
|04/01/02 at 09:49:23|
|Targeting with Precision |
The one sided nature of the violence mentioned above was further exemplified by the fact that the Hindu dominated areas surrounding the completely devastated Muslim settlements remained untouched and were back into normalcy within a few days. This selective violence, executed with remarkable precision has indubitably helped in preventing a consolidation of opinion within the majority community against the violence, if not gaining its tacit support. The message of the violence was quite clearly conveyed--if you are a Hindu you need not fear at all; this is not directed against you as long as you do not side with the Muslims.
Thousands of shops and business establishments belonging to the Muslims were ransacked and destroyed, often being selectively chosen from within a cluster of shops. A visit to Shalimar Complex where nearly 40 out of 50 odd shops belonged to Muslims disclosed how those were selectively targeted, looted and burnt on the day of the VHP sponsored bandh. A doctor couple whose chamber and pathological laboratory were situated in the complex was robbed of all their belongings including expensive medical equipment. The rioters came in large numbers and broke open the shutters and simply carried away every thing within the shops before burning them. Goods worth lakhs of Rupees were looted in this complex itself. Shops owned by Hindus were left untouched. Eyewitness accounts suggest that the Revenue Minister in Gujarat government (former Home Minister) Haren Pandya, and another Minister Ashok Bhatt were personally present during the looting and arson, and actually led the mobs.
Hotels and restaurants owned by Muslims also came in for this selective attack. Given the history of communal riots these restaurants were already running under ‘Hindu’ names like Tulsi, Abhilasha etc. to conceal their Muslim ownership. However, the information regarding every such business establishment was there with the rioters. It has been alleged that a local Gujarati daily Sandesh carried the names of all such Muslim owned establishments in Ahmedabad which were running under ‘Hindu’ names, about a month earlier. The worst such instance was the burning of the Hans Inn where inmates, mostly people from outside Gujarat, were not even allowed to come out and 14 of them were burnt alive inside the building. It is claimed that a Punjab Police officer and constable who had come for an investigation were among the victims. The name of Haren Pandya was repeatedly mentioned regarding this case also.
Socio-economic War against Muslims
This selective targeting of business establishments is only a part of the greater economic war the VHP proposes to wage against the Muslims in Gujarat. A leaflet circulated by the VHP (Annexure 1) calls for a total economic boycott of the Muslims in order to ‘throttle’ them, 'break their backbone’ so that ‘it will be difficult for them to live in any corner of this country’ . It is precisely this vision which was being implemented when Muslim establishments were being selectively looted and destroyed.
This communal project also becomes clear from the fact that Muslims from all sections of the population, from slum dwellers to businessmen and white collar professionals to senior government bureaucrats were targeted during the attacks. A visit to the posh locality of Paldi revealed how even the upper middle class sections of the Muslim community were targeted. The Delite and Tarana Apartments were completely gutted and the belongings of the Muslim flat owners of these multi-storied apartments looted. The residents included the Director of Industries, Gujarat government and a senior employee of the Gujarat University. Frantic phone calls to Ministers, ruling party politicians and even to politicians in Delhi could not prevent the total destruction of the apartments by a 5000 strong mob which broke open into the flats and ransacked them. The residents were able to avoid the fate of Ehsan Jafri (former Congress MP who was burnt alive in Gulmarg Society ) by silently hiding in the terrace of the building and not raising their voice even when the mobs went on a rampage inside their homes. They could not conceal their deep hurt while recollecting that many people from their neighbouring apartments whom they had known and lived together with for several years, not only cheered the rioters during the long they operation but some of them actually participated in it.
All these eerie experiences point towards a tremendous communalization of society that has taken place in Ahmedabad and other places of Gujarat. Hatred towards the Muslim minority has been systematically inculcated in such a manner that violence of barbaric proportions against them is not only widely condoned but also even enjoyed by certain sections of the Hindu communities. The press statement issued by noted historian Prof. K.N. Panikkar on 9th March after his visit to Ahmedabad, is thus significant:
" What happened in Ahmedabad and other towns and villages in Gujarat is not a spontaneous action. The methods used for destruction of life and property presupposes a fairly well organised preparation. It is clear that many incidents during these last ten days could not have happened without such a preparation. In a way it indicates a long-term process of communalisation and brutalisation of society. A major issue which society has to face is the influence of brutality, which appears to have conquered the minds of men. This is the result of the systematic and long-term atrocities of communal organisations and heightened by the irrational and emotional coercion of the people by both the VHP and the RSS."
It only needs to be added that even middle class women were found participating in the looting of jewelry and garment stores in the elite CG Road area of Ahmedabad during the VHP bandh, which also shows the extent comunalization of Gujarati society.
The collusion of the state was absolute. Firstly, the state administration and the police failed to protect the lives and properties of Muslim citizens, even when several people complaining about mobs attacking their homes or shops contacted them. Many of them were told that they would have to fend for themselves on that day. Secondly, in many cases BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders including Ministers and local corporators, actually led the mobs and supervised the killings and destruction. And finally, the Administration is now busy in ensuring a massive cover up.
While the role of the national print and electronic media has been applauded widely for its coverage of the violence and exposure of government’s negligence, the role of the local Gujarati media has hardly attracted adequate attention. Like in the past, the vernacular Gujarati press played an extremely biased role with the Sandesh directly contributing to incitement and provocation for violence. The Gujarat Samachar, the most widely circulated vernacular daily, was cynically referred to by many in having played a ‘moderate’ (communal) role this time compared to its earlier record.
Both the State and the local media have helped the VHP and RSS in organizing the violence against the minorities. Had it not been their collusion, neither would the rioters have had such precise information about the residences and business establishments of the Muslims, nor would the RSS-VHP have been able to mobilise the enormous machinery that was deployed to play havoc in Ahmedabad during this period. Thus describing the violence in Ahmedabad as a State sponsored ethnic cleansing would appear to be appropriate.
Condition of Relief Camps
The most glaring evidence of the bias of the Modi Government in Gujarat can be found in the condition of the 20 odd relief camps for Muslim refugees, which are being run in Ahmedabad alone.
It is estimated that more than 70,000 Muslims have been rendered homeless and are staying in these camps spread across the city. The camps include bigger ones at Shah-e-Alam Dargah and Aman Chowk housing 8-9,000 refugees and smaller ones like in Sundaramnagar and Saraspur Pathrewali masjid [Madhav Mill complex] having 3-4,000 people. A visit to these places confirmed allegations regarding total negligence and apathy of the government towards the innocent people who have been rendered refugees in their own land.
Before the all-party MP’s delegation visited Ahmedabad, some camps have been set up with government support housing Hindu refugees. While there are Hindu victims of the violence, their numbers and extents of loss are disproportionately lower than the Muslims and certainly not proportionate to what the government and VHP are seeking to establish. However, the communal attitude gets clearly exposed by the fact that while a Deputy Collector is in charge of the government run relief camp at Kankaria for the Hindu victims, the larger camps run for the Muslims have virtually no official support. No senior official or politician had visited the larger Muslim camps till as late as 11th March. In one of the smaller Muslim camps, two Deputy Mamladars had been deputed a day before the Chief Minister visited it on 6th March. The all party MP’ s delegation was taken to only a handful of the smaller Muslim camps along with the Hindu camps to give a completely distorted picture of the violence that took place.
The Muslim camps are being run mainly through the support of community leaders and organisations, NGOs, missionaries and other private sources including some political organisations have also made significant donations. The rations, which the government has started giving very late, are grossly inadequate. In fact the Shah-e-Alam camp managers alleged that the weekly ration being given by the government is actually not sufficient for a single day’s consumption. Thousands of homeless people are having to stay under shamianas in the absence of any provision for their shelter. Blankets or clothes are not available. There is hardly any medical help in most places and even child births are taking place in the camps without proper medical facilities. The less said about sanitation the better. In Shah-e-Alam there is only one mobile toilet with 4 chambers for nearly 9,000 people! This is particularly disturbing because the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is Congress[I]-led and controlled.
With the government almost totally abdicating all responsibilities of providing relief, the issue of rehabilitation is shrouded in uncertainty. There has been no official recording of the Muslim refuges so far let alone any significant effort to lodge their complaints/FIRs by setting up police camps. Some complained about money being charged by the local police to register complaints. Moreover, no security has been provided to protect these camps from future attacks. The helpless, insecure and traumatized Muslim masses have been left to fend for themselves. According to a report, near one such Muslim camp in Vatwa , audio cassettes with cries and howls of ‘maro maro’ are played at night on loudspeakers regularly, to further terrorize the refugees there who are yet to recover from the trauma of the violence on 1st March.
It seems that the government is deliberately pushing this enormous number of Muslim population to the margins of survival. Due to the extremely unsanitary conditions there are genuine fears of outbreaks of epidemics in these camps. Moreover, since almost all the refugees have lost their ration cards and the government is showing no interest in identifying them, there is the dangerous possibility of a huge number of people losing their basic citizenship rights. The insecure residents of the camps have no place to go back since entire settlements have been completely demolished. Unless immediate relief and proper rehabilitation is ensured for the Muslim refugees, a great human tragedy of much larger proportions to what has already taken place, is bound to happen.
With the Ayodhya issue coming to dominate the centre stage of national politics, the plight of Muslims in Gujarat has not received the attention it merits. The media as well as the Opposition need to highlight the issue of relief and rehabilitation of the victims of the violence in Ahmedabad and other places immediately. Given the character of the State as well as the Central Government, it is only a concerted action on the part of the secular and democratic sections of society and the polity that a bigger human tragedy can be prevented.
Destruction of Historical Monuments and Places of Worship
Along with the butchering of human lives, there has been widespread destruction of masjids and dargahs. Rough estimates suggest 20 odd mosques being demolished in Ahmedabad alone. As has been mentioned earlier, the major attacks were organized on 1st March and the pattern seems to suggest targeting of mosques in all parts of city, during the Friday prayers. In most of the places, Hindu idols were placed on the site of the mosques after demolishing them, thus converting them into temples a la VHP style. In many cases, liquor was consumed within the mosques and madrassas, and holy books burnt within madrassas . The small Hindu temple within the Muslim locality of Sundaramnagar which remained unharmed while its neighbouring mosque and madrassa were burnt and destroyed, stood in sharp contrast to the vandalism of the VHP rioters.
However, these attacks on the mosques should not be seen only in terms of being acts of provocation meant to incite the Muslim minority by hurting religious sentiments. They were also accompanied by attacks on historical monuments. The famous 500-year-old masjid in Isanpur, which was an ASI monument, was destroyed with the help of cranes and bulldozers. The famous Urdu Poet Wali Gujarati’s dargah was also razed to the ground at Shahibag in Ahmedabad. While a hanuman shrine was built over its debris initially, all that was removed overnight and the plot was metalled and merged with the adjoining road. No authority claimed any knowledge about the entire episode. It is worth noting here that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, which is responsible for the maintenance of all these structures, and for the building of roads, is run by the Congress with a near two-thirds majority.
VHP’s campaign to rename Ahmedabad as Karnavati is well known. In accordance with that revivalist project there has been over the past, a proliferation of roadside temples coming up overnight all over the city. Now taking advantage of the situation the same project seems to have been furthered by demolishing monuments and mosques which stood as symbols of the composite cultural heritage and of course served as deterrents to the RSS-VHP’ s distortion of the history of Ahmedabad.
The attitude among the affected Muslims in Ahmedabad today is of sheer despondency. The myths created by the VHP-RSS regarding Muslims being heavily armed by external forces stand shattered in the face of absolutely no resistance, armed or otherwise, on the latter’ s part. However, the fear and communal stereotypes, which has been instilled in the minds of many Hindus through years of propaganda, continues to make them apprehend violent retaliation. Reports say that even trucks carrying relief materials were stopped from moving into relief camps on the grounds that they might be carrying arms for Muslims.
Had it not been for the Army’s intervention, many more innocent Muslims would have been killed. Apart from the Army, no other institution of the state remains to be credible in the eyes of the affected people. Peace, security and justice seem to be a far cry for them.
The politically motivated statements by Chief Minister Modi, likening the communal conflagration to a Newtonian reaction, have only deepened their alienation. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani sought to defend the Modi government’s role in Parliament. Perhaps he would also be in the know of the allegations within his own Parliamentary constituency against the Gujarat Home Minister Gobardhanbhai Zapadia’s brother distributing arms and leading riotous mobs.
It will take generations for the victims to recover from such a pointed and vicious communal onslaught. It is of immediate importance to bring the perpetrators to book and prosecute them under the criminal laws of the country. The Government of Gujarat and its chief executive are widely believed to be responsible for this carnage. Therefore, the CG Shah enquiry instituted by them has little credibility. A high level and time bound judicial enquiry by a sitting Supreme Court/High Court judge should be instituted to look into the entire episode and bring the guilty to justice. The Union government must direct the Gujarat government to set up such an enquiry, and to provide it all necessary assistance expeditiously, so that it can arrive at its findings at the earliest. In the meanwhile, a CBI enquiry into the role of the police, with those with prima facie cases against them being suspended/transferred, may also be instituted. The role of the local Gujarati press must be examined by the Press Council, and where the laws of the land have been transgressed exemplary action must be taken, so that communal fires are not fanned again.
Proper and adequate relief measures should be given to all victims and no effort should be spared for their rehabilitation. Prompt and adequate compensation is a must. In view of the perceived partisanship of the Modi government, the local corporation and trusted civil society organisations must be involved. In a number of cases, Muslims would not like to return to their earlier localities. State as well as civil society efforts are required to rebuild trust and ties of friendship and good neighbourliness. But where these efforts fail, alternative sites will have to be found, and housing built. Long term steps should be taken to ensure that Gujarati society returns to its secular roots and to the tradition of its most revered son Mahatma Gandhi.
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