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Gujarat Riots
The Top 5 Myths and Facts

By Shalini Gera and Girish Agrawal


On the morning of February 27th, the Sabarmati Express, with Hindu kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, was stopped near Godhra and several compartments were torched leading to the deaths of 58 passengers. While conflicting stories exist about the exact sequence of events, it is clear that there was a confrontation between the kar sevaks and the mainly Muslim residents of Godhra which escalated, and at some point the train was deliberately set on fire by a mob. The Coalition Against Communalism unequivocally condemns this horrible violence.

The VHP announced a nation-wide bandh on February 28th, which was supported by the BJP (which forms the government in Gujarat and is the leading member of the ruling coalition at the center). On February 28th, organized mobs of 'Hindus' started butchering and burning Muslims and Muslim-owned property in Gujarat. The police and other law-enforcement agencies were prominent only in their absence and inefficacy. The violence spread to all the major cities in Gujarat including Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Vadodara, Bharuch and even Gandhinagar. The cities now maintain an uneasy calm in the presence of the army, but the violence continues in rural areas. The official dead so far exceed 700, nearly all Muslims, and estimates of the number of Muslims displaced from their homes and forced into relief camps range from 50,000 to 100,000. The conditions in the relief camps continue to be miserable, with the government providing little or no support. The Coalition Against Communalism strongly condemns the Gujarat Government for total failure of governance during the riots, for encouraging violence against minorities and for its continued failure to provide relief and aid to the victims of the carnage.

The riots in Gujarat are a spontaneous expression of Hindu anger.

Origin of this myth: This sentiment has been expressed widely by several people at the helm of affairs in the state of Gujarat, as well as those leading some 'Hindu' organizations. They claim that Hindus were enraged about the incident in Godhra where over 50 kar sevaks had been burnt alive, and the riots were 'merely' an expression of their anger.

Fact: These 'riots' were a pre-planned, cold-blooded, calculated, willfully executed massacre of the Muslim community. In other contexts such occurrences have been referred to as 'genocide' or 'ethnic cleansing.' They were carried out with the connivance of civic, administrative and political bodies. Consider the following:

  • People and homes of the Muslim community were targeted using voter lists and other official documentation. Business establishments and hotels of the minority community were identified and destroyed using license and other relevant information generally available only from the civic administration. (Misuse of voters list in Gujarat riots alleged). This shows a macabre level of planning, organization and attention to detail, not a spontaneous outburst of anger. Outlook magazine reports that in recent months there have been concerted efforts by the VHP to get the names of Muslim businesses from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, names and addresses of Muslim students from universities and professional institutions, and also to draw up a list of 'undesirables' working for government agencies such as the Food Corporation of India (Thy Hand, Great Anarch). Any guess on how these lists were used on February 28th?
  • In commercial districts where businesses and shops of Hindus and Muslims co-exist, the mobs burnt only the Muslim-owned shops. Shops that were Hindu-owned but rented by Muslims were left intact while the material inside was dragged out and burnt or looted. Rampaging, angry mobs who pay such close attention to ownership records? This shows calculation and planning, not mob 'frenzy'. As the NDTV journalist Barkha Dutt notes, "What's so spontaneous about an attack that is planned so meticulously that only the seventh shop in a crowded lane gets razed to the ground but everything around it is untouched and undamaged?" (Covert Riots And Media)
  • If 'Hindu outrage' is enough to explain these riots, then why did these riots occur overwhelmingly in Gujarat only? The murder of the kar sevaks in Godhra had outraged Hindus all over India--but nowhere else did Hindus go out in rampaging mobs, burning Muslims and looting shops-not even in Ayodhya where over 15000 outraged kar sevaks had aggregated. This is because riots do not simply 'happen' in India, they have to be created, and the Gujarat BJP government actively contributed to the creation of these riots. (When Guardians of Gujarat Gave 24-hour Licence for Punitive Action)

The government is doing its best to maintain peace and harmony in Gujarat, provide relief to the riot victims and apprehend those involved in rioting.

Origin of this myth: The Gujarat Chief Minister has stated that the police did a commendable job of maintaining peace, and the Union Home Minister, L K Advani praised the Gujarat government for 'exemplary' handling of the situation.

Fact: The state government is the instigator as well as the facilitator of these riots.

Not only did the government deliberately delay all attempts to control the situation during the riots but is still failing in its responsibility to provide relief to the victims or ensure justice for them.

  • The deployment of army was deliberately delayed by the state and central governments. Even as mobs were rampaging in Gujarat on the 28th of February, and the police commissioner of Ahmedabad himself had urgently requested more troops in the city, the governments neglected to put in a formal request for army deployments. This despite the fact that the Southern Command in Pune had already prepared its contingency plan by early afternoon expecting to be called upon by the government. Even when the army troopers eventually landed in the riot-torn cities of Gujarat on March 1st, the administration did not provide them with equipment or assistance in handling the solution. This led to costly delays of several hours, which could have saved more than a hundred lives. (Where Had All the Soldiers Gone?)
  • The media has extensively documented the inaction of the state police when rioters were butchering people and looting shops in their presence. As reported in Outlook, the rioters in Vadi, Vadodara were actually shouting the slogans, "Andar ki baat hai, police hamare saath hai. (It is an inside deal, the police supports us)." In several cases, the police themselves handed over Muslims (who had come to the police for protection) to crowds thirsty for their blood. In another case, a policeman extracted diesel from his vehicle and offered it to the crazed mob to set fire to a slum. For the most part, the police failed to turn up to protect the minorities even when the victims managed to get through to them and ask for help. And even when the police did show up, they would often arrest the victims for inciting violence. The Home Minister, Mr. LK Advani assures us that "So far, more than 77 deaths due to police firing have been reported in the state. So one cannot say the police played a passive role," but fails to mention that almost half of those killed by police belong to the Muslim community-the victims of the riots, not their perpetrators. ( Soldiers 'held back to allow Hindus revenge', Police took part in slaughter, Horrendous Killings in Hindutva Lab, Burned in bed as Indian violence spirals)
  • The relief camps set up to help the riot victims have received minimal help from the state government. Although the official body-count stands at just over 700, NGOs working in Gujarat estimate that more than 1000 people were killed in the riots, and around 100,000 have been displaced. Though people started coming to the relief camps from March 1st onwards, the government only started providing aid to these camps from March 6th. Even now, the situation in these relief camps is miserable, and the people there live in virtual internment. The sanitation and hygiene conditions are terrible, as illustrated by the Shah Alam relief camp in Ahmedabad where 10 toilet facilities serve a population of 8000 refugees. (Thousands homeless in Gujarat, Gujarat government evades relief, rehab responsibility)
  • The government has show little inclination to investigate the riots. When the government first announced a judicial probe to investigate the violence in Gujarat, it only limited the scope of the judicial commission to the massacre on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, and NOT the riots in the rest of Gujarat. After this decision caused widespread outrage, the government agreed to extend the scope of this inquiry to cover the post-Godhra violence as well. However, the judge appointed to head this commission, Justice KG Shah, is a retired Gujarat High Court Judge with close ties to the ruling government and a history of anti-minority judgements. One of his judgements was overturned by the Supreme Court of India with the comment that "the finding of the judge... is not based on appreciation of evidence but on imagination." (Riots probe panel faces credibility crisis) In such a situation, where the State is directly implicated in contributing to violence, it is necessary that a judge not beholden to the Gujarat government be assigned to the commission to ensure impartiality and judicial independence.
  • In an ironic twist, police chiefs of cities in Gujarat who were successful in maintaining peace are being transferred, while those who were not are being allowed to go scot-free. According to an analysis done by The Telegraph, India (Minority Hole in Gujarat Police Force), there has been a concerted effort in Gujarat since the advent of the BJP government to move all police officers from the minority community away from field positions to less effective 'support positions.' Also, senior police officers such as Rahul Sharma (Bhavnagar), Vivek Srivastava (Kutch), Anupam Singh Gehlot (Mehsana), Himanshu Bhatt (Banaskantha)--all of who earned praise for maintaining peace in their cities have been transferred (Gujarat transfers: govt hits the panic button, Bhavnagar SP: Advani praised, Modi disposed), while police chiefs such as P.C. Pande (Ahmedabad) who not only failed to contain the violence, but actually justified the police inaction (Saffron Terror), and Upendra Singh (Rajkot) who went 'missing' when the riots started (Police chief vanishes as Rajkot burns) have had no action taken against them. The Divisional Commissioner of Ayodhya (Faizabad district), who did a commendable job in maintaining peace in this volatile town at the center of the storm has also earned the ire of the Hindu Nationalists, and is now on an extended leave (VHP mounts pressure on govt to transfer Faizabad officials).

The RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal-BJP (the Sangh Parivar) are pro-Hindus and Patriots.

Fact: The Sangh Parivar propagates a narrow, distorted version of Hinduism, and at its core, is profoundly anti-Hindu. Nor do these groups care for the country or its citizens.

  • The Sangh Parivaar has demolished Hindu temples: In their zeal to destroy the Babri Masjid, they have even destroyed temples that Hindus held dear, such as Sita Ki Rasoi and Ram Ka Chabutra in Ayodhya (Ramchandra Gandhi in Hinduism Today). In their zeal to destroy and desecrate Muslim places of worship, they have often destroyed Dargaahs where people of all faiths worshipped (Thy Hand, Great Anarch)
  • Many Hindu religious leaders oppose the VHP and Bajrang Dal:
    • Five of the seven akhadas, or religious orders (of Hinduism), in Ayodhya are now against the VHP. Two of them, Nirmohi and Nirvani, have openly denounced the VHP, saying they did not want "blood to stain our hands": "Unko khoon se ranga hua mandir chahiye. Hume dhoodh se dhoola hua mandir chahiye (They [the VHP] want a temple stained with blood. We want a temple that is bathed in milk)," said Gyan Das, Mahant (head) of the Nirvani group. Gyan Das also had this to say about the VHP's ceremonies: "Yeh Ram ka yagna nahin, kal ka tandav hai (This is not a prayer to Ram but the dance of death)."( Sadhu vs Sadhu in Temple Tangle, After The Ride, The Blowout)
    • The Shankaracharya of Goverdhanpuri, Jagadguru Aadhokshajanand Teerth, also condemned the ongoing mob violence in Gujarat as "state terrorism" and demanded a ban on the VHP and the arrest of its leaders and activists under the National Security Act. (Shankaracharya demands ban on VHP). The Shankaracharyas of all the four main peeths, Dwarka, Puri, Joshimath and Sringeri, are bitterly opposed to the VHP's temple movement ( It's Four Sides To A Triangle)
    • The VHP-Bajrang Dal have insulted revered religious leaders and purohits who disagreed with the VHP's narrow vision of Hinduism. For instance, the Hindu priest in charge of the idols at the Ram Janmabhoomi site, Pujari Laldas, categorically asserted that the demolition of the mosque was not in the interest of Hindus but was being advocated for political and financial gain. In the documentary In the Name of God, he says

      "[Riots] were caused for financial and political gain. It has nothing to do with Lord Ram's birthplace. I am the priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple. I can honestly say that until today VHP members never made a single offering nor even prayed in this temple... They don't care if people are killed, all they care about is money and power. Those who speak of a Hindu Nation and create violence in the name of Ram are upper caste, they all love the good life, there's not an iota of renunciation or sacrifice or public concern in them. They merely exploit religious feeling to maintain their lifestyles..."

    When the BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 1992 , Pujari Laldas was removed from his post as head priest of the Ram temple. A year later Pujari Laldas was murdered. ( It's Four Sides To A Triangle)

  • Ordinary Hindus are also fed up with these groups: The majority of Hindus have always voted against the BJP, even when it has formed the government at the center. Recent election results show that even in states (such as U.P.) and municipalities (such as Delhi) where BJP has help power for long, the electorate has rejected them.
    • "The VHP is the main villain [in these disturbances]," said Abhishek Sharma, who runs a grocery shop in Ayodhya (quoted in The Telegraph).
    • Rajinder Singh, a 35-year-old cement plant worker summarised, "Ram mandir ke naam par desh ki barbaadi ho rahi hai (the country is being ruined by this Ram mandir issue). It is only going to weaken the country."(A Reporter's Notebook)
    • ''Aadmi khoon ka pyaasa hogaya hai (Man is killing man). All this is against the Hindu sanskriti (tradition) … There should be both a mandir and a masjid at Ayodhya,'' says Sunita Yadav, a sweetshop owner's wife from Mathura (A Reporter's Notebook).
  • The Sangh Parivaar is anti-India: They do not believe in the Indian Constitution, and instead of using democratic means to put forth their views, they resort to violence (VHP activists storm Orissa Assembly), openly flout the orders of the Supreme Court (Verdict will not hinder our plan: Singhal), oppose the very fundamental principle of equality and liberty upon which the Indian State is based, and demonize an entire community based on the actions of a few people who happen to claim the same religion (It had to be done, VHP leader says of riots). Does this mean that any Hindu anywhere should be called to task for heinous acts committed by any other Hindu? Would the VHP-RSS leaders be willing to stand trial for the murders committed by the mobs in Ahmedabad?
  • The Sangh Parivaar's philosophy is anti-democratic at its core: as evidenced by the writings of Hedgewar, Golwalkar and every other of their founders. The Sangh Parivaar does not believe in democracy, despite participating in electoral politics. This is what Hedgewar, the founder of RSS, had to say:

    "I have thought out a scheme based on Hindu Dharm Shastra, which provides for standardization of Hinduism throughout India... But the point is that this ideal cannot be brought to effect unless we have our own Swaraj with a Hindu as Dictator like Shivaji of old, or Mussolini or Hitler of the present day in Italy and Germany. But this does not mean that we have to sit with folded hands until some such dictator arises in India. We should formulate a scientific scheme and carry on propaganda for it." (Hindutva's foreign tie-up in the 1930s: archival evidence)

  • The VHP, Bajrang Dal, RSS have all the hallmarks of fundamentalist-terrorist groups, and their behavior is indistinguishable from the Taliban:
    • In 1999, Sumir Lal wrote an article in The Hindustan Times titled The Hindu Rashtra is Here in which he said:

      It is not often that one gets to preview a nightmare, but India has that dubious fortune right now.

    Picture a country in which a civilised society's most fundamental choices are denied to its people - what kind of school they can send their children to, which books and plays and cultural events they can read, watch or participate in, what religious faith they may like or not like to profess, the products of which business houses they can consume. Imagine too, that these decisions are made for them by a bunch of unaccountable, self-appointed guardians of morality, and imposed - on pain of physical intimidation and destruction of property - by roving gangs of ruffians with whom the entire apparatus of the state connives.

    A nightmare, but this is not Afghanistan. It is present day Gujarat, where the ordinary citizen cannot conduct the essential business of daily life without first fearfully looking over his shoulder… Welcome to the Hindu Rashtra. The dream of the RSS-led Sangh Parivar flourishes untrammelled in Gujarat.

    • Ancient monuments of historical relevance are being destroyed, much like the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban. In addition to the 16th century mosque Babri Masjid that was destroyed by these militant Hindu organizations in 1992, several dozen mosques were destroyed in the recent riots in Gujarat, including the 16th century mosque near the Jethabai stepwells which had been classified as a protected site by the Archaelogical Survey of India (Indian Express). VHP has a stated goal of destroying India's heritage by targeting heritage monuments such as the Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar.
    • Gyan Das, the Hindu leader (Mahant) of the Nirvani Akhada in Ayodhya also compares the VHP to the Taliban. "How has this man [Ashok Singhal, Working President of the VHP], who is responsible for fanning hatred and bloodshed in the entire country, been allowed to step into Ayodhya?" fumes Gyan Das. "Singhal is the head of the country's Taliban and, like in Afghanistan, this group here will destroy the nation." [Quoted in The Telegraph]
    • The VHP, Bajrang Dal, RSS organize and train private, armed militias for the express purpose of creating terror. (A trained saffron militia at work?)

Sabarmati Express massacre is terrorism while the post-Godhra carnage in Gujarat is 'mere' communal riots.

Origin of this Myth: Home Minister L.K. Advani and Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi have leveled the as-yet-unproven charge that the train incident was rooted in 'cross-border' terrorism sponsored by the Pakistani intelligence group ISI. The Gujarat government used this difference in categorization to allocate a compensation of Rs 200,000 to the families of the victims of the Sabarmati Express incident and only Rs 100,000 to those of the victims of the post-Godhra carnage.

Fact: The post-Godhra violence was highly organized with a distinct aim of spreading terror amongst the minorities, and is most definitely terrorism-worse yet, state-sponsored terrorism.

A terrorist act, as per the Indian Government's definition, is one with an ''intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people...using inflammable substances or fire-arms or other lethal such a manner as to cause, or likely to cause, death of, or injuries to any person or persons or loss of, or damage to, or destruction of, property...''

  • Was the Sabarmati Express massacre in Godhra an act of terrorism? It is not quite clear whether the heinous massacre in Godhra fits the government's own definition of terrorism. While several newsstories have said that there is little evidence of the massacre being pre-planned (Provocation Helped Set India Train Fire, 'Just Like Hindustan-Pakistan', The Hate Train, Godhra attack not planned ), a detailed analysis by Frontline magazine (Godhra Questions) indicates that the sequence of events leading to the incident seems too well-planned to be spontaneous. Preplanned or not, there is as yet, no evidence that points to an ISI involvement. By claiming a foreign hand, the Government is deflecting attention from its own failure to provide sufficient security to the kar sevaks, knowing that the train would pass through communally sensitive areas. The BJP led government seems to have as little regard for Hindu lives as it has demonstrated for Muslim lives.
  • Is post-Godhra violence in Gujarat terrorism? Going by the yardstick of preplanning and organization, it is clear that the post-Godhra violence was most definitely terrorism. The attacks on Mulsims were well-planned, they were incited and carried out by identifiable groups (the VHP and Bajrang Dal), and encouraged by the state machinery controlled by the BJP - Violence as a product of deliberate strategy; the attacks were carried out in a dramatic way to attract publicity and create an atmosphere of alarm among Muslims far beyond the actual victims - Violence as theater. The very definitions of terrorism. The deliberate inaction on the part of the state, and in some instances, active connivance with the rioters, also makes it an instance of state-sponsored terrorism.

However provocative the Godhra massacre might have been, we must distinguish between state-sponsored terrorism and extra-state actors. If terrorists attack, you turn to the state, but if the state turns terrorist, then where do you look for help?

Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in peace. Riots are the natural outcome of simmering tensions.

Fact: Hindus and Muslims for the most part live together peacefully. Communal tensions have been actively stoked by some groups leading to riots.

  • Villages which account for 2/3rd of Indian population have had less than 4% communal riot related deaths. According to Prof Ashutosh Varshney, 50% of riot deaths since 1960 have happened in eight cities which hold only 6% of India's population. Another 45% of riot -related deaths have occurred in other urban centers. (Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India)
  • Communal forces use terror and threats to actively divide the communities. When Hindus tried to support their Muslim neighbours during the killings in Gujarat, the VHP & Bajrang Dal goons targeted them also. The case of Professor Bandookwala, a well known academician from Vadodara is well-documented. An organized mob attacked him in his house in a predominantly Hindu locality, and his car was set on fire. He and his daughter were sheltered by their Hindu neighbors, who in turn were attacked on the second day for protecting him. (NDTV Interview)

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