in Gujarat Unpunished
Communal Violence Continues
Human Rights Watch Report
(New York, February 27, 2003)
One year after the beginning of communal violence in Gujarat
that claimed over 2,000 lives, there have been no convictions of those
responsible and little in the way of promised relief for victims, Human
Rights Watch said today.
Although the Indian government
initially boasted of thousands of arrests following the attacks, most
of those arrested have since been released on bail, acquitted or simply
let go. According to local activists, those who remain in jail largely
belong to Dalit (so-called untouchable), Muslim or tribal communities.
Due to manipulations in the filing of charge sheets, the instigators
and ringleaders of the attacks may escape prosecution altogether.
At this point, the
central authorities must step in, said Smita Narula, senior researcher
for South Asia and author of the Human Rights Watch report on the Gujarat
violence. The same state government complicit in the violence
cannot be trusted to deliver justice.
Human Rights Watch said that
in large-scale massacre cases, the Central Bureau of Investigation,
a federal body, should intervene.
Witnesses who initially came
forward to file complaints and identify their attackers have since been
harassed, threatened or bribed into turning hostile on the witness stand
or simply not showing up when a case goes to trial. Instead of pursuing
murder and rape charges, authorities have regularly downgraded charges
Last week, the Gujarat state
government charged 131 Muslims for the Godhra attack against Hindus
that sparked the anti-Muslim violence. All were charged under the draconian
Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). But no Hindus have been charged
under POTA in connection with the post-Godhra violence against Muslims.
The POTA charges show
the extent of the bias in the legal system in Gujarat. The rule of law
cannot be draconian for some and nonexistent for others, added
Recommendations of the National
Human Rights Commission and numerous human rights bodies have not been
implemented and, as with previous episodes of large-scale communal violence,
the government has provided little in the way of promised relief and
India cannot afford
to repeat the mistakes of its past. Impunity sows the seeds of further
violence and undermines the rule of law for all citizens, Narula
said. Had the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission inquiry
into the Bombay riots in 1992 and 1993 been implemented, we might have
been able to avoid last years carnage in Gujarat.
Incidents of communal violence
continue to be reported almost on a daily basis in Gujarat. Despite
assertions to the contrary by the state government, the situation is
far from normal. While many families have received monetary
compensation for the deaths of their loved ones, few have received funds
to adequately compensate for the destruction of their homes and businesses.
The onus of providing relief has fallen largely on the Muslim community
and non-governmental groups. By the end of October 2002, the government
had closed most relief camps even though most families were afraid to
return to what was left of their homes.
The violence in Gujarat has
proved an efficient catalyst for the
ghettoization of the Muslim community. The reconstruction of homes has
largely taken place along communal lines. Because of fears for their
safety, Muslim families have been unwilling to return to their homes.
After the violence, most cannot work, reside or send their children
to schools in Hindu-dominated neighborhoods. As the segregation of communities
continues, hopes for dialogue and reconciliation are dissipating.
In April 2002, Human Rights
Watch released its report, We Have No Orders to Save You: State
Complicity and Participation in Communal Violence in Gujarat,
based on investigations conducted in March 2002. The investigations
revealed that the violence against Muslims was planned well in advance
of the Godhra massacre and with extensive state
participation and support.
In January 2003, Human Rights
Watch returned to Gujarat and spoke to eyewitnesses to some of the worst
massacres, as well as numerous lawyers, activists and officials involved
in the preparation of criminal cases. Human Rights Watch also interviewed
eyewitnesses to the September 2002 attack on Akshardham in Gandhinagar.
Human Rights Watch called on the government to prosecute those responsible
for the deadly attack in which thirty-two people were killed.
For more information,
please see We Have No Orders to Save You: State Complicity and
Participation in Communal Violence in Gujarat at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/india/