Report by SAHMAT Fact
Finding Team To Ahmedabad,
10-11th March 2002
Dr. Kamal Mitra Chenoy
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
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
on 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
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
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.