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The Milli Gazette, May 16-31, 2002

Bajrang Dal activists on Sabarmati Express beat up Muslims, forcing them to shout Jai Shri Ram slogans

Bhelsar (Faizabad), 24 February: Bajrang Dal workers armed with trishuls (tridents), travelling to Ayodhya on board the Sabarmati Express this morning, let loose a reign of terror upon dozens of helpless Muslim passengers, burqa-clad women and innocent children. They also targeted the people waiting at the platform, forcing them to shout slogans of Jai Shri Ram. A few even declared themselves to be Hindus in order to escape their wrath.

According to eyewitnesses, close to 2000 trishul carrying Bajrang Dal workers, on board the Sabarmati Express coming from the direction of Lucknow, began indulging in these activities from the Daryabad Station. Any one identified as a Muslim, on the train, was mercilessly attacked with trishuls and beaten with iron rods. Even women and innocent children were not spared. Burqas were pulled off, women were beaten with iron rods and were dragged, people waiting at the platform were also similarly targeted.

This continued between the Daryabad and Rudauli Stations. According to an eyewitness, a youth who protested against this barbarism was thrown off the train between the Patranga and Rojagaon Stations. Several women, badly wounded and covered in blood, jumped off the train as it pulled into Rudauli around 8 a.m. The Bajrang Dal activists also got off the train and started attacking those whom they identified as Muslims from among those present at the platform.

Ata Mohammed from Takia Khairanpur waiting to catch a train to Allahabad was badly beaten, some others were forced to shout Jai Shri Ram some escaped by declaring that they were Hindus. 50-year-old Mohd. Absar lives near the station. He was grabbed as he stepped out of his house, his long beard was rudely pulled before he was repeatedly stabbed with trishuls. Another man from the Rudauli Police Station area who happened to be at the station was badly beaten with iron rods. Local residents rang up the police.

By the time the Bhelsar Police station chief, arrived at the station the train had left and the injured were being rushed to the hospitals. No report was registered at the Police station since the officer-in-charge was unavailable. The injured have no idea why they were attacked.

Rumours are rife. The people are petrified; respected Hindus and Muslims of the area have condemned the shameful attack, Muslims religious leaders have appealed for peace and requested that there be no retaliation.
- Our Correspondent

 

The Milli Gazette, May 16-31, 2002
'Gujarat officials took part in anti-Muslim violence': US rights report

New Delhi: United States top rights organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has concluded in an exhaustive report that government officials of the Indian state of Gujarat are directly involved in the killings of hundreds of Muslims since February 27 and are now engineering a massive cover-up of the state's role in the violence. HRW has asked international community to put pressure on the Indian government to end violence against minorities.

Entitled "'We have no orders to save you': state participation and complicity in communal violence in Gujarat", the 75-page report blames the extremist Hindu umbrella organisation, the RSS and its affiliates for engineering the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat.

Saying that police personnel in Gujarat were directly involved in the killings of hundreds of Muslims, the New York-based HRW organisation has urged the international community to put pressure on the Indian government to end "orchestrated violence against Indian minorities."

The police have been directly implicated in nearly all the attacks against Muslims that are documented in the report. "At best they were passive observers, and they acted in concert with murderous mobs and participated directly in the burning and looting of Muslim shops and homes and the killing and mutilation of Muslims," it said.

According to the report, several witnesses reported being told by the police, "we have no orders to save you." Phone calls made to the police, fire brigades, and even ambulance services generally proved futile. "Many of the attacks on Muslim homes and places of business also took place in proximity of police posts," the report said.

"Muslim girls and women were brutally raped. Mass graves have been dug throughout the state. Gravediggers told Human Rights Watch that bodies keep arriving, burnt and mutilated beyond recognition," the report underlines.

HRW report names the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), the Bajrang Dal, the RSS and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, collectively known as the "Sangh Parivar" [RSS Family], as the "groups most directly involved in the violence against Muslims." The report also said that the Gujarat state administration had been engaged in a massive cover-up of the state's role in the massacres and that of the Sangh Parivar.

Though officially more than 850 people have been killed, unofficial estimates have put the death toll as high as 2,000, the report states. Calling it a "retaliatory killing spree" after a Muslim mob in Godhra attacked and set fire to two carriages of a train carrying Hindu activists, killing 58, the report says, this incident led to the looting and burning of Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship.

Between February 28 and March 2, thousands of attackers descended on Muslim neighbourhoods, clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu ultranationalist groups, and armed with swords, sophisticated explosives and gas cylinders. They were guided by voter-lists and printouts of addresses of Muslim-owned properties obtained from the local municipality. In the weeks following the attacks, Hindu homes and businesses were also destroyed in retaliatory attacks by Muslims, according to the report.

In holding the RSS Family culpable, the HRW said that numerous police reports filed by eyewitnesses after the attacks had specifically named local VHP, BJP, and Bajrang Dal leaders as instigators or participants in the violence. But the police, reportedly under instructions from the state, face continuous pressure not to arrest them or to reduce the severity of the charges filed against them.

In a stinging indictment of the state machinery, HRW also said that, in many instances, police officials led the charge of murderous mobs, "aiming and firing at Muslims who got in the way." In some cases, they were merely passive observers while in others, under the guise of offering assistance, police officers led the victims directly into the hands of their killers, the report said.

"What happened in Gujarat was not a spontaneous uprising, it was a carefully orchestrated attack against Muslims," Smita Narula, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch who authored the report after visiting the state told The Times of India. "The attacks were planned in advance and organised with extensive participation of the police and state government officials," she added.

The report provides testimony on retaliatory attacks against Hindus, with Hindu homes and businesses being destroyed by Muslims. But it mostly documents excesses by lumpen mobs of Hindu militants and notes that while burnt Muslim shops and restaurants dot the main roads and highways in Ahmedabad, neighbourhood Hindu establishments were notably unscathed.

Describing the state of affairs in Gujarat as "a crisis of impunity," the report says that unless those responsible for the violence are prosecuted, violence may spread to other parts of India.

The report said that assistance from international humanitarian and UN agencies was urgently needed for the victims in relief camps. It urged the Indian government to actively seek the assistance of international agencies and to invite UN human rights experts to investigate state and police participation in the violence.

'We have no orders to save you': state participation and complicity in communal violence in Gujarat" is available online at:
http://hrw.org/reports/2002/india/

 

The Milli Gazette, May 16-31, 2002
Vajpayee is as much sanghi as Sudarshan and Advani

By S Ubaidur Rahman

Around two years ago Govindacharya, an RSS ideologue had let slip a truth that no one was ready to believe. He had termed Atal Behari Vajpayee “the liberal mukhota (mask) of the BJP”, to hide the hard core Hindutva agenda. And went on to say that it is donned every time the BJP wished to distance itself from the fascist excesses of its sister organizations like the VHP and Bajrang Dal. People were stunned with disbelief. No one was ready to imbibe the allegation that this suave, liberal, and emotional man was a mere mukhota and was a hard core fanatic like all others in the RSS and its subsidiaries. Later in order to avoid embarrassment, Govindacharya was banished from active politics and sent into political exile by his party bosses.

People have always taken Vajpayee as soft-spoken liberal in the midst of hordes of fanatics in the BJP and have always tried to defend his integrity and belief in secular ethos of the nation. He has repeatedly been called the right man in the wrong party. There are people who claim that they have seen Vajpayee always rising above the BJP's hardcore Hindutva line. People repeatedly and endlessly cite examples to convince themselves and others that this man is cut above the rest.

When he installed Bangaru Laxman, a non-RSS Dalit as the party head and who went on to appeal to Muslims that they trust his party, Vajpayee looked like a man who wanted to dismantle the communal inclination of the BJP. The same was the feeling when he drove to Lahore to meet Nawaz Sharif, former Pakistan Prime Minister and showed his eagerness towards establishing permanent peace. But his latest outburst in the thick of the Gujarat carnage has shattered the so called liberal image of Vajpayee.

Vajpayee's diatribe against Muslims and Islam in the thick of the Gujarat pogrom not only unveiled a new face of barbarism and antipathy towards fellow citizens of the country but also his true psychological leanings. Liberals who most often described him as a humane face of the BJP were shattered. They had never thought that he might be sectarian and prejudiced against Islam and wary of Muslims' existence in the country. This language was never expected of a man who used to receive widespread respect even from opposition parties. It was incredulous for most of the people and everyone tried to get hold of the text of his speech in Goa. And everyone was terrified by the message given by the prime minister of the country.

The prime minister tried to reason the continuing massacre of Muslims in Gujarat where thousands of people have been slaughtered like anything. It was the undoing of his stature as prime minister of the country. He presented the same argument forwarded by the Gujarat chief minister ‘Gujarat mein kya hua? Agar Sabarmati na hota to jo hua woh nahi hota (What happened in Gujarat? If the attack on Sabarmati had not happened, then what happened later [communal violence] would not have happened). He persisted with the similar argument and directly accused Muslims for what is happening in Gujarat. He asked in the same breath, Lekin aag lagai kisne (But who started the fire?). It is the same theory that the Gujarat chief minister Narendr Modi who is directly involved in Muslims’ massacre in the state has been advocating. Modi has all along been maintaining that the Muslims’ genocide in Gujarat is directly a revenge of what happened in Godhra.

He was out of way communal when he accused Muslims of spoiling every society wherever they live. ‘Jahan Jahan Musalman hain ghul milkar nahi rahte hain (wherever Muslims are they don’t want to live in peace), he said and in the same breath added, ‘Auron se ghulna milna nahi chahte. Shantipurn tarike se parchar karne ke bajaye atankwad se dara dhamka kar apne mat ka parchar karna chahte hain (They don’t want to mix with others. Instead they want to preach and propagate their religion by creating fear and terror in the minds of others). He spoke like a fascist when he went on to say 'we have allowed them (Christians and Muslims) to do their prayers and follow their religion'.

Of course Prime Minister claims he was misrepresented. But he has said that so often that very few people now believe these clarifications. No prime minister in the country has eaten his words so often. Vajpayee seems to have become habitual of clarifying every statement made by him within or after 48 hours.

Prime minister's diatribe against Muslims was nothing new. With periodical silence he has been exploding like this since the beginning of his political career. He has also tried to clarify his statements several times. Earlier during Bill Clinton’s presidential period when Vajpayee visited the US he made an outrageous remark when he said that, ‘he is savyamsevak first and then Prime Minister and that whether he remains Prime Minister or not he will remain a savyamsevak.’ Members of the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent party of the BJP are called savyamsevaks. Later Bajpayee said that he intended by using savyamsevak to project him as the servant of the nation. What he said in Varanasi is still afresh in our memories. He had said while addressing a political rally there that we do not need Muslims' votes.

But Vajpayee has always taken pride in his more than fifty years long association with the RSS. An article written by Vajpayee himself that appeared in the RSS mouthpiece Organiser in its May 1995 issue and hastily retracted throws ample light as to what he believes. The piece threw light on his long standing association with the RSS and his self pride in being associated with the RSS. Eulogizing the RSS he wrote, 'The RSS does not change only individuals. It changes also the collective mind. This is the beauty of the RSS ethos. In our spiritual tradition an individual can attain a great height. Even self realization is possible if one undertakes the right sadhana and also attains nirvana. But what about society? Nobody thinks about his obligation to the society in general. Now for the first time the RSS thought about it and concluded that by changing individual we shall change the society.'

He then emphasizes the RSS ideology, ' the RSS has a two-fold task before it. One is to organize the Hindus. To build a strong Hindu society, well knit and rising above caste and other artificial differences. Some differences will persist but then variety is the spice of life. Like we have the differences of the language. We don't want to destroy this diversity.'

Then he showed as to what he and his Sangh will do with the minorities. 'The other task is to assimilate the non-Hindus, like Muslims and Christians in the mainstream. They can follow the faith of their own conviction. No one can object to it. We worship trees, animals, stones and what not. We have hundreds of ways to worship God. They can go where they want.'

He went all out after Muslims and Islam saying, 'but this country must be looked upon as the motherland of them. They must have a feeling of patriotism for this country. But the Islamic division of the world into Darul Harb and Darul Islam comes in the way. Islam has yet to learn the art of existing and flourishing in a country where Muslims are in a minority. They cannot convert whole of India to Islam. After all they have to live here. So they have to recognize this fact. And today it has become a matter of grave concern and deep thinking in the Muslim countries. Because the Qur'an offers no guidance in this regard. It only talks of killing kafirs or converting them to Islam. But they cannot do it always and everywhere.'

Vajpayee then brings out his solution to assimilate them in Hinduism. 'The Muslims of this country can be treated in three ways. One is tiraskar which means if they will not themselves change leave them alone, reject them as our compatriots. Second is puraskar, which is appeasement i.e., bring them to behave which is being done by the Congress and others of their ilk. The third way is parishkar meaning to change them, that is, restore them to the mainstream by providing them samskar' he added.

Vajpayee the so-called soft spoken face among the hard-line ultra rightist thugs then goes on to explain. 'We want to change them by offering the right samskaras. Their religion will not be changed. They can follow their own religion. Mecca can continue to be holy for them. You can go to a mosque and offer namaz, you can keep the roza. We have no problem. But if you have to choose between Mecca of Islam and India you must choose India. All the Muslims must have this feeling: we will live and die for this country' Vajpayee explained.

It is not one of the exceptions. He has always shown his leanings towards the Sangh's rightist, anti-minorities and anti-Muslim rhetoric. While participating in a discussion in the Parliament on 14 May 1970 Vajpayee then a Jana Sangh MP squarely blamed Muslims for every riot and communal tension.

In fact what he said on that occasion is strikingly similar to what he said in Goa. Vajpayee said, 'The question is why are riots started? I call upon this house to think about this. I have not reached any conclusion. Some Muslims start the riot-knowing they may lose life and property. One reason could be that our Muslim brethren have concluded that now there is no place for them to live in India, no guardian for them, so it is better to die fighting than to live. Another reason may be that some Muslims are connected with Pakistan...The third and most important reason seems to be that some Muslim leaders do not want Muslims to merge with the national mainstream.'

He accused the Muslims to be communal saying, 'Whatever the reason our Muslim brethren are getting more and more communal and as a reaction Hindus are getting more and more aggressive. Nobody made the Hindus aggressive. If you want to give the credit for this to us we are willing to take it. But Hindus will no more take a beating in this country. Hindus will not start, Hindus will not initiate. If you promote Muslim communalism, the other feeling will run high.' He added, 'I agree the feeling of revenge is not good. We cannot allow any individual to take the law in his hands. But will this rule apply only to Hindus? Will it not apply to Muslims?'

Atal Bihari Vajpayee's anti-Muslim rhetoric of past and present are all based on what Golwalkar advocated. Golwalkar articulated his attitude in the following words, 'the non-Hindu people in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindus culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion. Must...give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land...or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privilege, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizens' rights'. Vajpayee is a true shishya (disciple)of Golwalkar.

Vajpayee has been rebuking Muslims for their alleged lack of patriotism. He himself has rarely gone above the petty politics of Hindutva. He has been claiming that he participated in the freedom struggle, but there are instances that show that instead of participating in the freedom struggle he ditched the people who were fighting for the freedom.

Leeladhar Bajpai, a freedom fighter who was jailed for five years because of a confession made to the British police by Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in 1942. Mr Leeladhar Bajpai three years ago accused prime minister that he had betrayed the freedom movement and therefore had no right to describe himself as a patriot and freedom fighter. Though the issue has been raised several times in the past but Leeladhar Bajpai was the first affected person to open up.

For everybody who believed that the mask only got off recently in Goa it will be terrible to come to terms with the reality. Reality is that Vajpayee is as much hard-core Sanghi as Sudarshan, Advani or Ashok Singhal. He wore a mask which has finally slipped.

 

The Milli Gazette, May 16-31, 2002
Sangh is my soul

By Atal Bihari Vajpayee

The BJP’s prime minister, AB Vajpayee, disclaims this article, published under his name in the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, in May 1995 and recently posted on but hastily withdrawn from cyberspace.

I came in contact with the RSS in 1939 through Arya Kumar Sabha, a youth branch of Arya Samaj, in Gwalior - then a princely state, which was not part of any province. I came from a strong sanatani family. But I used to be at the weekly satsang of Arya Kumar Sabha.

Once Shri Bhoodev Shastri, who was a senior worker of Arya Kumar Sabha, and a great thinker and an expert organiser, asked us: 'What do you do in the evenings?’ ‘Nothing', we said, because the Arya Kumar Sabha used to meet in the morning on every Sunday. Then he recommended us to go to the shakha. Thus I started going to the shakha in Gwalior. It was my first association with the RSS. At that time the shakha in Gwalior had just begun. It had only 'Maharashtrian’ boys and naturally all the swayamsevaks used to speak only Marathi. I started going to the shakha regularly. I liked the games played in the shakha as well as the weekly bauddhiks (intellectual discourses).

A pracharak, Shri Narayanrao Tarte had come from Nagpur to start the shakha. He was indeed a superb human being; a very simple man, a thinker and an expert organiser. What I am today is the making of Shri Tarte. Next to him I was inspired by Deendayal Upadhyaya and Bhaurao Deoras. Gwalior was then not within the field of Bhauraoji. But once he had come to Gwalior with Shri Balasaheb Apte who was the then Bauddhik Pramukh.

Apteji was very soft-spoken. We were soon drawn towards him. I had talked with him for only a few minutes. But the same year (1940), when I went to see the first year Officers’ Training Camp (OTC), I came in close contact with him. I went there just to attend the valedictory function of the camp not for training. Dr Hedgewar had also come there for some time. I first saw him there. When Doctorji was ill I went to see him. In 1941, when I was in high school, I did my first year OTC. In 1942, when I, was in intermediate class, I did my second year OTC, and I did my third year in 1944 when I was doing my BA.

When I wrote “Hindu Tanman, Hindu Jeevan” I was a student of class X. After completing my graduation from Gwalior I did my MA from the DAV College in Kanpur, because there was no postgraduate college in Gwalior. I then got state government’s scholarship also. Owing to Partition, I could not complete my law [studies]. And then in 1947, I decided to give up my studies to come out as a whole-time worker of the RSS. Till 1947 I did the RSS work at the shakha level and carried on my studies.

I also participated in the Quit India Movement 1942 and was jailed. I was then studying for my intermediate examination. I was arrested from my native village Bhateshwar, in Agra district. I was then 16.

My father was not attached to the RSS, but my elder brother was. He would go to the shakha. Once he went to the winter camp where he created a problem. He said: ‘I cannot take my food with the other swayamsevaks. I shall prepare my food myself.’ And see how deftly the RSS handled the situation. The sarvadhikad (superintendent) of the camp complied with his request and provided him all the necessary thing for preparing his food. After taking his bath and properly adjusting his sacred thread etc., he started cooking his food. On the first day he prepared the food for himself. The next day, however, he could not prepare it and joined the queue of all swayamsevaks for partaking of the food. Within 44 hours he was changed.

The RSS does not change only individuals. It changes also the collective mind. This is the beauty of the RSS ethos. In our spiritual tradition an individual can attain a great height. Even self-realisation is possible if one undertakes the right sadhana and also attains nirvana. But what about society? Nobody thinks about his obligation to the society in general. Now for the first time the RSS thought about it and concluded that by changing individuals we shall change the society. Had the sarvadhikari at the camp scolded him and not allowed him to prepare his food himself his spiritual development would have been thwarted, whereas in the RSS within 44 hours he was a changed boy. This is the ‘secret method’ of the RSS. That is how society is changed. It is true that it is a long process but then there are no short cuts, no instant recipes.

Gandhiji had praised the RSS for the absence of untouchability in the organisation. Only the RSS organises the society. Other movements only divide the society by emphasising distinct ‘identity’, different ‘interests’, special ‘status’, etc. They only encourage untouchability by constantly reminding the so-called untouchables of their ‘separateness.’ ‘You are being insulted. You have no place in society.’

The RSS has a two-fold task before it. One is to organise the Hindus. To build a strong Hindu society, well-knit and rising above caste and other artificial differences. Some differences will persist but then variety is the spice of life. Like we have the differences of the language. We don’t want to destroy this diversity. The other task is to assimilate the non-Hindus, like Muslims and Christians, in the mainstream. They can follow the faith of their own conviction. No one can object to it. We worship trees, animals, stones, and what not. We have hundreds of ways of worshipping God. They can go where they want.

But this country must be looked upon as the Motherland for them. They must have a feeling of patriotism for this country. But the Islamic division of the world into Darul Harb and Darul Islam comes in the way. Islam has yet to learn the art of existing and flourishing in a country where Muslims are in a minority. They cannot convert the whole of India to Islam. After all, they have to live here. So they have to recognise this fact. And today it has become a matter of grave concern and deep thinking in the Muslim countries. Because the Qur’an offers no guidance in this regard. It only talks of killing kafirs or converting them to Islam. But they cannot do it always and everywhere.

How can they do it where they are in a minority? If they try to do it, a major clash will take place and only the members of the minority will be killed. But Muslims themselves have to change this state of affairs. We cannot change it for them.

Congress has not correctly understood the Muslim problem. They continue to carry on their policy of appeasement. But to what effect? The Muslims of this country can be treated in three ways. One is tiraskar which means if they will not themselves change leave them alone, reject them as our compatriots. Second is puraskar, which is appeasement, i.e., bribing them to behave, which is being done by the Congress and others of their ilk. The third way is parishkar meaning to change them, that is, restore them to the mainstream by providing them samskaras.

We want to change them by offering them the right samskaras. Their religion will not be changed. They can follow their own religion. Mecca can continue to be holy for the Muslims but India should be holier than the holy for them. You can go to a mosque and offer namaz, you can keep roza. We have no problem. But if you have to choose between Mecca or Islam and India you must choose India. All the Muslims should have this feeling: we will live and die only for this country.

I wrote “Hindu Tan-man, Hindu Jeevan” when I was studying in the tenth class. I had then said, 'Koi batlaye Kabul mein jaakar kitni masjiden todin.' I still stand by my words. But we (Hindus) did pull down the structure in Ayodhya. In fact it was a reaction to the Muslim vote-bank. We wanted to solve this problem through negotiation and legislation. But there was no puraskar for burai (evil act). We change burai also with parishkar. Now, I think, the Hindu society has been regenerated which was the prime task of the RSS. Earlier Hindus used to bend before an invasion but not now. This change in Hindu society is worthy of welcome. So much change must have come with the new-found self-assertion.

This is a question of self-preservation. If the Hindu society does not expand itself it will face the crisis of survival. We have to expand ourselves. We have to take others along with us. Now the Yadavs and the so-called Harijans are coming with us. After all we have to live as Hindus.

Once a Yadav leader came to me and said: 'Don’t condemn all Yadavs. All Yadavs are not with Mulayam Singh and Laloo Prasad. A sanskrit (cultured) Yadav does not like them. There can be sections of Rajput, Kurmi and Gujar Muslims but you cannot find any Yadav Muslim anywhere. The Yadavs never accepted Islam. This talk of "Yadav-Muslim" Unity- MY card - is nothing more than an empty slogan for votes.'

The simple reason for my long association with the RSS is that I like the Sangh. I like its ideology, and above all I like the RSS attitude towards people, towards one another which is found only in the RSS. I remember an incident, when I was in Lucknow. The socialist movement was at its peak. Suddenly a senior socialist activist fell ill. He was lying alone in his house, and nobody went to enquire after his well-being. Then Acharya Narendra Deo came to know and he went to his house to see him. The Acharya then said, 'What fraternity is this in the Socialist Party? Nobody has come to see you. It can never happen in the RSS. If a swayamsevak does not go to the shakha only for one day the same day friends will promptly reach his house to enquire about his well-being.’

When I was ill during the Emergency, my family members did not turn up to see me. They were afraid of being arrested for any such action. Only the RSS workers helped me. See, how much living contact and fraternal feeling is in the RSS. Actually the Sangh is our family. We are all one.

In the beginning we could not spread our work in all sections of the society because we did not have enough workers. 'Man-making' is the prime job of the RSS. As we now have more workers, we are covering all sections of the society in all fields of life. Changes are taking place in all spheres. But the work of man-making will not be discontinued, it will go on. It must go on. That is what the RSS movement is.
(Organiser, ‘RSS - Vision and Action’ Special. 7 May 1995)

 

The Milli Gazette, May 16-31, 2002
Death train: the mystery simmers

The torching of the Sabarmati Express on February 27 was itself a reaction to massive provocation from kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, says Teesta Setalvad, after a personal journey of discovery to Godhra, April 27

On February 27, late by over four hours, the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express pulled into Godhra station. After a 25-minute halt, against the scheduled five-minute stoppage, the train pulled out of the platform. Even before it could gather speed, the pulling of the alarm chain brought the train to a halt near the Muslim-inhabited Signal Falia locality, less than a kilometre from the station. Twenty minutes later, compartment S-6 was on fire, as a result of which 58 passengers, including 26 women and 12 children were either choked or burnt to death.

Nothing, absolutely nothing can justify the killing of innocent people, whatever the provocation. But for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and many leading lights of the Sangh Parivar, this heinous crime became the justification for the "natural reaction" against Muslims across the state.

Even 50 days later, it is evident that only a full-fledged inquiry will be able to finally settle the issue of who was the culprit and what was the motive behind the torching of a few compartments of the Sabarmati Express. That such an inquiry must be conducted and the guilty punished is without question. Meanwhile, taken together, the comments of Ahmedabad's former commissioner of police, M M Singh ("Godhra has a history of communal riots. It was known that kar sevaks were coming by that route. This fact necessitated preventive deployment. That was, apparently, not done") and those of Major General (retired) Eustace De'Souza, who on more than one occasion has been involved in dousing the fire in communally-sensitive Godhra "I see a fiendish plan and demand immediate attention”.

In a report published on February 25, the Jan Morcha, a Hindi daily published from Faizabad, detailed instances of provocative behaviour by kar sevaks, who allegedly beat and threatened Muslim passengers, insisting that they chant 'Jai Sri Ram'. They even unveiled Muslim women.

The Jan Morcha report published two days before the incident at Godhra, reports the conduct of kar sevaks from Gujarat headed for Ayodhya. But, by several accounts, the conduct of kar sevaks returning to Ahmedabad by the ill-fated Sabarmati Express on February 27 was no better.

The Hindu reported on February 28: "Eyewitnesses said that about 1,200 'Ram sevaks' were travelling in the train. The local people in the Muslim-dominated Godhra town had been 'irritated' by the 'abusive language' used by the 'Ram sevaks' while they were going to Ayodhya by the same train a few days ago. They had reportedly raised slogans as the train approached Godhra on the return journey this morning."

A report in The Times of India on February 28 stated: "Officials said a mob, enraged by the provocative slogan shouting by the VHP activists, attacked the train just after it left Godhra railway station at 6.30 am…Officials said it was possible that some passengers from Godhra travelling by the train had been harassed along the way by the VHP activists returning from Ayodhya and they had incited the mob to attack the passengers after getting off the train… However, other accounts say that the mob was waiting to pounce on the train because they knew the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists were returning from Ayodhya."

And, on March 7, Akbarbaig Sirajudding Shah, a Muslim passenger who was returning to Ahmedabad with his family, in an interview with the Gujarati daily, Gujarat Today, recounted the misbehaviour of the kar sevaks throughout the journey.

As stated earlier, no provocation whatsoever can justify a heinous crime like burning people to death. But the misconduct of kar sevaks is nonetheless important to record for two reasons: one, given such persistent hooliganism, where was the intelligence machinery of the law enforcement authorities? Why was no preventive measure taken by the police? Two, if the attack on kar sevaks was pre-planned, as Chief Minister Modi and Union Home Minister L K Advani have maintained, was the outrageous conduct of kar sevaks a part of the pre-planning?

The former Ahmedabad CP, MM Singh's has observed: "Burning nearly 60 passengers alive at a district headquarters railway station is unprecedented. Godhra has a history of communal riots. It was known that kar sevaks were coming by that route. This fact necessitated preventive deployment. That was, apparently, not done. With modern means of communication it should be unlikely that the multifarious safety and security installations at Godhra itself were not informed on the first sign of trouble. Even one determined man in khaki firing a few effective shots could have checked the worst, as witnessed in Parliament.

"Godhra railway station has RPF (Railway Protection Force). Godhra has a railway police station, too. A district headquarters with police HQ, armed police, control room, town police station with eight chowkies, all equipped with telephones and a taluka police station, it is the HQ of SRP Bn, too, and has a municipal fire brigade. These are the points one has to ponder instead of a routine probe, whose report gathers dust." (Letter to the editor, The Times of India, March 1, 2002)

Godhra is a small town with a roughly equal population of Muslims and Hindus and a long and bloody history of communal tension and violence. The Muslims living at the Signal Falia area near the railway station, who allegedly attacked the Sabarmati Express with tragic consequences, are "Ghanchis", a largely uneducated and poor community, reportedly conservative and prone to react quickly. Records and accounts also say that they have been quick to assemble and participate in earlier rounds of communal violence. Godhra has had tensions (that were incidentally quickly controlled by a quick deployment of the army in 1948, in 1953-55, and again in 1985). This time, this did not happen.

Local accounts say that stories of the behaviour of kar sevaks (believed to be as many as 1,200 or so on board) had preceded the train's arrival. Dahod, an-hour-and-a-half before Godhra, had seen the eruption of tension and the news had already travelled. As the train pulled in and stopped at Godhra railway station, locals who live just outside the station recounted that they heard abusive shouts and sounds of stonethrowing from the station. Vendors near the station recounted that tea stall owners at the station (who, incidentally, hail from the same Ghanchi Muslim community) had an altercation with the kar sevaks who refused to pay. One elderly vendor on the platform was threatened by the kar sevaks and asked to shout slogans; they pulled his beard and assaulted him when he refused.

At this point, according to some locals who spoke to this writer on March 22, a local Muslim woman, Jaitunbibi was waiting for the train to Vadodara, scheduled to arrive at around 8 am, with her two young daughters, Sophiya and Shahidi. On observing the altercations, they tried to flee the station. Suddenly, a kar sevak obstructed their departure, grabbed Sophiya and tried to drag her inside the compartment. He did not succeed in doing so.

(By the time this writer reached Godhra, on March 22, e-mails were in circulation, claiming that she been dragged inside and the attempt to rescue her was the trigger that culminated in the torching of bogey S-6. Later, this family left for Vadodara. When this reporter spoke to Sophiya's kin in Godhra, where she had come with her family for Id, they confirmed that Sophiya did not get dragged into the train.) The train was stationed at the Godhra railway station for 20-23 minutes before it began to move away.

By now, tempers were running high and stonepelting had begun from both sides. As the train began to pull out, the emergency chain was pulled in one of the three general compartments in the front of the 16-bogey train, (bogeys S5 and S6 were 11th and 12th respectively in this chain). The trains halted briefly. In a few minutes, the train reached Signal Falia, about a kilometre away from the station. Here, it was stopped again when the emergency chain was pulled. Who pulled the chain? In which compartment was the chain pulled?

Reports of misbehaviour, repeated provocation, the rumour of the abduction of a young Muslim girl, allegedly incited a 2,000-strong mob of Ghanchi Muslims from Signal Falia to attack the train with stones and firebombs. The kar sevaks also resorted to stonethrowing. The main target of the Ghanchi mob appears to have been coach S6, which was badly burnt. It was in this coach that 58 passengers, including 26 women and 12 children were killed. In comparison, the adjoining coach, S5, was not badly damaged, with only a few windows broken.

That day, there were only3 SRP men on duty; of the 111 GRP (Government Railway Police) officers stationed at Godhra, only two or three were on duty; although the fire brigade station is only five minutes away from the railway station, it took a while for the fire brigade to reach the torched coach. Two GRP jawans reached the spot within minutes; it is a matter of serious conjecture why they did not fire shots to disperse the mob. The arrival of firefighters was delayed allegedly by Bilal, a local leader, according to one version; a second version says that he was helping the victims.

Was the attack pre-planned? A senior police official in charge of investigation of the Godhra incident, while requesting anonymity, gave the gist of his findings as follows:

Chaiwallas in the train come from the same community (Ghanchis). On the Dahod-Godhra sector, there was an altercation between the kar sevaks and the chaiwallahs on the train. They reached Godhra.

Tea vendors at Godhra station collected, as again there was an exchange of words about payments. The vendors from the station got on the train and at Signal Falia they were the ones who pulled the chain. Other Muslims collected from the basti. Many local Muslims got into the train.

They procured diesel from the garages near the tracks. That diesel was thrown, using cloth balls dipped in diesel. Stones were also pelted.

Criminologically speaking, in the assessment of this officer, the fire was not intended. It "caught more than they expected. There was no pre-planning."

Interestingly, the following report published by The Times of India on March 29 quotes Inspector-General of Police P P Agja as stating that there is no evidence at all that the attack was pre-planned:

"The case is still being investigated and if there was some deep conspiracy, then we are yet to find it," said Inspector-General of Police (Railways) P P Agja. Agja, who for the better part of the last one month, has been camping at Godhra, spoke with The Times of India standing in front of the railway police station on the platform where trouble began.

"According to the sequence of events as found by the police, all was not well in coach S-6 of the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express on that day. A group of unruly Ram sevaks had boarded the train at Lucknow without reservations (and) had put to discomfort the 66 genuine passengers of the coach. Some of the ticket-paying passengers had to sleep on the floor, so overcrowded had the compartment become that the ticket collector who came aboard the train at Ratlam (two stations before Godhra) was not allowed to enter the coach.

"At Godhra station, the hawkers on the platform started stoning the train after an unsavoury incident, especially targeting coach S-6, because some occupants of the coach had given offence. At any point of time, there are some 250 hawkers on the station. Some of them carry stoves with kerosene in them. All of them live in the slum called Signal Falia next to the station," said Agja.

He added: "This means it is not surprising that a crowd could collect at the station so fast. The people who live cheek by jowl in the slums next in the station include a fair share of criminals indulging in railway crimes like looting, pick-pocketing and stealing of goods of passengers and also railway property. All of them are Ghanchi Muslims and they are uneducated, without any jobs and poor."

From 8.30 am, when the Godhra attack on the Sabarmati Express took place, until 7.30 pm that evening, repeated statements by the Godhra district collector, Jayanthi Ravi, relayed on Doordarshan and Akashwani (radio) stated that "the incident was not pre-planned, it was an accident". It was only after 7-7.30 pm, when Chief Minister Narendra Modi spoke and called it a "pre-planned, violent act of terrorism", that the official version changed.

As we have seen above, investigating officials have yet to find any proof of the Godhra atrocity being pre-planned. Nonetheless, Modi, L K Advani and others continue to reiterate the distorted version of the motive behind the incident at Godhra. When and why the government's version changed needs serious investigation because it is widely believed that it is the "pre-planned, violent act of terrorism" theory, pronounced by politicians and given a huge splash by much of the Gujarati press, which provided the lethal charge to the "backlash".

Signal Falia, where the Godhra railway station is located, is home to auto-repair workers, rickshaw-pullers, autorickshaw drivers, smalltime wagon-breakers and criminal elements reportedly living in the slum. As such, the gathering of a large mob at a short notice and the availability of improvised petrol bombs and other weapons and implements do not by themselves support the theory of any deep-rooted conspiracy, with or without the support of foreign agencies.

(This reporter has been told about a confidential meeting between the top brass of the BJP Cabinet, the VHP, the RSS and the Bajrang Dal on the evening of February 27, allegedly to plan details of the carnage that was to follow. If true, this might offer some clue as to why the official version underwent a dramatic shift.).

News of the deaths enraged the kar sevaks, who then tried to attack a nearby mosque at Signal Falia. The police fired 30 tear gas shells and 14 rounds of live bullets to disperse them. The damaged coaches S5 and S6 were detached, and the train departed with the rest of the passengers at 12.40 pm. On the way to Ahmedabad, some kar sevaks reportedly stabbed two or three people at the Vadodara railway station, giving a clear warning of things to come. The inquest and post-mortem of all the recovered bodies was undertaken by 4.30 pm. Under instructions from the administration in Ahmedabad, all the bodies, excluding those of the five passengers from the Godhra region, were dispatched to the Civil Hospital at Sola, Ahmedabad.

By the evening of February 27, a well-hatched scheme to make maximum political capital out of Godhra had been launched. As part of this scheme, around 2.30 am, the bodies of the kar sevaks were brought to Ahmedabad. Around 500 people were waiting outside Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad for the charred bodies to arrive from Godhra. By 3.35 am, a convoy of five trucks led by a pilot Gypsy entered the hospital compound.

Sloganeering started: "Kar sevak, amar raho!" and "Hindu ekta Zindabad", as small bundles carrying the victims' remains were offloaded on to waiting stretchers. The mood was morose but tears were few. Anger welled in the eyes of bereaved relatives as each bundle - the remains of the Godhra massacre victims - was placed on ice slabs. Vows for vengeance and shouts of "Jai Sri Ram" resounded through the hospital compound as martyrs' honour was accorded to the Godhra victims.

"For the nine from Amraiwadi who laid their lives for the country, there will be 90 more to replace. We had gone there for yagna only, yet the kafirs (Muslims) butchered the devotees. This time we will go and construct the Ram temple," said a waiting VHP man outside the hospital. The corpses of the unfortunate victims of the Godhra arson were used to launch a statewide pogrom of decimation that has not entirely stopped to date. Gujarat and the whole country were on a red alert due to the aggressive mobilisation by the VHP for rebuilding the Ayodhya movement. In Mumbai, the police made as many as 8,000 preventive arrests in the first week of March to keep the situation under strict control; in contrast, even after Godhra happened, the Gujarat police arrested only two persons in Ahmedabad. And both were Muslims.

On February 27, after the Godhra tragedy, although the Rapid Action Force (RAF) was called in, no adequate powers were given to the forces. Although curfew was declared in Godhra, the RAF men were made to sit in the officers' mess, helpless, unable to do anything.

On the afternoon of February 28, while Godhra was entirely under curfew, 200-300 cabins (shops) that line the railway station selling their wares and belonging to Muslims were demolished using bulldozers belonging to the Godhra municipality, all under police protection. The economic loss of this destruction is Rs 3-4 crore. The Muslim owners of these shops see nothing but a "teach-them-a-lesson" notice behind this act. An investigation into the background of Godhra shows that when disturbance erupted in 1965, the then collector promptly arrested both Muslims and Hindus whose names appeared in FIRs; within a couple of days, the disturbance was curbed. Even after the October 1980 disturbances, the then collector, S K Verma, had immediately put the miscreants behind bars.

Although all accounts suggest that there was provocation enough by the kar sevaks, little can justify the crime that burned 58 persons alive. The guilty need to be brought to book and punished. The tragedy and crime simply need to be placed in the charged and venomous atmosphere that our country and out polity has been held victim to, where sane, rational impulses are being overwhelmed by rage, revenge and violence.

The immediate uproar that this ghastly attack led to, the subsequent police action, and political manipulation of the motives have caused many witnesses to simply dither from giving evidence. The day I visited Godhra, the area around the station and Signal Falia was eerily quiet. It was also the day the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was visiting. Twice, the vehicle we were moving around in was attacked. Curfew was imposed and even as we were driving through the city, tense as it was, two persons were shot in police firing.

Among those arrested for the Godhra tragedy - first, under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance; later, charges under this law were removed - are municipal councillors, Abdul Dhantiya and Salim Shaikh. Shaikh Abdul Hamid Gaffar, who was also arrested, is a brother of Salim Shaikh. Godhra Nagarpalika president Mohammad Hussain Kalota and another councillor, Haji Bilal, who have also been accused of violence, are absconding.

Some locals point out the local politics of the Godhra municipality which, in their opinion, has also contributed to the schisms. In April 2001, the BJP was ruling the municipality but failed in a no-confidence motion through which a Muslim was elected president. For the first time in its history, Muslims dominated the Godhra municipality.

While one section of those interviewed clearly blames Bilal for attempting to disrupt the fire department workers, another version says that Bilal and Abdul Rehman were actually getting ready to go for a hearing (scheduled at Gandhinagar that day) on the disqualification case. Suddenly, they got a call from workers of the municipality informing them that the train had caught fire. At that state, according to the second version, Bilal rushed there and actually helped control the angry Muslims and assisted in putting out the fire. The persons who gave this information said that the deputy superintendent of police of Panchmahal district, Raju Bhargava, knows these facts about Bilal's conduct but remains quiet because of pressure from the government. (Communalism Combat).

 

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