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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 12:44 GMT
Eyewitness: Bloodshed in Gujarat

One man said Muslims had been left "defenceless"

Sriram Narayan has no idea where the bullet that ended up in his neck came from. As victims of India's worst outbreak of Hindu-Muslim violence in 10 years - some with horrific injuries - arrived in the chaotic casualty room of Ahmedabad's Janvandri Hospital, Sriram Narayan described a pitched battle in which doctors say 13 people died.

The riot was triggered when a policeman was pulled off his bike by a mob and burned alive, he told the French news agency AFP.

Rioters are armed with guns, knives and iron bars

"Then a van-load of Muslims came to the area and started burning shops, after which everything just went mad," he said.

"There were people fighting everywhere. I have no idea how I got shot."

Other eyewitnesses were reported as saying that over 2,000 Hindus and Muslims had set upon each other with guns, knives and hockey sticks in the city's Babunagar district.

"It's terrifying. Even the women are carrying weapons," said one witness.

A doctor said the hospital was treating 75 people hurt in the riot.

"Some of the injured have bullet wounds, while others have been stabbed or even attacked with acid," he said.

Burned alive

Reports said angry Hindus armed with iron rods and cans of kerosene roamed the streets of Ahmedabad and other nearby towns, attacking Muslims in their homes, shops and vehicles.


Shops, homes and businesses were attacked

JS Bandukwala, a Muslim and human rights activist in Ahmedabad, told the Associated Press that Hindus had "lobbed burning rags and pelted stones" at his house before his Hindu neighbours took him to safety.

And a former lawmaker, Ehsan Jefri, was dragged from his home and burned alive by rioters after he shot at them as they attacked his house, the news agency reported.

Haroon Jawahir said people in a Muslim area of the city were left "defenceless" on Thursday.

"The government was not there, the police were not there," he told Reuters news agency.

"From noon to eight, there was mayhem here. We kept on calling the police, the fire brigade. The police came, and they told us 'you stay inside'," he said.

Elsewhere in the city, dozens of people were burnt to death when about 300 Hindus torched a Muslim-dominated shantytown in the early hours of Friday morning, police said.

"We have recovered 27 charred bodies. The people were asleep when the incident happened," Deputy Police Commissioner PB Gondya said.

'Defenceless'

In a separate incident, police said residents trapped in six homes set alight by Hindus made frantic calls to firefighters, who were delayed more than six hours by road blockades in the city.

At least 38 people were burned to death in the attack on an affluent residential district, including 12 children, the Associated Press reported.

The riots began with attacks on Muslims as angry Hindus sought to avenge the deaths of 58 Hindus who burned to death on a train in an arson attack blamed on Muslims.

But police said on Friday that the nature of the violence had shifted to "group clashes".

 

The Guardian, March 01, 2002
Rampaging Hindus burn Muslim children alive

Army called out to restore order amid fears that contested holy site of Ayodhya will again fuel cycle of sectarian attacks

By Nick Meo in Delhi

India's worst outbreak of Hindu-Muslim violence for a decade escalated yesterday with the deaths of 60 more people in the riot-torn western state of Gujarat amid fears the violence could spread.

A political crisis also loomed as the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, begged Hindu militants to halt inflammatory plans to raise a temple over the rubble of the mosque.

Six rioters were shot dead by police and at least seven Muslims were stabbed to death as towns in Gujarat erupted. Muslim businesses, homes, vehicles and mosques were set alight.

A single act of violence stood out on a day of horror. A 2,000-strong mob surrounded a block of Muslim flats in the Hindu-dominated area of Meghaninagar and set it alight. A dozen children and 26 adults were thought to have been burned alive. The mob blocked roads to stop police and firefighters rescuing victims.

The mobs were out for revenge after nearly 60 Hindu activists from the Hindu World Council (VHP) were murdered by Muslims who hurled firebombs into their train at Godhra station on Wednesday.
The horror of that attack, in which 14 children also died, stoked an atmosphere of inter-communal hatred that threatens to spread to other states ahead of a 15 March deadline imposed by militants for the building of a temple at the flashpoint of Ayodhya in northern India.

Yesterday it was the turn of Muslim businesses, homes, restaurants and mosques to be sought out, doused with fuel and set alight. Hindu mobs fuelled by primal hate and armed with swords, clubs and petrol cans hunted them on the streets, inside the walled city and through the stinking slums of Ahmadabad's Muslim ghettoes.

Often the police, claiming that they were hopelessly outnumbered, stood by as one of India's most modern and richest cities was taken over by men bent on murder.

By the end of the day, the death toll was at least 60 and expected to rise. The army was called on to the streets to restore order and wrest control back from the mobs, which set fire to dozens of buildings and looted many more. Curfews were imposed in 26 towns and 70,000 officers were drafted on to the state's streets. About 700 people were arrested.

Much of the anger was spontaneous, fuelled by the horror of Wednesday's massacre. But even as smoke from the Muslim slums hung over the city, the state government announced it would investigate the conduct of Ahmadabad's police force, which is notoriously Hindu-dominated in a city that for decades has been infamous for its bitter religious conflicts.

Ahmadabad's descent into savagery came just over a year since it was hit by an earthquake that killed nearly a thousand people and brought down dozens of buildings.

But yesterday man, not nature, brought death to the city.

"There is a fire inside us. Our blood is boiling," said one Hindu woman, Mangal Behn.

Many eyewitness reports suggested that at least some of yesterday's attacks were organised and directed as cold-blooded revenge for the train massacre of Hindus at Godhra.

Other parts of India could only watch with a fascinated fear – and hope the bloodletting would not spread.

Once again the flashpoint had been Ayodhya, the site of a 16th-century mosque destroyed by Hindu militants in 1992 because they believed it to be the birthplace of the god Ram. They want to build a temple on the rubble and – defying a court order – have come up with the self-imposed deadline of 15 March to begin construction.

Pressure grew on Mr Vajpayee last night to clamp down on the VHP. There were also fears of more copycat attacks on trains carrying militants and more riots.The militants' destruction of the mosque in 1992 sparked rioting across India in which 2,000 people died. The men now ruling India were implicated, especially the home minister, L K Advani.

Ayodhya has become a rallying point for the ugly side of Hinduism, the fundamentalists who would root out Western influence and put down India's 100 million Muslims. Many want a war to settle old scores with Pakistan.

Last night the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government of Mr Vajpayee seemed to be on a collision course with its one-time VHP allies, as opposition leaders called for the VHP to be banned.

 

The Guardian, Friday, March 01, 2002
India in crisis as race violence spreads

Muslims killed in Hindu revenge attacks

Luke Harding in New Delhi

India was in the grip of its worst communal violence for 10 years last night as Hindu mobs incensed by Wednesday's attack on a train carrying Hindu activists exacted their revenge by killing at least 58 Muslims, burning many of them to death, including 12 children.

In a series of coordinated attacks across the western state of Gujarat, frenzied Hindu crowds set fire to Muslim shops, businesses and homes. In the state's main city of Ahmedabad, a 2,000-strong crowd poured kerosene on slum houses occupied by Muslim families.

Smoked billowed all day from the charred remains of Muslim shoe shops, tea stalls and restaurants.
The wave of violence presented India's elderly prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with his gravest crisis since his re-election three years ago - and left India's credentials as a tolerant, secular state under serious threat.

Mr Vajpayee presides over a rightwing Hindu nationalist party. But he is acutely aware that the fate of his country's 130m-strong Muslim minority now rests in his hands.

As thousands of rioters went on the rampage across Gujarat, the Hindu-dominated police force turned a blind eye to the unfolding destruction.

The police had been "influenced" by Wednesday's killings, in which 58 Hindu activists were burned to death by a Muslim mob, Gujarat police chief PC Pandey said. His officers yesterday recovered 18 bodies from the smouldering remains of six bungalows in a Muslim pocket of Ahmedabad's Hindu Meghaninagar neighbourhood - the most shocking incident in a day of violence.

Officers at the city police control room said they received several phone calls from a former member of parliament who also perished in the flames. He had apparently alerted the authorities when a 200-strong mob turned up outside his front door. The crowd grew to 2,000 people, pelted the houses with stones, then incinerated him and his neighbours using kerosene.

The fire brigade was delayed by more than six hours because of road blockades erected by Hindu mobs. In other parts of the city, police stood in groups, while mobs set light to cars and looted and burned Muslim stores.

By last night the death toll had climbed to at least 40, including a Muslim truck driver who was dragged from his vehicle by an angry crowd which surrounded him on the road to Bombay. Police halted all traffic coming into the city and fired teargas into the air.

On the highways, gangs of young men armed with sticks and iron rods stopped all cars to ask whether Muslims or Hindus were inside. Only Hindus were allowed to proceed.

After crisis talks with his cabinet, Mr Vajpayee yesterday agreed to send in the army to restore order to Gujarat. He also held talks with Muslim leaders in an attempt to stop the anti-Muslim backlash from spreading.

A curfew was imposed last night on Ahmedabad and on 26 other towns in the state, several of which also suffered violence. In Baroda, Hindus tried to burn down a mosque and destroyed Muslim offices.

The disturbances across Gujarat were triggered by Wednesday's horrific attack by a crowd of Muslims on a train packed with Hindu activists on their way back from Ayodhya, the sleepy northern town where Hindu extremists are trying to build a temple.

The incident took place when the train halted in Godhra, and the activists apparently refused to pay for tea and snacks from Muslim vendors. A Muslim mob then set light to their train. Fourteen children were among the dead, and 26 women.

"There is a fire inside us. Our blood is boiling," Mangal Behn, a woman resident in the Hindu quarter of Ahmedabad's old city of Daripur, said before yesterday's rampage. "What is the fault of those children who died? There is a volcano of anger."

Police yesterday said that 63 people, including two municipal councillors, had been arrested on murder charges in the train attack. Religious tensions have been simmering in India since the extremist Hindu group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council, announced early last month that it intended to build a temple at Ayodhya, despite a supreme court order preventing construction.

The demolition of a mosque on the site by Hindu zealots in 1992 prompted the worst communal rioting in India since partition, with 3,000 people killed. India's secular credentials have been under strain ever since, with the Hindu right sweeping aside the once-mighty Congress Party in the mid-1990s by exploiting the Ayodhya issue.

Most of India's Muslim intelligentsia decamped to Pakistan during partition. Those left behind are invariably poor, marginalised and ill-educated - but they are central to India's concept of itself as a plural state.

So far the rioting has not spread - as it did 10 years ago - to cities like Delhi, Bombay and Hyderabad, which have large Muslim populations.

 

The Guardian, Saturday, March 02, 2002
A vision of hell in Indian city gorging on violence

Luke Harding in Ahmedabad

The mob broke into Ahsan Jafri's compound in the middle of the afternoon, tipping kerosene through the windows of his two-storey house.

The former Muslim MP who had served India's Congress party with distinction, tried to summon help but the police did not respond to his increasingly desperate telephone calls. When Jafri resorted to firing into the air, the 10,000 strong Hindu crowd stormed his home, and carried him into the street.

Nobody is sure whether he was already dead when they poured paraffin over his head and set him alight. The crowd also dragged out his brother-in-law, his brother-in-law's wife and their two small sons. They were burned too.

The Chamanpura district of Ahmedabad - a small Muslim enclave surrounded by a sea of Hindu houses - was a vision of hell yesterday. In a pyre outside Jafri's house was the tiny blackened arm of a child, its fist clenched.

Jafri's nameplate lay in a still-smouldering heap of charred books and human hair. Everyone from the Gulbarg housing society suffered the same fate. Outside their verdant courtyard, Hindu crowds gathered yesterday to peer at the remains of their Muslim neighbours. Not much was left: only twisted spines tangled among bicycle wheels and mattresses.

"There was a huge crowd here. Mr Jafri fired his pistol into the air. The Muslims threw stones at the crowd from upstairs. Then the people brought the MP out and started beating him," a Hindu shopkeeper called Ramprakash said.

Did he feel sorry for the murdered MP? "Definitely. I'm very sorry he and his family were killed in this way," he said.

Yesterday western India continued to blaze, as Hindu mobs across the state of Gujarat systematically turned on their Muslim neighbours.

The events of the last two days, prompted by Wednesday's deadly attack by Muslims on a train in which 58 Hindu activists were burned to death, have been described as rioting. But rioting fails to evoke what has really been going on - an attempt by one dominant community to pulverise its weaker rival.

The official death toll in Ahmedabad, the state's main city, stood at 150 last night, with the nationwide figure put at 295. Few dispute that the real toll is much higher. The tally does not include those who have died in Gujarat's smaller towns or on the state's barricaded, rubble-strewn highways. Almost all of the victims are Muslim.

The carnage was made possible by the city's Hindu police force, which merely watched yesterday as gangs rampaged through Muslim areas. "We are being killed. Please get us out of this hell," one Muslim resident, Dishu Banashek begged. "They are firing at us. Several of our women have been raped. You must help."

Mrs Banashek's area, Sonaichali, had been transformed into a film-like war zone. A Hindu crowd armed with machetes and iron bars stood less than 15 metres from her house, on the opposite side of the street.

All the shops on the Muslim side of the road were ablaze by yesterday afternoon, surrounded by a carpet of bricks. Smoke blotted out the sky; gas cylinders exploded. Officers in blue uniforms from India's rapid action force charged theatrically at the Hindu mob, but later abandoned the area, leaving its Muslim residents to their fate.

"What can we do? We are afraid. But this is our place. We have to live here," Harun Ajmeri, a Muslim computer technician, said. "They have destroyed our mosques. They have killed our people. We have to fight back. That is what we will do."

The response of India's Hindu nationalist-led government to the subcontinent's worst communal violence in a decade has so far been dismal. Some 900 troops arrived in Ahmedabad yesterday, but their belated presence in a city of 5m people, 15% of whom are Muslim, amounted to little more than a PR stunt.

The city's police commissioner, PC Pande, admitted his officers had failed but denied that they had connived over the killing. "I hang my head in shame. The people responsible for all this come from the better sections of society. They are not criminals. Many of them are educated. They are ostensibly honest and decent. But this did not stop them."

The communal tensions that lay behind yesterday's carnage have been building up for some time, their origins lying in the small, sleepy north Indian town of Ayodhya.

In early January the extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council set a deadline of March 15 for the construction of a temple on the site of a mosque demolished by Hindu zealots back in 1992. In the communal rioting that followed 3,000 people died - a figure which this week's tragic events might soon eclipse.

At issue is what kind of state India should be - a secular democracy as envisaged by Jawaharlal Nehru, or some thing darker and more chauvinistic. India's future turns on the events of the next two weeks.

Yesterday a group of Hindu men in Ahmedabad stood jubilantly around the ruins of a small brick mosque, which they had earlier flattened using hammers. In its place, they had erected a tiny petal-strewn shrine to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. The burned-out Moti Mahal hotel - owned by a Muslim and therefore destroyed - towered behind them. "We have broken the mosque and made a temple," Mahesh Patel said.

"The problem was started by Muslim people when they attacked our train." What should be done with the Muslims? "They should not live in India. They should go and live in Pakistan."

Fifty-five years after Partition, and with India still the home of 130m Muslims, this would clearly be a tricky proposition.

The big question is whether the fighting will be snuffed out before it spreads to other cities with large Muslim populations, especially Bombay. Whatever happens it will be too late for Mr Jafri.

"He was a good man. The problem was that he lived in a bungalow surrounded by three kilometres of Hindus," Mr Ajmeri said. "He never stood a chance."

 

Times, March 02, 2002
A child's charred arm tells of the race hatred engulfing India

From Catherine Philp in Ahmadabad

WHEN Ahsan Jafri saw the mob advancing on his home, he ran to the telephone to call the police. No one came.

Outside, the crowd surged forward, chanting exaltations to the Hindu god-king Rama. Huddled inside, his two infant nephews began to cry. In desperation he ran to the balcony with a pistol and shot into the air to scare the crowd. They answered with a hail of stones and then someone went running in with a can of petrol.

All that remained of Jafri and his family yesterday was a pile of charred flesh and bone in front of his home. Among the ashes lay a child’s arm, burnt off at the elbow, its tiny fingers curled tight.

On the pyre were remnants of human life: a blackened hand, a charred volume of legal documents and a brass nameplate proclaiming “Ahsan Jafri, ex-MP”. Jafri had been an MP for Congress, the party that most embodies the secular spirit on which India was founded.

As a Muslim in a tiny enclave in the predominantly Hindu neighbourhood of Ahmadabad, he lived by the values he espoused. His choice of address may have cost him his life. As he tried to escape, Jafri was caught and dragged into the street. He was stabbed and beaten and thrown on to a pyre with his three brothers and nephews.

Manoj Kumar, a Hindu neighbour, said: “They pulled the babies out with the men, then poured petrol over them and burnt them. We were angry about the attack on the train at Godhra. The people that did that were Muslims.”

Police stood back. P. C. Pande, Ahmadabad’s police commissioner, shrugged and said: “We were outnumbered.”

Wednesday’s attack on a train packed with Hindu activists has sparked violence across western India. The scale of the bloodshed and the failure of the authorities to stop it has raised fears that it may spread throughout the country and threaten Indian secularism.

The 120 million Muslims have the most to fear. In Sonaichali, a suburb of Ahmadabad, it was clear which side was winning. Thousands of Hindus armed with machetes, knives and clubs massed alongside a motorway dividing them from a Muslim neighbourhood. On the other side every structure was in flames.

The only Muslims to be seen were families hiding behind a makeshift barricade. A woman with headscarf and a bandage left the barricade and grabbed on to my sleeve, refusing to let go.“What are we to do? They will kill us,” she said.

The arrival of the paramilitary rapid reaction force provided little comfort. Armed with batons and rifles, they chased the mob before telling the Muslims to go indoors, even as the Hindus regrouped.

The paramilitaries then grew bored and decided to go. Protests that the Muslims would be killed were greeted with indifference. “There is nothing you can do,” one Hindu journalist said. “You must leave them to their fate.”

 

The Guardian, Monday, March 04, 2002
Burned in bed as Indian violence spirals

Muslims flee to ghettoes as Hindu mobs bring religious cleansing to Gujarat

Luke Harding in Savala

They came with only the clothes they stood up in, arriving in the village of Savala in the early hours of the morning. Some of the refugees, crying and shaken, went to stay with relatives. Others settled down to sleep on the floor of the village hall.

Over the past three days a steady stream of homeless Muslims has poured into Savala, a 4,000-strong community settled around a picturesque lake and white mosque. They came here because Savala is Muslim-dominated. It is therefore a place of relative safety, away from the Hindu mobs still rampaging across the surrounding countryside.

"We don't want to go back to our village because we get no protection from the government," GM Bahelim, an English teacher from nearby Sardarpur, said. "We are helpless. We are afraid."

Almost 500 people - nearly all of them Muslims - have so far perished in the communal violence that has engulfed India since last week. But the killings have also wrought sinister changes in the fabric of rural Indian society.

For centuries Hindus and Muslims in the fertile western state of Gujarat have lived alongside each other in the same villages. They have shared land, water pumps - and cups of tea. But in areas where Muslims are in a minority they are now leaving, moving to communities such as Savala which are rapidly becoming Muslim ghettoes.

"Our Hindu neighbours told us we should go to Pakistan. But we are Indian. India is our country. It is our motherland. We are faithful to our country and we don't want to leave," SS Pathan, a teacher, explained.

All the Muslims in Sardarpur have now left - those, that is, who have not been murdered. In a chillingly sophisticated operation, a 500-strong Hindu mob attacked the homes of a group of poor Muslim labourers at 2am on Saturday.

They first sealed off their narrow alley and filled it with water. The gang, made up of upper-caste Patel landowners, then attached an electric cable to the flood. Finally, they climbed on to the roofs and firebombed the homes from above. Those victims who fled outside were promptly electrocuted, and tossed back into the flames.

As the carnage continued over two hours, the gang chanted "Bharat Mataji Jai" or "Long Live Mother India", survivors recalled. "Some people ran to save their lives and hid in the crops," Mr Pathan said. "But the crowd caught up with them and killed them with kerosene."

Not everyone took part in the massacre. Several low-caste Dalits from the village hid their Muslim neighbours, as did Hindu Thakurs.

When the police finally turned up they found 29 charred bodies, including 15 women and eight children.

The officers bundled Sardarpur's 350 surviving Muslim residents into jeeps and drove them to Savala, 20 miles away, where volunteers at an outdoor kitchen next to the lake were yesterday preparing a lunch of mutton and rice for the refugees.

No protection

"We asked the police for protection. They gave us reassurances. But they did nothing," Mr Pathan said.

The village's Hindu leader, Somesh Pandya, admitted that this was indeed the case. "There were four police constables here at the time of the massacre. But they had no orders from the government to fire and so they were unable to act," he said.

The violence in Gujarat - which has been encouraged by the state's Hindu nationalist government - amounts to nothing less than religious cleansing. It is clear that Gujarat's ultra-rightwing chief minister, Narendra Modi, would like his Muslim minority to disappear, though it is not clear where he expects them to go.

Last week Mr Modi instructed his police force to turn a blind eye to the anti-Muslim violence that began in Ahmedabad, the state's main city, then rapidly spread to rural areas.

In some places, including Savala, the police even coordinated the destruction. A large group of local Hindus advanced on Savala on Friday afternoon, accompanied by six police officers. They set light to the village's outlying mustard fields, its main source of income. The police prevented Savala's farmers from intervening by shooting at them, injuring a youth in the hand.

Two goatherds who made the mistake of taking their flock to the edge of the village were seized and then stabbed to death.

"All our buffaloes, crops and horses have been taken away. They have also destroyed our tube wells," SM Khokhar said. What were they going to do now? "We have no idea," he said.

Over the weekend India's Hindu nationalist prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, appealed for calm in an address to the nation. But there are many within his Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) who believe that communal violence is now the only way of reviving the party's flagging electoral fortunes, following its comprehensive drubbing last month at the polls in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Retribution

During a visit to Ahmedabad, India's home affairs minister, LK Advani, promised yesterday that the Muslims who carried out last week's gruesome attack on a train in which 58 Hindus died would be punished. But he made no mention of arrest for the tens of thousands of Hindus who have taken part in the far greater carnage of the last five days.

While the presence of troops in Ahmedabad has now reduced the rate of slaughter, the mood across the city remains tense.

Hindu gangs set fire to several Muslim homes in the old quarter yesterday afternoon. Black smoke billowed across the skyline. Police patrols dressed in riot gear raided several Muslim areas, but did little more than smash up a few Muslim-owned auto-rickshaws.

Back in Savala, the new refugees were pondering their uncertain future.

"The BJP and their allies say we are terrorists," Mr Pathan said. "We are not terrorists. We are proud of our country. But we will not become their servants."

 

Associated Press, Wednesday, March 06, 2002
Christians Call for Ban on Extremists

By Rajesh Mahapatra

NEW DELHI, India –– A leading Christian group on Wednesday called for a ban on Hindu extremist groups, saying they had also targeted Christians during last week's religious violence in Gujarat state that left more than 600 people dead, mostly Muslims.

The All India Christian Council said in a statement that the Hindu groups have "engaged in a constant hate campaign against the minorities" and are training hundreds of thousands of people in armed warfare.

The council said it would ask the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights and other international bodies to investigate the activities and funding of the World Hindu Council and its affiliates.

The World Hindu Council, known by its Hindi acronym VHP, has branches worldwide and is supported by donations from Hindu expatriates.

The Christian council's secretary-general John Dayal said members of the VHP and other groups burned down a Catholic mission in Sanjeli village, attacking two priests with stones, and that a Hindu mob ransacked a missionary school near Godhra.

The account could not immediately be independently confirmed.

Opposition parties and Muslim groups have already demanded a ban on the VHP and other hardline groups.

The hard-liners are accused of encouraging riots that killed hundreds of Muslims over six days in Gujarat state. The riots followed a deadly Feb. 26 attack by a Muslim mob on a train carrying Hindu activists in Godhra.

Fifty-eight people were killed in the train and 544 in the subsequent riots. Violence subsided on Tuesday and no fresh incidents were reported Wednesday. Police have detained or arrested 3,976 people in Gujarat.

Most of the victims on the train were Hindu activists returning from the northern town of Ayodhya, where the VHP wants to build a temple on a site where a 16th century mosque stood before it was demolished by Hindu militants in 1992.

Christians comprise 2 percent of India's 1 billion people while Muslims are 12 percent. Hindus are more than 80 percent.

 

BBC, March 07, 2002
Eyewitness: Escaping the mobs

Escaping Hindu mobs in Gujarat by pretending not to be a Muslim

By Rehan Fazal
BBC correspondent in Gujarat

Following the savage train attack on Hindu activists in Godhra I make my way from Delhi to the city of Ahmedabad.

From the corner of my eyes, I see a man being dragged out from another car and stabbed.

Arriving in the city, I see some people staging a sit-in. For a moment I feel like stopping and talking to them.

But then the thought crosses my mind that I should head out of the city.

Suddenly, I see a 200-strong crowd, carrying flaming torches, stopping all vehicles.

The moment our car stops, it is surrounded by about 50 people.

Mob

My driver signals to me to keep quiet.

He tries to reason with the crowd that we are from the BBC, on our way to Godhra to report on the killings.

After a lot of effort, our car is allowed to move.

A similar hurdle at Dakor. Here we are stopped by the police. They refuse to let us proceed.

I take out my card and slam it up against his face, all the time hiding the name with my thumb

We reverse the car and take a detour to Godhra.

We hit Balasinor where we are forced to halt by another crowd. The moment the vehicle stops, one of them charges towards me. He shouts: "Show me your identification card."

Stabbing

From the corner of my eyes, I see a man being dragged out from another car and stabbed. He is lying on the road with his hands to his stomach.

The man shouts again: "Show me your ID card."

I take out my card, which is printed in English, and slam it up against his face, all the time hiding the name with my thumb.

He tries to have a second look - maybe he could not read English. My life is saved.

Suddenly, an argument breaks out. One person forces his way into the car and orders me to record his interview.

The car doors are opened and slammed. This is repeated several times. Finally, the interviewee removes the burning tyre from the road and signals me to proceed.

By then I am drenched in sweat.

Silence

We come across one or two vehicles on the way to Godhra. There is an eerie silence all around. A few houses are on fire.

With a yellow band tied to his head, one man asks me if I was a Muslim. I shake my head in the negative.

I go to the spot where the train was attacked. There is no one around except for the police. Stones are strewn all over the place.

A policeman asks me to leave the place at once. I had planned to spend the night in the town but drop the idea after constant pleas of my driver.

Ten kilometres from Godhra, I see a mob setting fire to some houses.

I ask my driver to speed away but we discover we have a flat tyre!

The tyre is replaced by the driver with amazing speed and we are on our way.

We had hardly covered 10 kilometres, when another tyre gives way.

We are standing in the middle of the road. There is no mechanic in sight and a mob is heading straight towards us.

Wife's name

I quickly push my identity card, credit card and all my business cards under the car carpet.

My wife's credit card, also printed in English, is in my wallet. I keep it there.

With a yellow band tied to his head, one man asks me if I am a Muslim. I shake my head in the negative.

He seeks my ID card. I flash my wife's credit card. The card bears her name - Ritu Rajput.

He misreads it as Hrithik (a Hindu man's name) and shouts out: "His name is Hrithik! Let him pass!"

The driver starts the engine and we drive away.

 

The New York Times, March 07, 2002
In India, a Child's Life Is Cheap Indeed

By CELIA W. DUGGER

Twenty-one Muslim boys and girls, burned to death by Hindu mobs and unclaimed for days in the morgue in Ahmedabad, were carried to a cemetery in a flatbed truck yesterday and buried in a mass grave.

AHMEDABAD, India, March 6 — The flatbed truck pulled up to the Muslim cemetery today bearing a terrible cargo. Volunteers with plastic bags tied to their hands lifted tiny charred bodies from the back, where they were piled without so much as a sheet for cover, and gently carried them onto the grounds as though they were just asleep.

These 21 Muslim boys and girls, burned to death by raging Hindu mobs and unclaimed in the city mortuary for days, were buried here this afternoon in mass graves for victims of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots in nearly a decade.

No relatives were there to mourn them, just solemn young men with handkerchiefs over their noses who performed the final rituals.

If the children's families can ever be identified — if, in fact, the families did not perish in the flames — they will be entitled to 100,000 rupees, or $2,050, in compensation from the state, half the amount the state has promised to the mostly Hindu families of the 58 people who burned to death on a train loaded with Hindu activists.

"The government is pricing Muslims at 100,000 rupees and Hindus at 200,000 rupees," Afaullah Khan, a businessman and volunteer, said bitterly as the children's blackened, twisted bodies were laid on the sandy ground in the commodious shade of a banyan tree.

The government says the train attack dead were victims of terrorism, while the more than 500 people who died in the days of rioting that followed were victims of Hindu-Muslim violence, hence the difference in valuations.

But to the state's Muslim minority, the government's compensation policy has become one more piece of a puzzle that is fast convincing them that officials here in the western state of Gujarat are discriminating against them for political gain.

The 21 children and one woman brought today to the Kalandri mosque cemetery joined 104 other riot victims already buried here, but no senior state official has yet come to console the Muslim community, the volunteers said. None arrived today, though news of the funeral was on the front page of this morning's Indian Express.

The disillusionment of Muslims here and at a nearby school that shelters thousands who fled the mob violence reflects the broader anger and disappointment of the city's Muslims at a police force that failed to protect them and a state chief minister who blamed Muslims for provoking the worst instances of mob violence directed at them.

Last Friday and again on Monday morning, people living on the school's crowded concrete floors complained that the government had given them no food, no water, no clothes, no blankets.

The state did not begin to help until five days after the riots began, said Daud Bhai Ghariyali, a watch shop owner who is helping run the shelter. Sure enough, as he stood in the teeming shelter, a state health official finally showed up with doctors to give women and children checkups.

Asked why help had not arrived sooner, the official, S. K. Nanda, said the job was really the municipality's responsibility, not the state's, and he did not know why the city had not responded earlier. The state's home minister, Govardhan Bhai Zadafiya, insisted in an interview today that food was provided, but Mr. Ghariyali was emphatic that it was not.

At the cemetery today, volunteers tried to cover the sickening sweet smell of the dead children with bowls of burning incense sticks. The bodies lay on the ground for two hours, but no one from the shelter came to claim them.

Among those waiting to witness the burial was M. R. Mansouri, 69, a local resident. He tried to explain the cruel math of Indian politics — a math that tempts politicians to try to turn Muslims and Hindus against each other.

"Politically, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is down," Mr. Mansouri said.

In Gujarat, the last large state the party governs, the party wins if it can unite the Hindus, normally divided by caste and other factors — and it accomplishes that by setting them against the Muslims. "The advantage for them is a polarization of votes," Mr. Mansouri said. "At election time, they'll be the beneficiary."

Shortly after 5 p.m. today, as the dirgelike call to prayer sounded, young men carried the children's bodies, modestly covered with small white sheets, to the mass grave. They were laid in a layer on top of other bodies already buried there. A dense swarm of flies did a crazed dance above them.

First, the men who carried them threw clumps of reddish dirt into the deep grave by the handful, then by the bowl full, until the bodies were completely buried and ready for the next layer of victims.

 

Washington Post, Sunday, March 3, 2002; Page A01
Trapped in House of Fire

Wave of Religious Reprisals Ensnares Indian State

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service

SARDARPURA, India, March 2 – Carrying wooden sticks and plastic jugs of kerosene, the mob of 500 Hindus made no secret of its intentions as it swarmed into this tiny farming town late Friday night. "Kill the Muslims," they chanted. "Kill the Muslims."

Trying to flee but surrounded on all sides by the Hindu crowd, most of the town's Muslims holed up in the one place they believed was safe: a one-room house with thick concrete walls and metal-barred windows at the end of their neighborhood.

But the throng soon followed them there and encircled the house, seeking revenge for a Muslim attack on Hindu train passengers earlier in the week. "Get rid of the Muslims," some of the Hindus said, according to a Hindu man who witnessed the attack.

Panicked and crying, those inside the house begged for their lives. "We said, 'Please forgive us. Please let us go,' " said Ruksanabano Ibrahim, 20, who was packed inside with a dozen family members. "We kept saying, 'We are not your enemies. What have we done to you?'‚"

Then, just as it did moments earlier with shops, cars and other homes in the neighborhood, the mob doused cloth-wrapped sticks with kerosene, ignited them and hurled them through the windows. The terrorized occupants, who were locked inside the house, tried in vain to smother the flames with wool shawls and douse them with bottles of drinking water.

When police officers arrived a half-hour later and broke down the door, 29 people were dead. Most of the 15 others in the house were seriously burned.

The gruesome attack was the latest in a wave of retaliatory killings by Hindus that have plunged India's western Gujarat state into anarchy since Muslims firebombed the train on Wednesday, killing 58 Hindu nationalists who had been rallying to build a temple at the site of a destroyed mosque. Subsequent clashes have claimed more than 350 lives in the most severe religious strife in India in almost a decade.

Although police imposed a curfew in 37 towns and army troops sent to the state received orders to shoot rioters on sight, the unrest continued today. In Ahmadabad, which was the scene of brutal slayings and arson attacks on Thursday and Friday, Hindu gangs set fire to shops in several Muslim neighborhoods. In the town of Vadodra, police said seven Muslims working in a bakery were burned alive by a Hindu mob.

Police said more than 120 people were killed Friday in Ahmadabad, Sardarpura and another village in eastern Gujarat.

Despite fears among some government officials that the fighting would spread to other states, most of the violence has been confined to Gujarat, which has a long history of Hindu-Muslim clashes. Police said they have killed 47 rioters in the state and arrested 1,200 people, including several dozen who allegedly participated in the train attack.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee delivered a nationally televised address calling for peace. He said the attacks were "a blot on the country's face."

About 12 percent of India's 1 billion people are Muslims, while 82 percent are Hindu. Although India is an officially secular nation, religious tension between Hindus and Muslims has existed for centuries.

In 1947, when India gained its independence and was partitioned to create the Muslim nation of Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of people were killed as they tried to move between the countries. And in 1993, in the last major round of religious fighting, more than 800 people died in sectarian riots in Bombay.

While the police and military have increased their presence in large cities, the revenge attacks appear to be spreading to rural areas like Sardarpura, where security forces are stretched thin.

Local police officials expressed concern at their ability to stem a wave of vigilante attacks across the state's farming villages, many of which have small Muslim enclaves but lack full-time police protection.

In Sardarpura, which has the largest Muslim population in a 30-mile radius, the violence began on Friday afternoon, when several hundred irate Hindus arrived from Jhantral, a nearby village. Claiming that two Jhantral residents were killed aboard the train on Wednesday, the mob used pickaxes to demolish a light blue mosque on the road into Sardarpura, located about 40 miles north of Ahmadabad.

Forced to disperse from the mosque by police, the Hindus later regrouped and returned to the village around 9 p.m., police officials said. Once again, the police pushed them back by firing tear gas canisters, the officials said.

But then, the 14-man police contingent left the town to patrol neighboring villages. As soon as they departed, the mob returned – with devastating consequences.

"We couldn't just stay here," said B.K. Purohit, a police sub-inspector. "We had to patrol other areas."

After an emergency call from the town, the officers headed back, but said they were stopped a few miles away by roadblocks.

Muslims who used to live here, as well as those in other parts of the state contend security forces have been slow to respond. In some cases, they said, police and soldiers simply stood by as women and children were killed with sticks and swords.

"The police were nowhere to be seen when we were attacked," said Fatima Bibi, 48, who hid with nine relatives in the home of a Hindu family. "They should have been protecting us."

As the mob closed in on the Muslim neighborhood, the residents attempted to defend themselves by throwing stones and brandishing knives, said Sanju, a Hindu mechanic who witnessed the confrontation. But the Muslims quickly found themselves outnumbered and were forced to retreat, he said.

Although some Muslims managed either to run away from the village or to hide in the homes of Hindu families, most made their way down a rutted dirt path, past burning cars and huts, to the concrete house.

"We thought it would be the safest place because the walls are so thick," Ibraham said from her hospital bed today in a nearby city.

But it also was the most crowded. By the time Ibrahim arrived with her relatives, the small house already was stuffed with people. So when the mob began throwing flaming sticks through the open windows, setting the bed and other furniture alight, there was no place to retreat, she said.

"Those who could not move into the corners, they were sucked into the flames," she said. As new pieces of blazing material were tossed into the house and flames danced up the walls, Ibrahim and a few others kept moving around the room, tripping on the bodies of people who had collapsed.

"We were filled with fear," she said. "We were crying, begging them to let us go."

Ibrahim, who has a large bandage over her right eye, said she lost 10 relatives in the blaze, including her aunt, who owned the house.

Police officers said they removed the 29 badly burned bodies from the house this morning. By this afternoon, the village was largely abandoned except for police officers and cows wandering the streets, which fleeing residents had been too panicked to take.

Those Muslims who were not taken to the hospital ran off to other villages, where they planned to move in with relatives. Hindus joined the exodus out of fear that Muslim gangs might attempt to exact revenge.

Hindus in the area neither praised nor repudiated the attack. A group of middle-aged Hindu men loitering outside the town said they were particularly upset by rumors that some of the women and children aboard the train had been raped.

"They should be punished because they have done awful things to our people," one man said.

Police officials said they have found no evidence that any of the passengers were raped. The train was returning from the northern town of Ayodhya, where hard-line Hindus want to build a temple to the god Ram on the site of a 16th-century mosque that was razed by Hindus in 1992. A Hindu group said it plans to start construction of the temple on March 15.

Hindu and Muslim residents said they could not recall another incident of religious violence in the town, even when the Ayodhya mosque was torn down and riots engulfed Bombay. "Relations were always very good," said Nasir Mohammed, a Muslim driver. "Sometimes, we would even go into the homes of Hindus."

But he and Ibrahim said they can no longer imagine returning to Sardarpura. Mohammed said he plans to continue living with relatives in a smaller village 35 miles away. Ibrahim said she has no idea where she will go after she leaves the hospital, but she said it likely will not be to a village where Muslims are in the minority.

Analysts said those sentiments suggest that even if government forces quell the violence, the lingering polarization could set back India's efforts to foster a multi-religious society.

"In one night, the Hindus ended years of harmony," Ibrahim said. "Why in the world would anyone want to go back?"

Special correspondent Rama Lakshmi contributed to this report.

 

The News International, March 13, 2002

Terrified Muslims fill refugee camps in India

AHMEDABAD, India: Twenty-five-year-old mother Najma Begum Ayub, one of thousands of people housed in Muslim relief camps in western India, cannot forget the sight of her children being burned alive by a Hindu mob.

"What I saw was so ghastly that I can never go back to my home," Ayub said, clinging to one of her two surviving daughters. "The Hindu mob was frying little children alive like chicken. I saw my son and daughter burning in front of my eyes."

Thousands of Muslims in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of the western state of Gujarat, are crowded into stinking relief camps rather than risk returning to areas targeted by Hindu mobs almost two weeks ago.

Gujarat's terrified Muslims fear a prayer ceremony planned for Friday by Hindu hardliners in the northern town of Ayodhya could prove the next flashpoint for violence. "Muslims are all worried about March 15. We don't know what new history will be created by the Hindus," said M. R. Qasmi, a committee member at the Sundram Nagar camp housing 4,000 people.

The Supreme Court is to rule on Wednesday on whether Hindus can hold ritual prayers on Friday in Ayodhya, where hardliners want to build a temple on the site of a razed mosque. Ayub said she hid behind a pile of bodies to survive. "We were trapped in a narrow lane between two groups of Hindus who bathed us in petrol. My clothes were also on fire but I tore them off and hid behind a huge pile of bodies," she said, showing burn marks on her back and arms.

Though her house was gutted, she escaped the carnage in the Naroda Pattia area where nearly 100 people died on a single day. "So many young Muslim women were raped by Hindu men before being set on fire. I'm scared to live in any area with Hindus," said Ayub, in the Shah Alam Mosque, serving as a makeshift camp.

Throughout Ahmedabad, the blackened shells of Muslim shops, hotels and homes stand as stark reminders of the violence. The relief camps, on open ground, in schools and mosques, have an overpowering stench due to a lack of sanitation and are packed with Muslims left homeless or too scared to return home.

Ahmedabad city officials say 48,000 people are housed in 45 relief camps. Voluntary groups put the figure at 60,000. The anger against the authorities is palpable. In the Bapunagar camp, where 8,000 Muslims have barely enough space to stand, deputy collector A.V. Zala had a difficult time pacifying them. "Their anger is justified. But now their problems will be solved," he said, promising to provide supplies.

In camp after camp, Muslims recounted horrifying experiences in which family members died in rioting and police firing. "No one wants to go back to their homes even if they're still intact. There's an awful atmosphere of terror among the Muslims.

People are terrified of the police also who targeted and shot Muslims," said Qasmi. Witnesses said police did nothing to stop the mobs. Police deny the accusations. "In a riot where Hindus and Muslims are fighting each other, the bullet does not know who it hits," joint commissioner of police M. K. Tandon told Reuters.

Ahmedabad's police commissioner P.C. Pande sparked fierce criticism when he admitted earlier this month that the city's mainly-Hindu police force "were not insulated from the general social milieu".

The authorities ultimately brought in the army to quell the violence and said they did everything possibly to stop the mobs. The hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), whose activists died in the train attack, said Muslims should not live in fear.

"The killing and burning of Muslims in the riots was a reaction to the train incident in which innocent Hindus were burned," said Jaideep Patel, of the VHP's Gujarat unit. "If the Muslims live in peace then there will be no more reaction from the Hindu community. We want peace," he told Reuters.

 

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