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The Milli Gazette, March 16-31, 2002

Eyewitness account: ‘We shall be killed tonight’

By Aziz Burney

On Friday night while we were staying in Ahmadabad state guest house for a short while, there was a phone call from the Muslim majority area of Shahpur requesting Shabana Azmi, member of Parliament (MP), to do something soon otherwise tonight we shall be killed. Hearing this Shabana burst into tears and told me that exactly the same thing had happened in Mumbai earlier. A crowd of seven thousand people has encircled Shahpur and Watoajwapura, the worst-affected areas. The situation is very critical and explosive and anything can happen any time.

The true position of Ahmadabad can be understood from the following fact: On Friday night, BBC’s reporter Rehan Fazal requested for a room in the 5-star Taj Residency Hotel. The hotel manager asked him to give a Hindu name for staying in the hotel. On Rehan’s reply that he cannot do so because he cannot change his name which is mentioned in his visa and passport, the manager said that in that case he cannot stay in his hotel. Rehan narrated this incident to Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Sita Ram Pachori.

I have come to Ahmadabad alongwith Amar Singh, Raj Babbar, Shabana Azmi and Sita Ram Pachori, all members of Parliament.

An idea of the critical situation can also be had from the fact that the Police Commissioner, CN Pande, told the delegation that for making a round of the city on duty, he has got his beard shaved that very day. Similarly, ANI correspondent told them that he has shaven his beard today itself because people are being identified after disrobing them in the affected areas. Whatever he and Rashtriya Sahara Hindi editor, Govind Dikshit, have seen during one hour only is really terrible.

Upto a distance of only a few hundred metres from the airport around fifty vehicles were lying burnt. This was the scene in a market where all shops belong to Muslims. On going slightly further, they are stopped by police. High police officials say that you cannot go beyond the guest house and must stop there. At the airport also a police officer had advised us that our venturing into the city will not be safe. The previous day Defence Minister George Fernandes was harassed and misbehaved.

Police and high administrative officials give us details of the dangerous and terrible situation of the previous two days on condition of not mentioning their names.
We are at the moment in the state guest house from where Amar Singh talks to Chief Minister Narendra Modi on phone No. 2866343 and tells him that they are continuously receiving phone calls from the riot-affected people and tells him that the delegation wants to visit VS Hospital. Modi says that their going to the hospital is fraught with dangers. When we could not provide proper security to George Fernandes how and what security can we provide you, he says. When Amar Singh says that we have police escort with us, Modi said that your going there will lead to increased tension. Thereafter, Raj Babbar tells Modi on phone that a telephone call has just now been received from Bapu Nagar saying that shots are being fired from the residence of the Gujarat state home minister Govardhan Jhaparia. On being asked about Modi’s reply, Raj Babbar said that he says that you know who keeps arms. Hindus do not keep arms. At that moment Amar Singh said that despite danger to our lives, we must go there. According to him, this was a planned and organized official terrorism.

Then Sita Ram Pachori talks to Modi on phone and insists on going there. Modi said that your faces and ideas are known to everybody and hence we cannot guarantee your safety. Pachori said that this was a direct threat from the chief minister. Shabana also talked to Modi who told her too that your going there will further increase the tension.

During our conversations with Modi the state health minister Ashok Bhat and BJP’s youngest MLA, Bharat Pandya, were with us in the guest house. They said that they could have deployed the army the previous day but did not do so because last rites of those killed in Godhra incident are yet to be performed. Pandya named only a few other places, including Jamalpur, where greater tension prevailed and where Hindu-Muslim population ratio is 30 and 60 respectively. When we told him that tension is prevailing in the whole of Ahmadabad, he admitted it and said that people are face to face throughout the city. On being told that the former MP, Ahsan Jaffery, who was killed the previous day, was continuously asking for security on phone for six hours, he said that this former MP had at first fired on the crowd.

In the meanwhile UNI Mumbai’s reporter Sushil Parekh, who had come to Ahmadabad, enters our guest house accompanied by cameraman Uday Ivor. Sushil’s Indica car and his luggage were set ablaze the previous evening in Behrampura and both of them were shaken. They said that they kept asking for shelter for four hours in the riot-hit areas but no one obliged.

We came to know in the guest house that the worst affected people of the city are in Al-Ameen Hospital. On my asking the health minister about the location of this hospital, he expressed his ignorance, adding that this is probably a private hospital.

It was here also that we came to know that in Watoajwapura area of the city, around two hundred and fifty first class restaurants were reduced to ashes, including Samanwar Hotel (Rs 20 million loss), Kabir Restaurant, Sunflower, Jhajjhar Bangla, Raj Kamal, Tasty Restaurant near Police Post, Abhilasha in Bajrapur, Topaz Hotel, Tulsi Ram Restaurant etc. etc. Burnt ashes can be seen everywhere here.

In spite of police warning, we tried to move out of the guest house but at that very moment a crowd of roughly two hundred people surrounded us. A local leader, Khurshid Sayyed, came forward and said only he knows how he had been able to reach there. He said right in the presence of dozens of policemen there that we should not trust them. We can of course trust the army. He requested and insisted that we should not to go to the riot-hit areas. According to him, he did not see such a terrible and horrible situation since 1959.

At that very moment Aaj Tak TV channel representative, Awasthi who had come alongwith Geroge Fernandes, arrived there. He told us that his Tata Sumo car was excessively stoned and he ran for his life. He also advised us not to go out. Aaj Tak’s cameraman, Ashwini, was hit on the head and was injured.

However, in spite of these warnings we went ahead and reached Police Commissioner’s office which was at a distance of about 150 metres. Throughout this small distance we saw gutted vehicles and horrible sights of torched shops which silently narrate the story of the terrible but real situation there. Amar Singh, seeing the words 'Sewa, Suraksha, Shanti’ (Service, Security, Peace) on a notice-board in the Police Commissioner’s office, asked him: ‘where are all these things in Gujarat?’

It is 12 midnight now. People are awake throughout the city. They are standing in groups at different places. Slogan-shouting is going on. We are in Police Commissioner’s office. Reporters and correspondents of different news agencies and newspapers are also here. They are narrating their experiences of the day. Slogans are also topic of conversation. The slogan that is particularly being talked about is: ‘Jai Shri Ram, ho gaya kaam' (Glory to Lord Ram: Job is done). (Translated from Urdu)

Aziz Burney, editor of the Rashtriya Sahara Urdu newspaper published from Delhi and Lucknow, wrote this report from Ahmedabad on 2 March.

 

The Milli Gazette, March 16-31, 2002
From a non-Muslim friend in Gujarat

I know you are worried and there is every reason to be worried with what is happening in Gujarat. What you see on T.V. and hear in the news does put us to shame.

Yesterday, and today we, a group of organizations went around to see what we can do in the sensitive and affected areas. You will not believe but what I saw was horrible and terrifying. I can not just believe that some human beings can be so cruel and some human beings can be treated like that. Men, women and children have been just burned, raped, acid and petrol poured on their bodies, injured patients have no access to doctors or hospitals, people are full of fears and can not get out of their colony, some are hungry and nothing to eat, there is no police protection and police themselves have shot people and supported the attacking mobs. Some places where the entire Muslim colony is raised to grounds, their holy places have been destroyed and are replaced by other temples, roads are blocked, all things are made impossible for the Muslims. The Muslim community is absolutely destroyed and cornered in every sense. Every economic establishment is ruined and it will take years to regain. There are thousands of people taking shelter in Dargahs and Mosques and what we see there is absolutely unbelievable, hearing their stories raises every hair on our bodies and tears in our eyes. There is overflow of anger and helplessness too. The community absolutely feels deserted by all - the politicians, the state, the police etc... there are very few whom they can trust.... they can not even claim the dead bodies of their dear and near ones and some have no access to them! What a situation!

Just on our way, one patrika is inserted in our car by a Hindu group of young people which says in detail to cut every relations with Muslims..not to buy or sell anything to/from Muslims, not to employ, not to accommodate them in any way... terrible!

At times I feel less we talk better it is! Only pray that some good sense prevail among the attackers in the future and let us see what little that we can do.... Now we have a meeting in Gandhi Ashram to discuss the future strategy. Let us see what steps this group plans.

In general now things are under control and situation is improving, getting back to normal in the city.

with terrible shock...

 

The Milli Gazette, March 16-31, 2002
Thousands of human torches amid encircling darkness in Gujarat

By Syed Shahabuddin

The Muslims in Gujarat have been living in a state of siege but no one could have imagined the fate, which befell them since the last week of February. Thousands of human torches have spelled ‘darkness at noon’ for Gujarat.

In broad daylight, innocent men, women and children were burnt like logs of wood, in the land of Gandhi, in their land of the birth, with the world as the witness, only because they profess Islam or because they bear a Muslim name or look like Muslims. This is but regression to the jungle, not to pre-history because the pre-historic man was not so brutal to his own kind.

In a world where we speak of Constitutions and legal systems, of justice, equality and fraternity, of the world shrinking into a global village of mankind forming one family, where we propagate non-violence and compassion, where we commit ourselves to respect for human rights, it is indeed a matter of shame for all of us.

But coming back to the persecuted community, which, in the words of eminent scholar Mushirul Hasan, is "trapped in a world that is clearly not their own. Strangers in the land they have inhabited for centuries, nobody responds to their cries or comes to rescue them from the rampaging mobs, lonely, isolated and vulnerable".

This is not the first massacre in Gujarat; it happened in 1969 and again in 1985. But there is a difference. Never before did a State Chief Minister repeatedly justify the massacres as a ‘natural reaction’ in this case, to the Godhra tragedy. Never before did a State Government give a free hand to the saffron brigade to organize killings, arson and looting on such a massive scale for 48 hours. Never before did the administration itself defend the role of the police force as spectators because they also have ‘emotions’. Never before did the Central Government take so long to deploy the army. Never before did the State Government make it as difficult as it could to the Army to do its duty.

Chief Minister Modi could well have anticipated the reaction to the Godhra killings and taken effective preemptive and preventive measures. He did not. He says he gave shoot-at-sight order to the police force. But one would like to know how many rioters fell to its bullets. His motive is clear. That some Muslims should have the audacity to attack the holy warriors of Hindutva in the first (and now the only) State of Hindu Rashtra, presided over by a leading light of the Sangh Parivar, cannot go unpunished and the entire community has to pay for it. This is nothing but criminal negligence. No, it is worse than that. It is a crime against the nation; a crime against humanity. Modi has no right to be the Chief Minister. He must be dismissed; he should be prosecuted and the State should be placed under President’s rule.

Anti-Muslim Massacres of Gujarat are, in a sense, the repeat of the anti-Sikh massacres of Delhi. Both were motivated to punish a community for the sins of a few misguided members. Both were willed and then justified by the political masters of the day, who gave a free hand to the marauding mobs; in both members of the ruling party were leading and guiding the killers and arsonists. Neither were riots in the sense of confrontation between the two communities. In Delhi, there were no records of Sikh mobs attacking the Hindus or their localities. In Gujarat, there are no cases of Muslim mobs attacking Hindu localities, they were both one-sided pogroms with the collusion of the State. Both were thus patently cases of State Terrorism and not of inter-communal violence.

And yet, the Prime Minister has no tears to shed. He is only apprehensive of the country’s image abroad being tarnished. He does not see the moral point; he does not press the ethical issue; he does not perceive the nefarious role of his ideological brother, the Chief Minister; he has not a word of sympathy for the victims. Perhaps, like other bigwigs of the RSS, he sees the Muslim Indians, all of them, as anti-national, Pakistan’s fifth columnists, actual or potential collaborators of the ISI and, therefore, entirely unworthy of human sympathy. He makes formal appeals for peace and communal harmony but refrains from using the power, the people of India have given him, to stop the devil dance and to curb the killers.

Unfortunately, our country has seen so much violence, that as a people we have become insensitive to human suffering; our psyche has been benumbed. Through education and media we have created the ‘other’, the historic adversary, to hate, to deprive, to humiliate, to balance the supposed ‘account of the centuries’. That is why sub-consciously the Hindu mind accepts such ‘punishments’ to the Muslims as the natural order of things with its deep sense of continuity of time and life, so that successive generations form a continuum. This explains why even the sadhus, sants and shakaracharyas of the Hindu Samaj hardly ever taken notice of man assaulting man while they show so much compassion towards animals and even insects!

Over the last decades, as Gujarat has prospered it has also been polarized on communal lines. It is a strange phenomenon, all over the country, that education and development have both contributed to the communalization of the society. Today the rising Hindu middle class, not the Hindu masses, are the standard bearers of the Hindutva ideology, partly because the Jan Sangh and its later incarnation the Bharatiya Janata Party targeted them. Perhaps with money and education came the vicious political consciousness that the country belongs to the Hindus, that Hindu dominance must prevail over the non-Hindus, that the Hindu personality of the nation must be projected, that, in contradistinction to Pakistan, India should be a Hindu State. Perhaps the Muslim Gujarati was seen as an unwanted competitor in the economic field. This explains why since the 80’s the Hindu mobs have been led not by the goondas, the lumpen elements, but by men and women, educated professionals of the emergent middle class. That also explains why the Hindu mobs have looted and burnt Muslim commercial establishments, industrial units, hotels and restaurants, apart from Masjids and Mazars to cripple the Muslim community. It is not surprising that members of the Muslim elite have been selectively targeted. It is genocide and economicide rolled into one.

In a segmented society like ours, democracy tends to strengthen the dividing line between groups, religion, caste, linguistic, ethnic, because the electoral system caters to formation of combinations, which struggle for supremacy and power. If the electorate is polarized on communal lines, Hindu majoriatrianism will prevail. This will obviously benefit the high castes who occupy an established position in society, at the cost of the religious minorities as well as the low castes, tribals, the dalits etc. in Gujarat Muslims were never in the power game; only occasionally, by the grace of the ruling party, a few became MLA’s or MP’s were elected. As far as one can recall, after 1977, when the late lamented and brutally torched Ahsan Jaffery was elected to the Lok Sabha, there has been no Muslim MP. In the Rajya Sabha, there have been a few. But largely they keep on the right side of the system, strictly avoiding ‘communal issues’. Apart from under-representation the other consequence is that even a national party like the Congress, committed to secularism, has to cater to Hindu sentiments. In supporting even genuine Muslim or Christian grievances or raising humanitarian question, it will carefully test the waters, lest it alienates the prevailing Hindu sentiments and thus gives advantage to the BJP.

Today, Muslims are getting so disenchanted with the political system that some are mentally prepared even for self-disenfranchisement or boycott of elections, though any such tendencies can only help the Hindu communal forces.

But the fact remains that even in time of distress, the secular parties are not prepared to give a political fight to the Sangh Parivar. All they do is to make statements and at election time make common cause with the caste groups, disgruntled with the BJP dispensation.

No one knows what actually happened in Godhra. Only the judicial inquiry may bring out the truth. It appears to have been a mindless outburst of the poor Muslims, living and working in the neighbourhood of the railway track, after continuous needling and humiliation by the karsevaks for many days. Whatever the provocation, there can be no justification for deliberate killing. But how can the Godhra killing justify what happened all over Gujarat in the next five days? Anyway, the BJP slogans of ‘riot-free society’ and a ‘society without fear’ have lost all meaning and credibility.

To anyone who has followed the march of the devil across the country during the last 50 years, ‘Gujarat 2002’ is all déjà vu. Every episode, every story, has its parallel in the past. But there is a certain cold-blooded calculation, a systematic organization to mark out the area of operation in advance, a conspirational collusion on the part of the administration and the police, a ruthless nod, a clear wink from the powers that be, which makes Gujarat unique.

And the utter helplessness of the target groups, whether Muslims or Christians or tribals. The nation is too big, the country too large, to shame our conscience into action. Gujarats will come and go. Soon everything will be forgotten. Life will resume its dreary course. Some will gloat over their exploits. Some will learn to camouflage, to disguise themselves, change their names, dress, hair style, to avoid detection and remain alive in times of trouble; some will seek safety in ghettos; some may simply live on as alienated, rootless beings; some may turn bitter and nurse revenge.

The ‘Gujarat 2002’, with thousands of human torches turned into ashes, is a small event, as compared to Ahmedabad 1969, Nellie 1983 or Bhagalpur 1989, but thanks to TV coverage, it has shocked the world into realization that behind our development and progress lurk the demons of destruction. Can these demons be exorcised? That is the question. It looks they cannot be, because the Sangh Parivar has succeeded, through 75 years of ceaseless and zealous endeavour, to redefine Hinduism, remake Hindu personality, indeed, to redefine the Indian society, the Indian State and the Indian Culture.

Indian Nationalism stands already transformed into Hindu Nationalism. Indian Secularism is being transformed before our eyes into Hindu Secularism. Will Muslim Indians learn to live as a ‘protected species’ in Hindu India?

 

The Milli Gazette, March 16-31, 2002
Unanswered question: If the train fire was pre-planned, why only one bogey was torched?

Godhra: If the Godhra train fire incident was a pre-planned conspiracy, as alleged by some, why only one bogey of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire? Further, if this was an attack on karsewaks, there were many more of them in several other adjoining compartments. Why those were not torched?

A senior officer of Godhra railway station said, on condition of anonymity, that for about a week before this train tragedy the karsevaks travelling to and from Ayodhya by Sabarmati Express were indulging in rowdyism and misbehaviour with vendors at Godhra station. Even the RPF and GRP men, fearing untoward incidents involving the karsewaks and vendors ordered these vendors to temporarily suspend their business at the time of the arrival of Sabarmati Express. But on the fateful day this train, which normally arrives around midnight at Godhra, was very late and arrived around 07.30 am. All the vending shops were open at that time because many other trains also arrive during those hours and hence this incident.

Many of these vendors belong to ‘Ghanchi’ tribe who live in nearby settlements. When there was a war of words between these vendors and karsewaks, they went back to their settlements and, spreading the rumour that they had been attacked by karsewaks excited their youth to reach the outer signal to take revenge against these sewaks. Meanwhile, some mischievous elements raised provocative and religious slogans from a mosque in the railway compound and incited Ghanchi youths to take revenge against these karsewaks. The Ghanchis, who are totally illiterate and indulge in crime, first attacked a nearby petrol pump, filled their utensils with petrol and diesel, reached the outer signal where the train was stopped. Here they set fire to coach No S 6.

According to these sources, when there were skirmishes between the Ramsewaks and Ghanchi vendors at the station, these vendors before retreating to their settlements had threatened the karsewaks to settle the score later. Fearing any violent reaction from these vendors, the Ramsewaks took precautions and closed all the doors and windows of their compartments. The result was that most of them were safe while innocents, mostly women and children, became victims of the fire. No preplanning was involved in this incident. Local Congress MLA Rajender Patel says that this incident would never have taken place had the karsewaks not misbehaved with the vendors. Kalota, the main accused in this case enjoys BJP patronage since 1994, Patel alleged.

 

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