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The Hindu, Opinion, May 12, 2002
The survivors speak

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara

I returned from Gujarat a week before the Prime Minister's visit as part of a fact-finding independent women's commission to report on the violence against women. Till the end of March, the National Women's Commission had not deemed it necessary to conduct a probe into the massacre and rape in Gujarat. Yet Muslim women had been specifically brutalised as seldom before in the history of India's riots. Every Gujarati Hindu was called to arms using an evil, fabricated, totally false newspaper story that Hindu women had been raped and mutilated. "Avenge your women,'' was the challenge thrown to Hindu men. Bangles were sent to villages where Hindus refused to attack Muslims. "Are you men or women,'' was the taunt. So "Women'' became the battleground and the weapon in the Gujarat genocide.

Our report was called
"The Survivors Speak''.

We decided it was imperative to state upfront and without ambiguity, (and every Independent Commission later has done the same) that Gujarat was genocide, not a riot. A planned, premeditated pogrom that would have taken place whether Godhra happened or not. We underlined our condemnation of Godhra.

However, Godhra was merely an excuse that the Sangh Parivar used to start their pogrom. We witnessed evidence of months of planning and we concluded that the State had geared up for violence, for a final solution to end their "Muslim problem'' long before Godhra. The RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal used this opportunity of almost a decade of BJP power to consolidate and finalise its plans to conduct its annihilation experiment. Gujarat was their laboratory. There is photographic and video documentation to prove this.

If it was the spontaneous outburst of ordinary citizens' anger, how could thousands of talwars (swords), knuckledusters and panjas (metal clawhands to mutilate the opponent) have been manufactured and distributed within two days of Godhra?

A few months before the massacre, a detailed survey of Muslim homes and families was conducted. When the attack began, these lists were with the mobs. According to eyewitnesses, in many places, outsiders, professional assassins and thugs were brought in to lead the mobs. They did not speak Gujarati. A systematic campaign of hate was carried out for the last few years, telling Hindus that Muslims were the enemy and unless Hindus united to drive them out, they would know no peace. Printed circulated leaflets have been collected as evidence by the various commissions.

Immediately after Godhra, `Sandesh', a leading Gujarati daily printed a blatantly incendiary lie designed to fuel the anger of the people. It stated falsely that Hindu girls had been dragged out of the Sabarmati Express and brutally raped, mutilated and murdered. Further inflammatory lies were added such as the girls breasts were cut off, burning rods shoved into their vaginas and that they had died while being raped. None of this was true. But printed pamphlets were distributed by the thousands to every village of Gujarat. The figures were multiplied and more salacious, poisonous details added. This was done to bring the mob to fever pitch. Many of the attackers arrived carrying these pamphlets and copies of `Sandesh'. When national dailies rushed to the spot to investigate this story they could not find a shred of evidence to support it. Neither could the police. Subsequently, `Sandesh' carried a small retraction in its inside pages. But within days, this story had been deliberately spread throughout the State and become folklore, nothing and no one could convince Gujaratis that it was not true.

As a direct result of the `Sandesh' hate campaign, the most monstrous acts of cruelty were perpetrated on Muslim women and children in particular, emulating the vile acts outlined in the false `Sandesh' story. Further evidence of the planned nature of the Gujarat pogrom lies in the fact that there was systematic looting of only Muslims homes. This was preceded by the loudspeaker-toting leaders who exhorted the mobs to loot, attack and murder. They promised them complete immunity and a totally free reign of terror for 72 hours.

The State did not merely remain passive. It actively encouraged the looting and murder. The BJP organised the display of the burnt remains of the Godhra victims. The arrival time of the train carrying their corpses was announced over the radio to ensure that huge crowds would be present at the Ahmedabad station. Leaders shouted slogans such as "khoon ka badla khoon, blood for blood''. Inflammatory speeches were made by leading BJP politicians. The State Bandh was supported by the State BJP Government. When the mobs were exhorted to attack, the police were ordered not to interfere. Senior police officers have given evidence to this effect.

In some places the police did not merely stand by. They attacked Muslims and led them to the mobs. In the few places where senior police officers decided to disobey their political bosses' diktats, they controlled the violence. Kachch, Surat and Amreli were such examples. The Superintendent of Police of Kachch, Vivek Srivastava, was transferred because he arrested the area's Home Guards Commandant, Akshay Thakkar, a member of the VHP, local VHP leader Vasant Patel and a Shiv Sena pramukh for attacking the priest of a dargah in the area. The State Home Minister, Gordhan Zadaphia, a hardcore VHP man and an appointee of the VHP leader, Praveen Togadia, called Srivastava asking him to drop the charges. This was followed by a call from the Chief Minister's office. Since he did not comply, Srivastava was transferred. After his transfer, communal violence has erupted in Kachch as well. Any senior police officer who did his duty by protecting Muslims has been transferred.

Taking all this into account, our commission and others after us have concluded that justice will not be done under the BJP regime. The Chief Minister presided over the genocide. He was abetted by the Minister of State for Home, Zadaphia, who has ordered all cases against VHP criminals dropped. The Governor of Gujarat, S.S. Bhandari, did not think it necessary to even report to the Centre on the violence. The judiciary in Gujarat is largely saffronised. The police force and the IAS are completely demoralised.

Space constraints prevent the detailed recommendations pertaining to women being reported here. In a nutshell, detailed testimonies of raped women need to be recorded urgently. And FIRs lodged immediately. Medical examinations were not possible as women could not be brought to hospitals till days later. So a special task force of women police, lawyers and leaders needs to deal with these cases. Urgent counselling specialists are needed for the traumatised women. As I write this, women activists in Gujarat are being harassed, intimidated and prevented from working freely among the survivors.

Several civil rights groups have used this and other reports to appeal to the UN, Amnesty International, the Hague and International courts for Modi's extradition and trial and for justice for the survivors of the Gujarat pogrom.

The efforts are being led by British Gujaratis both Hindu and Muslim. They are aghast at the barbarity and savagery unleashed on a civilian population in peacetime. Cynics, however, are sceptical about justice from within. They think the survivors will finally have to wait for divine retribution. In the meantime, the fight for the victims goes on with outraged Indians from India, the U.S. and the U.K. leading the battle. Join the battle. Because if not we may lose the freedom our forefathers fought for and won with blood, sweat and tears in 1947. This is a defining moment in the history of India. And the future of this country is in our hands.

(The writer is part of an independent women's commission. The others are: Syeda Hameed, Muslim Women's Forum, Delhi; Ruth Manorama, National Alliance of Women, Bangalore; Malini Ghose, Nirantar, Delhi; Sheba George, Sahrwaru, Ahmedabad; and Farah Naqvi, journalist, Delhi.)


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