'Please don't say this was a riot. It was genocide, pure and simple'

(Filed: 18/06/2002)


Many believe that the attacks on Muslims by Hindus in

Gujarat amounted to 'state-sponsored violence'. Alex

Spillius reports from Ahmedabad.

When a Hindu mob killed Ayub Ali's son and destroyed

his one-room home with a petrol bomb it did much more

than disfigure his life forever.

"I cannot go and rebuild that place so I will go and

live in a strong Muslim area," he said, standing in

the baking heat of a relief camp. "The Hindus say we

are not welcome here, but where can I go? India is my


The brutality that killed his son and up to 2,000

other Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat

dealt a crushing blow to India's foundation as a

tolerant, secular state.

By all accounts - except that of the state government

- most of the bloodshed that has spanned  three months

was executed by Right-wing  Hindu nationalist groups

collectively dubbed the "saffron Taliban".

The exact number of dead is unknown, but the violence

was probably worse than any of the bloody sectarian

convulsions India has experienced since Partition.

It was certainly the first time officials of a

political party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya

Janata (Indian People's) Party, which controls Gujarat

as well as the national government, have been

implicated in

turning a blind eye to mass murder.

The police force, under the BJP's sway, has also been

heavily implicated in the violence, which to a large

extent was pre-planned and has left India's Muslim

minority of 140 million, already browbeaten and often

reduced to second-class citizens, fearing for its


"This was state-sponsored violence, no doubt about

it," said a senior police officer in Ahmadabad, the

state's major city, where much of the killing was

done. "The police were told by politicians to take no 

action. The police conduct was tantamount to murder.

As an officer, I feel totally scandalised and


Three British Muslims died in the violence, prompting

the British High Commission to launch an investigation

that concluded that the attacks were premeditated and

carried out with the support of the state government.

It said the atrocities had the hallmarks of ethnic

cleansing and that reconciliation between Hindus and

Muslims was impossible while the chief minister,

Narendra Modi, remained in power.

Mukul Sinha, a Hindu lawyer who is pursuing one of

dozens of complaints against thugs, state assembly

members and police officers, said: "Please don't say

this was a riot. It was genocide, pure and simple."

Gujarat has a history of sectarian clashes. The pogrom

that spread to 21 cities and 68 districts followed the

murder by a Muslim mob of 59 Hindu men, women and

children killed when two train carriages were set


at Godhra station on Feb 27.

However horrific the attack, Indian civic and human

rights groups are convinced it was not planned in

advance. They argue that the atrocity was the spark

Hindu groups were looking for to assert their

anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan agenda and boost the BJP.

The retaliation, documented meticulously by liberal

activists, bore the barbarity of Rwanda and the

orchestration of Nazi Germany.

There are accounts of pregnant women having their

bodies ripped open and burnt alive. Women and girls

were gang-raped before being hacked to death with

swords and set on fire. Children were not spared as


communities were butchered.

Mehboob Mansoori, who lost 18 of his family, told

investigators: "All the women died. My brother, my

three sons, one girl, my wife's mother, they all died.

The bodies were piled up. I recognised them from parts


their clothes. They cut them then burned them. First

they took the girls, I saw it."

Across the state, 180 mosques were destroyed or

damaged along with thousands of Muslim-owned

businesses and homes.

The attackers, armed with swords, machetes or iron

bars, carried computer print-outs listing the

addresses of Muslim families, shops and businesses.

Muslim shops or homes in congested Hindu-dominated

areas were singled 

out, attacked, ransacked and burnt.

They had hundreds of gas cylinders, available only

from the local government, which were used as

explosives. There had been a widespread shortage of

cylinders in the preceding weeks.

There are numerous accounts of police turning a blind

eye in places, and in others leading the charge or

directing gangs towards Muslim houses.

Two BJP state ministers spent lengthy periods in

separate police control rooms. Callers to police

stations were told: "We don't have orders to 

save you," and "We cannot help you, we have orders

from above."

Mujib Mohammed Ansari, a Muslim businessman who

oversees one of the dozens of relief camps sheltering

40,000 homeless Muslims, said: "They want to

destroy our economy. What does India being the world's

biggest democracy mean now?"

Much of the funding of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or

World Hindu Council, a grassroots group with close

links to the BJP that is blamed for co-ordinating much

of the slaughter, comes from expatriate Gujarati

communities in Britain and America.

As yet there is no evidence that funds from overseas

were knowingly given for illegal acts. The violence

has declined into sporadic killings by both sides, but

the forcing of Muslims into ghettos is being


Muslim shops and homes in previously mixed or

predominantly Hindu areas

are being taken over by the majority community.

Muslims returning to their devastated villages are

said to have been

forced to sign documents pledging that they will cut

off their beards, 


eat meat and never touch a Hindu woman.

Ahmadabad is where Mahatma Gandhi based his pacifist

campaign against

British rule and spread the gospel of forbearance that

is written into

India's constitution. But mention of Gandhi draws a

tired sneer from

Prakash Sevkani, a branch manager of the VHP.

He said: "I find no reason to obey Gandhi. Times have

changed. When he was alive there was communal violence

in Gujarat. If he couldn't stop it when he was alive,

how can he when he is dead?"


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