Police took part in slaughter India's lawmen offered little protection against Hindu gangs massacring Muslim neighbours Luke Harding in Ahmedabad Sunday March 3, 2002 The Observer http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,660969,00.html In an alley next to her affluent bungalow, Mrs Rochomal's mobile phone was still ringing yesterday. Her son's jeans were drying on the washing line. The dishes of her last meal had been carefully stacked, ready to be washed. Mrs Rochomal - an elderly Muslim lady - was not in a position to take her call. Her charred, mutilated corpse lay in the sunny courtyard, framed by the metal posts of an upturned bed. It was not just the kerosene that had killed her. The Hindu mob that poured into her home two days ago had slashed her twice across the face. They had also cut her throat. A few clues hinted at Mrs Rochomal's final terrifying hours: a small blue address book was abandoned next to her Nokia cellphone. She clearly knew what was coming and had been trying to summon help while hiding in her outside pantry. The fact that Mrs Rochomal lived 80ft away from a police station reveals a bleak truth about the violence that has convulsed India over the past four days: it has been state-sponsored. The authorities have done little to prevent the inferno that has swept the western state of Gujarat - not because of incompetence but because they share the prejudices of the Hindu gangs who have been busy pulping their Muslim neighbours. Indian troops yesterday finally took control of the rubble-strewn streets of Ahmedabad, the state's main city. They took up positions on the edges of Hindu neighbourhoods. The mood was calmer. But the army's belated deployment seemed little more than a political calculation that the Muslims had now got the beating they deserved. 'Everything is finished,' rickshaw driver Narinder Bhai said, gesturing at the charred interior of his home and his ruined fridge. 'Many people have been killed here. My wife and children have disappeared. I don't know where they are.' Narinder's home is almost next door to Mrs Rochomal's, in the Ahmedabad district of Naroda, which suffered the worst battering. Hindu mobs armed with iron bars and machetes burned down the entire colony on Thursday and Friday. Yesterday, it was almost completely deserted: a ruin of smouldering rickshaws, charred family photographs and abandoned homes. 'The crowd was so big, the officers could not control it,' one policeman said. 'They have done their job very well.' The reality is that the police made no effort to hold back the mob, and in certain places even joined in. 'Several policemen without uniforms started firing guns at us,' said one Muslim resident, Naseem Aktar, in the suburb of Bapunagar. 'They killed six or seven people.' The violence - prompted by last week's gruesome attack on a train carrying right-wing Hindu activists back from the temple town of Ayodhya - is clearly an embarrassment for Hindus of moderate views. In an address to the nation, India's elderly Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, yesterday appealed for peace in his country. But Vajpayee's own Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is part of the problem. Gujarat is one of the few Indian states still controlled by the BJP. It has a reputation as a laboratory for Hindu revivalist thinking. Since sweeping to power in the mid-1990s, the BJP has pursued a communal pro-Hindu agenda. It has also supported the construction of a temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya, where Hindu zealots demolished a mosque in 1992. Several members of the present Cabinet, including India's hawkish Home Minister LK Advani, watched. The Ayodhya issue now threatens to tear India apart. The extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council has called for construction on the temple to begin by 15 March. It has so far not been swayed by pleas from Vajpayee to abandon its plan. The official death toll since last Wednesday is now 250 - but few dispute that the real total is vastly higher. The army has restored some order to Ahmedabad, and the first bulldozers embarked yesterday afternoon on the epic task of clearing up. But in the vast countryside around Gujarat, where Hindu and Muslim villagers live side by side, local massacres were still going on. On the national highway leading to Bombay, Hindu gangs yesterday manned roadblocks and set fire to all trucks driven by Muslims. Last night, meanwhile, Mrs Rochomal still lay face up in front of her veranda, her gruesome remains a warning to those who survived the flames. Her white flip-flops were where she had left them, next to the shoe rack and a brightly-painted swing-seat. Before being murdered, she had padlocked her front door. The ferocity that killed her left her home largely untouched. She was clearly a lady of fastidious habits and through the windows it was possible to make out black-and-white photographs of her family pinned to the wall. The Foreign Office confirmed the death of Mohamed Aswat Nallabhai, 41, from Batley, West Yorkshire, who was attacked on Thursday along with three relatives while on a social visit to the region. His group was travelling in a minibus when they were attacked near Himmatnagar, about 100 miles from Ahmedabad. Two of the men, named in reports as Saeed Dawood and Shakil Dawood, are missing. Ayodhya: India's religious flashpoint Sectarian tension in Ayodhya dates back to 1528, when the Babri mosque was built on the site that Hindus claimed their god, Lord Rama, had been born. There has been repeated tension over the site ever since. In 1859, the British administration annexed the mosque, creating within it separate Muslim and Hindu places of worship. In 1949, the gates were locked after Muslims claimed Hindu worshippers had placed deities of Lord Rama in their area. In 1984, the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad party started a campaign to replace the mosque with a Hindu temple. In 1992, an angry mob of Hindus stormed the Babri mosque and destroyed it. Hindus are now pressing to build the temple at the site.