Among the victims of the Godhra massacre was Gayatri Panchal, a sixteen-year-old girl who saw her father and sisters burnt alive. She told the press, "After pelting stones, they poured kerosene on our compartment and set it afire. I was pulled out of the broken window. I saw my father and sister inside. I saw them burning."9 After a visit to the massacre scene, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice J.S. Verma stated, "I saw the burnt coach and saw chappals [sandals] still strewn. There were chappals of children too."10
Godhra, a city of 150,000, is evenly split between Hindus and Muslims, most of whom live in separate neighborhoods.11 Godhra was placed under curfew for a year after communal clashes in 1980. Serious clashes occurred again in 1992 after the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.
The Godhra railway station is situated in an overwhelmingly Muslim section of the city. For three weeks preceding the killings, trains carrying Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists had been stopping daily in Godhra.12 The activists were coming to and from Ayodhya, where the VHP sought to begin construction of a Hindu temple on the disputed site of the mosque destroyed by Hindu activists there. VHP leaders had set March 15, 2002 as a deadline to bring thousands of stone pillars to the site in order to begin construction of the temple.
There are significantly divergent accounts about the events leading to the dispute that resulted in the Godhra killings. Human Rights Watch was not able to independently verify the accuracy of these varying accounts, but it was widely reported that a scuffle began between Muslim vendors and Hindu activists shortly after the train arrived at the station. The activists, who had been chanting Hindu nationalist slogans, were said to have refused to pay a vendor until he said "Jai Shri Ram" or "Praise Lord Ram."13 As the train then tried to pull out of the station, the emergency brake was pulled and a Muslim mob attacked the train and set it on fire.14
Initially Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the killings were an "organized terrorist attack."15 Federal government sources speculated that they were "pre-meditated," or the work of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).16 However, senior police officials in Gujarat have now concluded that the killings were "not preplanned" but rather the result of "a sudden, provocative incident."17 In addition, a report from the Railway Protection Force (RPF) has concluded that the killings resulted from a spontaneous altercation between VHP activists and merchants on the railway that escalated out of control, rather than a planned conspiracy.18
There was some forewarning of violence from within the police itself. Additional director general of police G. C. Raigar, had provided intelligence ahead of the Godhra incident that VHP volunteers were moving in and out of Gujarat and could instigate communal violence. He was removed from his post after presenting evidence to news media that law and order in the state could be compromised by VHP volunteers coming to and from Ayodha. He had also questioned the government's ability to provide security to the Hindu activists or take other measures, despite repeated warnings.19
Over sixty persons have been arrested for the Godhra train attack.20 Unlike the persons who have been arrested for revenge attacks on Muslim communities in Gujarat, the Godhra arrestees were initially charged with crimes under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, now the Prevention of Terrorism Act.21 The charges under POTO were eventually dropped after considerable pressure, but Chief Minister Modi reserved the state government's right to pursue charges against the Godhra arrestees under POTO at a later time "if thought fit."22
In response to heightened national security concerns, and as relations with Pakistan deteriorated and violence in Kashmir and elsewhere escalated, the Indian government introduced POTO, a modified version of the now-lapsed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) of 1985, which facilitated the torture and arbitrary detention of members of minority groups and political opponents. POTO was introduced as a bill during India's winter session of parliament in 2001 and signed into law by the president pending parliamentary proceedings on the ordinance. POTA was passed on March 27, 2001. Under TADA, tens of thousands of politically motivated detentions, systematic torture, extrajudicial executions, and other human rights violations were committed against Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, trade union activists, and political opponents in the late 1980s and early 1990s.23 In the face of mounting opposition to the act, India's government acknowledged these abuses and consequently let TADA lapse in 1995. Civil rights groups, journalists, opposition parties, minority rights groups, and India's National Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemned POTO. POTA sets out a broad definition of terrorism that includes acts of violence or disruption of essential services carried out with the "intent to threaten the unity and integrity of India or to strike terror in any part of the people." Since it was first introduced the government has added some additional safeguards to protect due process rights but POTA's critics stress that the safeguards don't go far enough and that existing laws are sufficient to deal with the threat of terrorism.
The Ahmedabad Massacres: Naroda Patia and Gulmarg Society
Naroda Patia used to be a mixed community of Hindus and Muslims. The nearly one thousand Muslims were in a minority and lived in a slum facing the state transport workshop.25 Most surviving Muslim residents are now scattered in relief camps.
In the days that followed February 28, hundreds of youths brandishing swords, daggers, axes, and iron rods were seen shouting "Jai Shri Ram" and roaming roads lined with gutted shops and littered with burned trucks, rickshaws, and other vehicles.26
Human Rights Watch visited Naroda Patia three weeks after the attacks. The Muslim homes were completely burned while the Hindu homes stood unscathed. The area's mosque, the Noorani Masjid, just across the road from the SRP post, had also been destroyed. According to one human rights activist who visited the site of the burned mosque soon after the attacks, at least sixteen gas cylinders, used as explosive devices, remained inside the mosque.27
A thirteen-year-old boy described the role of the police during the attack:
Another eyewitness interviewed by Human Rights Watch added: "When we tried to run, the police started firing. It was morning time. Many were hiding in Masjid Chali [lane]. We came here [to the camp] early on the morning of March 2."29
Fifty-five-year-old Salima Banu, a resident of Naroda Patia was a witness as her son was shot and killed by the police:
Samuda Bhen, a mother of two, lost all her valuables in the looting and burning on February 28 and the days that followed and identified members of the Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, and the police as the main culprits:
Forty-year-old Naseem Banu told us: "Wherever we hid, the police showed them where we were. The police remained standing when our homes were burned down."32
Naroda Patia residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch also witnessed rapes and other forms of sexual violence against Muslim women and girls during the attacks.
A female eyewitness told Human Rights Watch, "they raped them, cut them and then threw them in a well. They cut them with swords. Everything is gone, you won't even find dogs there."33 Samuda also witnessed the raping and killing of young girls: "They took young girls, raped them, cut them and then they burned them."34 Others simply did not have the words to describe the attack: "You won't be able to bear it if we tell you. They are scared, they won't speak, people have been asking for days what happened. What difference has it made? We don't want to go back there. Our lives are in danger there [Naroda Patia].... We won't go back to Patia; we will go anywhere else. We even left without our shoes, all our hard-earned saving are gone."35 One female resident said, "Some girls even threw themselves into the fire, so as not to get raped."36 A ten-year-old girl added, "I saw it also, they cut them down the middle."37
Testimonies collected by the Citizens' Initiative, a coalition of over twenty-five NGOs, and submitted to the National Human Rights Commission are replete with incidents of gang rapes of Muslim girls and women and the role of the police during the attacks, particularly in Naroda Patia. These testimonies are cited as transcribed by the Citizens' Initiative. A resident of Naroda Patia, Ahmedabad testified that eight out of eleven family members were killed on February 28, two after being raped. The surviving three members sustained serious injuries:
Like hundreds of others, a resident of Naroda Patia witnessed the gang rape of girls and women. The names of the victims have been omitted to protect their privacy:
In a petition submitted to the NHRC, the Citizens' Initiative stated that the mob, estimated at 5,000, had grown since morning in Gulmarg Society. Jaffrey made countless phone calls to the police, the chief minister, and the central home minister among others asking for protection but to no avail. The telephone lines were cut after the neighborhood's homes were set on fire. Armed with swords, pipes, acid bottles, kerosene, petrol, hockey sticks, stones, and trishuls, the mob was unrestrained for six hours. Among the perpetrators identified were workers and local officials of the VHP and Bajrang Dal.41
Thirty-eight-year-old Mehboob Mansoori lost eighteen family members in the attack at Gulmarg Society. He described the day's sequence of events to Human Rights Watch (full testimony in introduction):
Fifty-three-year-old Mansoori Abdulbhai, also a resident of Gulmarg Society, Chamanpura lost nineteen family members in the attack. He told Human Rights Watch:
As with Naroda Patia, even pregnant women were not spared. The husband of an eighteen-year-old woman and resident of Gulmarg Society, Chamanpura told the Citizens' Initiative: "She was pregnant and it was the 9th month of the pregnancy. Her house was attacked by a large mob. Her womb was cut open with a sharp weapon and the unborn baby was taken out and both mother and the child were burnt dead."44
Sixty-year-old Rosam Bibi, who used to live in Vijay Mill, Naroda side, also fled to Ehsan Jaffrey's home for refuge: "We went to Ehsan Jaffrey's home on the 28th.. I was on the ground floor. The mob came in and threw petrol and started a fire. There was heavy smoke. They told us to give them our jewelry. They took everything. Then they hit everyone and I got burned. Then they pulled people outside and cut them and burned them."45
Bibi's eighteen-year-old son, Ilias Bhai, added: "At 10:30 a.m. the stone throwing began, we got surrounded. They were shouting `Ram, Ram, Jai Ram' [Ram, Ram, Praise Ram].... My brother and sister-in-law were both killed."46
Twenty-three-year-old Rasida Bhen, Ilias's wife, still bore visible head injuries at the time of the interview with Human Rights Watch. She spoke to Human Rights Watch about the murder of her husband's brother and his wife, twenty-three-year-old Aslam Usman Bhai, and twenty-one-year-old Naseem Bano:
Referring to attacks on other women, Rasida added:
A forty-five-year-old man named Yousuf Bhai told Human Rights Watch that the police commissioner "betrayed" the victims:
7 Celia Dugger, "After Deadly Firestorm, India Officials Ask Why," New York Times, March 6, 2002.
8 "Death toll in Indian train inferno rises to 58," Reuters, February 28, 2002.
9 Praveena Sharma, "Survivors of Indian Train Attack Tell of Fire Horror," Agence France-Presse, February 28, 2002.
10 "NHRC Chief Sets Deadline," Times of India, March 24, 2002.
11 Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Provocation Helped Set India Train Fire," Washington Post, March 6, 2002.
12 Priyanka Kakodkar, "`Just like Hindustan-Pakistan,'" Outlook, March 18, 2002.
13 Dugger, "After Deadly Firestorm"; Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Provocation Preceded Indian Train Fire: Official Faults Hindu Actions, Muslim Reactions for Incident That Led to Carnage" Washington Post, March 6, 2002; "Train attack not pre-meditated," Times of India, March 8, 2002; Siddharth Darshan Kumar, "Muslim attackers set fire to train carrying Hindu nationalists, killing at least 57," Associated Press, February 28, 2002.
14 Dugger, "After Deadly Firestorm"; Chandrasekaran, "Provocation Preceded Indian Train Fire."
15 Ashok Sharma, "Indian violence spreads in wake of train fire that killed at least 58," Associated Press, February 28, 2002. Reacting to government assertions that the Godhra incident was an act of terrorism, a resident of Chartoda Kabristan relief camp told Human Rights Watch: "They keep talking about terrorism and Pakistan. But isn't what has happened to us worse than terrorism?" Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
16 "Needle of Suspicion Points Towards ISI in Godhra Incident," Press Trust of India, March 1, 2002; "Conspiracy Theories Abound Over India's Religious Riots," Dow Jones International News, March 6, 2002.
17 Chandrasekaran, "Provocation Helped Set India Train Fire," Washington Post; Kingshuk Nag, "Godhra Attack Not Planned," Times of India, March 28, 2002.
18 The Railway Protection Force is a central government police force for Indian railways. RPF officers were present during the Godhra massacre; S. Satayanarayanan, "Godhra Carnage Not Preplanned: RPF Report Dispels Conspiracy Theory," Tribune, April 9, 2002.
20 "Gujarat Defers Use of POTO against Godhra Accused," Times of India, March 26, 2002.
21 A resident of Chartoda Kabristan relief camp in Ahmedabad told Human Rights Watch: "POTO is being put up but why has the government not filed a POTO case against the VHP? Is the law only against Muslims? It should be applied equally against everyone." Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002. In September 2001 the Indian government also drew sharp criticism from numerous minority groups for selectively banning the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as part of its post-September 11 actions to counter terrorism while ignoring the "anti-national" activities of right-wing Hindu groups. At least four people were killed when police opened fire on a protest in Lucknow on September 27, following the arrest of some SIMI activists. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2002: Events of 2001 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2002), p. 225.
22 Ibid. During the riots that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and 1993, a number of Muslims were also arrested under the provisions of TADA. See Human Rights Watch, "India: Communal Violence and the Denial of Justice," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 8, no. 2, April 1996, available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/India1.htm (accessed April 15, 2002).
23 Human Rights Watch, "India Human Rights Press Backgrounder: Anti-Terrorism Legislation," November 20, 2001, http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/india-bck1121.htm (accessed April 15, 2002).
24 Prasenjit Bose, Dr. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Vijoo Krishnan, and Vishnu Nagar, "Ethnic Cleansing in Ahmedabad: A Preliminary Report," SAHMAT, March 10-11, 2002, http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20020322&fname=sahmat&sid=1 (accessed April 15, 2002).
25 Radha Sharma and Sanjay Pandey, "Mob burns to death 65 at Naroda Patia," Times of India, March 2, 2002.
27 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
28 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
29 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
30 Human Rights Watch interview, Salima Banu, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
31 Human Rights Watch interview, Samuda Bhen, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
32 Human Rights Watch interview, Naseem Banu, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002. See also Bose, "Ethnic Cleansing in Ahmedabad."
33 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
34 Human Rights Watch interview, Samuda Bhen, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
35 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
36 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
37 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
38 Citizens' Initiative, "Sub: Asking for appropriate action in the communal riots of February 2000 in Gujarat." (Signed petition submitted to the National Human Rights Commission of India, New Delhi), March 2002.
40 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
41 Citizens' Initiative, "Sub: Asking for appropriate action."
42 Human Rights Watch interview, Mehboob Mansoori, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
43 Human Rights Watch interview, Mansoori Abdulbhai, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
44 Citizens' Initiative, "Sub: Asking for appropriate action."
45 Human Rights Watch interview, Rosam Bibi, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
46 Human Rights Watch interview, Ilias Bhai, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
47 Human Rights Watch interview, Rasida Bhen,, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
49 Human Rights Watch interview, Yousuf Bhai , Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.