Even as attacks continued to occur six weeks after the Godhra attacks, the Gujarat state administration was engaged in a massive cover-up of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Vishwa Hindu Parishad's extensive involvement. The state government's claims to have arrested 2,500 people in early March in connection to post-Godhra violence were undermined by reports claiming that no BJP, VHP, or Bajrang Dal activists were among those arrested. Police officials have either refused to name them in the police reports-FIRs-or under pressure from the state administration have booked some under less serious charges.222 Many police officers who have pursued charges against leaders of the attacks on Muslims, or those who tried to maintain law and order during the attacks, have since been transferred. Muslims in the state have been denied equal protection of the law and continue to be arbitrarily detained and booked on false charges following combing operations in Muslim neighborhoods.
Impunity for BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal Members
Police reports obtained by the Associated Press name a specific BJP leader as having led the attack on Gulmarg Society while pinpointing the responsibilities of named VHP leaders for participation in the killings at Naroda Patia:
According to the Associated Press, the Gujarat state joint secretary for the VHP Jaideep Patel confirmed that all five men were local leaders of the organizations but charged that the reports were false: "Police have falsely implicated my men in this case," Patel said. "Without doing any investigation, the FIR was lodged by the assistant sub-inspector in link with some anti-Hindu forces"225
Patel himself is reportedly named in a police complaint as one of the attackers who set fire to a house in Naroda Patia:
Officials, however, reportedly cited state government instructions not to arrest the leaders of these and other attacks. According to an article in the Asian Age:
To probe the two incidents, the Gujarat government has appointed Assistant Commissioner of Police P.N. Barot, an officer reportedly handpicked by the VHP. According to an article in the Asian Age, the appointment was made despite "a strong representation from a section of the Gujarat police that the Gulbarg Society killings and the Naroda massacre need a proper investigation." The article added that the "Gujarat police are distressed with the VHP functioning as a parallel authority" and that "both the cases do not fall under the jurisdiction of Mr. Barot, who is well known for his VHP connection."228
Manipulation of Police Reports
Similar problems have been documented in rural Gujarat. Nearly 137 persons from Sabarkantha district, for example, have reportedly petitioned the high court claiming that the police have not filed their FIRs properly: "Only cases referring to a mob attack are being registered. Police turn a deaf ear to others, where the perpetrators have been identified."230
The effect of these FIRs was made clear by advocate Bhushan Oza, a member of the Citizens' Initiative that has collected a large number of what are know as "omnibus FIRs," where the accused is identified only as "an unruly mob" or "a mob of 10,000." Oza told the Times of India: "You need to hold an identification parade based on the information given in the FIR.... The procedure has to be completed before taking a particular case to court. You can't identify an accused for the first time in the court. The law does not allow this and there are judgments to this effect based on the 1985 riots"231
On April 24, 2002, India's National Commission for Women criticized the police in Gujarat for not registering cases of violence against women. Commission chairperson Purnima Advani stated that "the number of FIRs registered was much less than the incidents of violence against women reported to the NCW."232
A superintendent of police in Rajasthan faced similar protests by the BJP state unit for taking action against rioters there.234
The arbitrary detention and filing of false charges against Muslim youth during and after the initial attacks in Gujarat remains largely unchecked. An attorney working in Vadodara and Ahmedabad told Human Rights Watch that the detention and filing of false charges against Muslims was rampant in these cities.235 When Human Rights Watch asked residents of Chartoda Kabristan camp if they had been able to go home since arriving at the camp, one male teenager responded, "The government is with the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. They are combing our areas. If we go back there, to our homes, the police fire on them, and take them to jail to show that they have arrested people."236
The mullana (cleric) of the Chotti Masjid mosque near Barasache ki Chali, Gomptipur, told Human Rights Watch he was beaten by the police on February 28, 2002 as they searched for the Muslim boys who had run inside his mosque for protection:
Bullets had scarred the walls of the mosque viewed by Human Rights Watch. The blood of a young Muslim boy who, according to witnesses, ran into the mosque after being stabbed with a sword still remained on the wall. He too was dragged away by the police.
They were among twenty-six Muslim youth arrested between February 28 and March 1 and taken to the area police station before being transferred to the central station. One resident involved in following the legal proceedings told Human Rights Watch about the nature of cases filed against them: "A woman named Jainab was burned alive here by the police and the RSS. That case is on our boys under Section 302 [murder] of the Indian Penal Code and there are many other charges against them. They were hiding in the mosque and they arrested them."238
A Citizens' Initiative report on violence against women in Gujarat found that in Millat Nagar, a neighborhood then-under curfew in Ahmedabad, "under the guise of `combing operations' the Police are picking up young Muslim boys at random. Mothers live in constant fear.... So acute is this fear of the Police that even for small tasks to be done outside the home women venture out more rather than men. No one knows why and under what charge these young men are being arrested."239
A People's Union for Civil Liberties report on violence against women in Vadodara, Gujarat, also documents numerous instances of police abuse against women during house to house searches ("combing operations") in which male family members were beaten and arrested by the police.240
Even a Muslim member of the Gujarat legislative assembly was falsely implicated in an FIR. According to a report by the Asian Age, Faroukh Sheikh, a Congress MLA [member of legislative assembly] representing the sensitive Dariapur area, was named in an FIR charging him with leading a mob to assault Hindu business establishments in Sindh Bazaar and Revdi Bazaar (see section on Attacks on Hindus). Sheikh was in fact in the state assembly that day.241
222 Robin David and Leena Misra, "Legal experts fear manipulation of FIRs," Times of India, March 26, 2002.
223 "VHP, BJP workers named in FIR on riots," Times of India, March 4, 2002.
224 Rupak Sanyal, "Indian police reports say governing party official and Hindu nationalist leaders led mobs," Associated Press, March 5, 2002.
226 Manas Dasgupta, "Gujarat VHP leader named in FIR on Naroda incident," Hindu, March 19, 2002.
228 "Pro-VHP officer to prove worst massacres," Asian Age, March 25, 2002.
229 Human Rights Watch interview, attorney, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
230 "Police not naming names in FIRs," Times of India, March 26, 2002.
231 Robin David and Leena Misra,, "Many FIRs' but culprits go scot-free," Times of India, March 24, 2002.
232 "Women Commission indicts Gujarat Govt," Press Trust of India.
233 Bashir Pathan, "Modi ties hands of cops who put their foot down," Indian Express, March 26, 2002.
234 Sukhmani Singh, "Varanasi to Ajmer: SP braves saffron rage to keep peace," Indian Express, March 18, 2002.
235 Human Rights Watch interview, attorney M.D., Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
236 Human Rights Watch interview, sixteen-year-old male resident of Chartoda Kabristan camp, Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
237 Human Rights Watch interview, Chotti Masjid mullana, Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
238 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002. Other charges filed against the Muslim youth include: obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his public functions (IPC, Sec. 186); disobedience to an order duly promulgated by a public servant (IPC, Sec. 188); voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty (IPC, Sec. 332); causing hurt by endangering the life or personal safety of others (IPC, Sec. 337); assault, or the use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty (IPC, Sec. 353); and mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc. (IPC, Sec. 436). Section 135 of the Bombay Police Act, which authorizes arrest and punishment for violations of Section 37 that permits police to prohibit various kinds of public assembly, was also invoked. The pattern is not unique to Gujarat. A study undertaken by former Inspector General (Border Security Force) Vibhuti Narain Rai on police neutrality during communal riots found that "even in riots where the number of Muslims killed was many times more than the Hindus, it was they who were mainly arrested, most searches were conducted in their houses, and curfew imposed in a harsher manner in their localities. This observation holds good for even those riots where almost [all those] killed were Muslims" (emphasis in original). Asia-Pacific Human Rights Network, "Gujarat riots point to need for police reform."
239 Citizens' Initiative, "The Survivors Speak."
240 People's Union Civil Liberties, "Women's Perspectives."
241 "FIR says Muslim MLA led riot mob," Asian Age, March 23, 2002.