National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
The NHRC found that the ongoing violence in Gujarat has "resulted in the violation of the Fundamental Rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of citizens of India...."296 Significantly, it then considers whether the Godhra tragedy and the resulting violence could have been prevented by the state government and police. In light of the state government's own admission that Gujarat witnessed over 443 "communal incidents" between 1970 and 2002, the commission faults the state government for a "failure of intelligence and action" with regard to the events "leading to the Godhra tragedy and the subsequent death and destruction that occurred."297
The NHRC also contradicts the Gujarat government's continued assertion that violence was contained within 72 hours of the Godhra massacre.298 According to the commission, "[v]iolence continues in Gujarat as of the time of writing...."299 Citing two Muslim judges of the High Court of Gujarat who were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge out of fear, the commission states that there is "no clearer evidence" that the government failed to control violence in a timely manner.300
The preliminary comments also note with concern that police in Gujarat were constrained in performing their duty to quell communal violence. The NHRC takes notice of reports that organized mobs "armed with cell phones and address" sometimes singled out persons and property for destruction "within view of police stations and personnel."301 Commenting on this issue during his investigation, the NHRC's Chairman stated, "police officials should not ask permission to perform their duty under the law. They must act."302
The NHRC also expressed concern about the "widespread lack of faith in the integrity of the investigating process and the ability of those conducting investigations." In particular the NHRC noted that numerous allegations had been made that FIRs were being "distorted or poorly recorded" and that "senior political personalities" sought to "`influence'" investigations by remaining present in police stations.303 The commission therefore listed as the first item of its "Recommendations" to the Gujarat government that the Central Bureau of Investigation be entrusted to investigate critical cases so that the "integrity of the process" could be restored.304 In particular the NHRC recommended that the incidents at Godhra, Gulmarg Society, Naroda Patia, Sardarpura and Best Bakery in Vadodara be entrusted to the CBI.305 The commission also recommended that "Special Courts" be created to try these critical cases and that "Special Cells" be constituted with District Magistrates monitoring the progress of the investigation of cases not handled by the CBI.306
At present over 98,000 displaced Muslims live in relief camps throughout Gujarat. The NHRC recommended that senior political leaders and officers visit the camps in order to restore the confidence of victims. Though there are no reports that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has visited any of the camps, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited a relief camp on April 4, 2002 and expressed his regret for the condition of the displaced.307 The commission also recommended that displaced person not be asked to leave camps until appropriate relief and safety measures are in place.308 The media has reported that Chief Minister Modi and other state government officials have asserted that tens of thousands of the Muslims displaced want to return to their homes despite the displaced's pleas that did not yet feel safe doing so.309
Recognizing the serious needs of hundreds of destitute women, orphans and those subjected to rape, the NHRC's recommendations call on government agencies to ensure that they receive proper counseling and psychological care.310 The commission's recommendations also state that the numerous places of worship that were destroyed be restored immediately.311
The commission has had to overcome litigation seeking to bar its investigation of the violence in Gujarat. On March 27, 2002, the Gujarat High Court admitted a petition challenging the commission's jurisdiction in probing the communal violence in Gujarat because a state-appointed commission was already probing the violence.312 The NHRC was forced to seek the Indian Supreme Court's intervention in the matter. On April 3, 2002, the Supreme Court ordered the state government to stay the proceedings in the Gujarat High Court until further notice.313
The NHRC has made serious allegations of state misconduct and put forth detailed recommendations on how the Gujarat state government may meet its human rights obligations. Thus far, its preliminary comments and recommendations have not been received well by the Gujarat government.314 There is no indication to date that the state government intends to implement any of its recommendations. At the central government level, Prime Minister Vajpayee has stated only that he is sure the state government would "consider" the NHRC's recommendations.315
National Commission for Minorities (NCM)
Police operations in Gujarat have come under close scrutiny by the commission. Because it has found that minority communities still fear and distrust the state, it has recommended that police officers from minority communities be immediately deployed in violence-prone areas.321 If no minority police officers are available, the commission has recommended that they be recruited from other states.322 In addition, the NCM has taken issue with the transfer of police officers who tried to stop mobs from attacking Muslims. It has requested the state to immediately end this practice.323 The commission has also recommended that the state punish those officers who did not perform their duties during communal violence.324
The NCM has also called on the Gujarat state government to immediately repair and restore all damaged places of worship. At present, it is estimated that over 500 places of worship were destroyed by mob violence.325 Among the places of worship destroyed was the Malik Asin mosque, a nationally protected monument that was destroyed by bulldozers.326 The NCM in addition expressed its concern about the safety of the tens of thousands of persons in relief camps in Gujarat. It has recommended that the state government shift these persons to more secure sites and to allocate land specifically for that purpose.327
293 Proceedings of the National Human Rights Commission, Proceedings, paragraph 2, April 1, 2002, http://www.nhrc.nic.in/whatsnew.htm#gr (accessed April 8, 2002). (Hereinafter "NHRC Proceedings").
294 The NHRC is an autonomous, statutory body created pursuant to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The commission has all the powers of a civil court trying a suit including summoning and enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath; compelling discovery and production of any document; receiving evidence on affidavits; requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office; and issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents. Unlike the rulings of a civil court, however, the commission's recommendations are not enforceable.
295 The full report by the NHRC's fact-finding team is being kept sealed. It has been sent only to India's prime minister. The commission requested a report from the Gujarat Proceedings government within three days on March 1, 2002. A report was received from the state government on March 11, 2002 but was rejected by the NHRC as "perfunctory." A satisfactory report was submitted more than three weeks later on March 28, 2002.
296 NHRC Proceedings, para. 9.
297 Ibid., paras. v-vi.
298 Anjali Mody, "Gujarat Report-Whitewashing Reality?" Hindu.
299 NHRC Proceedings, Preliminary Comments, para. x.
301 Ibid., para. vii.
302 "NHRC Whiplash for Gujarat Government," Hindustan Times, March 25, 2002.
303 NHRC Proceedings, Preliminary Comments, para. viii.
304 NHRC Proceedings, Recommendations, Law and Order, para. i.
306 Ibid, para. ii.
307 Manas Dasgupta, "Gujarat Incidents a Blot-PM," Hindu, April 5, 2002.
308 NHRC Proceedings, Recommendations, Camps, para. iv.
309 "Invite Mode to Visit Dargah Camp-If He Had the Guts," Statesman, March 24, 2002.
310 NHRC Proceedings, Recommendations, Rehabilitation, para. v.
311 Ibid., para. iv.
312 "PIL Against NHRC Probe Into Violence," Hindu, March 28, 2002.
313 T. Padmanabha Rao, "Proceedings Against - NHRC Stayed," Hindu, April 4, 2002.
314 Smita Gupta, "Embarrassed BJP Tries to `Modi-fy NHRC Report," Times of India, April 3, 2002. See also, Manas Dasgupta, "NHRC Indictment Shocks Gujarat," Hindu, April 3, 2002.
315 Manas Dasgupta, "Vajpayee's Advice to Modi," Hindu, April 5, 2002.
316 The National Commission for Minorities is an autonomous, statutory body created pursuant to the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. The Commission has all the powers of a civil court trying a suit but like the National Human Rights Commission, its recommendations are not enforceable.
317 "Minorities Commission Summons Top Gujarat Officials," rediff.com, April 1, 2002, http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/apr/01train.htm (accessed April 25, 2002).
318 Human Rights Watch, "Politics By Other Means."
320 Kota Neelima, "Bring Back Shunted Cops, NCM Tells CM," Indian Express, April 7, 2002. See also, Onkar Singh, "Restore Normalcy in Gujarat: Minorities Panel," rediff.com, April 6, 2002, http://www.rediff.com (accessed April 15, 2002).
321 "No let-up in Gujarat Violence," BBC News, April 6, 2002. See also, "NCM raps Modi Govt, Wants More Minorities in Police," Hindustan Times, April 7. 2002; Neelima, "Bring Back Shunted Cops."
323 Narendra Kaushik, "Minorities Commission Slam Gujarat Chief Secy," Mid Day, April 7, 2002. See also, Onkar Singh, "Restore Normalcy in Gujarat: Minorities Panel," rediff.com, April 6, 2002.
325 Narendra Kaushik, "Minorities Commission Slam Gujarat Chief Secy."
326 "ASI Urged to Rebuild Mosques," Hindu, March 22, 2002
327 "NCM Wants Safe Sites to Rehabilitate Riot Victims," Times of India, March 17, 2002. See also, "No let-up in Gujarat Violence," BBC News.