Khalid Noor Mohammed Sheikh and R. Bibi are former residents of Naroda Patia, Ahmedabad, site of one of the deadliest massacres in Gujarat on February 28, 2002. They were interviewed by Human Rights Watch in January 2003. Their stories are representative of many of the testimonies contained in this report.
Sheikh lost nine family members in the Naroda Patia massacre, including his pregnant thirty-year-old daughter Kauser Bano. Her belly was cut open and the fetus was pulled out and hacked to pieces before she was killed. Though Sheikh is willing to testify to what he saw, he claims that the police refused to properly register his complaint and that other witnesses in the case are being forced recant their testimony. He told Human Rights Watch:
R. Bibi's thirty-six-year-old son was killed by the police in Naroda Patia. She has not received government compensation for her son's death because she could not prove that he was dead. She also received very little for damages to her home that was completely destroyed. She told Human Rights Watch:
In 2002, India experienced its greatest human rights crisis in a decade: orchestrated violence against Muslims in the state of Gujarat that claimed at least 2,000 lives in a matter of days. On February 27, 2002, in the town of Godhra, a Muslim mob attacked a train on which Hindu nationalists were traveling. Two train cars were set on fire, killing at least fifty-eight people. In the days following the Godhra massacre, Muslims were branded as terrorists by government officials and the local media while armed gangs set out on a four-day retaliatory killing spree. Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship were destroyed. Hundreds of women and girls were gang-raped and sexually mutilated before being burnt to death. In the weeks that followed the massacres, Muslims destroyed Hindu homes and businesses in continued retaliatory violence. According to one official estimate, a total of 151 towns and 993 villages, covering 154 out of 182 assembly constituencies in the state, were affected by the violence.
In April 2002, Human Rights Watch released a 75-page report titled "We Have No Orders to Save You": State Complicity and Participation in Communal Violence in Gujarat. The report, based on investigations conducted in Ahmedabad in March 2002, revealed that the violence against Muslims was planned well in advance of the Godhra massacre and with extensive state participation and support. State officials of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party that also heads India's national coalition government, were directly involved in the attacks. In many cases, the police led the charge, killing Muslims who tried to block the mobs' advance. The violence was unprecedented in its organization and unmatched in its brutality in the state of Gujarat. Pregnant women's bellies were cut open and fetuses were pulled out before the women were killed. When a six-year-old boy asked for water, he was made to drink petrol. According to eyewitnesses, "A lit matchstick was then thrown inside his mouth and the child just blasted apart."
The groups most responsible for the anti-Muslim violence include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), the Bajrang Dal (the militant youth wing of the VHP), and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps, RSS). Collectively they form the sangh parivar (or "family" of Hindu nationalist groups). The BJP is the political wing of the sangh parivar.
This report, based in part on a follow-up visit to Gujarat in January 2003, examines the record of state and national authorities in bringing perpetrators to justice and in providing humanitarian relief and other assistance to victims and people displaced by the carnage. The state government's record is appalling. Despite overwhelming evidence implicating police officers and members of Hindu nationalist groups, including the BJP, not a single case connected to Godhra and its aftermath has resulted in a conviction. Most cases are languishing due to the state's failure to arrest and charge those most responsible for the violence; many have already been dismissed because of the prosecution's failure to collect and record evidence. As the Godhra prosecutors shift from one theory to the next, the relatives of the Hindus killed in Godhra are denied redress and some face economic destitution. Living conditions for many Muslims displaced by the violence, meanwhile, have continued to be grossly inadequate. Promised financial assistance has only trickled in, forcing many victims back to the scene of the crime where their tormentors remain at large. And the government has done little to curb insidious discrimination against Muslims that has proliferated in Gujarat's marketplaces and offices since the massacres.
The promotion of Hindu nationalism as a political and cultural force has consequences beyond its impact on the lives of India's religious minorities. The lack of justice and accountability in Gujarat undermines the rule of law for all citizens and creates a climate conducive to more violence, including retaliatory attacks against Hindus. The economic fallout in a violence-torn state has affected all Gujaratis. Thousands of small businesses owned by Hindus, for example, closed down during the violence, leading to enormous financial losses and rising joblessness. Reports continue to surface of Hindu businessmen committing suicide.
Impunity for Attacks Against Muslims
Although the government initially boasted of arrests in the thousands, many of those arrested have since been released on bail without further proceedings, acquitted, or simply let go. In "We Have No Orders to Save You," Human Rights Watch reported that the Gujarat state administration was engaged in a massive cover-up of the state's role in the massacres and that of the sangh parivar. Eyewitnesses filed numerous police First Information Reports (FIRs), the initial reports of a crime recorded by the police, that named local VHP, BJP, and Bajrang Dal leaders as instigators or participants in the attacks. The few that were arrested have since been released on bail. The police reportedly face continuous pressure from the state to avoid making arrests or to reduce the severity of the charges filed. In many instances, the police refused to include in FIRs the names of perpetrators identified by victims. Instead, police registered what are known as "omnibus FIRs," in which the accused is identified only as "an unruly mob" or "a mob of 10,000." Police also filed false charges against Muslim youth arbitrarily detained during combing operations in largely destroyed Muslim neighborhoods. Officers who tried to keep the peace or stop murderous mobs were transferred or faced the wrath of their superiors.
The patterns identified in Human Rights Watch's previous report continue unabated throughout Gujarat. In both Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, Gujarat's capital, Human Rights Watch spoke to numerous eyewitnesses, lawyers, activists, and officials involved in the preparation of criminal cases against the perpetrators of the attacks and the distribution of victim relief services. Human Rights Watch research suggests that few if any of those most responsible for violence against Muslims are in custody: most of those who remain in jail belong to marginalized Dalit ("untouchable"), Muslim, or tribal communities. Moreover, the instigators and ringleaders of the attacks may escape prosecution altogether because of manipulations in the filing of chargesheets and FIRs, shoddy investigations, and a biased judiciary.
Witnesses who initially came forward to file FIRS and identify their attackers have since been harassed, threatened, or bribed into turning hostile on the witness stand or simply not showing up when the case goes to trial. In exchange for being allowed to return to their homes by their neighbors, Muslims are being forced to withdraw their cases. Local officials have actively participated in facilitating such "peace" negotiations. Many who have filed complaints, or who themselves were injured by police gunfire, have had false charges filed against them. Attackers roam with impunity, threatening more violence if anyone speaks out against them.
The justice machinery has done little to investigate or prosecute cases of sexual violence. Problems include a lack of medical examinations for victims, refusal to register rape cases in FIRs or include them in chargesheets, deficiencies in Indian rape laws, and the silencing of rape victims by members of their own community due to the stigma that often accompanies such crimes. The widespread burning of victims' bodies also destroyed evidence of many rapes.
In numerous instances, and in an effort to cover up their own participation in the violence, the police have instituted false cases against men and women injured in police shootings. Some postmortems and medical certificates have also been manipulated to hide any incriminating evidence, falsely indicating that the victims were killed or injured by stabbing or sword injury during their participation in the riots, and not by gunfire. Should a case reach trial, Muslim victims face biased or cowed prosecutors and judges. Lawyers representing Muslim victims or doctors providing medical relief have also faced ongoing harassment and threats.
If the rule of law has been nonexistent for some, it has been draconian for others. More than one hundred Muslims allegedly involved in the attack on the train in Godhra have been charged under the much-criticized Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). No Hindus have been charged under POTA in connection with the post-Godhra violence against Muslims, which the state continues to dismiss as spontaneous and unorganized.
To determine possible culpable police inaction or direct complicity during Godhra and its aftermath, the state of Gujarat appointed the Shah-Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, headed by two retired judges. When asked in May 2003 about the evidence collected thus far, Justice Nanavati responded, "the evidence recorded so far in other districts [does] not show any serious lapse on the part of police and the civil administration." Numerous commissions of inquiry officially appointed to investigate communal riots in India since the partition of India and Pakistan have indicted sangh parivar-affiliated groups for their role in violent crimes against India's minorities yet no action has been taken against them. The current state commission thus inspires little hope of justice.
Ongoing impunity also sows seeds for further violence. In addition to work on the Godhra attack and its aftermath, Human Rights Watch interviewed eyewitnesses to the September 2002 attack on the Akshardham cultural complex of the Swaminarayan Hindu sect in Gandhinagar. On September 24, the complex was attacked by two gunmen. Thirty-three people were killed and seventy were injured, most of them Hindu. Handwritten notes found in the gunmens' pockets identified the attackers as members of a "movement for revenge," presumably for the violence against Muslims in the state. This time the central Indian government responded swiftly, taking appropriate steps to maintain peace and security by deploying approximately three thousand army personnel during a nationwide strike called by the VHP to protest the attack. Indian officials called on citizens to end the cycle of violence by refraining from taking the law into their own hands. Critics of the government remarked that had it acted as quickly following the Godhra massacre, many deaths could have been prevented.
Inadequate Assistance for Victims and Continued Anti-Muslim Discrimination
A series of state government orders following the violence, issued in part as a result of public pressure, established guidelines for compensation for injury, and loss of life, property, employment, or livelihood. By and large, however, victims received paltry sums in compensation for their losses. Most people interviewed by Human Rights Watch received negligible amounts to compensate for the destruction of their homes, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand rupees (less than one hundred dollars). Sixty-year-old R. Bibi, a former resident of Naroda Patia told Human Rights Watch that the government demanded proof that her son was killed before she could receive compensation: "They want proof, where am I going to go to get proof? My life was taken away when they shot my son. Everything has been taken away and now they want evidence, where will I get the body from? I wasn't even able to see his body." Of the dozens of people interviewed by Human Rights Watch in January 2003, none had been compensated for injury or loss of employment or livelihood.
Independent nongovernmental groups estimate that as a result of the large-scale destruction of homes, properties, and businesses in Gujarat, the Muslim community has suffered an economic loss totaling Rs. 3,800 crore, or approximately U.S. $760 million. The prolonged closure of shops, industries, and commercial establishments in Gujarat also hurt the economy as a whole and added to soaring unemployment rates.
Muslims in Gujarat, already among the poorest populations in the state, have been further economically marginalized. Ongoing economic boycotts instituted by Hindu nationalist leaders with the support of local officials are crippling the community as a whole. Many remain unable to farm their fields, sell their wares, return to their businesses, operate commercial vehicles, or retain their jobs, including in the public sector. The violence has also proved a successful catalyst for the community's "ghettoization." The reconstruction of homes, carried out almost exclusively by nongovernmental and charity groups, has largely taken place along communal lines. Muslims cannot work, reside, or send their children to schools in Hindu dominated localities. As the segregation of communities continues, hopes for community dialogue or reconciliation have dissipated.
Following the violence in Gujarat in February and March 2002, more than 33,000 children were forced into relief camps throughout Gujarat, representing one-third of the total displaced population. In addition to the children who were direct victims of the mobs, children were witnesses to horrifying violations and deaths of family members. Human Rights Watch spoke to several children who have yet to fully resume their education and have received no psychological counseling. Many suffered severe burn injuries that still cover their arms, legs, and in some cases, their entire bodies. Children's drawings are replete with images of bombs, guns, swords, burning homes and mosques, and mutilated bodies.
Communalism as a Political Strategy
The attacks and other activities in Gujarat benefited the Bharatiya Janata Party by consolidating the Hindu vote-bank. In December 2002, the BJP won by a landslide in state elections in Gujarat. Using posters and videotapes of the Godhra massacre, and rhetoric that depicted Muslims as terrorists intent on destroying the Hindu community, the party gained the most seats in areas affected by the communal violence. A total of thirty-six winning candidates have prior criminal cases pending against them. Many have been implicated by witnesses in the anti-Muslim pogrom. Tensions continue to run high in Gujarat as sporadic violence continues in many parts of the state. Emboldened by the BJP victory, the sangh parivar has once again gone on the attack.
Soon after their Gujarat win, BJP and VHP officials declared that the strategy used in Gujarat would be repeated all over India, thus raising concerns of further communal violence. In states that go to the polls this year, such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, campaigns are already in full swing. Members of the VHP in Rajasthan are busy distributing weapons similar to those used in Gujarat, as well as literature depicting Muslims as sexual deviants and terrorists. Members of both communities live in fear that a simple altercation could become the pretext for large-scale violence. In Madhya Pradesh, members of the Hindu Jagran Manch, a sangh parivar member, have staged violent protests demanding unfettered access to an eleventh century monument they claim is a temple and that Muslims have been using as a mosque. Three people were killed there in rioting in February 2003.
A surprising feature of the 2002 violence in Gujarat was the mobilization of Dalits, tribals (indigenous peoples), women, and the urban middle class in attacks against Muslims. Many Dalits, tribals, and Hindus also acted heroically to protect their Muslim neighbors. This report also documents the sangh parivar's recruitment and targeting of Dalits and tribals for political ends. Christians in the state have also come under renewed legislative and physical attack.
The violence in Gujarat underscores the volatile consequences of rising Hindu nationalist sentiment propagated by the sangh parivar. Despite assertions to the contrary by the Gujarat government, the situation is far from "normal." The arming of civilians continues unabated in the state. Training camps, known as shakhas, continue to multiply, providing weapons such as tridents and swords and extensive physical and ideological training to men as well as young boys targeted in recruitment drives. Instead of cracking down on these groups, the Gujarat state BJP government has included the distribution of arms as part of its election manifesto. The sangh parivar-sponsored militarization of a growing Hindu nationalist cadre enjoys political patronage, outright impunity, and, as evidence increasingly suggests, funding from Indians living abroad. Likely unbeknown to charitable Indians who have donated millions to VHP and RSS-affiliated groups abroad-groups that represent themselves as cultural, educational, or humanitarian-some of their money is being redirected for violent and sectarian purposes.
India's shift away from secular democracy poses a significant threat to the human rights of India's lower castes and religious minorities and, in a region with two long-term and now nuclear foes, to the security of the region as a whole. The sangh parivar exerts considerable influence over India's social, educational, and defense policies, including the country's decision to test nuclear weapons in 1998. Their revivalist campaign includes the "Hinduization" of education, including the revision of history books to include hate propaganda against Islamic and Christian communities.
Human Rights Watch calls on the central Indian government to step in and take over investigations and prosecutions in key cases, including the massacres in Godhra, Naroda Patia, and Gulbarg Society. As events have proven, the same state government complicit in the violence cannot be entrusted to deliver justice or relief. Indians living abroad must also demand accountability from sangh parivar-affiliated organizations abroad. In so doing, they would be supporting the protests of many within India against the ongoing assault on India's proud tradition as a secular democracy.
The international community must put pressure on the Indian government to stop supporting communally divisive policies and end ongoing impunity for campaigns of orchestrated violence. If the activities of these groups remain unchecked, violence may spread to other parts of the country and threaten the security of the subcontinent as a whole.
1 The following is partial listing of book-length reports on the violence in Gujarat: Concerned Citizens Tribunal, Crime Against Humanity, vols. I&II (Mumbai: Citizens for Justice and Peace, 2002); Siddharth Varadarajan ed., Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2002); M.L. Sondhi and Apratim Mukarji eds., The Black Book of Gujarat (New Delhi: Manak Publications Pvt. Ltd., 2002); Indian Social Institute, The Gujarat Pogrom, (New Delhi: Indian Social Institute, June 2002); Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad eds., "Genocide-Gujarat 2002," Communalism Combat, March-April, 2002, Year 8, no. 77-78; John Dayal ed., Gujarat 2002: Untold and Re-told Stories of the Hindutva Lab (Delhi: Media House, 2002); Paul Mike and Aloysius Irudayam, Racial Hegemony: Gujarat Genocide (Madurai and Chennai: Institute of Development Education, Action & Studies, All India Catholic University Federation, and Jesuit Youth Ministry in South Asia, 2002); and Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu, Harvest of Hate: Gujarat Under Siege (New Delhi: Rupa Co., 2002). For regular updates on developments in Gujarat see www.onlinevolunteers.org.