(New York) - State officials of Gujarat, India were directly involved in the killings of hundreds of Muslims since February 27 and are now engineering a massive cover-up of the state's role in the violence, Human Rights Watch charged in a new report released today
The Indian parliament is scheduled today to debate the situation in Gujarat, and may vote to censure the Indian government for its handling of the violence.
"What happened in Gujarat was not a spontaneous uprising, it was a carefully orchestrated attack against Muslims," said Smita Narula, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "The attacks were planned in advance and organized with extensive participation of the police and state government officials."
The police were directly implicated in nearly all the attacks against Muslims that are documented in the 75-page report, 'We Have No Orders to Save You': State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat. In some cases they were merely passive observers. But in many instances, police officials led the charge of murderous mobs, aiming and firing at Muslims who got in the way.
Under the guise of offering assistance, some police officers led the victims directly into the hands of their killers. Panicked phone calls made to the police, fire brigades, and even ambulance services generally proved futile. Several witnesses reported being told by police: "We have no orders to save you."
Three weeks after the initial attacks, Human Rights Watch visited Ahmedabad, a site of large-scale destruction, murder, and several massacres, and spoke to both Hindu and Muslim survivors of the attacks. The report also provides testimony on retaliatory attacks against Hindus, which Human Rights Watch strongly condemned.
More than 850 people have been killed in the Western state of Gujarat in the past two months, most of them Muslims. Unofficial estimates have put the death toll as high as 2,000. The violence began on February 27 after a Muslim mob in the town of Godhra attacked and set fire to two carriages of a train carrying Hindu activists. Fifty-eight people were killed.
Starting February 28, 2002, a three-day retaliatory killing spree by Hindus left hundreds dead and tens of thousands homeless and dispossessed. The looting and burning of Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship was also widespread. Muslim girls and women were brutally raped. Mass graves have been dug throughout the state. Gravediggers told Human Rights Watch that bodies keep arriving, burnt and mutilated beyond recognition.
Burnt Muslim shops and restaurants dot the main roads and highways in Ahmedabad. Neighboring Hindu establishments remain notably unscathed.
Between February 28 and March 2, thousands of attackers descended on Muslim neighborhoods, clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu nationalist groups, and armed with swords, sophisticated explosives, and gas cylinders. They were guided by voter lists and printouts of addresses of Muslim-owned properties-information obtained from the local municipality. In the weeks following the attacks, Hindu homes and businesses were also destroyed in retaliatory attacks by Muslims.
The groups most directly involved in the violence against Muslims include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that heads the Gujarat state government. Collectively, they are known as the sangh parivar, or family of Hindu nationalist organizations.
The Gujarat state administration has been engaged in a massive cover-up of the state's role in the massacres and that of the sangh parivar. Numerous police reports filed by eyewitnesses after the attacks have specifically named local VHP, BJP, and Bajrang Dal leaders as instigators or participants in the violence. The police, reportedly under instructions from the state, face continuous pressure not to arrest them or to reduce the severity of the charges filed. Top police officials who sought to protect Muslims have been removed from positions of command.
"This is a crisis of impunity," said Narula. "If charges against members of these groups are not investigated and prosecuted accordingly, violence may continue to engulf the state, and may even spread to other parts of the country."
The violence in Gujarat has triggered national outrage and has been strongly condemned by political parties, the National Human Rights Commission, the Indian prime minister, and civil society at large. Both the Godhra massacre and the attacks that ensued have been documented in meticulous detail by Indian human rights and civil liberties groups and by the Indian press.
"After two months of violence, the international community is now waking up and needs to respond," said Narula.
Government figures indicate that more than 98,000 people, an overwhelming majority of them Muslim, are residing in more than one hundred relief camps throughout the state. The state government has failed to provide adequate and timely humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in Gujarat. Relief camps visited by Human Rights Watch were in desperate need of more government and international assistance. One camp with 6,000 residents was located on the site of a Muslim graveyard. Residents were literally sleeping in the open, between the graves.
Assistance from international humanitarian and United Nations agencies is urgently needed for Hindus and Muslims in relief camps, Human Rights Watch said. It urged the Indian government to actively seek the assistance of international agencies and to invite United Nations human rights experts to investigate state and police participation in the violence in Gujarat.
Human Rights Watch also urged the international community to put pressure on the Indian government to comply with international human rights and Indian constitutional law and end impunity for orchestrated violence against Indian minorities.