Communal violence against Muslims in Gujarat is intimately connected to a rise of Hindu nationalism in the country and the state, a phenomenon that is also responsible for attacks against Christians over the last several years in the state and around the country. The following provides a brief overview of the rise of Hindu nationalism and related attacks on minorities in the state.
The Sangh Parivar
The RSS was founded in the city of Nagpur in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar with the mission of creating a Hindu state. Since its founding, it has propagated a militant form of Hindu nationalism which it promotes as the sole basis for national identity in India. According to the RSS, the leaders of India's nationalist movement and those of post-independence India failed to create a nation based on Hindu culture.168 Western thought and civilization are perceived as enemies of Hindu culture. Religions such as Islam and Christianity are depicted as alien to India, as they are seen as the religions of foreign invaders―the Mughals and the British.169 The RSS wanted "the entire gamut of social life" to be designed "on the rock bed of Hindu nationalism," a goal that inspired the creation of RSS political, social, and educational wings, a family of organizations that is now referred to collectively as the sangh parivar.170
The VHP was formed in 1964 to cover the social aspects of RSS activities. The VHP organizes and communicates the RSS message to Hindus living outside India and holds conferences for Hindu religious leaders from all over the country. The most publicized of the VHP's activities was its campaign to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram at the site of the Babri Masjid, a mosque in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The VHP, along with the other sangh parivar organizations, claimed that the site of the mosque was actually the birthplace of Ram and that a temple at that site had been destroyed in order to build the mosque. On December 6, 1992, the mosque was demolished by members of the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and RSS-trained cadres. The police did not intervene. The incident sparked violence around the country in which thousands were killed.171 Since then, the VHP has also organized a program to reconvert those who had converted from Hinduism to other faiths.
The Bajrang Dal is the militant youth wing of the VHP. It was formed in 1984 during the Babri Masjid conflict, in order to mobilize youth for the Ayodhya campaign.172 A young women's association, the Durga Vahini, was also founded at this time. Unlike other organizations affiliated to the RSS, the Bajrang Dal is not directly controlled by the sangh parivar. With its loose organizational structure, it initially operated under different names in different states. Its activists are believed to be involved in many acts of violence carried out by Hindutva organizations,173 including the spate of attacks against the Christian community in India that began in 1998.
The Jana Sangh Party was formed in 1951 as the political wing of the RSS. It was later replaced by the BJP in 1980. The BJP heads India's coalition government, along with twenty-one other parties that collectively form the National Democratic Alliance. The BJP recently suffered electoral setbacks at the state level. The BJP now only controls the state legislatures in Gujarat, Orissa, Himachal Pradesh, and Jharkand. The party was voted out of power during the February 2002 elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, and Punjab. The BJP also suffered a huge defeat in the Delhi municipal elections in March 2002, where they won only seventeen out of 134 seats.174
BJP president and home minister L. K. Advani and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh were among the forty people accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation of the destruction of the mosque. Also on the list were Murli Manohar Joshi, the former chief minister of Maharashtra, and Bal Thackeray, the leader of the Shiv Sena. The CBI charged all of the accused with "criminal conspiracy, intentional destruction and defiling of a place of worship, criminal trespass and intimidation of public servants on duty."175 Advani and Joshi were present in Ayodhya when Hindu militants tore down the mosque.176
The Srikrishna Commission was established in response to the notorious 1992-1993 Bombay riots that claimed more than seven hundred lives, mostly Muslims, in the aftermath of the mosque's destruction. The report's findings were presented to the government of Maharashtra on February 16, 1998, more than five years after the riots took place. The report determined that the riots were the result of a deliberate and systematic effort to incite violence against Muslims and singled out Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and Chief Minister Manohar Joshi as responsible. Despite widespread calls by the political opposition, human rights groups, women's rights groups, and other community groups, for the prosecution of the perpetrators, the-then Shiv Sena-BJP government refused to adopt the commission's recommendations, and instead labeled the report "anti-Hindu."177 On July 14, 2000, the Maharashtra state government announced its intention to prosecute Thackeray for his role in inciting the Bombay riots. On July 25, amid rioting by Shiv Sena supporters, Thackeray was arrested only to be released a few hours later, after a judge ordered the case closed on the grounds that the statute of limitations relating to the incitement charges had expired.178
The BJP and its allies continue at the national level and in various states to implement an agenda for the "Hinduization" of education, mandating Hindu prayers in certain state-sponsored schools and revising history books to include what amounted to propaganda against Islamic and Christian communities.179
The continuing campaign to construct a Ram temple on the site of the Babri Masjid that was destroyed in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh continues to raise the spectre of further violence in the country. The recent revival of the campaign, corresponding to BJP election losses in key states, centered on the March 15, 2002 deadline set by the VHP to bring stone pillars to the site in order to begin construction of the temple. In the weeks preceding the violence in Gujarat, Hindu activists had been traveling to and from Ayodha, including on the Sabarmati Express that was attacked in Godhra on February 27. A Supreme Court order issued two days before the March 15 deadline stopped the planned construction.180 Nevertheless, VHP activists held a "symbolic" religious ceremony outside the dispute area and stone pillars were handed over to and accepted by a representative of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.181
Gujarat: A Hindutva Laboratory
Then-chief minister Keshubhai Patel, according to press reports, "disbanded most of the advisory committees in the districts and talukas, as well as the State-owned Boards and Corporations and packed the bodies with people from the Sangh Parivar."182 The process stalled under Chief Minister Suresh Mehta, considered a moderate, and was briefly reversed under Chief Minister Shankarsinh Waghela who stepped in with outside support from the Congress (I) party. Patel's return to power in 1998 revived in full swing what has been termed the state's "saffronisation" process:
A retired bureaucrat who worked under the Patel administration explained to the Hindu that, "it would be difficult to assess how many Government employees still keep in contact with the RSS to please their political bosses."184 The article adds, "It may not be a coincidence that barring one person, no District Collector or development officers come from the minority community. And among senior police officers, those belonging to the minority community have been mostly sidelined."185
The extent of police involvement in the attacks indeed raises key questions about police recruitment and training in Gujarat. Since retaking power in the state in 1998, Gujarat's BJP government has systematically been keeping minority community officers away from the field and bound to the desk. According to an article in the Telegraph, as a result:
The article also asserts that "as many as 27 police officers who had taken action against rioters have been transferred."187 Gujarat Director General of Police A.K. Chakravarty's letter of protest at the transfer of senior police officers who had acted to halt the pogroms is discussed below.
The campaign to build a Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya-which was hugely successful in cultivating a national Hindu vote bank-helped catapult the BJP into power in the early 1990s. The BJP's recent electoral losses may have fueled a resurgence of the temple construction campaign and in its wake, the violence in Gujarat (see above). The tragic events of Godhra provide fertile ground for the BJP in Gujarat to recapture some of the party's lost ground as it heads into assembly elections scheduled for February 2003.188 An article in Frontline magazine described the significance of the assembly elections:
Narendra Modi's own appointment as chief minister, succeeding Kashubhai Patel in October 2001 was considered a huge victory for the RSS.190 Modi, who served as BJP general-secretary for the six years before taking the post, is also an RSS pracharak (volunteer), the first-ever to become chief minister.191 Pracharaks function as full-time publicists or propagandists for the RSS, "spreading the message of Hindu fundamentalism."192
That the state's Hindu and Muslim communities are deeply divided on their feelings on Chief Minister Modi was readily apparent during Modi's visits to violence-torn sites in Ahmedabad in the first week of March. As Modi's convoy drove into Naroda Patia, the site of a major Muslim massacre on February 28, a crowd of thousands greeted his arrival chanting "Bharat mata ki jai," [Praise Mother India] and "Narendra Modi Zindabad" [Long live Narendra Modi].193
On April 12, 2002, Chief Minister Narendra Modi offered to resign from his post, in what some opposition parties viewed as a political ploy.194 The BJP leadership rejected Modi's resignation and instead proposed that Modi dissolve the state assembly and hold early elections in Gujarat to "seek the [people's] verdict."195 Early elections in the aftermath of the attacks may favor the Hindu nationalist vote in the state, thereby ensuring Modi's continued tenure as chief minister.196 The Telegu Desam Party (TDP), a key alliance partner of the fragile BJP-led central government coalition, along with other opposition groups, vigorously opposed holding "snap" elections in Gujarat, viewing them as tantamount to reelecting the government in place. In a statement the TDP accused the BJP of "trying to make political capital out of a human tragedy."197
Opposition parties began disrupting the national parliamentary sessions during the week of April 15, in protest at the call for early elections in Gujarat, calling again for Modi's removal, and demanding a parliamentary debate on the violence in Gujarat and a vote to censure the national government.198 On April 17, the Gujarat cabinet deferred dissolving the state assembly, and the BJP was reported to have dropped the call for an early election.199
Protests in Parliament continued, however, and as this report went to press, the leadership of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) allowed a motion by opposition parties to allow the debate on the violence and a possible censuring of the national government.200 The debate was scheduled for April 30. The Rajya Sabha (Council of States) also passed a similarly worded agreement scheduling their own debate for May 2.201
A Campaign of Hate
The fliers proclaimed, "India is a country of Hindus.... Our religion of Rama and Krishna is pious. To convert [or] leave it is a sin." Another flier by the VHP in Bardoli, Gujarat, warned, "Caution Hindus! Beware of inhuman deeds of Muslims.... Muslims are destroying Hindu Community by slaughter houses, slaughtering cows and making Hindu girls elope. Crime, drugs, terrorism are Muslim's empire."202 A flier produced by the Bajrang Dal and VHP in November 1998 described the Bajrang Dal as a "wide organisation of youth," "working under the Vishwa Hindu Parishad," with the objectives of "protect[ing] mother India," "rais[ing] a loud voice against people who ignore Hindu Sabha [assembly]," raising people's awareness against the "trapping of Hindu girls by Muslims and anti-national activities of Christian missionaries," and working for the "protection of religion and culture."203 A parallel anti-Christian campaign was supported by the Gujarati-language press that printed false reports of Hindu temples being destroyed, cited an increase in the percentage of Christians in the area, printed announcements for upcoming rallies, and repeatedly branded Christians as the main instigators of violence in December 1998 and January 1999.204
Several fact-finding missions to southeastern Gujarat by local and national human rights organizations attributed the increase in violence against Christians to the growing presence and activities of sangh parivar groups in these areas. According to an October 1998 joint report by the Committee to Protect Democratic Rights and the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee:
Economic Boycotts and Hate Propaganda
The pamphlet-the text of which is included in the appendix to this report-refers to Muslims as "anti-national elements" who molest Hindus' sisters and daughters and who use money earned from Hindus to buy arms. It calls on its readers to institute a complete boycott of goods and services proffered by Muslims, adding that Muslims should not be hired in Hindu establishments and should not be allowed to rent property. It also cautions Hindus to be "alert to ensure that [Hindus'] sisters-daughters do not fall into the `love-trap' of Muslim boys" and calls on Hindus to vote, but "only for him who will protect the Hindu nation."207
Though the VHP has denied authorship of the pamphlet, it is already achieving its intended effect.208 According to an organizer of the Chartoda Kabristan camp in Ahmedabad: "The Hindus are not selling their wares to Muslims. A certain boycott is in effect."209 An article in the Washington Post also notes the difficulties relief camp residents in Ahmedabad are facing returning to their jobs for fear of attack, or because their employers have hired Hindus in their place.210 A report issued by the Vadodara branch of the People's Union for Civil Liberties and Shanti Abhiyan also noted that pamphlets calling for an economic boycott against Muslims were being distributed in and around the city of Vadodara, Gujarat.211 The forced isolation of Muslim community members afraid to leave ghetto neighborhoods that have become affected, has also resulted in reports of acute food shortages and starvation in Ahmedabad.212
Communal Violence and Attacks Against Christians in Gujarat
Hindu nationalist groups were also directly responsible for the spate of violence against the state's Christian community in 1998 and 1999. As documented in the 1999 Human Rights Watch report, Politics By Other Means: Attacks Against Christians in India, anti-Christian violence in the state of Gujarat reached its peak during Christmas week 1998 when a local extremist Hindu group obtained permission to hold a rally on December 25 in Ahwa town in the state's southeastern Dangs district. Over 4,000 people participated in the rally, shouting anti-Christian slogans while the police stood by and watched. After the rally, Hindu groups began to attack Christian places of worship, schools run by missionaries, and shops owned by Christians and Muslims. Between December 25, 1998, and January 3, 1999, churches and prayer halls were damaged, attacked, or burned down in at least twenty-five villages in the state. Scores of individuals were physically assaulted, and in some cases tied up, beaten, and robbed of their belongings while angry mobs invaded and damaged their homes. Thousands of Christian tribal community members in the region were also forced to undergo conversions to Hinduism.215
The current spate of attacks appears to be unparalleled in the history of the state since the independence partition, both because of the extent of state involvement in the violence and the participation of and impact on all classes of society:
Muslims from all sections of the population were affected, "from slum dwellers to businessmen and white collar professionals and senior government bureaucrats."217 High court judges and Muslim police officers were also attacked.218 Muslim policemen have since sought special permission to be on duty without their name tags.219
A history of communal violence has left its mark. Over one hundred areas in Gujarat have long been declared "sensitive" or violence-prone by state authorities, yet few, if any, of the state's many guidelines on preventive measures to address communal violence at the first sign of trouble were implemented following the Godhra attack.220 As a senior retired police officer commented in an article in the Hindu: "[T]he sky is the limit for taking preventive measures," though none were implemented "in the 24 hours it [the administration] had at its disposal between Godhra and the bandh [shutdown]."221
167 See section on the sangh parivar in Human Rights Watch, "Politics By Other Means: Attacks Against Christians in India," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 11, no. 6, September 1999, chapter III, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/indiachr/christians8-03.htm#P191_32616 (accessed April 15, 2002).
168 Tapio Tamminen, "Hindu Revivalism and the Hindutva Movement," http://www.abo.fi/comprel/temenos/temeno32/tamminen.htm (accessed April 15, 2002).
169 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, "Sangh-Inspired Organisations," in Widening Horizons, http://www.rss.org/books/wideninghorizons/ch7.html. Both Islam and Christianity were introduced to India long before Mughal and British rule.
170 Ibid.; Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, "Sangh's March," in Widening Horizons, http://www.rss.org/library/books/wideninghorizons/ch9.html (accessed September 1999).
171 See Human Rights Watch, "India: Communal Violence and the Denial of Justice."
172 N. K. Singh and U. Mahurkar, "Bajrang Dal: Loonies at Large," India Today, February 8, 1999.
174 Ashok Damodaran, "BJP: The Party is Over," India Today, April 15, 2002.
175 "Top BJP leaders accused of razing medieval mosque," Inter Press Service, October 6, 1993.
176 "India Arrests 5 Over Mosque Demolition," Reuters, April 8, 1993.
177 "Srikrishna report indicts Thackeray, Joshi," Indian Express, August 7, 1998.
178 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001, p. 198.
179 Human Rights Watch, "India Human Rights Press Backgrounder."
180 Uttara Choudhury, "India's Supreme Court bans religious ceremony in Ayodhya," Agence-Press France, March 13, 2002.
181 Myra MacDonald, Terry Friel, "India's hardline Hindu prayer ceremony peaceful," Reuters, March 15, 2002.
182 Manas Dasgupta, "NHRC indictment shocks Gujarat," Hindu, April 3, 2002.
183 Ibid. In 2000, the state government of Gujarat lifted a ban on civil servants joining the RSS. Severely criticized by opposition parties and secular groups, the decision was later reversed. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001, p. 198; and Ravish Mishra, "BJP backs off, withdraws RSS circular," Indian Express, March 8, 2002.
184 Dasgupta, "NHRC indictment shocks Gujarat."
186 Rawat, "Minority hole in Gujarat police force." http://www.telegraphindia.com/archive/1020327/front_pa.htm#head7 (accessed April 9, 2002).
188 Dasgupta, "Saffronised polce show their colour."
189 Swami, "Saffron Terror."
190 "New chief minister for Gujarat," BBC News, October 4, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1579000/1579033.stm (accessed April 10, 2002).
191 V. Venkatesan, "A pracharak as Chief Minister," Frontline, October 13 - 26, 2001.
192 Kuldip Nayar, "Dilli's Gang of Four," Indian Express, October 23, 2001, http://www.indian-express.com/columnists/kuld/20011023.html (accessed April 17, 2002).
193 "Modi hears only `Bharat mata ki jai,'" Times of India, March 6, 2002.
194 "India's opposition turns up the heat," BBC News, April 16, 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1930000/1930330.stm (accessed April 24, 2002).
196 "Uproar over riot-hit Indian state halts parliament," Reuters, April 15, 2002.
197 "Indian coalition ally condemns early election call," Reuters, April 13, 2002.
198 "Indian opposition keeps up heat on government over riots," Reuters, April 16, 2002.
199 "Gujarat Cabinet defers decision on dissolution of assembly," rediff.com, April 17, 2002, http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/apr/17train1.htm (accessed April 24, 2002); "Gujarat assembly not to be dissolved before Presidential poll," Outlook, April 23, 2002, http://www.outlookindia.com/pti_news.asp?id=53783 (accessed April 24, 2002).
201 "Rajya Sabha too will debate and vote on Gujarat," Times of India, April 24, 2002.
202 In towns outside of Dangs, members of the Muslim community also came under attack. In several districts, inter-religious marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women were being depicted as incidents of "the abduction of girls." The government of Gujarat has also announced that it would "probe into all such marriages, that too, only when the bridegrooms are Muslim." "Attacks on Religious Minorities in South Gujarat," A Report by the Combined Fact Finding Team of CPDR and APCLC, October 1998, p. 7.
203 Citizens' Commission on persecution of Christians in Gujarat, Violence in Gujarat: test case for a larger fundamentalist agenda (National Alliance of Women, 1999), p. 45. In early September 1999, on the eve of national parliamentary elections in Gujarat, the VHP distributed inflammatory pamphlets in the slum areas of Ahmedabad. Among the many attacks on minorities contained in the pamphlets was the charge that Muslim men were trapping Hindu girls into marriage. The pamphlets also said that the populations of Christians and Muslims in the country since independence have increased at a far greater rate than the population of Hindus, and that voters should think twice before handing the country back to a Christian foreigner-namely Italian-born Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi. "VHP unleashes pamphlet attack on Sonia, minorities," Times of India , September 3, 1999.
204 "Details of the incidents that have taken place on 25.12.98 (daytime) in Ahwa, Dangs District, S. Gujarat," A South Gujarat Tribal Christian Welfare Council Report, December 29, 1998.
205 "Attacks on Religious Minorities in South Gujarat," A Report by the Combined Fact Finding Team of CPDR and APCLC, October 1998, p. 7.
207 The spread of hate propaganda in Gujarat is not unlike the propaganda against Tutsis in the years preceding the genocide in Rwanda where through the written press and radio, extremists taught that the Hutu and Tutsi were different peoples. Simplifying and distorting history, the propagandists insisted that the Tutsi were foreign conquerors who had ruthlessly dominated the majority Hutu. The propaganda also warned Hutu men to beware of Tutsi women, not unlike propaganda in Gujarat that warns Hindus to protect their daughters from Muslim men. The targeted use of sexual violence against Tutsi women during the genocide was fueled by the propagation of both ethnic and gender stereotypes. See Human Rights Watch, "Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath," A Human Rights Watch report, September 1996, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/Rwanda.htm (accessed April 15, 2002).
208 Malekar, "Silence of the Lambs," The Week.
209 Human Rights Watch interview, Chartoda Kabristan camp organizer, Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
210 Rama Lakshmi, "Sectarian Violence Haunts Indian City: Hindu Militants Bar Muslims From Work," Washington Post, April 8, 2002.
211 The report also cited a confidential letter from the RSS calling for the boycott of all minority secular programs. People's Union for Civil Liberties, "An Interim Report to the National Human Rights Commission."
212 "Threat of starvation looms large in Ahmedabad areas," Press Trust of India, April 6, 2002.
213 Bose, "Ethnic Cleansing in Ahmedabad."
214 V. Shankar Aiyar and Uday Mahurkar, "Gujarat: Losing Faith," India Today, March 18, 2002.
215 See Human Rights Watch, "Politics By Other Means." More incidents of violence against India's Christian community were recorded in 1998 and 1999 than in all the years since independence. Attacks occurred primarily in the tribal regions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa, as well as the state of Maharashtra. Activists belonging to militant Hindu extremist groups, including the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad were often blamed for the violence. While the central government officially condemned the attacks, spokespersons for the BJP characterized the surge in violence as a reaction to a conversion campaign by Christian missionaries in the country. Sporadic violence continues to this day.
216 Mahurkar, "Gujarat: Losing Faith," India Today.
217 Bose, "Ethnic Cleansing in Ahmedabad."
218 Justice M.H. Kadri, a sitting Gujarat High Court judge, for example, found himself having to retreat to an undisclosed location when large crowds began gathering near his house. Bhushan, "Thy Hand, Great Anarch."
219 "Muslim policemen scared to wear name tags in Gujarat," Asian Age, March 24, 2002.
220 Aiyar, "Gujarat: Losing Faith."
221 "Callousness... after the carnage," Hindu, March 31, 2002.