2002 Gujarat Genocide – 19 Years Later

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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar,  Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: After witnessing several pogroms, repeated every few years,  it is understood, that the underlying message from all of the pogroms is the same, to keep the minority under check and keep the majority distracted from the ruling party’s incompetencies, by drilling into them that keeping the minority in check is the most important task on hand.

There are two very obvious aspects that are common in almost all pogroms, or state-sponsored riots which is what the 1984 Sikh genocide and 2002 Gujarat riots, and now the most recent Delhi riots are. First is that the police made no efforts to protect the victims and in many cases in both Gujarat and both times in Delhi, joined the mobs in attacking the minority victims.

Secondly, the leaders and activists associated with the ruling party played a big role in spreading the hate and instigating violence, whether in 1984, 2002 or in 2020.

But there is a third and the most important aspect which is staring right at our faces, but we haven’t been able to either voice it or counter it.

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And that is how the leader who benefits the most from these pogroms carries the sentiments and sympathy of the masses with him and uses it as a protective shield, to deflect all attacks, whether it was Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, Bal Thackeray in 1992, or Narendra Modi in 2002 and in 2020.

What is scary is that while the other leaders try to bury the memories of the carnages unleashed by them, after they have reaped the benefit of it politically, a Narendra Modi has fine-tuned it, incessantly feeding the hate of the majority against the minority for decades. To use it as ammunition to unleash a pogrom anywhere, anytime he needs it to perk up his shaky political ground.

Gujarat Riotsers with Sword

A New York Times reporter Celia Dugger who interviewed Modi a few months after the riots had shared how when she asked Modi if he had any regrets about what had happened in his state, where women were “openly raped, hundreds and hundreds of people were killed” and he all he said was, that his greatest regret was that he didn’t manage the media very well.

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id face off over content

He defended his actions during a 2012 interview with Urdu-language newspaper journalist Shahid Siddiqui. “If Modi has sinned, then Modi should be hanged,” he was quoted as saying. “But, even after trying sincerely to save many lives, some people want to bad-mouth me due to political reasons, then I can’t answer them.”

And to nurture this model which he experimented with and perfected in Gujarat,  portraying himself as the victim for political reasons, instead of the ones who were actually killed, raped, and brutalized. It was then successfully established in the center too, after both his power and resources jumped several 100 times over.

The way his political adversaries, the media, the democratic and institutions,  al

l fell like a crumbling pack of cards, leaving us in the middle of extremely dangerous times, with absolutely no solution in sight, just waiting

g for the demon to be slain miraculously is a matter of deep concern.

It is truly distressing how well-meaning citizens and protestors, activists, who are raising their voices for a pluralist, just society have become the real villains in  Narendra Modi’s twisted political narrative when it is he and Amit Shah who should be behind bars for their complicity in the 2002 and 2020 pogroms respectively.

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Though the free media in 2002 was able to spark off a national and international outrage against Modi, the ‘Gaurav yatra’ that he undertook soon after the riots, throughout Gujarat, covering  1000 villages, in two months, to evoke the people’s support for him, effectively convincing them that there is a huge conspiracy against Gujarat, not HIM, never HIM, dismissing mountains of evidence against him, as part of that political conspiracy, left many stupefied.

So tragic is the present-day scenario,  that millions of distraught Indians are relying on the weak and poor farmers’ shoulders to deliver them from the misery wrought by this fascist regime. The same poor farmers, who are fighting for their own survival, because we failed them as a collective to raise their voices as well. But the farmers have the numbers and the sympathy which the well-meaning liberals sorely lack, with which they are convinced they can make a difference.

 

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The well-meaning opposition, media, and activists, despite being on the right side, were soon sidelined with no counter for a narrative like that. They have collectively failed to educate the masses, warning them against this dangerous, delusional narrative.

Gujarat has since then been replaced by India, and the masses despite groaning under the weight of the rising inflation, unemployment, rising fuel prices, continue supporting the rotting apple, as part of the nationalist agenda.

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Hence there are hardly any protests when young brilliant students, senior activists, and protestors, well into their 70’s and 80’s,  are locked up in prison indefinitely without proof, or bail, without any public sympathy, coming their way, while Narendra Modi and Amit Shah successfully paint them as the real terror elements. All this while vile mouths like Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, and Sahib Singh Varma continue to spread venom, threatening to unleash another pogrom at will.

Bilkis Bano who was gang-raped, 14 members of her family members were killed

The isolated battles have failed to provide the security that the minority desperately needs, as they cower in fear for themselves and their loved ones. Many fled Gujarat then, but where can they flee now?

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A nation is held in balance between its elected institutions, Vidhan sabhas, panchayats

Judiciary and the free press in a democracy, but the way all of them have been swallowed by the executive is a huge concern.  It is a tragedy that over the last decades, we have been fooled into feeding the political power, as it continuously assaulted the other pillars of democracy. And now the only option left is looking for a stronger, more well-meaning political alternative, to get the institutions back on their feet, for justice to be served.

The Gujarat riots are very well documented,  especially by the Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) Report clearly establishing the complicity of the government.

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It documented that the riots ended with 1,044 dead, 223 missing, and 2,500 injured. Of the dead, 790 were Muslim and 254 Hindus. They estimated that as many as 1,926 may have been killed. Other sources estimated death tolls in excess of 2,000. It is estimated that 230 mosques and 274 dargahs were destroyed during the violence. For the first time in the history of communal riots, Hindu women took part, looting Muslim shops. It is estimated that up to 150,000 people were displaced during the violence.

It is estimated that 200 police officers also died while trying to control the violence, and Human Rights Watch reported that acts of exceptional heroism were committed by Hindus, Dalits, and tribals who tried to protect Muslims from the violence.

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Numerous accounts describe the attacks on the Muslim community that began on  February 28, as highly coordinated with mobile phones and government-issued printouts listing the homes and businesses of Muslims. Attackers arrived in Muslim communities, across the region, in trucks, wearing saffron robes and khaki shorts, bearing a variety of weapons. Although many calls to the police were made by the victims, they were told by the police that “we have no orders to save you.” In many cases, the police fired at  Muslims who attempted to defend themselves.

Mrs. Zakia Jafri, wife of slain Law Maker, MP Ahsan Jafri at a press conference

Before the pogrom,  Narendra Modi had declared that the attack at Godhra, on the train which was bringing back Hindu kar sevaks from  Ayodhya, which triggered the pogrom had been an act of terrorism, and not an incident of communal violence. When he was informed of the death of the kar sevaks, he called not the Director General of Police, but the general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Jaideep Patel to rush to the spot. The post mortem of the bodies was conducted in the open to trigger more outrage.

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The local newspapers and members of the state government used the statement to incite violence against the Muslim community by claiming, without proof, that the attack on the train was carried out by Pakistan’s intelligence agency and that local Muslims had conspired with them to attack Hindus in the state. False stories were also printed by local newspapers which claimed that Muslim people had kidnapped and raped Hindu women.

Local and state-level politicians were seen leading violent mobs, restraining the police, and arranging the distribution of weapons, leading investigative reports to conclude that the violence was “engineered and launched.”

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 A Hindu residential area in Jamalpur, where there were a few Hindu casualties, was later visited by Modi on March 6, who promised the residents that they would be taken care of. No such assurances were given to the Muslims.

The Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) report includes the testimony of the then Gujarat BJP minister Haren Pandya (since murdered), who testified about an evening meeting convened by Modi the evening of the train burning. At this meeting, officials were instructed not to obstruct the Hindu rage following the incident.

Essential questions of who really knew of the presence of the kar sevaks in that particular bogie and who would benefit from a carnage like this went unanswered.

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Following the initial riot incidents in Gujarat, there were further outbreaks of violence in Ahmedabad for three months; statewide, there were further outbreaks of violence against the minority Muslim population of Gujarat for the next year.

Despite the mountain of audio and video evidence then, establishing the complicity of the state government and the local police,  the likes of which the judiciary could not stomach,  Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India, in 2012. Two years before he even became the prime minister. The SIT also rejected claims that the state government had not done enough to prevent the riots. It is not difficult to imagine the kind of momentum his prime ministerial campaign got, from a decision like that.

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In fact, no accountability whatsoever in the previous pogroms, despite the complicity of top congress leaders like Kamal Nath in 1984, and Shiv Sena leaders like Bal Thackeray, Manohar Joshi, and BJP leader Gopinath Munde means that these pogroms will continue to be unleashed as and when the ruling political dispensation needs it.

Gujarat is reeling under all kinds of economic crises spiraling for the last two decades, and yet the locals are happy that the “Muslims are put in their place”. Only a few are questioning that now that the Muslims have been put in place, what next for us?

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The Editors Guild of India, in its report on media ethics and coverage on the incidents, stated that the news coverage was exemplary, with only a few minor lapses. It rejected the charge that graphic news coverage aggravated the situation, saying that the coverage exposed the “horrors” of the riots as well as the “supine if not complicit” attitude of the state, helping to propel remedial action.

The same cannot be expected of the Editor’s Guild today, which was largely mute on the totally irresponsible coverage by the same media in 2020 in Delhi.

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Among the few times, that the courts renewed hope in the justice system was when the victim of a heinous massacre of her family and her own brutal rape Bilkis Bano got some long-awaited justice.

After police dismissed the case against her assailants, Bilkis Bano approached the National Human Rights Commission of India and petitioned the Supreme Court seeking a reinvestigation. The Supreme Court granted the motion, directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the investigation. In the final verdict came on  April 23, 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat government to pay Bilkis Yakoob Rasool Bano Rs 50 lakhs as compensation, a government job, and housing in the area of her choice.

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The second notable instance when the courts raised hopes of justice eventually being served was In the Naroda Patiya massacre, one of the most vicious where 126 people were killed, women and minor girls gang-raped, fetuses were torn out of the bodies of pregnant women, children set on fire in front of their parents, petrol poured in their throats and then set on fire. The courts on July 29, 2012, convicted thirty people in this case for their involvement in the attacks. The convicted included former state minister May Kodnani and Hindu leader Babu Bajrangi. The court case began in 2009, and over three hundred people including victims, witnesses, doctors, and journalists testified before the court. For the first time, the verdict acknowledged the role of a politician in inciting Hindu mobs.

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Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt

Though Modi won his third term as the chief minister, he refused to apologize and denied that the government had any role to play in the riots. But for the first time, this judgment went beyond neighborhood perpetrators and established a clear political conspiracy.

The most awaited hearing is however the Zakia Jafri-Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) Special leave petition which seeks a criminal trial of Narendra Modi, 62 other politicians, and government officials for alleged complicity in the Gujarat violence of 2002. Her husband,  congress minister Ehsan Jafri then in his 70’s was pulled on the streets, stripped, and quartered to death. His only crime was that he was trying to shelter the Muslim women and children from the marauding crowds in Gulmarg society. His constant pleas to the police commissioner and other government officers, who were just a couple of miles from his house, were not responded to.

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The criminal conspiracy complaint alleges that in a meeting of senior police officers including IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, presently incarcerated for his efforts to expose Modi and other officials on February 27, 2002, following the Godhra tragedy, Modi issued his “let Hindus give vent to their anger” directive.  This was stated by Sanjiv Bhatt in a sworn statement which according to Raju Ramachandran, then amicus curiae appointed by the SC was sufficient to send Modi to trial. The SIT however opposed it before giving the clean chit to Modi.

The possibility of justice anytime before 2024 is almost nil, but as long as the evidence is well documented, the hope lives on.

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The India Observer’s editorial stance.

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar is the regional Bureau Chief of the USA based News Portal, "www.TheIndiaObserver.Com". She has been a fearless journalist for over two decades and has worked in several publications in Mumbai, India. She has worked for The Pioneer, The Daily, Afternoon Despatch, and Courier, Free Press Group, Life Positive, freelanced for The Federal, The Week, Midday, Deccan Herald, Herald-Citizen (USA), South Asian Times (USA). She is a broadcaster, commentator, interviewer besides being an investigative journalist. She has covered several beats, including politics, civic affairs, law, public health, crime, sports, environment. She has also been an assistant producer for a documentary film commissioned by PBS, on Methamphetamine addiction in Tennessee, called Crank: Darkness on the edge of town. She has also been a guest faculty teaching journalism at the School of Broadcasting, Mumbai.

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