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Ethnic cleansing in Ahmedabad

6. April 2002

A preliminary report by a fact finding team to Ahmedabad, 10-11th March 2002

The recent widespread communal violence in Gujarat has shocked the world. The UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has also voiced her deep concern. People from all walks of life in India have reacted with shock and dismay. The BJP government of Gujarat, as well as the NDA government at the Centre, have attributed the communal violence which broke out in Ahmedabad and other places on 28th February 2002, to the anger of the Hindus over the gruesome burning of ram sewaks in Godhra in the early morning of 27th February. The spontaneous outburst of the people following the massacre of the VHP activists, they argue, reached such proportions because of the …‘failure´ of the Opposition parties to condemn the incident unequivocally as well as the role of the national media which publicized …‘one sided stories´. The Home Minister has also commended the role of the Narendra Modi government in the Parliament, in having created a record of sorts by controlling the violence within ´72 hours´ as opposed to previous instances of communal riots under non-BJP regimes.
This theory of a spontaneous outburst of popular Hindu anger contrasted to the pre-planned massacre of VHP …‘pilgrims´ by ISI funded Islamic fundamentalists, lies at the core of the overt and covert justifications of the post-Godhra events, put forward by the Sangh brigade along with some allies of the BJP. For a preliminary assessment of the Gujarat situation, and as an act of solidarity with the suffering victims, SAHMAT organized a two day visit to Ahmedabad by a fact-finding team of Dr. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Vishnu Nagar, Prasenjit Bose and Vijoo Krishnan on 10th and 11th March, 2002. The team visited several relief camps including two of the biggest in Bapunagar and Shah Alam, and a number of affected localities, and prepared this Report based on its experiences. We are grateful to Fr. Cedric Prakash of Prashant, Ahmedabad, and Teesta Setalvad, joint editor, Communalism Combat, Mumbai, and many other volunteers for the advice and help they gave us.

Ethnic Cleansing not Communal Riot

At the outset it is important to underline the fact that the events in Ahmedabad do not fit into any conceivable definition of a communal riot. All evidence suggests that what happened there was a completely one sided and targeted carnage of innocent Muslims, something much closer to a pogrom or an ethnic cleansing.
Moreover, the selective violence that was perpetrated was done with remarkable precision, suggesting meticulous planning and collation of information over a protracted period, rather than the spontaneous mob frenzy characteristic of a communal riot. It also clearly indicates collusion and not merely indulgence of the state machinery and the ruling political establishment. The condemnable Godhra massacre was of course the trigger in this case. But the point is that it could have been anything else, any provocative act on the part of any Muslim individual or group, possibly even of a lesser magnitude, would have led to similar consequences. The ground for this communal genocide was cleared in Gujarat much prior to the Godhra massacre. It is noteworthy that the attacks on the Muslims in Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat started a day after the Godhra tragedy, further indicating that this was no merely spontaneous reaction, but one connected to the Vishva Hindu Parishad [VHP] Gujarat Bandh call on 28th February.
The casualties reported officially are understatements. According to those involved in relief and rehabilitation work (who are also involved in collecting information regarding the actual number of casualties) the number of people killed in Ahmedabad alone would be nearly 1000. As against the total of around 700 including the victims of Godhra, which the government has cited as the total figure of casualties for the whole of Gujarat, they say that the number would be around 2000 if not more. Since the violence has spread to remote villages, access to which has been denied by the government, any estimation of the number of casualties by non-governmental sources has been rendered difficult.
An overwhelming majority of those who have been killed are Muslims, including women and children. While most of the dead fell victims to killer mobs led by VHP-Bajrang Dal activists, there were several instances of death due to police firing on helpless Muslims. Some eyewitness accounts of those who had fled from nearby villages (45-50 kms. from Ahmedabad) and taken refuge in the relief camps, suggest large-scale massacres of Muslims continuing in the countryside. Entire families have been exterminated in villages with nobody left to lodge complaints or claim the dead bodies.
Almost everybody suggested that the carnage this time have surpassed all previous instances of communal riots in Gujarat (1969, 1985, 1989 or 1992) both in terms of loss of lives, as well as in terms of the barbarism involved. It was added everywhere that never before had the killings been so one sided, which makes comparisons being made with the earlier riots also quite misleading.
Similar instances of such pogroms reveal certain common characteristics. Firstly the rioting mobs were huge ones and with a substantial segment properly trained for such activities. In fact, they more resembled a militia rather than spontaneously mobilized fanatics. The premeditated nature of the attacks is indicated by the almost exclusive selection of Muslim commercial establishments, residential areas and individual residences. After the experience of earlier riots, most of the Muslim establishments had non-Muslim, mainly Hindu names. Yet the attackers reportedly had lists, and specifically targeted Muslim properties. In instance after instance, we saw Muslim shops, workshops, and flats burnt and looted while the neighbouring Hindu owned properties were untouched. The modus operandi was often the same. Vehicles including trucks were brought to cart away the loot. In the cases of factories and commercial establishments that had strong grills and metal shutters, gas cutters were used to gain access. LPG cylinders were used to blow up residential rooms and shops. Thousands must have been used. Such massive provision of LPG cylinders must have involved official collusion, if not sanction.
Secondly, in most of the cases the attacks were organized on 1st March, i.e. the day of the VHP sponsored Gujarat bandh which was also supported by the State BJP unit. The Godhra incident having taken place on 27th February, it is evident that the day of 28th February was utilized to gear up and mobilize the huge machinery deployed for the pogroms. Thirdly, the connivance of the local police as well as the SRP was absolute. 1st March being a Friday, the attacks almost invariably started with police firing or provocation on the congregation of Muslims at masjids during the jumma namaaz . Fourthly, the brutalities were excessive including sexual violence against women and children and burning alive of helpless people. Fifthly, the attacks were led by local level VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP leaders who had no fears of being identified or booked. These leaders, as well as leading attackers were allegedly carrying both mobile phones as well as water bottles. Finally, the entire effort suggests a concerted attempt to terrorize, uproot and drive away the Muslims even from their hitherto ghettoized settlements.
Since the entire purpose of the attacks was to kill and brutalize a particular community, irrevocably damage its economic interests, and force it out of earlier settlements to existing Muslim ghettoes, these attacks can only be described as ethnic cleansing. The partisan role of the state, the government, police, civil administration, the ruling party, the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the rest of the Sangh brigade, all point to this ethnic cleansing being state sponsored.

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