Godhra-Gujarat Seven Years Later
The English language media in India has never attempted to sincerely fulfill its duty as the standard bearer of free speech in a democracy. Its reluctance to provide a platform for a differing view at odds with its own preset agenda which reeks of bigotry at times is obvious when it pertains to Hindutva. A perusal of English newspapers in India leaves one with the impression that what happened in Gujarat in 2002 was a one-sided massacre of Muslims by Hindus; a hyperbole promoted by selective reporting and bolstered by biased opinion rants. With the 2009 Lok Sabha elections around the corner, there appears to be a subtle attempt to resurrect this disinformation campaign through a rash of articles that recall the horror of Gujarat 2002 through a skewed lens.
Whenever the phrase ‘the victims of Gujarat 2002’ is mentioned in English language newspapers, it invariably refers to the 790 Muslim victims of the Hindu-Muslim riots that ravaged Gujarat in 2002. Forgotten are the 254 Hindu casualties that occurred during the same fracas. Forgotten are the 59 Hindu men, women and children who were roasted alive at the Godhra station on February 27, 2002 in an act of heinous sectarianism that sets a diabolical standard.
Before I proceed further let me make one thing clear. I condemn unequivocally both the Godhra incident as well as the riots that followed. No modern society can tolerate such a display of barbarism and still call itself civilized. My gripe is not with highlighting the plight of the Muslim victims; every act of injustice regardless of the religion or creed of the victim needs reparation. I am concerned with the double standards that our Indian society espouses .The Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots have endless number of proponents each weaving story after story vastly exaggerated for sensational effect that fill volumes of newsprint and occupy endless hours of television time. In contrast the Hindu victims have few advocates and even these scarce voices continue to be stifled by the English language media in India which denies them a just platform for their grievances. I feel compelled to raise my voice to inject a sense of balance in this uneven playing field.
There are some points that I wish to reiterate about the Gujarat riots:
1) Godhra was a deliberate act of evil that was meant to provoke. It did. Without Godhra there would never have been a Gujarat 2002.Whether the Hindus should have exhibited a greater degree of restraint or not is certainly debatable. I would have preferred a massive non-violent protest. However it does not alter the irrevocable fact that Godhra was categorically the epicenter of the communal earthquake that rocked Gujarat.
2) This was not a pogrom by any stretch of imagination. Focus on the death ratio of 790 Muslims to 254 Hindus: it sounds like a riot with sizable casualties on both sides. To comprehend the meaning of a pogrom one needs to scrutinize the death toll in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984: greater than 3000 Sikh deaths to zero Hindus. This fellow countrymen is a pogrom orchestrated by the so-called secular Congress party.
3) Anti-Hindu violence during the Gujarat riots was not only widespread but ugly as well. Hindus too were also the victims of police inaction. I quote not from any parochial source but from a report by the Human Rights Watch.
a) “Hindus have also suffered greatly from the violence in Gujarat. In addition to the fifty-eight people killed during the torching of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra on February 27, 2002, over ten thousand Hindus have also been made homeless as a result of post-Godhra violence……”
….Sanjay Pandey, "Riots hit all classes, people of all faith," Times of India, March 18, 2002
b) “In Ahmedabad, violence broke out on March 17 when Dalits in the Danilimda area were attacked by Muslims. On March 19, it was Modasa, a town in Sabarkantha district. A police officer's son was stabbed and two communities went berserk.... The stories only got more macabre. In Himmatnagar, a young man who went to a Muslim-dominated area to do business was found dead, with his eyes gouged out. In Bharuch, the murder of a Muslim youth led to mass violence. Next the Sindhi Market and Bhanderi Pole areas of Ahmedabad, hitherto calm, were attacked by mobs. This phase, really, was one of Muslim mobs attacking Hindus.”
Udhay Mahurkar, "Gujarat: End of Hope," India Today, April 15, 2002
c) “A resident named Harki Bhen added: Kerosene bottles were thrown in through the roof. They threw it through the windows and the openings in the walls. We called the police thousands of times but they told us, "Sir is out". In the morning the mosques began announcing that Islam was in danger, that there was poison in the milk. This is their code word. We are the only Hindus here, poison here means us. The rioting lasted between 2:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.”
Human Rights Watch interview, Harki Bhen, Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002
d) “Human Rights Watch visited Mahajan No Vando, a fortified Hindu residential area situated within the Muslim dominated area of Jamalpur, on March 23. Mahajan No Vando was the site of a retaliatory attack by Muslims on March 1.
According to residents, approximately twenty-five people were injured in the attacks and at least five homes were completely destroyed. Residents closer to the periphery of the fortified compound and its entrance also suffered extensive property damage. Muslim residents attacked the compound from the higher Muslim-owned buildings that surrounded it using light bulbs filled with acid, petrol and crude bombs, and bottles filled with kerosene and set some Hindu-owned houses on fire. According to the residents, who had collected and saved the remnants of what was thrown in and showed them to Human Rights Watch, "There was acid in the glass bottles and in the light bulbs that were thrown in. They used solvent petrol, kerosene, and acid. They filled some Pepsi bottles with them."
Human Rights Watch interviews, Mahajan No Vando residents, Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002
With accusations and counter accusations swirling in the air in the aftermath of the riots, it was essential to have an enquiry commission that would clear the air and ascertain the truth. The Nanavati Commission was constituted on March 6, 2002 by a decree in accordance with the Constitution and submitted its report in September 2008 after painstakingly interviewing 1106 witnesses and examining 46000 affidavits. The commission was chaired by GT Nanavati, a retired Supreme Court Judge with stellar credentials and unquestionable integrity. Moreover Nanavati’s track record as an investigator par excellence was supported by his successful one-man enquiry commission into the anti-Sikh riots that brought many a guilty to book
The Nanavati Commission made two important observations:
1) That the fire in coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, was a “pre-planned conspiracy” of the local Muslims.
2) The report stated: “There is absolutely no evidence to show that the chief minister, his council of ministers or the police officers had played any role in the Godhra incident or that there was any lapse on their part in the matter of providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to the victims of communal riots.”
Certain sections of our media have tried to underplay the conclusions of the Nanavati Commission by invoking the assertions of the Banerjee committee. However, the Banerjee Commission sanctioned by Lallu Prasad Yadav in 2004 stands disqualified as a legitimate vehicle, being debarred by the Gujarat High Court which deemed it as ‘unconstitutional, illegal and null and void’. Additionally, the haste with which this commission submitted its interim report, within 4 months of its inception, raises serious questions about its depth and accuracy
There have been other self styled impromptu ‘tribunals’ orchestrated by private organizations with a preset agenda. These carry no legal brief, only murky the situation further and have no place in a functioning democracy. They cannot be taken seriously.
Effectively, to date, the Nanavati Commission remains the only valid commission of enquiry into this matter. A judicial enquiry commission headed by a Supreme Court Judge represents a powerful and impartial instrument of a democratic process. To negate the findings of one is to question the very basic tenets of our democracy.
When we accept the culpability of Jagdish Tytler emanating from the previous Nanavati commission and indemnify the criminality of Madhukar Sarpotdar on the basis of the Srikrishna Commission, why is it that certain sections of our society balk at the exoneration of Modi by the present Nanavati report?
This smacks of double standards. Findings must be respected even if we do not agree with them: for that is the basis of a mature democracy.
Human Rights Watch Report, April 2002.
Godhra-Gujarat Seven Years Later
- » Published on February 27, 2009
- » Type: Opinion
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