GUJARAT GENOCIDE: TELLING IT LIKE IT IS

GUJARAT GENOCIDE: TELLING IT LIKE IT IS

Newsletter May - Aug 2002

Nothing will ever be the same again. The holocaust seems never-ending. While the obvious acts of violence continue unabated, the polarisation between Hindus and Muslims is ever widening and deepening. The barbaric acts of murder, rape and mutilation of men, women and children bas not been the handiwork of the state machinery alone, but has also been perpetrated by the wide scale mobilisation of Hindus from all walks of life. Where does the genesis of this carnage lie?

[Some campaign events March 4

Journalists Protest Against Gujarat Killings, New Delhi

Hundreds of journalists took out a peace march condemning the systematic carnage in Gujarat. The march started from Press Club of India and culminated at Jantar Mantar. Eminent journalists, writers, academicians, intellectuals and students participated in this march.]

Some trace it to the torching of the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express carrying kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya on February 27th, which led to a 'spontaneous' reaction. The inhuman burning at Godhra is a condemnable crime that must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to book. But the pogrom against the Muslim community in Gujarat which followed and continued for almost four months, is clearly not an outcome of the Godhra carnage alone.

The careful planning and methodical elimination of the Muslim community, aided and abetted by the administration and police, is the implementation of the most distorted notion of 'Hindutva' propounded by the BJP-VHP-RSS-Bajrang Dal that has been systematically built over the years. The legitimacy lent to the fundamentalist Sangh Parivar with the BJP at the Centre is reminiscent of the fascist ascendancy in Germany in the 1930's. The Muslim community has been singled out as being 'anti­national' and repeatedly forced to 'prove' their loyalty to India. Or as in the case of Gujarat, been subject to the most heinous violence merely because they are Muslim.

Today in Gujarat, more than 2,000 people are dead and more than a lakh are displaced and living in relief camps in abysmal conditions. Most of those displaced have lost their houses, livelihood, family members, belongings, and have witnessed the most barbarous forms of violence. They continue to live in terror and dread to venture anywhere, too insecure to return to their homes in localities and villages where murderous mobs still roam scot free.

Today, much has been written about the carnage in Gujarat. Yet, the magnitude of the disaster remains mind-boggling. In the early days of the carnage, from March 22-27th. Saheli visited Baroda with Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai and Awaaz-e-Niswan (Mumbai), in partnership with Sahiyar (Baroda). Along with the findings and observations of this team. (incorporated in the PUCL (Baroda) Report as a chapter called Women's Perspectives), this article is based on several other reports.

WOMEN: BEARING THE BRUNT OF REVENGE

In many ways women's bodies have been the leitmotif for the violence in Gujarat. According to some accounts, it was the molestation of a young Muslim girl by kar sevaks which infuriated the Muslims to torch the S-6 coach and reduce it to a deathly inferno. And it was a rumour in the incendiary newspaper 'Sandesh', that Hindu women from the Sabarmati Express had been abducted, raped and had their breasts cut off which apparently triggered the· violence against Muslims in several parts of Gujarat.

The retraction of this rumour, tucked away in the inside pages, came too late. The murderous mobs, it appears were safeguarding the 'honour' of 'their' women.

Ironically, though, in this quest for women’s honour and dignity, hundreds of women were raped, subjected to ghastly forms of sexual violence. Many women we spoke to said that "Don't spare the women!" was the order given to the cadres by leaders of the right-wing Hindutva organisations. And the women were not spared. Even the children were not spared. Small children and new-born infants were hacked to pieces and burnt to death. Breast-feeding infants were snatched from their mothers and thrown into a bonfire of human beings. Fatima Bibi, a survivor of the Naroda Patiya holocaust can barely speak, reliving the horrors she had witnessed. But the stories have be to be told and re-told, and the listeners have to absorb the pain. "They came with gas cylinders, diesel and petrol bombs, brandishing talwaars and knives. They were well prepared for their inhumanity. They caught young innocent children and slit their throats, and when they begged for water, they poured petrol down their throats. What had these little children done to them?" she asks.

Teenagers Ruksana, Kheroon, Noorjahan and Farzana of Naroda Patiya were gang­raped and then burnt to deatb - and these are only some of the names. Other forms of sexual violence abound, from swords, sticks to even cricket bails being thrust into the vaginas of women and girls. Only some have survived to recount the horror. The mutilated and burnt bodies of others tell their own tale. Shabana of Eral village in Kalol Taluka, described by her mother Medina as a 'flower yet to bloom', was gang­raped and her breasts hacked. Bilkees, five months pregnant, was gang-raped and left for dead among the bodies of her baby gin and other family members. The list is endless, the orgy of violence numbing. Women's bodies have borne the brunt of a violent expression of 'patriotism' - the arena for Hindu fundamentalists to play out their 'love for the motherland', where Muslims represent the detested 'other',

LAW KEEPERS TURN LAW BREAKERS

It is well known by now that it was the pre-meditation and infiltration of the civil, administration and police by the right-wing RSS. BajrangDal and VHP that facilitated this orgy of death and destruction.

"They blocked our exit and tear-gassed us, forcing us towards the waiting mobs, and yelled - Kill the ****** Muslims!" this testimony from a survivor of the Naroda Patiya massacre, describes not a mob of rioters, but the State Reserve Police (SRP). Hundreds of accounts describe how the police and SRP failed to respond to desperate pleas for help, and their inexplicable delays in arriving at the scene of the worst mass murders. Eyewitnesses testify that the police not only stood by while the rampaging mobs carried on their looting, arson, rape and murder, but actively participated in it. Many survivors have told of how police forces, pretending to guide them to safety, instead actively 'delivered them' to the mobs. Yet, the extent and brutality of the communal violence has-tended to overshadow the large number of Muslims who have died or been injured in police firing.

For instance, in Navayard in Baroda, when, on hearing the noise outside, 25 men rushed out from the mosque to see what had happened they faced the firing. An 18 year-old youth Zaahir Khan Bismillah Khan Pathan was killed on the spot. Also killed in the police firing was a 19-year-old boy who was only a bystander. 48 Muslims were dragged out of their houses and arrested by the police. Filthy abuses with religious and/or sexual overtones were used.

[Some Campaign Events March 6

Hundreds Join Hands For Peace. Mumbai

Hundreds of students from the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan along with Salokha an NGO working for communal harmony organised a harmony chain. They were joined by many NGOs including EKTA, CSSS, Pratham. Yuva, Saltya and Sethu. Students from TISS performed a dance drama on how harmony in the country has been destroyed. A number of onlookers from different communities, lawyers, officers, ordinary citizens, joined the students and concerned citizens in registering their commitment to a secular society and polity.]

Similarly, in Madarmohalla basti of Baroda, on the 1st of March a big Bajrang Dal mob entered the area and burnt down 5 Muslim houses near the kabristaan (graveyard). This was followed by an attack by the police who while ostensibly searching for those behind the trouble, ruthlessly targeted the Muslims in another frenzy of violence. 17 year old Deewan Samina was badly injured by a shell whose pieces hit her near the earlobe as she fainted. She was hospitalised for 13 days and still vomiting blood when we met her with her mother.

We met Hamida Banu Ibrahim Sheikh (40) who had her right hand in plaster, after being beaten up by the police. On the night of February 15th, when she stepped out to go to the toilet, there were 15 policemen on the street. "They asked me where I was going. I told them that I was going to the toilet. They stared abusing and beating me badly." Hamida Banu is the sole bread earner of her family. She has an ailing husband and one son. She barely earns Rs. 300-500 per month from making kites. The injury from police beating makes that too seem a remote possibility now. She used to make a bit more of money during Uttran, the kite flying festival.

The infiltration of the police force by the Sangh Parivar is deep, insidious and, at all levels - from the constable upwards. Reports now reveal that over the last year, postings and transfers of police personnel have been actively directed by the local Sangh leadership. During the first phase of the violence in March, the state government, in a visible expression of saffronisation of the police force, effected mass transfers of officers who took prompt action to curb the communal violence. Similarly, officers serving the ruling party's interests have been 'rewarded', like ACP PN Barot, who was entrusted with investigating two of the worst massacres in Ahmedabad - Gulbarg Society and Naroda Patiya which were outside his purview earlier. Barot too declared these massacres were in 'reaction' to the firing and stabbing of Hindus by Muslims.

[headlines

Refugees: We were asked to withdraw FIRs and go home

Gujarat VHP chief 'justifies' violence

When Gujarat burns, Modi fiddles

Even hospitals are divided along communal lines

Legal experts fear manipulation of FIRs]

A largely communalised police-force, which is also the investigating agency for crime, makes the quest for justice and bringing the guilty to book seem almost impossible. Survivors consistently testify that FIRs have not been registered, names of accused are not being included in the FIR, and 'mass' FIRs have been registered against unidentified 'mobs' even though in several cases, the survivors named the accused. For women, the scenario is much grimmer. With a partisan police, threats from the accused to withdraw complaints and a medical system that doggedly shies away from recording medical evidence crucial in sexual assault trials, the regular criminal justice system holds little hope for people in general and women in particular. And what of the women and young girls who were subjected to gang-rape, denigrated forms of sexual violence and then hacked and burnt to death? Can their suffering ever be recorded? How does one seek justice for the dead, or reparation for the violations suffered before being killed?

SEVERE CHALLENGE TO DOCTORS' HIPPOCRATIC OATH

Medical professionals were among the first to witness the extent of brutality of the violence after February 28th. A doctor, working in a government hospital about 40 km away from Baroda, acknowledged that he had never witnessed such injuries in similar situations. There were countless injuries caused by swords, and mutilation of women's breasts was common. There were some cases of mutilation of the penis too. In another hospital, a doctor conducted 17 post mortems, the majority of whom were women who had visible signs of gang-rape. A woman from Kheda district was gang-raped, her head was shaven and 'Om' cut onto it with a knife, by the rapists. She died later in the hospital. There were other instances of 'Om' being carved with a knife on the backs of women as well as some men. There were innumerable cases of bullet injuries and burns. Many people were burned by putting lit truck tyres around their necks.

RSS volunteers threatened the doctor in this rural hospital for using the blood for Muslim patients claiming that they donated their blood for the Hindu patients only. The, doctor, however declared that he would not succumb to threats and would continue to treat all patients alike.

Unfortunately, not all doctors were ethical, or able to withstand the pressure from fundamentalists. In fact, countless survivors from Ahmedabad have spoken of doctors who refused to treat them and of hospitals that turned them away in their hour of great need. For instance, in Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, Bharti Behn and Anita Behn, both BJP Corporators, were actually telling the doctors who to treat and whom to send away. Mobs also blockaded roads and prevented ambulances carrying the wounded and the dying from passing through. Not surprisingly, many of them died because of lack of timely medical assistance.

Some women from Naroda Patiya told us that when they went to identify the burnt and mutilated bodies in the morgue of some hospitals, they found badly injured but living children thrown among the dead. They spoke of how they moved aside all the torn and burnt bodies to hunt for the living since doctors could not be bothered to treat them. The inhumanity of the healing profession, however, must be seen in the context of the overall build-up of hatred in a systematic manner over the years. Ironically, Praveen Togadia, General Secretary of the VHP. his second-in-command, Jaideep Patel, and Maya Kodnani, BJP MLA of Naroda Patiya, all of whom are known to have led attacks and even been named in many FIRs, are all doctors by profession.

FROM HATE CAMPAIGN TO POGROM

The hate campaign in Gujarat has been systematically built up in a Goebbels-like manner. With the RSS and VHP circulating pamphlets urging 'good' Hindus to carry out an economic boycott of the Muslims - from not employing them to boycotting Muslim-owned enterprises. The VHP pamphlets go further and incite violence against the minority communities. For instance, a pamphlet in Gujarati titled 'Jehad' screams: "Your life is in danger - you might be killed anytime! Lord Shree Krishna told Arjun 'lift your weapons and kill the non-religious'." Another pamphlet signed by 'a true Hindu patriot' and circulated by the VHP titled "The Only Solution is Economic Boycott' urges fellow Hindus to join the 'Financial Non-Cooperation Movement' and take oaths such as 'I will not buy anything from any Muslim shopkeeper, I will not sell my goods to these elements'. Many such pamphlets have been in circulation over the past few years. What is more, the 'pamphlet poison' continued even after the carnage began. A pamphlet issued on March 28, 2002 exhorts: "Wake Up! Get Up! Be United! Reply to bricks with stone. Today the minority community is trying to crush the majority community. The pamphlet further urges the reader to “Annihilate the enemy and lighten the burden of sin which the country is carrying".

The build-up of 'imaginary insecurity' among Hindus, perpetuating stereotypes of the Muslim community and propounding the notion of a Hindu Rashtra where minorities can live only if they 'toe their line: has been taking place over the months - in fact, years. Much of this literature has little basis in fact, and plays heavily on sentiment and emotion whipped up in much the same way that communal hatred was whipped up prior to and following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Such propaganda has served to legitimise violence and has socially sanctioned the shift from a hate campaign to a pogrom. The carnage in Gujarat has been characterised by the wide spectrum of people indulging in violence and looting. The ghastly acts were not only the handiwork of anonymous mobs or a trained militia, but also perpetrated by neighbours, and people known to the victims.

The Muslim community in some areas like Fatehganj in Baroda is distraught that it is their Hindu neighbours and friends who suddenly showed their ugly face full of hatred and hostility. This area which had been a haven of communal harmony for decades, has now got divided severely along communal lines. Noor Banu's family is settled in Fatehganj since the 1820s. The family filed an FIR immediately after their house was looted and destroyed, but did not mention any names because of fear of retaliation. "We have to live here, how can we name them though we know each one of them and saw it happen in front of our own eyes? They were armed with talwaars and other weapons. They all are people we have known for years. If today we are told there is another country, we are ready to go,” she says.

For women, there has been a deep loss of community feeling and a sense of betrayal by their neighbours and friends. Although some positive stories have also come to light, like those of Hindus helping their Muslim neighbours, the overwhelming feeling is one of shock, distrust and suspicion. Many women we spoke to felt they would never be able to go back - they could never again live in a mixed neighbourhood. The hate-graffiti on the walls of their ruined houses has further deterred the displaced from returning home.

Many of the lakh or so living in the relief camps, while deploring the lack of facilities, feel it is safer to stay there than returning to hostile villages where they are in a minority. "We all want to stay together, - is the common sentiment.

NOT A RIOT. BUT SYSTEMATIC ETHNIC CLEANSING

Survivors we spoke to ·in Baroda and Ahmedabad, and those who had fled from villages in the Panchmahals and were living in relief camps, testified to the methodical build up of the anti-Muslim campaign. Over several months, homes and shops of Muslims were· identified in various ways - on the pretext of conducting surveys, market research, checking voters lists or revenue surveys in villages. For instance, Salma Begum from Varsa Road. Baroda, who used to run a small business of samosas, chai and bhajiyas, describing the build up said, "On 21st February itself, there was a huge local meeting of Bajrang Dal, after which there were strong rumours that 'something is going to happen'." And then Salma narrated how some of the local Bajrang Dal members had come 2 days before the Godhra incident and stuck photos of Hanuman on the houses of Hindus. to identify the 'right' and 'wrong' houses. Similarly. houses with a saffron flag (distributed about 2 weeks before the Godhra incident) were also spared. Almost two months before the Godhra incidents, nightly meetings to build up anti-Muslim sentiments amongst the adivasis were held by the Bajrang Dal cadres in villages in Panvad (Baroda District). In retrospect, this makes it more than clear that the carnage in Gujarat was pre-meditated, and that if the Godhra incident hadn't happened, something else would have proved to be the flashpoint.

The fact that many Muslim shops without obvious. Muslim names and commercial establishments with Muslim sleeping partners were also destroyed and burnt indicates that leaders of the mobs had access to official information like records from tax and excise departments - again confirming the complicity of the administration in the attacks. Fact finding reports also suggest that prior planning for a communal attack was made months in advance. Weapons like talwaars and trishuls were distributed on a large scale in the cities and villages. According to reports, since mid-February, LPG cylinders were in short supply in Ahmedabad. Consumers had to queue up for them ­ so, how did the mobs have access to so many cylinders to blow up homes, shops, Masjids and dargahs? Similarly, the transportation of these heavy cylinders by tempos to ·various places also indicates meticulous arrangements. Petrol and other inflammable material was also stocked up in cans and drums in readiness for the attack.

[March 6

Peace Rally in Washington D.C.

A candlelight vigil along with a peace rally was organized by several individuals and organizations in front of the Indian Embassy. A memorandum was faxed to the President, Prime Minster and Home Minister of India, and Justice J.S. Verma (Chairperson NHRC), S.S. Bhandari (Governor of Gujarat), and to the media, There were close 'to a 100 peace marchers with placards displaying signs stating “Fanaticism kills People", "Religion and Politics Don't Mix", "Communalism is Dangerous for India".

March 6

March against Gujarat Mayhem, Chandigarh

Over 300 people including members of various NGOs of Punjab and Chandigarh took out a candlelight protest march. They later observed a two-minute silence to pay respect to those killed in the carnage.

March 8

International Women's Day, Delhi

Women's groups organised a rally to register protest against the ongoing violence in Gujarat and the prevailing tension all over India. Many writers, artists, academicians and other concerned persons also joined in.]

MEANS OF LlVELIHOOD ATTACKED

The pre-meditated and orchestrated destruction of the economic base of the Muslim community in the state has resulted in financial losses running in crores. People's means of livelihood have been targeted very systematically - from burning of factories and business establishments to destroying hundreds of paan-beedi shops and handcarts of working class Muslims. Truck owners have been destituted with the

large scale burning of trucks. In the conflict-ridden areas of Baroda, the mobs have not left any small shop or tempo or rickshaw untouched. What could not be looted and carried away has been destroyed or reduced to ashes. Those selling tea. paan­beedi, snacks, vegetables, bangles or petty items have no due how to resume life without their basic infrastructure. The paltry compensation proposed or even handed out by the government of Gujarat is hardly sufficient for anyone to start afresh. Muslim grocers in Hindu owned shops had their goods destroyed while Muslim owned shops run by Hindus had the goods removed to safety and the shops burned. Laundries and tailoring shops have been methodically destroyed and burnt. The mobs also did not spare the livestock and poultry of those in the dairy and poultry business. Even animals were assigned a religion, and cattle, goats and poultry belong to Muslims, were targeted and mutilated on a massive scale. The systematic and specific choice of targets makes it evident that each and every Muslim family, however poor, had been identified well in advance.

We met several women domestic workers who were unable to get back to work. A large number of factory workers in Pratapnagar in Baroda upon returning to work after March 1st were asked turned away. In addition, they were denied their wages for February. Those who have not lost their lives or belongings are also desperate because of the continuous or even intermittent curfew has paralysed life, without any hope of being- able to earn or retain their small jobs. These include rickshaw and tempo wallahs, welders, mechanics, cooks, vendors, grocers, sweepers, etc. Most daily wage earners were too stunned to respond. They are also well aware of the renewed hostility they will encounter.

LOCAL MEDIA - STOKING THE FLAMES

While the national press has played an overall responsible role and highlighted the political-administrative-police connivance in the carnage, the local Gujarati press has played a major inflammatory role in the virulent anti-Muslim campaign. From provocative headlines, legitimising rumours and reinforcing stereotypes, the local media was an active participant in the violence with the state media and local cable channels working in conjunction with the prejudiced and communal state government of Gujarat.

On 27th February itself, the time of arrival of the bodies of the victims of Godhra carnage was broadcast on radio, ensuring that a huge crowd gathered first at Baroda and then at Ahmedabad, with their passions running high. Local TV channels also beamed images of the bodies, thus whipping up public anger. Similarly, Sandesh's unsubstantiated rumour has already been mentioned above. Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar also carried stories questioning the loyalty of the Muslim population, implying ‘terrorist' links with the lSI and other militant outfits outside the country. Unverified 'news' items about Muslims slaughtering cows (in one instance in Baroda, the calf was stillborn) only served to increase the tension between the communities.

Yet the state government banned local TV channels and a national channel that had exposed the true nature of the attacks and the government's role, but it took no action against newspapers like Sandesh.

10 year old Noorjehan from Visnagar, her head hardly visible above the table, narrates her story in clear tones: "The tola (mob) came and burnt everything. They put mirch powder in me fire. The fumes of the chilli were unbearable. They caught my father, hacked him, then caught my sister and cut her up too. And on and on they did this to everyone. Then they sprinkled petrol and burnt everyone. Her brother Arif, a year older, recounts the horror in an equally steady voice. These children have no tears left. The relief camp is their home and the other inmates their new family.

Says Noor Banu of Fatehganj (Baroda), "We work all day and sit on vigils all night. The children sit terrified all day long. We ask them not to put on the TV/radio in case someone thinks we are making unnecessary noise. How long can we continue like this? We wanted to send the children to the best of schools. Today we feel it is enough if we simply manage to live. We cannot hope to dream or plan any more".

Asha Maayuri Sheikh has three daughters and is most uncertain of thinking in terms of even the immediate future. Her head continues to hurt because of me tension she is faced with. She wonders whether suicide is not better than dying bit by bit each day like this. Her husband is a Iaariwala (hawker). She had left her job in a plastic factory years earlier when in the midst of similar communal violence she cut her hand badly. Her youngest child Seema, who is barely 4 years old, keeps asking for her school bag that got burnt along with the house.

Says Mehmooda behn from Gotri. "After this attack, what hope do we have of a normal life? None of us sleep at night. We are too tense.,wondering what will happen next. The kids wail and cry all night, and ask, 'Ammi. woh hamko maar dalengey kya?' (Ammi, will they kill us?) The kids are all traumatised. There are about 200 kids in the camp. The older ones (above 10 yrs or so) gather stones in a pile to hit back if we are attacked. Is this what children should be doing? But who are we to stop them? They have seen so many people being killed."

Children have been eyewitnesses to unimaginably gruesome acts - mutilation, butchering, gang-rape and sexual humiliation of their parents, sisters, brothers and friends. The impact on them is frightening. To imagine what the next generation would be like - Hindus brought up on a diet of macabre tales of violence and machismo, and Muslim children whose families have been subjected to unspeakable horrors is very frightening. What does the future hold for them? And the world, peopled with blood-thirsty souls on the one hand and terrorised souls on the other?

HINDUISATION OF RURAL GUJARAT

The last few months has witnessed a growing schism between communities in Gujarat. This polarisation has taken place in rural areas too. Testimonies of survivors indicate that the attacks, were to a large extent, premeditated. Hindu houses were identified by photos of Hanuman and Ram. As well as saffron flags, distributed in the early part of the year. Muslim houses were then selectively destroyed once violence broke out all over the state.

In Panvat village in Baroda District, the women reported that 4 trucks and jeeps were burnt down, and there was a threat to Kanvat too. The Muslim families, who were feeling very insecure, decided not to stay on: So, on 12th March, 15 vehicles {tempos and trucks) escorted by one police van in the front and one at the back, reached Bodeli. "We thought we had reached safety, But the Hindu 'public' in Bodeli urged the Bodeli DSP not to allow us to stay there. So we came to Baroda - to the camp on 13th March," narrates Mehrunissa (Chistiya Masjid Camp. Tandalja). Apparently the DSP told the Muslim community that he could not protect them. According to Mehrunissa there were 4000 adivasis armed with talwaars, dhariyas (axes) bows and arrows Upped with cloth dipped in petrol. The adivasis were apparently given money (about Rs. 1,000- 1,200) to attack the Muslims. The Hindus here didn't do anything, according to Mehrunissa.

About rebuilding their lives, Saira says, "People tell us not to go back. The Hindus say, "In log ka maal milo, lekin jaan nahi mila”- i.e "we got these peoples' possessions, but not their lives." Now, we don't have the courage" to go back. In any case, the Muslims' houses there were dispersed - one in 80-90 Hindu houses. We don't feel safe. We must only stay with each other if we want to save our lives."

In rural and in urban areas, the state has failed to provide any security to the survivor of the carnage. In such a situation, they have been compelled to seek shelter and protection only from members of their own community, and groups and NGOs working in the relief camps. Combined with their sense of insecurity, and their desire to seek safety in numbers, the Gujarat carnage will inevitably lead to widespread ghettoisation of communities, which a matter of grave concern.

[March 8

Protest March on Women's Day, Mumbai

Different social groups and political parties organized a Silent March to the Governor's residence to submit a memorandum demanding the dismissal of the Gujarat government.

April 1

Pilgrimage for Peace in Gujarat

To spread the message of tolerance and to provide a healing touch to those affected by the communal

Violence in Gujarat, nearly 70 religious leaders, noted Gandhians and social activists embarked on a

four-day multi religious "Pilgrimage of Compassion" to cover the riot torn areas of Gujarat

April 9

Music For Peace and Harmony in Gujarat

A programme held in Ahmedabad with the participation of leading artists of the city

18 April

Marches for Gujarat in Kolkata

Sampradayikta Birodhi Gujarat Sanhati Samity organized a march which consisted of approximately 500 people, including writers, journalists, singers, academicians, activists and theatre and film people. The group stopped at markets, crossings and street corners to talk to the local people and collect funds for relief from passers-by and shops.]

[INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS « SOME VOCAL, SOME SILENT

While countries like USA, swift to react on ‘Issues’ like recurring Indo-Pak: tensions, Kashmir and attacks on army camps and diplomatic missions, have merely ‘regretted the violence’, some other governments have been much more vocal about their concerns.

Switzerland

Visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss expressed concern to Vajpayee, Advani and Jaswant Singh about the tragic events in Gujarat. He also dropped plans to visit the Swiss aid projects in Gujarat, for fear that it would be used to legitimise the Gujarat government.

European Union

The European Union (EU) has said that “the carnage in Gujarat was a kind of apartheid… and has parallels with Germany of the 1930s.” The declaration carries 15 signatures, including those of the ambassador; of Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Belgium. It has hem written on the basis of reports from the EU's own fact-finding team, apart from the reports submitted by government and quasi-government bodies, the National Human Rights Commission, media reports and other sources. The EU report concludes that Godhra served as a pretext for triggering the violence that followed in the State: the post-Godhra violence was pre-planned and the pattern suggests that the attempt was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas; the Chief Minister instructed senior police officers not to intervene in the rioting; the state and Central governments failed to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the victims; and the Prime Minister visited Gujarat only on April 4. The declaration observes that the violence was led by the VHP and other extremist Hindu groups, that relief efforts for the riot victims were slow and that the state government‘s compensation programme was discriminatory. lt also expresses great concern about the violence, voices pain over the number of lives lost, expresses regret that acts of violence are still occurring and encourages the Government of India to meet the immediate humanitarian needs arising from the violence as quickly as possible.

The Spanish Ambassador to India Alberto Escudero, whose country currently holds the presidency of the European Union, characterised Gujarat as a ‘state going berserk’.

At the EU Parliament, the joint Motion for a resolution on India on 16.05.2002 says: Following the recent outbreak of violence in the lndian state of Gujarat, leading to the loss of more than 900 lives. MEPs adopted a resolution strongly condemning all sectarian violence in India which followed the burning to death of 58 Hindus on a train earlier in die year. There is a call on the Indian government and the State government of Gujarat to continue investigations into the killings with a view to bringing those responsible to justice. The Commission and Council are requested to support the lndian government with relief programmes to the area.

British High Commission

British officials in lndia say the recent widespread violence in the state of Gujarat was pre-planned and carried out with the support of the state government. The EHC Report (prepared after an investigation into the Gujarat violence by British officials in indie) says that the violence had all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing and says that aims: 2000 people were killed in the aim to purge Muslims from Hindu areas. The report says the violence, far from being spontaneous, was planned, possibly months in advance, and carried out by an extremist Hindu organisation.

Finland

Erkki Tuomioja, Foreign Minister of Finland said “What happened in Gujarat is of great concern for us. It was mentioned in the Luxembourg meeting of the EU. The pictures of the carnage are very disturbing”.

Germany

Says attacks on Muslims were surgical strikes, with rioters targeting minority-run establishments.

Holland

Feels the state police were instructed to look the other way or were partisan. Relief was late and inadequate.]

SAFFRONISING THE SISTERHOOD

Women of all religions are the most vulnerable to religious fundamentalism - whether in the shape of widow immolation in the name of ‘sati’, or being denied rights to inheritance, child custody and divorce through discriminatory religious laws or the Talibanesque diktats to Muslim women to wear burqas. However, as feminists, we continue to grapple with an equally disquieting reality that women too were responsible for the violence in Guiarat - part of mobs that killed, raped, looted and burnt down Muslim houses, vehicles and shops. This is not the first time either. For over a decade now, even during the Roop Kanwar case of ‘Sati', we have had to confront the reality that women often support ‘anti-women' religious and fundamentalist beliefs that Oppress and control them. In the case of the Gujarat carnage, even tribals and other oppressed groups joined in the killing spree. The poison has spread deep within the fabric of society, seeped into the mind of an increasingly-large section of Hindu men, women and children.

Demonising the ‘other' need have no basis in rationality as we found. We met Hindu women who had a very real fear of being overrun by Muslims and bizarre stories of large stores of weapons stacked in Muslim homes abounded. These women had accepted in toto the notion that minorities were hogging more than their share of the pie. Myths about polygamy (though statistics show that more Hindu men are bigamous), family size (again, facts show that Muslim families are no larger than Hindu ones) are used to create a paranoia about the country’s population being ‘taken' over. Muslim fundamentalist leaders who have contributed to building an image of the ‘marauding, aggressive Muslim' aid these images in no small measure. In the mind of the Hindu woman, images of sexual violence predominate and are transmitted to their daughters magnified hundredfold. Women’s very real experiences of violence are patterned along communal lines, where religious identity overshadows their experience of being women in a male-dominated world.

The shift from hating Muslims to condoning their killing, encouraging it, and even taking active part in it, has been taking place with increasing ease and social sanction. Far from a moral condemnation of the violence that has been unleashed, women are reportedly sending bangles - a sign of diminished manhood - to RSS shakhas in places where the devastation has not been so ferocious. Eliminating Muslims and brutalising women is equated with machismo and patriotic duty. Women have also gheraoed police stations when any of the Bajrang Dal ‘boys’ are picked up, shouting slogans and agitating for their release.

While this participation in the violence cannot be condoned, the women’s movement must analyse the reasons for this comunalisation. ln the case of Gujarat as in lndia of the 1990s, women have been successfully mobilised by the Shiv Sena, Durga Vahini, the RSS and other Hindu fundamentalist organisations. The leadership continues to be male and women are used only as a medium to transmit messages of malevolence. Women’s ability to network, make links and communicate at intimate levels has been harnessed for the hate campaign against minorities. The imagery of Kali, Durga and Bharat Mata, valiant historical figures all allow women to become avenging angels in times of crisis. When these moments ebb away, they are expected to return to the mode of nurturing mothers and obedient wives.

[April 26-27

Public Hearing of Survivors in Delhi

Communalism Combat and SAHMAT organised a Public: Hearing of the Gujarat genocide survivors for the media, concerned citizens, and political leaders. From amongst over one lakh victims of the communal carnage living in relief camps in Gujarat at that time. Around 40 reached Delhi to narrate their harrowing experiences.

Other events in Mumbai

Mumbaikars from diverse walks of life gathered at the lndian Merchants Chamber (lMC) to brainstorm on ways to help the victims of the Violence. Rallies at Shivaji Park and Chowpatty were organised, which were addressed by religious leaders of all communities.

EXHIBITION ON THE IMPACT OF THE GUJARAT GENOCIDE ON CHILDREN

In order to try and highlight how deeply the widespread violence in Gujarat has affected children. An exhibition was put together by members of Saheli and Aman Ekta Manch in time for the United Nations

Special Session On Children, held in New York on 8-9 May, 2002. It highlights the various kinds of physical, mental and social trauma that Muslim children of Gujarat have been subjected to themselves, the violence they have witnessed on family and friends, and tries to communicate the complete destruction of their lives. The attire exhibition is available as a series of Microsoft Word files or 20 A4-sized print outs. Contact us for details.]

This high visibility of Hindu women in the frontlines and the support it drew for the pogrom has posed a challenge to the simplistic ‘natural' association of women with ‘peace’. The increasing communalisation of women in the face of growing right wing ascendancy undermines the women's movement’s aspirations for the liberation of women from the patriarchal control wielded by the structures of caste and religion. It highlights the dire need to make our work more widespread and reach out to all levels of society. That the Hindutva agenda has most disturbingly channelised the participation of women, adivasis and dalits against Muslims is a challenge to all of us to strengthen our work in fundamental ways.

Like all systems of inequality and subordination, patriarchy operates and is sustained through domination or threat of coercive violence and by extracting a wide consensus from many areas of social life. The internalisation of ideological domination and the varying degrees of consent obtained from women cannot be simply dismissed as ‘false consciousness. The structures of caste, class, religious divisions, cultural practices and other political processes impinge crucially upon patriarchy. While the women’s movement has grappled to some extent with the interface between the structures of caste and class with gender, religion is an area that needs to be analysed with renewed vigour.

It is also important to recognise that the majority of women have very few options in terms of livelihoods or control over material resources. Neither the State nor civil society institutions have provided sustainable and tenable support structures. In this context, it is not surprising that women turn to religion and community, despite the hazards they hold. Even liberal elements who earlier did not define themselves in the framework of their religion, are now being pushed to identify with an institutionalised form of religion they may not be totally comfortable with. The communalisation of the polity and the disappearance of a liberal, democratic space has in some ways stultified even the secular discourse, invalidating the complexities and making it less nuanced.

At this point oi crisis, it is crucial to examine whether the notion of an identity ‘as women’ and solidarity among women is tenable. It is necessary to articulate ways in which the assertion of a gender identity is possible in the face of the militant assertion of a religious/communal identity. Making inroads into the communal psyche and re-orienting the discourse where it belongs - to an assertion of women's rights in the family, community and polity is an uphill task in times oi increasing polarisation, growing ethnic and communal divides. And the ascendancy of the right-wing in the global arena. Re-claiming the shrinking liberal space is a challenge for democratic forces - a challenge that has to be faced by all of us NOW.

This account is based on:

I. Saheli visit to Baroda from March 22-27th: with Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai and Awaaz-e-Niswan Mumbai, in partnership with Sahiyar, Baroda. The report of this team was incorporated in the PUCL(Baroda)-Shanti Abhiyan report as a chapter called Women’s Perspectives.

2. ‘Gujarat Carnage 2002 - A Report to the Nation’ by an Independent Fact Finding Mission from

New Delhi. Released on IO April.

3. ‘How Has the Gujarat Massacre Affected Minority Women? The Survivors Speak' - Fact-finding by a 6 Member Women’s Panel sponsored by Citizen’s initiative.

4. ‘Gujarat Genocide-2002 : Testimony of Survivors’