The fleeing of lakhs of Muslims from their homes in Gujarat during the 2002 violence and their subsequent relocation in “resettlement colonies” or in places of Muslim concentration has been termed migration by the state and displacement by human rights organisations. This article revisits the events of that year to examine the displacement/migration question. Taking a cue from Hannah Arendt it argues that displacement raises the larger question of guaranteeing the rights of minorities against majoritarian impulses and examines the proposed Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011 in this light.

“Things have returned to normal in Gujarat for everyone save some sections of the media, academicians and activists who keep recalling it”, asserts the state’s spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This is so, according to him, because, “it (accounts of the 2002 violence) makes good copy”.1 Increasingly, voices in mainstream media, some Muslim businessmen and even the head of a leading Islamic seminary have urged Muslims2 to move on from the violence that rocked the state in 2002 when more than a thousand Muslims lost their lives, and to participate in the economic progress facilitated by the administration of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

In the tribal-dominated district of Panchmahal where at least three incidents of mass murders took place in Pandharwada, Kidiad and Dailol in addition to arson, looting and stabbings an ageing Muslim farmer now goes to his field everyday like he always did in his village that was also affected during the violence in 2002. He however balks at the suggestion of staying the night in his now destroyed and burnt house in the village. He would rather commute daily to his field from the relief colony built near a Muslim seminary in the nearby town of Lunawada. More than seven years after the violence, he cannot think of staying the night in his village because, as he says with fear in his eyes, dar lagta hai na ben (I get frightened, sister).3 The existence of relief colonies in the periphery of cities, towns and villages and the fear that one sometimes encounters among Muslims in quotidian situations are the only reminders of the violence that rocked the state in 2002 that is otherwise lauded by itself and others for its economic progress as one of the fastest developing states of India.

The BJP-led state government also holds that those who live in relief colonies that house victims of the violence do so of their own volition.4 The Modi government also appointed a commission in 2009 to inquire into changes in the demographic pattern of Gujarat since independence from the colonial rule to identify reasons behind the “polarisation” and “migration” of population to counter unscientific conclusions made by the media.5 While acknowledging the fact that after the violence many Muslims have had to move out of their previous places of residence, the BJP spokesperson contended that this was nothing new but a part of the migration that has always happened within cities. Vaniyas for instance, he points out, moved away from Jamalpur in eastern Ahmedabad because of the influx of Muslims and frequent disturbances in the area.6 This article thus seeks to examine the question of whether the population movement of Muslims was displacement or migration.

I have used ethnographic data based on interviews with displaced persons, academicians, journalists, non-governmental organisation (NGO) functionaries and state functionaries; newspaper reports; court cases and the significant body of independent and media reportage that the events of Gujarat in 2002 generated.

Routine Displacement

The BJP spokesperson’s contention of forced migration having happened before is not without basis. Interviews with some citizens of Ahmedabad who have witnessed several incidents of communal and caste violence such as those in 1969, 1974, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1992 and 2002 revealed that not just large-scale communal violence but the forced migration that it induces have precedents in Gujarat. Noorjahan Kalumiyan Sheikh lived till 2002 in Asarwa Kadiye ki Chali in Chamanpura, a working class neighbourhood in Ahmedabad where dalits and Muslims lived side by side and where she paid a minuscule amount of rent under the old tenancy laws. She says that the atmosphere in 1969 was as tense as in 2002. According to her account, during the 1969 riots 20 to 25 Muslims were set on fire alive and women were raped in the house next door where a family of Pathans used to live. Noorjahan’s family returned after two to three years but hers was the only Muslim family to do so. According to her they could continue to live there because they lived just like Hindus. Humara vyayhaar apne Hindu jaise hi tha rehne pehanne mein (our behaviour and attire was like that of the Hindus).7 After the riots in 1969 some Muslims moved out of the places that were the sites of violence (Shani 2007: 124). The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation had at that time allotted temporary accommodation in plots to the mainly Muslim riot victims rendered homeless in Bapunagar, a working class area in the eastern industrial belt which was then a mixed residential area where both Hindus and Muslims lived (ibid: 123).

However, in 1985 when the riots broke out against reservation and finally took a communal turn, Bapunagar became the site of pitched battles. Some Muslims there were rendered homeless again and had to take shelter in camps. The 1985 riot partitioned Bapunagar into distinct Hindu and Muslim areas with a “border” in between. During that time of vulnerability especially for women who are not only targeted during communal violence but also perceived as bearers of culture by their own community, mass marriages were conducted in the camp itself for unmarried girls. Heeding the advice of people who cautioned her mother, “Where will you go taking your four daughters?” Shehnajbano Aslam Ali Sheikh and her sister got married in Aman Chowk camp where they were taking shelter. She recalls that then, as in 2002, mobs had used gas cylinders to blow up walls of houses and that a girl in her neighbourhood had been raped. She managed to survive at that time by fleeing her house barefoot and with nothing except for the clothes she was wearing. “The people in the mohalla (neighbourhood) saamna kiya (faced them) but they were with tear gas, policewale were supporting them then what can we do”. After staying for about a year in the camp even after it had closed down, they eventually did return to their house in Bapunagar which had burned to the ground in 1987. “We used to get scared”, she says, “but theneveryone got together, the Muslims. For how long will we stay on rent, they wanted to know and went to their own houses”.8

During the 1990s, when Advani’s rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya sparked violent riots in various places, middle class Muslim houses were targeted by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) (Shani 2007: 175). A Muslim lecturer in one of the prominent colleges in Ahmedabad recollected how after they found a note stuck on the door which said “Muslims, leave this place” (amaro vistar chodine do) she and her brother had to leave their house and stay
with friends and relatives for a few days in 1990 during the rath yatra. Their parents stayed back in their home. In two days even her parents moved out of their house in an up-market locality. Their decision proved timely as their house was eventually burned and their possessions looted. When they returned after a few days they were shocked to find some of their possessions in their neighbour’s houses. For this family of lecturers and NGO practitioners that had until then chosen not to live in overcrowded areas of concentration of their own community but among their associates in the more serviced part of the city, the attack on their home in 1990 deeply etched their distinctness as minorities and created
fear. After the attack they had to move out and stay in a rented accommodation before finally moving out of the area.9

Although pockets of Muslim concentration always existed, as did those of other castes and religions, especially in Ahmedabad, with each passing riot more and more Muslims moved to places of Muslim concentration in search of more security. The state’s response was at best only for those obtrusively displaced and rendered destitute in rahat chavni camps and that too with “assistance” or rahat (“relief”) whose intended purpose was as its name indicates to only provide some relief for those dispossessed and displaced but not to compensate for the loss of house, belongings and even livelihood. Another measure by the state for the growing segregation of living spaces into Hindu and Muslim localities was to prohibit the sale of property between Hindus and Muslims through the Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provisions for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, 1986. The Act however was a belated response to processes that had already taken place and did little to change the reality especially in communally-sensitive areas in the old city and working class areas of Ahmedabad where the frequency of communal violence had almost become commonplace.

2002 – Most Unusual ‘Dhamaal’

Despite its history of communal violence, according to many, the year 2002 witnessed the most unusual dhamaal (riot). Even having lived in a communally-sensitive area like Dariyapur for several years before moving to Naroda Patiya, Abdul Majid Abdul Salaam will not brook any comparison between what happened in 2002, and the small riots that break out every now and then in parts of the old city and working class neighbourhood localities, “Don’t bring the name of Dariyapur in this at all…This thing that happened, in Patiya where I stayed for seven-eight years…. such a riot has happened, and A lah knows, talking much about it is not a good thing…all wrong things happened.”10 Residents who live cheek by jowl in overcrowded parts of old city areas of Ahmedabad and Baroda attest to the fact that “these little things keep on happening, it is nothing much. People who u derstand don’t do it; people who don’t understand do it” (ibid). Even in the communally-sensitive town of Godhra where riots happen every now and then, a businessman who suffered major losses said, “Now in every hour, two hours it happens, (riots) but a dhamaal like this we have never seen”.11

Unless one is in the line of fire, there was no need to move residence. Zakia, a prominent NGO practitioner from Ahmedabad who eventually migrated to New Delhi after the 2002 violence recalls that her father had tried to give her and her siblings a cosmopolitan upbringing by moving to better and more serviced parts of the city as his earning ability improved. It was different for her grandmother who lived in Kalupur. Moving back into her house after it had been ransacked more than twice due to communal riots was a part of life that she did not imagine there would be an alternative to. Her grandmother lived on the border in Kalupur and so her house was burned down and looted whenever there was a major communal conflagration in the area. After the violence in 1969, she kept her valuables packed and ready in potlis (sacks made by tying together the ends of a large piece of cloth) to move when needed.12 “Earlier they used to only burn Muslim shops”, says Imtiaz Pathan’s mother who has seen rioting on more than one occasion around Gulbarg Society. It was the site of a major carnage in 2002 where 69 people lost their lives and where she sustained major burns and injuries herself and lost her husband along with 10 members of her family.13

A Muslim journalist explained, “Earlier, we would hear that a riot has taken place in one place but we were still eating and doing our thing at our own houses. Even if there was a riot in one place you could run out of some galli (lane) and escape to another but 2002 was different.”14 Even Sarfarazbhai Munshi a rickshaw driver who lived in Chamanpura, Ahmedabad and has witnessed at least two to three riots echoes what seems to be a common refrain about 2002, Aisa toofan humne kabhi nahi dekha (We have never seen a storm like this).15

Scale of Violence

The fire in a train compartment where 59 kar sevaks died on 27 February 2002 in the Muslim-dominated town of Godhra produced violent communal clashes from 27 February and mid-June 2002. It affected 15 to 16 districts and was most intense in the districts of Ahmedabad, Anand, Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Panchmahal, Vadodara, Bharuch and Dahod. For at least 15 days though it seemed endless to the victims, mobs armed with swords, trishuls (a spear forked at the blade into three parts, also a trident associated with god Shiva) and agricultural implements roamed the streets of Gujarat with impunity16 causing by conservative official estimates 1,169 deaths and injuring 2,50017 of which a majority were Muslim and an estimated 254 Hindus.

To this was added the figure of 223 missing persons who were not found for seven years and therefore declared dead. The violence had left an e timated 2,548 injured, 919 women widowed and 606 children orphaned. Unofficial figures however place the death toll much higher and
not less than 2,000.18 According to one estimate, at the very least, 300-400 women were victims of sexual violence during the 2002 carnage.19

Displacement or Migration?

By 27 March 2002 nearly 1,00,000 persons were compelled to seek refuge among relatives or friends in “safe” areas of Muslim concentration or in 101 relief camps. Two weeks later the number went up to 1,50,000 in 104 relief camps20 set up entirely by the members of their own community with some aid from NGOs. The government aid started coming in a week later. Most such camps went on for up to five months, only a few up to a year in Ahmedabad while one went on for up to three years.21 In Ahmedabad, at the end of March in 2002 itself, after a few days of no untoward incidents being reported and some signs of the return of “normalcy”, some among the displaced from camps in Ahmedabad did go to check on their shops. When an angry mob surrounded them, they had to run for their lives again.22 In parts of Sabarkantha and Vadodara, the administration took some initiatives to help Muslims return because of which some of them could do so.23 However after a lull, violence broke out again in parts of Ahmedabad from 21 April and went on till the end of the month. Parts of Vadodara, Kheda, Kaira and Mehsana districts also saw violence. Fresh violence pushed at least 4,700 people back to the camps.24

The administration was eager for people in camps to go back to their homes and camp leaders even tried to help some of those who were displaced to r turn to their homes. However, they r turned every time in greater numbers either due to fresh violence or rumours.25 In Sabarkantha district according to one estimate 24,000 Muslim villagers from 207 villages who fled because of arson and attack refused to return home. While the poor lived in 10 registered camps and to her unregistered ones, those who could afford it lived with their relatives in six villages or on rent in the periphery of towns with sizeable Muslim population such as Modassa, Idar and Himmatnagar. Even in early May parts of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Jamnagar, Ankleshwar and Viramgam saw incidents of communal violence. Thus despite a great scaling down of violence and the stifling heat in summers, by May there were still 50-odd camps in Ahmedabad alone and a large number of the displaced continued to stay in them. Many of these had only a tent for a shade.26

By May end when the government wanted to close down the camps, out of the approximately 70,000 displaced in camps, a reported 101 families of 14,000 people had left. This means that 20% had returned home, out of which some returned to the camps when violence broke out in their locality.27

In the same month the camps that were getting ration supplies from the government received inadequate supplies or none at all. Although in some camps, due to aid from NGOs, camp organisers could continue to keep them afloat, by the end of June according to official estimates “80% inmates” had left the camps and “some 15,433 inmates remained in 15 camps” mostly in Ahmedabad (Government of Gujarat reply to the proceedings of NHRC of 31 May: 17). However, independent reportage held that there were 27 camps in Ahmedabad in June.28

“Tamam buraiyan (major sins) had broken out in the camp”,29 says a leader of one of the Muslim relief organisations, riled at the fact that strict social norms of propriety and boundaries were a far cry in the jostle for space and in the urgency of meeting basic needs for the survival of thousands of people dispossessed by the violence in camps. This is why, besides obvious humanitarian reasons, organisations like his were eager to try out various solutions to enable those displaced to leave the camps. However many in camps could only see a chance of getting on with their lives if they settled in areas of Muslim concentration. Even after incidents of violence had ebbed by June, there was widespread fear among the Muslim community and a continuing anger against them for the burning of the coach of Sabarmati Express.

For many of those who had fled in the wake of the violence what was once their home had now become an unsafe, marked place that had not only been destroyed and had to be rebuilt but whose vulnerability to danger continued to exist. Before accepting assistance for rebuilding their houses if it came their way either through the government, faith-based organisations or NGOs, a predicament that had to be resolved was whether they would return to their mool vatan (original place of residence) at all. Returning home, for a large number of those displaced would be like r turning to the site or the theatre of violence when at one time, all existing and known mechanisms of assistance and protection failed to deliver. Although that moment of violence seemed to have passed, the actors and the site remained the same. The situation seemed even more intractable for the women who had been sexually assaulted or who had witnessed family members or friends being sexually assaulted. In most cases they continued to remain in relief camps till relief colonies were built for them by Muslim organisations.

In fact during the time of the violence itself, areas of Muslim concentration on the periphery of cities and towns especially in north and central Gujarat, such as Bombay Hotel and Juhapura in Ahmedabad, Tandalja in Vadodara, 100 Feet Road and Ismail Nagar in Anand were in high demand for Muslims who were looking for a safe place to move to. This of course led to the shooting up of real estate prices in these places. It also led to a lot of illegal development. Builders offered plots of land in instalments, that in many cases they did not have papers for, so that people could begin to live there by paying Rs 500 or more a month. Some among those in camps, however, could not even afford that and in a bid to resolve the situation as quickly as possible, in May,30 NGOs among the Muslim community began to look for land to construct colonies of very basic houses. These were to be in places of Muslim concentration in the periphery of the cities and villages and where land was cheaply available. The goal was to give those who had fled their homes a roof over their head as soon as possible. Most of these houses constructed in relief colonies without proper sanitation and other basic facilities turned out to be little more than a roof over the head.

This forced migration however did not receive any significant official mention until acting on a complaint by the head of an NGO called Citizen’s Justice Initiative and Janvikas, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), visited 17 relief colonies in four districts in 2006. It recommended that displaced Muslims be given the status of Internally Displaced Persons and a fair monetary compensation (NCM 2006). The NCM even suggested that a r lief package be formulated on par with those affected by the 2001 earthquake in the state whichwas rejected by the state government.31 Pointing to the lack of basic amenities like potable water, sanitation, electricity or ration cards in the colonies and to the government’s responsibility to provide for these displaced, the NCM suggested that a larger policy should be formulated to address the plight of those displaced due to communal violence.32 It was only in response to the report of the NCM that five years after the violence the G jarat government conducted a survey to find initially 81 and subsequently 86 such relief colonies scattered in 11 districts.

‘Resettlement Colonies’

While the state government referred to these constructions as resettlement colonies, it argued that those who lived in these “resettlement colonies” did so voluntarily.33 It also questioned the legality of these constructions and whether they actually housed riot victims. The government’s argument, with respect to the lack of the availability of civic amenities was that it was commensurate to the areas in which they are located and not specific to the “resettlement colonies” (Government of Gujarat 2006). Importantly, the state government has avoided all mention of the term displacement, referring instead to call it migration.

The UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) describes IDPs as:
persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised state border.

The fact of being forced to flee is therefore a defining factor of IDPs. The element of coercion is tangible in what the violence left behind systematically attacked and targeted Muslim homes, relief camps that at one time sheltered more than one and a half lakh Muslims, increased movement to areas of Muslim concentration and the existence of relief colonies that continue to house those displaced by the violence. It is striking to note that not just in Gujarat, but in other parts of India, instances of displacement due to communal violence such as in the anti-Sikh riots (1984), Bhagalpur riots (1989), or the Bombay riots(1992-93) among others have occurred in the past. What is distinctive of the 2002 violence is that perhaps due to normative developments internationally, more than ever before rights language was used to articulate the plight of the displaced. Within 10 days after the violence broke out human rights activists from within and outside the state, at the national and international level, women’s groups, psychiatrists and journalists, political parties and even a delegation of parliamentarians sent independent fact-finding teams to a sess the situation. This resulted in a significant amount of media and independent reportage on the carnage. Not satisfied by the Gujarat government’s “perfunctory” report which asserted the restoration of normalcy while the commission continued to receive letters and complaints of human rights violations, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairperson led a team that visited Gujarat from 19-22 March 2002 to assess the situation. In its preliminary report it held that “most of all, the recent events have resulted in the violation of fundamental rights to life, liberty, equality and the dignity of citizens of India as guaranteed in the Constitution”.34

In May 2003, the NHRC took suo moto cognisance of inadequate rehabilitation of victims of violence and commissioned a preliminary study on the rehabilitation of victims based on the UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons. The status report was taken note of by a member of the Planning Commission annexed and quoted in affidavits filed before the Supreme Court in various matters pending before it related to the violence in 2002 in Gujarat.35 Since 2005 an NGO called Antarik Visthapit Hak Rakshak Samiti (Committee for the Protection of the Rights of I ternally Displaced Persons) along with other NGOs has also been organising and agitating for the rights of these people u ing UN Guiding Principles on IDPs.

While the category of IDPs articulates the rights of displaced persons, this UN coined category with its international lens (ostensibly to avoid roadblocks of national sovereignty in a world of sovereign nation states) emphasises humanitarian aspects of dealing with the issue of displacement. Liisa Malkki, among others, points out that the overtly humanitarian emphasis depoliticises the issue of displacement (Malkki 1995: 495-523). For Hannah Arendt, however, displacement was indicative of larger structural problems in the modern nation state. She described the displaced as “the most symptomatic group in contemporary politics” in the Europe of her times where despite the existence of constitutional structures millions of people from minority groups were displaced and genocide took place. The danger of constitutional structures becoming irrelevant in the face of the “will of the nation” is one that she saw inherent in the structure of the nation state from the very beginning. Importantly, she also asserted that history could very well repeat itself if people conclude “quite democratically –
namely by majority decision – that for humanity as a whole it would be better to liquidate certain parts thereof” (Arendt 1973: 275, 277, 299). Subsequently the refugee regime has sought to provide for the rights of those who:

owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a r sult of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear is unwilling to return to it (Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Geneva, 28 July 1951).36

Due to the post-war context in which the refugee regime developed the displacement of people across national boundaries as refugees received more analytical visibility than the displacement that occurs within nation states for similar reasons. At the heart of this is the larger issue of guaranteeing the availability of the most fundamental rights such as the right to life to minorities against majoritarian excesses.This especially requires consideration in the context of the Indian subcontinent where the frequency of communal violence has led to the development of the notion of communal violence as endemic to India (Brass 2003: 6).

The Communal Violence Bill

In the light of the developments in Gujarat, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre had highlighted the need for a comprehensive law to deal with communal violence. The bill was first introduced as the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005 and later rechristened the Communal Violence (Suppression) Act, 2005 and again as the Communal and Sectarian Violence Bill, 2010 to its latest avatar “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011”. It is an indication of the gradual weighing up of some of the larger issues that dealing with communal violence entails that has thus far been seen primarily as a law and order problem to the negligence of the e fects of communal violence that result in displacement and gross human rights violations.

Far from generating optimism academics, jurists and human rights activists decried the earlier version of the bill initially for its vague phraseology and the fact that it made it lawful for the state to take all necessary measures once an area is declared a communally disturbed area. As most of the provisions pertaining to pre-vention and control of communal violence already existed and did not prevent either the repeated occurrence of incidents of communal violence of human rights violations earlier, the purported intent of the bill to further empower officials in a riot situation met with much criticism. In its earlier version the bill actually strengthened the power of the State but did not establish a count bility of state actors who can play a crucial role in controlling communal violence.37

Since 2010 after the bill went to the National Advisory Council (NAC), due to concerns raised by civil society groups, its nomenclature was changed to Communal and Sectarian Violence Bill, 2010 to widen the scope. Although the NAC retained the structure of the earlier bill of creating new crimes and offences and creating accountability for public officials. Also, although due to the intervention of civil society groups and activists there was a shift from empowerment to accountability of officials, there was a need to develop the rights of victims of communal violence such as those of internally displaced persons with regard to relief, reparation, or habilitation and resettlement.

The revised version sought to increase accountability and address the rights of the displaced. It retained provisions for the setting up of special courts to try offences under this law and provided for mechanisms to deliver relief and rehabilitation for victims of violence. It also sets up guidelines for assessment of compensation for losses suffered by individuals including loss of life, home, belongings, loss of livelihood, assessing compensation for injuries, impact of sexual assault or abuse on women. There are other important highlights in the final version prepared by the NAC called “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice
and Reparations) Bill, 2011”. These are: the creation of a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation to take charge in the event of major communal violence; the creation of mechanisms to determine and disburse compensation and importantly the incorporation and reference to those displaced by communal violence. The provision enabling
the central government to take over the powers of the state government in a situation of major communal violence by the insertion of a clause empowering the central government to invoke Article 355 by declaring a particular instance of communal clash as “internal disturbance” was due to criticism from the BJP, Trinamool Congress and some state governments.

The draft bill has been expressly criticised for a number of provisions that could prove to be very problematic. Its definition of “communal and targeted violence” as an act that “destroys the secular fabric of the nation” has been found wanting. This definition is central to the bill, and all offences and rights of victims to justice and reparation would ensue only if the action warrants description as a communal and targeted violence as per this vague definition. It also empowers the proposed National Authority for Prevention of Communal Violence to enter any building or place for inquiry and investigation of subject matters under its concern and to even seize or make copies of such documents. The creation of a new bureaucratic set-up has rightly received much criticism. It has been criticised by the BJP for being anti-majority. Its emphasis on minority communities to the exclusion of majority communities has been rejected by people of other political persuasions as well. The term “group”, which, as per the draft proposes to cover “religious or linguistic minority” in any state does not include a member of the majority community and therefore according to the BJP, is problematic and must be deleted. The BJP’s principal criticism of the bill is that it privileges minorities and does not address situations when the minority community is an aggressor in a communal conflict. The NAC however argues that the provisions are informed by the understanding that while existing laws already provide for justice in case a person from a majority community is harmed, this bill’s intent is to ensure that minority communities get access to justice.

Although in the many riots since independence Muslim casualties have been many times more than the Hindu ones (Varshney 2011)38 other communities such as the Kashmiri Pandits or Kukis in the north-east have also been victims of discrimination and have had to flee their
homes due to conflict manifesting itself in violence. However, given the BJP’s condemnation of the bill being “anti-majority” and the misgivings of other state governments including the UPA ally Trinamool Congress, the bill which needs important amendments but offers a window of opportunity to address a long-standing question is unlikely to see the light of day soon.


Till today thousands of Muslim families that fled their homes in the wake of the violence in 2002 have not returned to their homes in urban and rural areas. They have tried to set up houses in places of Muslim concentration or have been given houses in relief colonies set up primarily by Muslim organisations. Whether this population movement was what human rights activists call displacement, or migration, as the Government of Gujarat claims it to be is best answered by a Muslim journalist whose family had to move out of their home of 17 years in Vadodara in the midst of the 2002 violence. “Just because we had the means” she said, “it doesn’t mean that we had a choice”.39 Displacement due to communal violence, however, is not without precedent in Gujarat and other parts of the country. While the category of IDPs has been aptly employed to articulate the plight of Muslims displaced by the violence, its overtly humanitarian emphasis can depoliticise the larger structural questions that the issue of displacement is tied to. These questions include the guarantee of basic rights of minorities against majoritarian displays of power. The proposed Communal Violence (Suppression) Act provides a window of opportunity, if availed, to strengthen India’s democracy.

This article has been excerpted from the author’s original research paper entitled ‘A ‘Normal’ Anomaly: Displacement due to Communal Violence in Gujarat’ published in Economic and Political Weekly in January 2012. It can be accessed here.

1 Interview with Yamal Vyas, BJP spokesperson for Gujarat, Ahmedabad, 10 February 2009.
2 Maulana Vastanvi’s comments as Vice Chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband’s created an uproar that forced him to step down, viewed on 28 March 2011 (
3 Interview with Mohammad (from Anjanwa village), Relief Colony in Lunawada, Panchmahal
district, 18 September 2008.
4 The Indian Express, 27 January 2007.
5 The Indian Express, 4 July 2009.
6 Interview with Yamal Vyas, op cit.
7 Interview with Noorjahan Kalumiyan Sheikh, Siddiqabad Relief Colony, Ahmedabad, 27 October 2008.
8 Interview with Shehnajbano Aslam Ali Sheikh, Arsh Relief Colony, Ahmedabad, 16 December
9 Interview with Zakia Jowher, Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, 4 April 2009.
10 Interview with Abdul Majid Abdul Salaam, Citizen Nagar, Relief Colony, 26 January 2009.
11 Interview with Nuruddinbhai, Vadodara, 24 February 2009.
12 Interview with Lecturer at College (identity withheld), 7 January 2009.
13 Interview with Imtiaz Khan Shahid Khan’s mother, Juhapura, 12 July 2008.
14 Interview with Ayesha Khan, Indian Express Office, Ahmedabad, 13 December 2008.
15 Interview with Sarfarazbhai Munshi, Siddiqabad Relief Colony, Juhapura, 30 November 2008.
16 “Crimes against Humanity: An Inquiry into the Carnage in Gujarat (2002)”, “Concerned Citizens Tribunal Report”, Vol 1 (Anil Dharker for Citizens for Justice and Peace), p 19.
17 Figure reported to the Rajya Sabha by the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Sriprakash Jaiswal in May 2005 in reponse to a question by an unnamed MP. The Indian Express, 3 September 2007 and (viewed on 11 May 2005).
18 Human Rights Watch, “We Have No Orders to Save You”, State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat, April 2002, Vol 14, No 3(C), http://www. (viewed on 12 May 2010).
19 The Citizen’s Committee for Extraordinary Report on Gujarat (May 2003): “Submissions to the CEDAW Committee for Seeking Intervention on Gender-based Crimes and the Gendered Impact of the Gujarat Carnage” cited in India: Five years on – the bitter and uphill struggle for justice in Gujarat, Amnesty International, (viewed on 30 March 2011).
20 Times of India, 27 March 2002 and Frontline 19, No 8, 13-26 April 2002.
21 In a camp in Modassa in Sabarkantha district, for up to three years displaced Muslims refused to return to their original homes and continued to live in tents till houses were constructed for them by Muslim organisations and Janvikas, an NGO
based in Ahmedabad.
22 Times of India, 31 March 2002.
23 Times of India, 13 April 2002.
24 The Indian Express, 26 April 2002.
25 Times of India, 30 April 2002.
26 Supreme Court Writ Petition No 530/2002: 33.
27 Times of India, 21 May 2002.
28 Supreme Court Writ Petition No 530/2002: 33.
29 Interview with Afzal Menon, Gujarat Sarvajanik Seva Mandal, Ahmedabad, 11 December 2008.
30 Times of India, 28 May 2002.
31 The Indian Express, 24 October 2006.
32 The Indian Express, 18 October 2006.
33 The Indian Express, 27 January 2007.
34 National Human Rights Commission (2002): Suo motu Case No 1150/6/2001-2002 dated 31/5/2002. para 64.
35 Centre for Social Justice and Anhad (2007): The Uprooted: Caught between Existence and Denial, p 7.
36 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Geneva, 28 July 1951, 189 UNTS 150 was ratified by 124 states 0n 17 March 1995.
37 Retired bureaucrats and police officers have testified of their experience in office that a riot cannot go on for long without some political support from somewhere (Harsh Mander quoted in The Hindu, viewed on 24 March 2011, 81400.htm.) Also erring police officers if suspended due to the occurrence of a riot are reinstated after public fury subsides which in effect does not hold them accountable. See Vibhuti Narain Rai, Combating Communal Conflicts: Perception of Police Neutrality during Hindu-Muslim Riots in India, Anamika Prakashan, Allahabad, 1999, pp 127-28.
38 Ashutosh Varshney has expressly criticised the Communal Violence Suppression Act arguing that a strengthened bureaucracy cannot guarantee the prevention of communal violence and that in an India that now falls under the bracket of middle income countries riots would naturally decline. Gujarat 2002, he argues, is unlikely in the future and a new bureaucracy to prevent the same is a mistake. While the creation of the National Authority has been rightly criticised other incidents of displacement since Gujarat 2002 such as that of Christians in Kandhamal, Orissa and dalits displaced in Mirchpur, Haryana give credence to the concerns of supporters of the bill.
39 Interview with Ayesha Pathan, journalist, Indian Express, Ahmedabad, 13 December 2008.

First Published in Economic & Political Weekly, January 21, 2012


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