State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat
Summary of the report on Gujarat Violence by Human Rights Watch in May 2002.
Thirty-eight-year-old Mehboob Mansoori lost eighteen family members in the massacre of Muslims in the neighborhood of Gulmarg Society, Ahmedabad. He was interviewed by Human Rights Watch three weeks after the attack. His story is representative of many testimonies contained in this report.
They burnt my whole family.
On February 28, we went to Ehsan Jaffrey’s home for safety. He is an ex-member of parliament…. At 10:30 a.m. the stone throwing started. First there were 200 people then 500 from all over, then more. We were 200-250 people. We threw stones in self-defense. They had swords, pipes, soda-lemon bottles, sharp weapons, petrol, kerosene, and gas cylinders. They began shouting, “Maro, kato,” [“Kill them, cut them”] and “Mian ko maro.” [“Kill the Muslims”]. I hid on the third floor.
Early in the day at 10:30 the police commissioner came over and said don’t worry. He spoke to Jaffrey and said something would work out, then left. The wall in front of the house was broken at 11:30 a.m. When they entered the hall we had lost our spirit, we had no weapons, we couldn’t fight back. Other people also came there for safety. When the gas cylinder exploded I jumped from the third floor. This was around 1:30 p.m.
At 3:30 p.m. they started cutting people up, and by 4:30 p.m. it was game over. Ehsan Jaffrey was also killed. He was holding the door closed. Then the door broke down. They pulled him out and hit him with a sword across the forehead, then across the stomach, then on his legs…. They then took him on the road, poured kerosene on him and burned him. There was no police at all. If they were there then this wouldn’t have happened.
Eighteen people from my family died. All the women died. My brother, my three sons, one girl, my wife’s mother, they all died. My boys were aged ten, eight, and six. My girl was twelve years old. The bodies were piled up. I recognized them from parts of their clothes used for identification. They first cut them and then burned them. Other girls were raped, cut, and burned. First they took their jewelry, I was watching from upstairs. I saw it with my own eyes. If I had come outside, I would also have been killed. Four or five girls were treated this way. Two married women also were raped and cut. Some on the hand, some on the neck.
At 5:30 p.m. a car came, it was the assistant commissioner. They brought us out slowly; some were hiding in the watertank underground. Some tried to get out but were attacked. Sixty-five to seventy people were killed inside. After the police came we told them to take us somewhere safe. They brought us to the camp. We didn’t go to the police station. Three patients were admitted in the civil hospital. On March 3 and 4 the police came here to file complaints, but only after camp organizers called them.
Indian government officials have acknowledged that since February 27, 2002, more than 850 people have been killed in communal violence in the state of Gujarat, most of them Muslims. Unofficial estimates put the death toll as high as 2,000. At this writing, murders are continuing, with violence spreading to rural areas fanned by ongoing hate campaigns and economic boycotts against Muslims. The attacks against Muslims in Gujarat have been actively supported by state government officials and by the police.
The violence in Gujarat began after a Muslim mob in the town of Godhra attacked and set fire to two carriages of a train carrying Hindu activists. Fifty-eight people were killed, many of them women and children. The activists were returning from Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, where they supported a campaign led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP) to construct a temple to the Hindu god Ram on the site of a sixteenth century mosque destroyed by Hindu militants in 1992. The Ayodhya campaign continues to raise the spectre of further violence in the country—Hindu-Muslim violence following the destruction of the mosque claimed thousands of lives in the city of Bombay and elsewhere in 1992 and 1993. The VHP claims that the mosque was built on a site that was the birthplace of Ram.
Between February 28 and March 2, 2002, a three-day retaliatory killing spree by Hindus left hundreds dead and tens of thousands homeless and dispossessed, marking the country’s worst religious bloodletting in a decade. The looting and burning of Muslim homes, shops, restaurants, and places of worship was also widespread. Tragically consistent with the longstanding pattern of attacks on minorities and Dalits (or so-called untouchables) in India, and with previous episodes of large-scale communal violence in India, scores of Muslim girls and women were brutally raped in Gujarat before being mutilated and burnt to death. Attacks on women and girls, including sexual violence, are detailed throughout this report.
The Gujarat government chose to characterize the violence as a “spontaneous reaction” to the incidents in Godhra. Human Rights Watch’s findings, and those of numerous Indian human rights and civil liberties organizations, and most of the Indian press indicate that the attacks on Muslims throughout the state were planned, well in advance of the Godhra incident, and organized with extensive police participation and in close cooperation with officials of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party, BJP) state government.
The attacks on Muslims are part of a concerted campaign of Hindu nationalist organizations to promote and exploit communal tensions to further the BJP’s political rule—a movement that is supported at the local level by militant groups that operate with impunity and under the patronage of the state. The groups most directly responsible for violence against Muslims in Gujarat include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the ruling BJP, and the umbrella organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps, RSS), all of whom collectively form the sangh parivar (or “family” of Hindu nationalist groups). These organizations, although different in many respects, have all promoted the argument that because Hindus constitute the majority of Indians, India should be a Hindu state.
Nationwide violence against India’s Muslim community in 1992 and 1993 and against India’s Christian community since 1998, including in the state of Gujarat, have also stemmed from the violent activities and hate propaganda of these groups. Human Rights Watch and Indian human rights groups have long warned of the potential scale of death and destruction resulting from the sangh parivar’s Hindu nationalist agenda.1 If the activities of these groups remain unchecked, violence may continue to engulf the state, and may spread to other parts of the country.
The state of Gujarat and the central government of India initially blamed Pakistan for the train massacre, which it called a “pre-meditated” “terrorist” attack against Hindus in Godhra. The recent revival of the Ram temple campaign, and heightened fears of terrorism since September 11 were exploited by local Hindu nationalist groups and the local press which printed reports of a “deadly conspiracy” against Hindus by Muslims in the state.
On February 28, one local language paper headline read: “Avenge blood for blood.” Muslim survivors of the attacks repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that they were told to “go back to Pakistan.”
Anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiments had been building up in Gujarat long before the revival of the Ayodha Ram temple campaign. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify conflicting accounts of what led to the mob attack on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra though local police investigations have ruled out the
notion that it was either organized or planned.
The state government initially charged those arrested in relation to the attack on the Godhra train under the controversial and draconian Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO, now the Prevention of Terrorism Act), but filed ordinary criminal charges against those accused of attacks on Muslims. Bowing to criticism from political leaders and civil society across the country, the chief minister dropped the POTO charges but stated that the terms of POTO may be applied at a later date.
Three weeks after the attacks began, Human Rights Watch visited the city of Ahmedabad, a site of large-scale destruction, murder, and several massacres, and spoke to both Hindu and Muslim survivors of the attacks. The details of the massacres of Muslims in the neighborhoods of Naroda Patia and Gulmarg Society and of retaliatory attacks against Hindus in
Jamalpur are included in this report. Human Rights Watch was able to document patterns in Ahmedabad that echo those of previous episodes of anti-Muslim violence throughout the state and of anti-minority violence over the years in many parts of the country—most notably the Bombay riots in 1992 and 1993, and the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984.2 These include the role of sangh parivar organizations, political parties, and the local media in promoting anti-minority propaganda, the exploitation of communal differences to mask political and economic motives underlying the attacks, local and state government complicity in the attacks, and the failure of the government to meet its constitutional and international obligations to protect minorities.
Between February 28 and March 2 the attackers descended with militia-like precision on Ahmedabad by the thousands, arriving in trucks and clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu nationalist—Hindutva—groups.3 Chanting slogans of incitement to kill, they came armed with swords, trishuls (three-pronged spears associated with Hindu mythology), sophisticated explosives, and gas cylinders. They were guided by computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their properties, information obtained from the Ahmedabad municipal corporation among other sources, and embarked on a murderous rampage confident that the police was with them. In many cases, the police led the charge, using gunfire to kill Muslims who got in the mobs’ way. A key BJP state minister is reported to have taken over police control rooms in Ahmedabad on the first day of the carnage, issuing orders to disregard pleas for assistance from Muslims. Portions of the Gujarati language press meanwhile printed fabricated stories and statements openly calling on Hindus to avenge the Godhra attacks.
In almost all of the incidents documented by Human Rights Watch the police were directly implicated in the attacks. At best they were passive observers, and at worse they acted in concert with murderous mobs and participated directly in the burning and looting of Muslim shops and homes and the killing and mutilation of Muslims. In many cases, under the guise of offering assistance, the police led the victims directly into the hands of their killers. Many of the attacks on Muslim homes and places of business also took place in close proximity to police posts. Panicked phone calls made to the police, fire brigades, and even ambulance services generally proved futile.
Many witnesses testified that their calls either went unanswered or that they were met with responses such as: “We don’t have any orders to save you”; “We cannot help you, we have orders from above”; “If you wish to live in Hindustan, learn to protect yourself”; “How come you are alive? You should have died too”; “Whose house is on fire? Hindus’ or Muslims’?” In some cases phone lines were eventually cut to make it impossible to call for help.
Surviving family members have faced the added trauma of having to fend for themselves in recovering and identifying the bodies of their loved ones. The bodies have been buried in mass gravesites throughout Ahmedabad. Gravediggers testified that most bodies that had arrived—many were still missing—were burned and butchered beyond recognition. Many were missing body parts—arms, legs, and even heads. The elderly and the handicapped were not spared. In some cases, pregnant women had their bellies cut open and their fetuses pulled out and hacked or burned before the women were killed.
Muslims in Gujarat have been denied equal protection under the law. Even as attacks continue, the Gujarat state administration has been engaged in a massive cover-up of the state’s role in the massacres and that of the sangh parivar. Eyewitnesses filed numerous police First Information Reports (FIRs), the initial reports of a crime recorded by the police, that named local VHP, BJP, and Bajrang Dal leaders as instigators or participants in the attacks. Few if any of these leaders have been arrested as the police, reportedly under instructions from the state, face continuous pressure not to arrest them or to reduce the severity of the charges filed. In many instances, the police have also refused to include in FIRs the names of perpetrators identified by the victims. Police have, however, filed false charges against Muslim youth arbitrarily detained during combing operations in Muslim neighborhoods that have been largely destroyed. The state government has entrusted a criminal probe into the deadliest of attacks in Ahmedabad, in the Naroda Patia and Gulmarg Society neighborhoods, to an officer handpicked by the VHP, the organization implicated in organizing and perpetrating these massacres.
On April 3, India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) released the preliminary findings of its report on the violence, a strong indictment of the failure of the Gujarat government to contain the violence. As the commission awaited a response from the state government before releasing a comprehensive report, its very authority to intervene in the matter
was being challenged in the state’s High Court based on the fact that a state-appointed judicial commission of inquiry was already in place. Following the trail of other commissions of inquiry appointed by the state in the wake of communal riots in 1969 and 1985—whose recommendations have yet to be implemented—the current state commission inspires little hope of justice. One lawyer noted, “The state government is involved and is a party to what happened. How can a party appoint a judge? We cannot expect him to give justice.” India’s National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and National Commission for Women (NCW) have also been severely critical of the Gujarat government’s response to the violence and its aftermath.
Government figures indicate that more than 98,000 people are residing in over one hundred newly created relief camps throughout the state, an overwhelming majority of them Muslim. They hold little hope for justice and remain largely unprotected by the police and local authorities. One relief camp resident asked: “The same people who shot at us are now supposed to protect us? There is no faith in the police.” A lack of faith has also kept many camp residents from approaching the police to file complaints. Fearing for their lives, or fearing arrest, many have also been unable to leave the camps to return to what is left of their homes.
The state government has failed to provide adequate and timely humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in Gujarat. Problems documented in this report include serious delays in government assistance reaching relief camps, inadequate state provision of medical and food supplies and sanitation facilities, and lack of access and protection for nongovernmental (NGO) relief workers seeking to assist victims of violence. Muslims have also been denied equal access to relief assistance. Government authorities are also reported to be absent from many Muslim camps. In sharp contrast to the international and Indian community’s response following a massive earthquake in the state in January 2001—when millions of dollars in aid from the international community and civil society poured into the state—the onus for providing food, medical support, and other supplies for victims of violence rests largely on local NGO and Muslim voluntary groups.
The relief camps visited by Human Rights Watch were desperately lacking in government and international assistance. One camp with 6,000 residents was located on the site of a Muslim graveyard. Residents were literally sleeping in the open, between the graves. One resident remarked: “Usually the dead sleep here, now the living are sleeping here.”
The disbursement of financial compensation and the process of rehabilitation for victims of the violence has been painstakingly slow and has failed to include all of those affected. Initially compensation was disbursed on a communal basis: the state government announced that the families of Hindus killed in Godhra would receive Rs. 200,000 (U.S.$4,094) families of Muslims killed in retaliatory attacks would receive Rs. 100,000—a statement that was later retracted, in part due to widespread criticism from nongovernmental organizations and Indian officials outside the state of Gujarat.
In the wake of the massive earthquake in January 2001 that, according to government reports, claimed close to 14,000 lives and left over one million homeless, the state of Gujarat also faces economic devastation. The economic impact is felt acutely by both Hindu and Muslim survivors of the attacks whose homes and personal belongings have been destroyed, and whose businesses have been burnt to the ground. Others reside in neighborhoods where curfews have yet to be lifted, limiting their mobility. Thousands are also unable to leave the relief camps to go to work for fear of further attacks. Many Muslims do not have jobs to which to return—their employers have hired Hindus in their place. An economic boycott against Muslims in certain parts of the state has helped to ensure their continued and long-term impoverishment. Acute food shortages resulting in starvation have been reported in areas of Ahmedabad where Muslim communities are forced into isolation, afraid to leave their enclaves to get more supplies. Children’s education has also been severely disrupted while the threat of measles and other outbreaks looms large in Ahmedabad camps.
On April 4, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Gujarat and announced a federal relief package for riot victims. Vajpayee, who earlier described the burning alive of men, women, and children, as a “blot on the country’s face,” stated that the Godhra attack was “condemnable” but what followed was “madness.” His comments stood in deep contrast to those of the state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, formerly a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh volunteer and propagandist, who at the height of the carnage declared that, “The five crore [fifty million] people of Gujarat have shown remarkable restraint under grave provocation,” referring to the Godhra attacks.
On April 12, the BJP proposed early elections in Gujarat soon after rejecting Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s offer to resign. Early elections in the aftermath of the attacks may favor the Hindu nationalist vote in the state—a primary objective of the sangh parivar nationwide—and Narendra Modi’s continued tenure as chief minister. As this report was going to press, national political parties were pressing to remove Modi, leading the BJP to set aside the early election option. The upper and lower houses of the Indian parliament were preparing for parliamentary debates on the violence in Gujarat while opposition parties were pushing for a vote to censure the national government.
This report is by no means a comprehensive account of the violence that began on February 27. Ahmedabad was only one of many cities affected. Reports from other areas indicate that the violence was statewide, affecting at least twenty-one cities and sixty-eight provinces. Information from these areas also suggest a consistent pattern in the methods used, undermining government assertions that these were “spontaneous” “communal riots.” As one activist noted, “no riot lasts for three days without the active connivance of the state.”
Gujarat is only one of several Indian states to have experienced post-Godhra violence, though elsewhere incidents have been sporadic and were often immediately contained. Events were unfolding every day as this report went to press including developments related to the political future of the Gujarat government.
Both the Godhra incident and the attacks that ensued throughout Gujarat have been documented in meticulous detail by Indian human rights and civil liberties groups and by the Indian press. Their painstaking documentation of the attacks, often under grave security conditions, has been cited throughout this report. In some cases, the names of victims have been changed or withheld for their protection. Names of human rights activists have also been withheld to ensure their ability to continue their important work, an unfortunate indicator of the volatility surrounding the issue of communal violence in Gujarat and beyond.
All of the communities affected continue to live with a deep sense of insecurity, fearing further attacks and a cycle of retaliation. Not included in this report are many heroic accounts of individual police and of Hindu and Muslim civilians who risked their lives and livelihoods to rescue and shelter one another, and the many peace activities that have been organized by citizens amidst the ruins of the state.
The violence in Gujarat has triggered widespread outrage in India. Civil society groups from across the world have also mobilized to condemn the attacks and appeal for justice and intervention. Responding to growing international scrutiny into the violence, however, the Indian government has stated that it “does not appreciate interference in [its] internal affairs.”5 Human Rights Watch calls on the Indian government to prevent further attacks and prosecute those found responsible for the violence in Gujarat, including state government and police officials complicit in the attacks. We call on the international community to put pressure on the Indian government to comply with international human rights and Indian constitutional law and end impunity for current and past campaigns to generate communal violence against Indian minorities.
Assistance from international humanitarian and United Nations agencies is sorely needed for Hindus and Muslims in relief camps. Human Rights Watch urges the Indian government to actively seek the assistance of these groups and to invite United Nations human rights experts to investigate state participation and complicity in the violence in Gujarat.
Read the full report here.
1 See for example, Human Rights Watch, “Politics By Other Means: Attacks Against Christians in India,” A
Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 11, no. 6, September 1999; and Smita Narula, “India’s Minorities Are
Targets of Government-Abetted Violence,” International Herald Tribune, March 20, 2000.
2 The then-ruling Congress (I) party was charged with complicity in the killing of over 2,000 Sikhs in Delhi
in 1984 following the assassination of Congress party president Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguard.
3 Hindutwa, Hindutva, or Hinduvata refers to a movement for Hindu awakening.
4 At this writing, one U.S. dollar was equivalent to 48.85 Indian rupees.
5 “India warns against criticism over Gujarat,” Agence France-Presse, April 22, 2002.