Monday, March 21, 2011


The 2002 Gujarat violence describes the Godhra train burning and resulting
communal riots between Hindus and Muslims. On 27 February 2002 at Godhra
City in the state of Gujarat, the Sabarmati Express train was forcibly stopped and
attacked by a large Muslim mob. As a result, 58 Hindu pilgrims — mostly women,
children and seniors returning from the holy city of Ayodhya — were burned alive.
The attack prompted retaliatory massacres against Muslims on a large scale, in
which 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed. 223 more people were reported
missing. 523 places of worship were damaged: 298 dargahs, 205 mosques, 17
temples, and 3 churches. Muslim-owned businesses suffered the bulk of the
damage. 61,000 Muslims and 10,000 Hindus fled their homes. Preventive arrests
of 17,947 Hindus and 3,616 Muslims were made. In total, 27,901 Hindus and
7,651 Muslims were arrested. Nearly 10,000 rounds of bullets were fired by the
police, killing 93 Muslims and 77 Hindus.
The nature of the events remains politically controversial in India. Some
commentators have characterized the massacres of Muslims as a genocide in
which the state was complicit, while some government sources have countered
that the Muslim dead were victims of mere "riots" or "disturbances".
Initial media reports blamed the local Muslims for setting the coach on fire, in
what Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and the VHP leader Giriraj Kishore
alleged was a "pre-planned" attack. The New Nanavati Report states that the
attack on the "Kar Sevaks" on the train from Ayodhya was pre-planned, and
exonerates Chief Minister Narendra Modi. A previous report on the Godhra train
burning, filed by Justice Banerjee, states that it was "pre-planned" by the mob.
The Gujarat High Court ruling, as of 2006, has declared as illegal and
unconstitutional, setting up of the Umesh Chandra Banerjee committee, which
had concluded that the fire started by accident. Gujarat High Court quashed the
conclusions of the Banerjee Committee and declared its formation as a “colourful
exercise,” “illegal, unconstitutional, null and void,” and its argument of accidental
fire “opposed to the prima facie accepted facts on record.". According to the
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, "most Congress corporators" "and some Congress leaders of
Gujarat had actively participated in last year's riots". The majority of the media
and party remained silent over the issue of the Congress role in the riot
However, in September 2008, the Godhra Commission confirmed that there was
an attack by a mob going further. The report claims that one Hassan Lalu had
thrown burning objects into the train and 140 litres of petrol had been used to set
the train on fire, adding that stones were thrown at passengers to stop them from
fleeing. The bodies of those killed in the train were brought to Ahmedabad, where
a procession was held, a move seen as a major provocation for the ensuing
communal violence. The VHP issued a call for a state-wide strike on 28 February
2002, which was supported by the BJP. In February 2011, the findings of the
Nanavati-Mehta commission were upheld in court, and the Godhra train burning
was called a "pre-planned conspiracy". 31 people were convicted of setting fire to
the train and "roasting alive 59 helpless kar sevaks." of which 11 were sentenced
to death and 20 to life sentences.
Post Godhra violence
151 towns and 993 villages in fifteen to sixteen of the state's 25 districts were
affected by the post-Godhra violence, which was particularly severe in about five
or six districts. The violence raged largely between 28 February and 3 March, and
after a drop, restarted on 15 March, continuing till mid June. Northern and central
Gujarat, as well as the north-eastern tribal belt, which are closer to Godhra City,
were the worst affected while Saurashtra and Kutch remained largely peaceful.
Attacks on Muslims
Attacks by large Hindu mobs began in the districts of Ahmedabad, Vadodara,
Saberkantha and, for the first time in its history, Gandhinagar on 28 February.
Violence spread to the largely rural districts of Panchmahals, Mehsana, Kheda,
Junagadh, Banaskantha, Patan, Anand and Narmada the next day. Over the next
two days, Bharuch and Rajkot and later Surat were hit.
The first incidents of attacks on the Muslim community started at Ahmedabad,
where Hindus began throwing stones at and later burned a Muslim housing
complex known as Gulburg Society, and then spread elsewhere. The initial
violence was believed to be instigated by unsubstantiated rumours, endorsed by a
senior VHP leader, of Muslims having kidnapped three Hindu girls during the
Godhra train attack. In Ahmedabad, the dargah of the Sufi saint-poet Wali
Gujarati in Shahibaug and the 16th century Gumte Masjid mosque in Isanpur
were destroyed. The Muhafiz Khan Masjid at Gheekanta was ransacked. Police
records list 298 dargahs, 205 mosques, 17 temples and three churches as
damaged in the months of March and April.
Attacks on Hindus
Attacks on Hindus by Muslim mobs in Danilimda, Modasa, Himmatnagar, Bharuch,
Sindhi Market, Bhanderi Pole, and other localities in the city of Ahmedabad in
Gujarat were perpetrated by Muslim mobs. There was a significant loss of
property. Late in March, more than one thousand Hindus in Dariyapur and
Kalupur, including 550 Dalits, fled their homes to stay in makeshift shelters after
being attacked by Muslim mobs. According to the HRW report, over ten thousand
Hindus were made homeless. Several Hindu residential areas, including Mahajan
No Vaado, a fortified enclave in Muslim dominated Jamalpur, were targeted
following calls for retaliation.
In the morning, the mosques began announcing that Islam was in danger, that
there was poison in the milk. This was used as a code word. The milk was meant
to be Muslims and poison meant Hindus. The rioting lasted between 2:15 p.m.
and 5:30 p.m. Residents were unable to go to work, fearing attacks. A Hindu
temple in the area was destroyed. In Himmatnagar, a young man was killed when
he went to a Muslim enclave on business.
According to an official estimate, 1044 people were killed in the violence - 790
Muslims and 254 Hindus including those killed in the Godhra train fire. Another
223 people were reported missing, 2,548 injured, 919 women widowed and 606
children orphaned.
Unofficial estimates put the death toll closer to 2000, with Muslims forming a high
proportion of those killed. When missing people were declared dead after 7 years,
total deaths went up from 1044 to 1,267.
Security failure
By the evening of 28 February, curfews were imposed in twenty seven towns and
cities. By 25 March, thirty five towns were under curfew. Police records show that
21,563 preventive arrests were made by the end of April (17,947 of the arrested
were listed as Hindus and 3,616 as Muslims) as well as 13,989 substantive
arrests (9,954 Hindus and 4,035 Muslims).
The New York Times' Celia Dugger reported that witnesses were "dismayed by the
lack of intervention from local police", who often "watched the events taking place
and took no action against the attacks on Muslims and their property". Human
Rights Watch reported that in some cases, members of the state police force led
rioting mobs, "aiming and firing at every Muslim who got in the way", or instead
of offering assistance "led the victims directly into the hands of their killers." Calls
for assistance to the police, fire brigades, and even ambulance services generally
proved futile. By the end of April, police recorded 170 people as killed in police
firing, of whom 93 were Muslims and 77 were Hindus. Hindu residents of Mahajan
No Vaado, part of the Muslim dominated area of Jamalpur, told HRW that on 1
March, the police ignored phone calls and left them to fend for themselves when a
Muslim mob attacked. Numerous calls by Hindus throughout the riots were
reportedly ignored by the police. One thousand army troops were flown in by the
evening of 1 March to restore order. Intelligence officials alleged that the
deployment was deliberately delayed by the state and central governments. On 3
May, former Punjab police chief K P S Gill was appointed as security adviser to the
Chief Minister. The Gujarat government transferred several senior police officers
who had taken active measures to contain and investigate violent attacks to
administrative positions.
RB Sreekumar, who served as Gujarat's intelligence chief during the riots, alleged
that the state government issued "unconstitutional directives", with officials
asking him to kill Muslims involved in rioting or disrupting a Hindu religious event.
The Gujarat government denied the allegations, calling them "baseless" and
instigated out of malice because Mr. Sreekumar was not promoted. Defending the
Modi administration in the Rajya Sabha against charges of genocide, BJP
spokesman V K Malhotra said that the official toll of 254 Hindus, killed mostly in
police firing, indicates how the state authorities took effective steps to curb the
violence. BJP MP and journalist Balbir Punj disputed allegations of bias against
Muslims by the BJP-run state government, pointing out that the majority of those
arrested during and after the riots were Hindus.
An unidentified pamphlet circulated to journalists in Gujarat in 2007 labelled
Modi's government as anti-Hindu for arresting Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)
workers and Hindu activists involved in the riots.]
Role of government and police
The Gujarat state government was reprimanded immediately for failing to prevent
the riots, but then increasingly for actively fomenting and participating in it, which
was a far more serious charge. Critiques came repeatedly from the Supreme
Court, and the upper house of the Indian parliament unanimously passed a
resolution calling for federal intervention in Gujarat; a similar censure motion in
the lower house was defeated by about 100 votes.
The United States Department of State in its International Religious Freedom
Report 2003 commented on the episode, based on a report by USCIRF:
India's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), an official body, found
evidence in the killings of premeditation by members of Hindu extremist groups;
complicity by Gujarat state government officials; and police inaction in the midst
of attacks on Muslims. The NHRC also noted "widespread reports and allegations
of well-organized persons, armed with mobile telephones and addresses, singling
out certain homes and properties for death and destruction in certain districtssometimes
within view of police stations and personnel," suggesting the attacks
may have been planned in advance. Christians were also victims in Gujarat, and
many churches were destroyed.
In April 2002, retired Supreme Court justices V. R. Krishna Iyer and P. B. Sawant
headed a citizen's panel to investigate the riots. Their report includes testimony of
the then Gujarat Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister Haren Pandya (since
murdered), who testified about an evening meeting convened by Narendra Modi
in the evening of the Godhra train burning. At this meeting, officials were
instructed not to obstruct the Hindu rage, following the incident. The report also
highlighted a second meeting, held in Lunawada village of Panchmahal district,
attended by state ministers Ashok Bhatt, and Prabhatsinh Chauhan, and other BJP
and RSS leaders, where "detailed plans were made on the use of kerosene and
petrol for arson and other methods of killing." In 2003, a comment by G.T.
Nanavati, who leads the official commission investigating the riots, that part of
the evidence collected and reviewed till then did not indicate any serious lapse on
the part of the government or police in Gujarat was criticised as inappropriate by
aid and reconciliation activists and other jurists.
Organizations such as Human Rights Watch criticized the Indian government for
failure to address the resulting humanitarian condition of people, the
"overwhelming majority of them Muslims," who fled their homes for relief camps
in the aftermath of the events; as well as the Gujarat state administration for
engaging in a cover-up of the state's role in the massacres. Many of the
investigations and prosecution of those accused of violence during the riots have
been opened for reinvestigation and prosecution. The large-scale civil unrest has
been generally been described as riots or inter-communal clashes.
In response to allegations of state involvement, Gujarat government spokesman,
Bharat Pandya, told the BBC that the rioting was a spontaneous Hindu backlash
fuelled by widespread anger against Muslims. He said "Hindus are frustrated over
the role of Muslims in the on-going violence in Indian-administered Kashmir and
other parts of India". The US Ambassador at Large for International Religious
Freedom, John Hanford, expressing concern over religious intolerance in Indian
politics, said that while the rioters may have been aided by state and local
officials, he did not believe that the BJP-led central government was involved in
inciting the riots. At the same time, about two hundred policemen lost their lives
trying to control the violence in Gujarat.
Criminal prosecutions
The Indian Supreme Court has been strongly critical of the state government's
investigation and prosecution of those accused of violence during the riots,
directing police to review about 2,000 of the 4,000 riot related cases that had
been closed, citing lack of evidence or leads. Following this direction, police
identified nearly 1,600 cases for reinvestigation, arrested 640 accused and
launched investigations against 40 police officers for their failures.
Human Rights Watch alleges that state and law enforcement officials harass and
intimidate key witnesses, NGOs, social activists and lawyers who are fighting to
seek justice for riot victims.
In its 2003 annual report, Amnesty International says, "the same police force that
was accused of colluding with the attackers was put in charge of the
investigations into the massacres, undermining the process of delivery of justice
to the victims." The Best Bakery murder trial received wide attention after
witnesses retracted testimony in court and all accused were acquitted. The Indian
Supreme Court, acting on a petition by social activist Teesta Setalvad, ordered a
retrial outside Gujarat in which nine accused were found guilty in 2006. A key
witness, Zaheera Sheikh, who repeatedly changed her testimony during the trials
and the petition, was found guilty of perjury.
After a local court dismissed the case against her assailants, Bilkis Bano
approached the National Human Rights Commission and petitioned the Supreme
Court seeking a retrial. The Supreme Court granted the motion, directing the
Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the investigation, transferring the
case out of Gujarat and directing the central government to appoint the public
prosecutor. Charges were filed in a Mumbai court against nineteen people as well
as six police officials and a government doctor over their role in the initial
investigations. In January 2008, eleven men were sentenced to life imprisonment
for the rape and murders and a policeman was convicted of falsifying evidence. In
2005, the Vadodara fast track court acquitted 108 people accused of murdering
two youths, during a mob attack on a group of displaced Muslims returning under
police escort to their homes in Avdhootnagar. The court passed strictures against
the police for failing to protect the people under their escort and failing to identify
the attackers they had witnessed.
Nine people were convicted of killing a Hindu man and injuring another during
group clashes in Danilimda, Ahmedabad on 12 April, while 25 others were
acquitted. Eight people, including a VHP leader and a member of the BJP, were
convicted for the murder of seven members of a family and the rape of two minor
girls in the village of Eral in Panchmahal district. Fifty two people from Pavagadh
and Dhikva villages in Panchmahal district were acquitted of rioting charges for
lack of evidence.
A stringent anti-terror law, the POTA, was used by the Gujarat government to
charge 131 people in connection to the Godhra train fire, but not invoked in
prosecuting any of the accused in the post-Godhra riots. In 2005, the POTA
Review Committee, set up by central government to review the application of the
law, opined that the Godhra accused should not be tried under the provisions of
Public enquiries
Shah-Nanavati commission
The report claims failure of intelligence, failure to take appropriate action,
patterns of arrests, uneven handling of major cases, and "Distorted FIRs:
‘extraneous influences’, issue of transparency and integrity" as key factors in the
Banerjee Committee
In September 2004, a panel appointed by the central government and headed by
former Supreme Court judge UC Banerjee to probe the Godhra train fire
concluded that the fire was accidental. Its findings were challenged by the BJP
and the Gujarat inspector-general of police. In October 2006, the Gujarat High
Court ruled that the panel was set up illegally, in violation of the Commissions of
Inquiry Act, 1952, which prohibits the setting up of separate commissions by
state and central governments to probe a matter of public importance.
Concerned Citizens Tribunal
The citizen tribunal, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Krishna Iyer,
collected evidence and testimony from more than 2000 riot victims, witnesses
and others. In its report, the tribunal accuses the state government and chief
minister Modi of complicity in the violence. While Krishna Iyer was nominally part
of this tribunal, he made it clear in the preface of the report that his involvement
was very limited.
Opposition parties as well as three coalition partners of the BJP-led central
government demanded the dismissal of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for
failing to contain the violence, with some calling for the removal of Union Home
Minister L K Advani as well. On 18 July, Chief Minister Narendra Modi asked the
Governor of Gujarat to dissolve the state assembly and call fresh elections. The
Indian Election Commission ruled out early elections, citing the prevailing law and
order situation, a decision the union government unsuccessfully appealed against
in the Supreme Court. In August 2002, a plot by Lashkar-e-Toiba to assassinate
Narendra Modi, Praveen Togadia, and other Sangh Parivar leaders was unearthed
by Indian police. The terrorists were planning to set up a base in Gujarat and
were trying to lure some of the riot-hit people into taking up "so-called jihadi
activities". Delhi Police Special Commissioner (Intelligence) K K Paul said. In
September 2002, at least 29 people were killed when Islamic fundamentalist
gunmen engaged in the Akshardham Temple attack in the city of Gandhinagar in
Gujarat. The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and Islamic terrorist group
Lashkar-e-Toiba were accused of supporting the terrorists.
Elections were held in December and Modi was returned to power in a landslide
victory. Emails made public by the perpetrators of a series of bombings in
On 6 March, the Gujarat government set up a commission of enquiry headed by
retired High Court judge K.G. Shah to enquire into the Godhra train burning and
the subsequent violence and submit a report in three months. Following criticism
from victims' organisations, activists and political parties over Shah's alleged
proximity to the BJP, on 22 May, the government reconstituted the commission,
appointing retired Supreme Court Justice G.T. Nanavati to lead the commission.
In 2008, the Nanavati commission came out largely in favour of the Gujarat
government's aspect. Nanavati's evidence hinged on the acquisition of 140 litres
of petrol hours before the arrival of the train and the storage of the said petrol at
the alleged key conspirator's, Razzak Kurkur, guest house. This was further
corroborated by forensic evidence showing that fuel was poured on the train
compartment before being burnt. The alleged mastermind was said to be the
cleric Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji and a dismissed Central Reserve Police
Force officer named Nanumiyan, from Assam, who had instigated the Muslim
crowds. Furthermore, two Kashmiris, Gulamnabi and Ali Mohammed, were in the
same guesthouse for a fortnight prior to the event, speaking about the Kashmir
liberation movement. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Indian
National Congress party both came out railing against the exoneration of the
Gujarat government by the commission citing the timing of the report (with
general elections months away) as evident of unfairness. Congress spokesperson
Veerappa Moily commented at the strange absolvement of the Gujarat
government for complacency for the carnage. He also said that the report
reinforced communal prejudices.
National Human Rights Commission
In its Proceedings of 1 April 2002, the Commission had set out its Preliminary
Comments and Recommendations on the situation and sent a Confidential Report
of the team of the Commission that visited Gujarat from 19–22 March 2002 to
Gujarat government and Central Home Ministry. The Gujarat government in its
reply did not provide its response to the confidential report. Therefore, the
Commission was compelled to release the confidential report in its entirety and
observed that nothing in the reports received in response "rebuts the
presumption that the Modi administration failed in its duty to protect the rights of
the people of Gujarat" by not exercising its jurisdiction over non-state players
that may cause or facilitate the violation of human rights.
It further observed that "the violence in the State, which was initially claimed to
have been brought under control in seventy two hours, persisted in varying
degree for over two months, the toll in death and destruction rising with the
passage of time despite the measures reportedly taken by the State
western India in July 2008 indicated that those attacks were "the revenge of
Relief efforts
Amnesty International's annual report on India in 2003 claimed that the "Gujarat
government did not actively fulfill its duty to provide appropriate relief and
rehabilitation to the survivors". The state government initially offered
compensation payments of 200,000 rupees to the families of those who died in
the Godhra train fire and 100,000 rupees to the families of those who died in the
subsequent riots, which local Muslims described as discriminatory. Subsequently,
the government set the compensation amount at 150,000 rupees. By 27 March,
nearly 100,000 displaced people moved into 101 relief camps. This swelled to
over 150,000 in 104 camps the next two weeks. The camps were run by
community groups and NGOs, with the government committing to provide
amenities and supplementary services. Drinking water, medical help, clothing and
blankets were in short supply at the camps. At least another 100 camps were
denied government support, according to a camp organizer and relief supplies
were prevented from reaching the camps over fears that they may be carrying
arms. Relief camp organizers alleged that the state government was coercing
refugees to leave relief camps, with 25,000 people made to leave eighteen camps
that were shut down. Following government assurances that camps would not be
shut down, the Gujarat High Court bench ordered that camp organizers be given
a supervisory role to ensure that the assurances were met. On 23 May 2008, the
Union Government announced a 320 crore rupee (US $ 80 million) relief package
for the victims of the riots.
Media coverage
Covering the first major communal riots following in the advent of satellite
television to India, television news channels set a precedent by identifying the
community of those involved in the violence, breaking a long-standing practice.
Critical reporting on the Gujarat government's handling of the situation helped
bring about the Indian government's intervention in controlling the violence. The
Gujarat government banned television news channels critical of the government's
response. STAR News, Zee News, Aaj Tak, CNN and local stations were blocked.
The Editorial Guild of India rejected the charge that graphic news coverage
aggravated the situation, saying that the coverage exposed the "horrors" of the
riots as well as the "supine if not complicit" attitude of the state, helping propel
remedial action. The team also faulted Gujarati language papers Gujarat
Samachar and the pro-Hindutva Sandesh of distorted and provocative reporting.
The Godhra fire received extensive news coverage until it was overtaken by the
subsequent violence and the presentation of the Union budget. Television and
newspaper reports, particularly local Gujarati language media, carried graphic and
at times sensationalized images and accounts of the Godhra train fire. S
Gurumurthy, Arvind Lavakare and columnist Rajeev Srinivasan argue that news
reports emphasized the provocative behaviour of the kar sevaks on the
Sabarmathi Express in an effort to rationalise the subsequent mob attack at
Godhra and displace blame from the mob on to the kar sevaks.
In 2004, the weekly newspaper Tehelka published a hidden camera exposé
alleging that a BJP legislator Madhu Srivastava bribed Zaheera Sheikh, a witness
in the Best Bakery killings trial. Srivatsava denied the allegation, and an inquiry
committee appointed by the Indian Supreme Court drew an "adverse inference"
from the video footage, though it failed to uncover evidence that money was
actually paid. In a 2007 expose, the newspaper released hidden camera footage
of several members of the BJP, VHP and the Bajrang Dal admitting their role in
the riots. Among those featured in the tapes was the special counsel representing
the Gujarat government before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, Arvind Pandya,
who resigned from his post after they were made public. While the report was
criticized by some as being politically motivated, some newspapers said that the
revelations simply reinforced what was common knowledge. The Gujarat
government blocked telecast of cable news channels broadcasting the expose, a
move strongly condemned by the Editors Guild of India. The riots were also the
subject of a 2004 documentary film by Rakesh Sharma (filmmaker), called Final
Solution (Gujarat Riots). The film was denied entry to Mumbai International Film
Festival in 2004 due to objections by Censor Board of India, but won two awards
at the 54th Berlin International Film Festival (2004)
Controversies on the riots
Atrocities against women

An international fact finding committee formed of experts from US, UK, France,
Germany and Sri Lanka reported, "Sexual violence was being used as a strategy
for terrorising women belonging to minority community in the state." Taking a
stand decried by the media and other rights groups, Nafisa Hussain, a member of
the National Commission for Women accused organisations and the media of
needlessly exaggerating the plight of women victims of the riots, which was
strongly disputed as Gujarat did not have a State Commission for Women to act
on the ground. The newspaper Tribune reported that "The National Commission
for Women has reluctantly agreed to the complicity of Gujarat Government in the
communal violence in the state." The tone of their most recent report was
reported by the Tribune as "lenient".
Riot cases controversy
In April 2009, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) setup by the Supreme Court
of India to investigate and expedite the Gujarat riot cases submitted before the
Court that Teesta Setalvad had cooked up cases of violence to spice up the
incidents. The SIT, which is headed by former CBI director, R. K. Raghavan, has
said that false witnesses were tutored to give evidence about imaginary incidents
by Setalvad and other NGOs. The SIT charged her of “cooking up macabre tales
of killings”.
The court was told that 22 witnesses, who had submitted identical affidavits
before various courts relating to riot incidents, were questioned by SIT and it was
found that the witnesses had not actually witnessed the incidents and they were
tutored and the affidavits were handed over to them by Setalvad. The report,
which was brought to the notice of the bench, consisting of Justices Arijit Pasayat,
P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam, noted that the much publicised case of a pregnant
Muslim woman Kausar Banu being gang-raped by a mob and foetus being
removed from sharp weapons, was also cooked up and false.
Godhra verdict: 31 convicted in Sabarmati Express burning case
Thirty-one people were convicted and 63 others, including the main accused
Maulvi Umarji, were acquitted by a special court here in the 2002 Godhra train
burning incident that left 59 people dead and triggered violence in Gujarat that
had claimed the lives of over 1200 people, mainly Muslims.
The sentencing would be pronounced on February 25 after arguments on the
quantum of punishment by the Special Court that accepted the theory of
conspiracy behind the burning of the coach of Sabarmati Express carrying kar
sevaks returning from Ayodhya.
The court acquitted prime accused Maulana Umarji while other prominent accused
Haji Billa and Rajjak Kurkur were convicted.

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