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India: How Gujarat Carnage of 2002 was a Product of Institutionalised Riot Systems

Monday 5 March 2018, by siawi3


How Gujarat Carnage of 2002 was a Product of Institutionalised Riot Systems

Published on: March 3, 2018

The Gujarat genocide of 2002 had been preceded by continuing series of violence against Muslims in several states. Gujarat police had reported earlier that between 1987 and 1991, 106 major incidents of communal violence had taken place in the state. From 1996 to 2000, 88 major and 125 relatively minor incidents of communal violence had occurred. The year 2002 alone witnessed 17 major incidents and 18 other incidents.

Gujarat Riots

In Gujarat pogrom, over 2000 persons were killed, 150,000 people displaced and property worth over Rs. 11,000 crores destroyed. Political, police and administrative complicity, facilitation and participation by them, were prominent features of the pogrom. The story of how chief minister Modi remained indifferent during the Gujarat pogrom 2002 failing to discharge his Constitutional responsibilities, has been recorded by journalist Manoj Mitta (‘The fiction of fact finding: Modi and Godhra, 2014).

The elements of preparation, planning and execution, documented by Paul Brassin in his case studies in Uttar Pradesh (UP) were conspicuously seen in the 2002 pogrom. Paul Brass has noted that the whole political order in north India and its leading as well as local actors were implicated in the persistence of Hindu-Muslim riots, which have had concrete benefits for particular political organisations and larger political uses. British census definitions imposed on a diverse population were ultimately converted into social categories, who were fighting it out in electoral politics of an increasingly divided polity and society.

Both central and state governments in India, who share a responsibility, have failed to prevent and control communal riots. One of the main failures has been in the sphere of reforming and professionalizing the police force. Control over the civil and police administrations is at the heart of the broader struggle for power, since police are seen as instruments of the party in power, which uses them to harass their opponents, protect their supporters and deny protection to their rivals. Brass noted an overall decline in Muslim representation in UP police from 48 percent in 1938 to 7 percent in 1981.

Institutionalised Riot Systems

The BJP, now the sole ruling party of India, has made enormous political and electoral gain from the massive religious mass mobilisation and violence during the 1990s and after. Since the 1980s incidents of Hindu-Muslim communal violence have been pogroms and organised massacres with large groups attacking the houses, properties and lives of small, isolated and previously identified members of the ‘other’ community, that is the minorities, mostly Muslims (Gyan Pandey, in Ranajit Guha, Subaltern Studies 1986-95).

Paul Brass, long-time student of Hindu-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh has expounded at length the ‘institutionalized riot systems’ that exist in communally sensitive Aligarh and other places. A large number of studies by other scholars exist. Brass however, changed the terms of discourse on the subject by evolving the thesis of ‘the institutionalized riot system’, which was relevant to the study by the Concerned Citizens Tribunal on Gujarat, 2002.

Several studies help us understand the role of the police and the administration in major incidents of communal violence such as the Srikrishna Commission Report, 1998, which examined the Hindu-Muslim violence in Mumbai during December 1992-January 1993; the Vibhuti Narain Rai study on ‘Combating Communalism: The role of the police, 1999 and the several important Commission reports on Gujarat Carnage, 2002.

Paul Brass (2003) argues that the partition of India in 1947 arose out of a political struggle, a part of which was about the past, combined with a fear of a future in which two cultures, perceived to be historically distinct would not be able to live together. Militant Hindus of Uttar Pradesh perceived that the Muslim past of India had to be rectified and that a major step in that direction would be the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

Brass has held that even the most carefully planned and well-organized acts of violence are designed to appear spontaneous by the perpetrators. Capturing the meaning of Hindu-Muslim riots in a particular way helps legitimate illegitimate violence, cancel the extent of pre-planning and organisation, and maintain intact the persons, groups and organisations implicated in the violence, by preventing punishment of the principal perpetrators.

The eight-member Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal on Gujarat 2002 noted serious deficiencies in the role performance of politicians, civil servants and the police. 20 of the 26 districts in the state were engulfed in well organised and armed mass attacks on Muslims between February 28 and March 2, 2002. During the period of the most concentrated attacks, the attacking mobs were 2000 to 3000 strong; often they were more than 5000 in number. The mobs were armed with lethal weapons and carried out chillingly similar manner of attacks hacking and killing human beings apparently in a carefully laid out plan of action behind them. The speed with which the violence spread and its intensity and brutality suggested that it could not have happened without government support.

Features of violence

The main features of violence were: i) selective targeting of Muslims; ii) brutality and bestiality of the attacks; iii) unprecedented degree and scale of violence; iv) loot and destruction of property on an unprecedented scale; v) military precision and planning behind the attacks; vi) use of hate speech and hate writing; vii) massive sexual violence against women and children; viii) colossal economic destruction; ix) religious and cultural desecration on a massive scale; x) large scale preparations behind the violence; xi) state complicity; xii) serious violation of rules and procedures by the police and their active connivance and participation in the violence.

Other features of police behaviour included: i) participation in the violence; ii) illegal registration of FIRs; iii) omnibus FIRs; iv) FIRs without the names of the accused; v) deliberate obfuscation of the identity of the accused; vi) victimisation of the minority community; vii) unprofessional investigation; viii) malicious combing operations; ix) no relief to rape victims; x) no action against errant media; xi) no action against political activists behind the violence; xii) real culprits not arrested; xiii) non-implementation of the NHRC recommendations; xiv) non-use of special laws to stop violence; and so on (Source: KS Subramanian, ‘Political Violence and the Police in India’, 2007, chapter 7, p.170).

This is an excerpt from KS Subramanian’s essay ‘Babri Masjid 1992 - Gujarat 2002 - Kashmir 2016: How the Sangh Parivar has wrecked India’s secular social fabric by sustained anti-minority violence’. For more excerpts, watch this space.



Memories Never Die!

Written by Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

Published on: March 3, 2018

It is sixteen years now since the Gujarat Carnage of 2002. The years have flown by; Gujarat, India and the world have experienced a generation change in many different ways. “Let us move on” is the repeated quote of many who were not affected. “Such things happen everywhere” is the slogan of those who would like to sweep the reality under the carpet. “Oh, they were just aberrations, worse things have happened at other times,” say some. For those who try to legitimatize what took place, the oft repeated refrains include, “Didn’t they deserve it?”, “Why did they have to burn the train in Godhra?”, “They are all anti-nationals! They support Pakistan!” etc. and ad nauseam!

Gujarat Riots 2002
Image Courtesy: AFP

The truth is, facts never lie and memories never die! By all counts, the Gujarat Carnage was one of the bloodiest chapters in post-independence India. There was the brutality: barbarity at its worst as children, women and men were burnt alive; chopped into pieces. The murderous mobs spared no one: from the unborn child in the womb of a mother to the very old and sick. Unlike other ‘riots’ this carnage went on and on. There was arson and loot. An estimated two thousand people were killed, thousands others injured and many times that number who were affected and had to flee from places which they once called their home. Above all, this one took place with the complete connivance and even involvement of the State Government. There are enough of eyewitness accounts, reports and studies to evidence this. The police who are meant to protect the lives and property of all citizens have gone on record saying, “we have no orders to protect you”. It was, without an iota of doubt, the Government and their henchmen versus a minority community!

After sixteen years, there has certainly been some justice done. There have been several convictions for the atrocities committed, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of many committed persons. Teesta Setalvad and the ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ have been resolute in this struggle for justice; but there are others too who are determined to leave no stone unturned until the cause of justice has been completely met. Thanks to the efforts of all, the ‘Gujarat Carnage’ is still on the radar of the country and world today. However, the unfortunate reality is that some of the lynchpins- those largely responsible for orchestrating the violence- are today in the seats of power. They have managed to cloak themselves with a certain degree of immunity.

Today one can never forget the victim-survivors who have gone through unbelievable pain and trauma, and continue to do so. There are thousands of them everywhere; some have fled Gujarat never to return to a place, which was their ‘home’. Large numbers continue to be displaced from their original villages and towns, living in rather sub-human conditions in so-called resettlement places like the ‘Bombay Hotel’ area, which is next to Ahmedabad’s major garbage dumpsite. It is just unimaginable how people can live in places like these- literally in the midst of filth and squalor- without even the basic amenities of life.

Thankfully, some victim- survivors have shown amazing strength and resilience to take on the powerful perpetrators of this carnage. It has not been easy but they have heroically withstood all hostilities and obstacles, gone to the courts umpteen of times seeking justice, which is legitimately theirs. There is Zakia Jafri, the wife of the former Member of Parliament Eshan Jafri, who was brutally murdered on that fateful 28 February 2002; there are Rupa and Dara Mody who still wonder whether their only son Azhar, who also disappeared that very day, will one day return. There are many more, who still courageously and patiently wait for the light of day.

The powerful, the vested interests, those who are perpetrators of these heinous acts have been doing everything possible to stop the wheels of justice from arriving at the complete truth. They have bought up/coopted some members of the minority community to propagate fabricated stories; they have used former staffers and associates to ‘go to town’ with total untruths. Human rights defenders, social activists, committed journalists, academics, upright officials and others have had false cases foisted on them; the police and other Government bodies have been misused and manipulated to harass and intimidate those who have accompanied the victim-survivors. A good part of the mainstream media, in a blatantly Goebbelsian manner, has hounded those in pursuit of truth and justice. It is unbelievable, how sections of the Judiciary without weighing all the merits of a case, can deliver judgements, which are very convoluted. This and much more: the journey after 2002 has not merely been traumatic for those who have actually suffered, but also a real ordeal for those who have felt duty-bound to relentlessly pursue truth and justice, in order to preserve all that is sacred in India.

Today in Gujarat and in other parts of India, several of the victim-survivors, human rights defenders and citizens from all walks of life, assembled in rallies, public meetings and in prayer groups, remembering those bloody days of 2002! Many still await the day of justice; several still are and feel ostracized. In between the sharing of pain and struggle, there were also slogans like “We are all one!”, “Hindu-Muslim unity”, “Down with communalism”. Embers of hope!

Yes there is a hope that someday “truth will triumph”, the words emblazoned on our national emblem. There is certainly the need for the healing of memories, for genuine reconciliation, for sustainable peace. These values however are not enveloped in a vacuum; they take place when there is a realization by the perpetrators of what they have done, when there is not merely an acceptance of the wrong, but a sincere remorse and the courage to ask for forgiveness. In the eventuality of that happening, then reconciliation will take place, memories will be healed. As Haruki Murakami, the Japanese writer says so poignantly in ‘Kafka on the Shore’, “but still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone”. Yes, memories never die!

Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications.