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K.G. Kannabiran

RAM SEVAKS AND THE GODHRA ATTACK

Mixed media by AJAY SHARMA

Godhra is in the Panch Mahals district of Gujarat. The Sabarmati Express, which carried Ram sevaks to Ayodhya earlier, was bringing them back to Ahmedabad. They returned without expending their energies, as shilanyas for the Ramjanmabhoomi temple did not take place. The Ram sevaks, at any rate a majority of them, are quite young and energetic. The youth gathered for Ayodhya are from the unemployed and idle ranks that have been recruited to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal. They are given a trishul and a sword on payment of a small fee. Regular meetings are held to instil in them a certain pride, a sense of belonging. This proximity, this bonhomie with the upper caste Hindus for a cause is intoxicating. These foot-soldiers of Hindutva belong to the lowest rungs of the caste hierarchy. The leaders of Hindutva abuse Ambedkar and are trying their best to sever Ambedkar’s association with the Constitution. They tried very hard to deny the literate among the penultimate and the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy their right to reservations, which alone would make their right to equality meaningful. A tenuous cultural link, an amorphous religious identity that excludes them, treats them violently, at the same time unifies this fissiparous population to a ‘Hindu’ cause for crusades against Muslims — most of whom are as backward as the large majority of Hindus.

The train was carrying around 1,200 passengers. Obviously, an over-crowded train. Passengers travelling in reserved compartments had to allow the rampaging Ram sevaks into the compartments. One can imagine the inconvenience and the irritation caused by the crowds that had barged in and were strutting about — arrogantly, aggressively. After all, it was their train. Railway Minister Nitish Kumar (an OBC too) was their man. They had all gone to Ayodhya on party work and it was their government which ran the country and the trains. That is how all party cadres and crowds behave when they are going to or returning from melas held by their political parties. There had been complaints against these Ram sevaks both while going and on their return on February 27. They had inconvenienced even Hindu passengers in the reserved compartments. There were complaints by Muslim vendors on the platform that tea and eatables were consumed without payment. They also misbehaved with Muslim vendors, some of whom happened to be women, assisting the men vending tea and eatables. By all accounts, there had been an altercation between the Muslim vendors and the Ram sevaks. There is no evidence that the Hindus present on the platform also participated in this altercation.

As the train pulled out of Godhra station the chain was pulled. The train stopped near the Signal Falia — which happened to be a Muslim inhabited area — and there was an attack on the bogey S-6, a reserved compartment. It can be inferred that the anti-social elements among the Muslims living there converted an altercation into a communal riot. That it was spontaneous to start with cannot be ruled out. There was stone-pelting from outside. A few seconds thereafter, the compartment was in flames. The stone-pelting would have brought down the shutters and yet it is asserted that the interior of the compartment was set on fire by a fireball made of cloth that was tossed in through the window from outside. At Signal Falia, the rail track elevated at about 12 to 15. The compartments have the added protection of three to four cross-bars running through all the bogies — to prevent robbery, snatching or the entry of miscreants through the window. The balls of cloth set on fire and flung from the ground level seem to have found their way into the compartment pretty easily, since the outer surface of the bogey does not bear much evidence of arson, except for the fringes of the window frames. These particular marks may be on account of flames that raged within the compartment licking the outer fringes of the windows. But the fire totally destroyed the interior of S-6, turning it into a heap of twisted metal. The tragedy is that the fire killed more than fifty human beings which included a large number of passengers who had nothing to do with the goings-on in Ayodhya or elsewhere in the country. Such crimes should never go unpunished.

This fire in S6 raises several questions. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani is personally aware of what happened in the country after the Babri Masjid was brought down. What security measures were taken to prevent a flare-up of communal violence in the country in view of the tensions being created over the shilanyas programme at Ayodhya, which would mark the initiation of the Ram temple there? To say that law and order is a state subject is hardly a responsible reply. The situation in Ayodhya throughout January and February had all the potential for causing a breakdown of public order but the zeal the government exhibited in countering terrorist violence was singularly missing when it came to dealing with possible violence by the majority community.

PRE-PLANNED CARNAGE

After the Godhra tragedy and independent of that tragedy, a genocide was unleashed on the Muslim population in Gujarat. The next day (February 28) attacks on the Muslim population began simultaneously in various parts of the state, which were clearly well planned long before the Godhra tragedy. Narendra Modi himself made this distinction when he described the events at Godhra as ‘communal violence’ and its aftermath in the rest of Gujarat as ‘secular violence.’ Various facts that have come to light indicate that the anti-Muslim violence in the state was independent of the Godhra tragedy. Both victims of the violence as well as many other independent witnesses confirmed that the government had been planning large-scale violence much before February 27. It was part of the preparations being made by the Hindutva brigade in tandem with the shilanyas programme in Ayodhya. The build-up of the hard-line sectarian agenda was very open. The statements of VHP International General Secretary Praveen Togadia, senior VHP Vice President Acharya Giriraj Kishore, National Convenor of the Bajrang Dal S.K. Jain and others in the month of February are instructive. The statements made with reference to the temple construction campaign in Ayodhya are extremely provocative and the message is very clear. Look at Pravin Togadia’s statement to the Asian Age, Mumbai on February 7: "It will have to be Pakistan or the Mandir. The mosque constructed by Babar at Ayodhya 450 years ago by destroying the Ram temple and the September 11 attack on World Trade Centre are symbols of Islamic Jihad. It is necessary for India, Jews and the western world to get together and fight Islamic militants." Such statements invariably prelude the massacre of the Muslim minorities living in our midst. In one statement, the Bajrang Dal leader had threatened that if Muslim organisations prevented the construction of the temple, the Dal would chant Hanuman Chalisa at the Jama Masjid in Delhi. The VHP and Bajrang Dal’s record of issuing threats and indulging in violence is well-known. Remember December 1992? The VHP had assured the Supreme Court that its kar sevaks would only sing kirtans in the vicinity of the Babri Masjid, and so they were allowed into the precincts of the mosque. What happened to the mosque is a continuing history! This time round, the preparations underway in other parts of the country can only be guessed from what happened in Gujarat. The scale of these preparations came to light when communal violence was sparked off in Godhra.


All the attacks in different parts of the state commenced almost simultaneously. The pattern of killing also never varied. A mob, locally termed a ‘tola’, comprising thousands of bloodthirsty men, would chase Muslims from one end and the police force would block them on the other to prevent them from fleeing to safety. The mob then fell upon them, and killed, quartered, and set their victims on fire

The BJP government took direct control of the postings and transfer of police inspectors. As soon as Narendra Modi assumed power, inspectors were carefully chosen to man certain police stations. He also handpicked the Commissioner of Police, who supervised the violence. Police officers belonging to the Muslim community were not given executive posts, but were transferred to man administrative posts. The Bajrang Dal and the VHP, the militant wings of the RSS, were allowed to spread their tentacles in the state machinery effectively. For quite some time, they have been working among the tribals and, in fact, used them as their sword arm in the post-Godhra carnage quite effectively. They had armed their cadre and we were told meetings were regularly held in various centres of the state. Since Godhra is known to be communally sensitive, the administration ought to have swung into action and used the preventive detention provisions of the law as soon as the train tragedy took place. That course was not open because several ministers in Modi’s cabinet were participating in the violence and/or monitoring the organised crowds to guarantee effective pillage and slaughter. Ministers Ashok Bhat and Jadeja occupied the police control rooms at Gandhi Nagar and Ahmedabad and directed the mayhem. Revenue Minister Hiren Pandya, eyewitnesses said, led the mob to destroy Muslims and their property. A former Chief Justice of the state emphatically confirmed the people’s version by declaring that the Constitution and the laws stood suspended on February 28 and the following days. Narendra Modi, like the anomic man, is "spiritually a sterile person responsive only to himself and responsible to none". Such a person is still allowed to continue as Chief Minister. This in itself, along with the support extended to him by the BJP and RSS leadership despite his lawless conduct while in office, is part of the all-India plan to realise Hindutva!

All the attacks in different parts of the state commenced almost simultaneously. The pattern of killing also never varied. A mob, locally termed a ‘tola’, comprising thousands of bloodthirsty men, would chase Muslims from one end and the police force would block them on the other to prevent them from fleeing to safety. The mob then fell upon them, and killed, quartered, and set their victims on fire. A child victim told us that he saw ten members of his family being slaughtered. The manner in which Jaffri, Kausar and Geetha Ben were killed are now household stories in the country. The murderers wore headbands imprinted with the words ‘Jai Siyaram’. The leaders of the tola sometimes asked their victims to say ‘Jai Siyaram’. When they refused, they were put to death. The tolas converted Lord Rama into a psychopathic, bloodthirsty god.

The violence did not stop with just the killings. There was an effort to destroy the identity of the dead. The same violence was used to kill the rich. The killers had lists of Muslims in each ward or mohalla, and lists of properties of the Muslims in each such locality. Two high court judges, one of them sitting, were attacked and their houses destroyed. They had to flee the judges’ colony and take shelter in a Muslim colony. When some fool had thrown a knife at Justice Grover of the Supreme Court, Indira Gandhi — describing it as a grave breakdown of law and order — had cited it as one of the reasons for invoking the Emergency. But in this case, when state-sponsored murderers attacked judges in their homes, the Supreme Court took no notice of it and failed to come to their rescue.

Women were raped in front of hysterical tolas. Pregnant women were killed and foetuses pulled out and quartered and thrown away. The leaders of the mobs zeroed in on inter-religious married couples and if one of them was a Muslim, killed them both. Children, too, were not spared. Properties and business houses of Muslims were systematically destroyed, including business houses where one of the partners happened to be a Muslim. Countless places of worship were destroyed. How does one explain this all-encompassing violence and destruction? Is it possible to conceive of madness without lucid intervals? Erich Fromm’s explanation of human destructiveness answers the question to some extent. According to Fromm, "the degree of destructiveness is proportionate to the degree to which the unfolding of a person’s capacities is blocked. If life’s tendency to grow, to be lived, is thwarted, the energy thus blocked undergoes a process of change and is transformed into life-destructive energy. Destruction is the outcome of unlived life."

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3

 
 
K.G. Kannabiran is an eminent human rights lawyer. President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, he was part of the Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal investigating
the recent sectarian violence in Gujarat. He lives in Hyderabad