Genocide in Gujarat: Destruction without relief

Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002

Destruction

Extensive evidence recorded by the Tribunal points to the devastating loss of property by the Muslim community in the state. Relying on detailed tabulation of losses computed by community leaders at the village, city and district levels, independent groups estimated the total loss to the Muslim community at not less than Rs 38 billion [US$ 850 million].

The Muslim community in Gujarat was one of the most prosperous in the country and its contribution to the economy of the state, pivotal. The fact that the economy of this section of the population has been crippled suggests a sinister motive behind the destruction. In most of the cases, chemicals were used, apparently to generate very high temperatures and ensure complete destruction.

As many as 6700 workers belonging to the majority community have been rendered jobless due to the burning and arson by the fanatic militia. At least 20,000 workers in the hotel industry were rendered jobless and many are missing. Ironically, many of those who lost their jobs were non-Muslims, indicative of the long-term impact of destruction and terror on all sections of society, not just the 10 per cent strong Muslim minority that is the immediate target.

While ignoring the genuine and pressing relief and rehabilitation needs of the survivors, the sponsors of the carnage and their cadre have now resorted to a crippling economic boycott against Muslims in many parts of Gujarat. In Vadodara, there have been over two dozen instances of Muslims being told by their Hindu employers not to come to work. Though overt violence has ended, ethnic cleansing continues in the form of the economic decimation of the minority in Gujarat.

The Tribunal is particularly disturbed by the fact that it is not just the ordinary workers of the Sangh Parivar, but even state ministers and other Hindutva leaders are involved in instigating the economic boycott of Muslims from behind the scenes. Home minister Shri Gordhan Zadaphiya and revenue minister Shri Haren Pandya, ministers Shri Narayan Laloo Patel, Shri Niteen Patel, forest minister Shri Prabhatsinh Chauhan, minister of state for cottage industries, Shri Ranjitsinh Chawda, among many others, have been named by eyewitnesses.

In all, over 270 mosques and dargahs have been destroyed and defaced. When the Tribunal members visited and inspected some of the damaged shrines in May, they were still in their ramshackle state. One mosque, which was rebuilt through the efforts of a Muslim religious organisation, was pulled down in July by officials of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, a body that is, ironically, controlled by the Congress Party of India.

Detailed evidence was recorded by us regarding the desecration of the tomb of Wali Gujarati, who is renowned as the founder of Urdu poetry. On March 1, his tomb, located not more than 10 metres from the office of Ahmedabad’s commissioner of police (also the police headquarters) was demolished and a saffron flag hoisted on the site. It is believed that the shrine was torn down by marauding mobs under the directions of Gujarat’s revenue minister, Shri Haren Pandya. This flag was removed on the night of March 2. On March 8, a tarred road was constructed at the site, leaving no trace whatsoever of the tomb that had stood there for nearly three centuries. It is shocking that a callous government and an unprincipled administration participated in the utter obliteration of this cultural monument and allowed a road to be constructed over it. Similarly, on the night of March 3, a 400-year-old mosque owned by the Wakf Board, and located near Anjali Cinema in Ahmedabad, was broken down in the presence of state ministers Shri Haren Pandya and Shri Amit Shah.

The Hague Convention of 1954, the ‘Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict’ stipulates that the preservation of “cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world” and that “damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind.” India is a signatory to this Convention. In 1972, a protocol to this Convention was adopted, which identified “cultural heritage” as, among other things, “monuments, architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science.” Every state that had acceded to the Hague Convention, it held, recognised that “the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage situated on its territory, belongs primarily to that State”.

At its general conference meeting in 2001, UNESCO adopted a resolution that sought to define the circumstances under which an act could be construed as a “crime against the common heritage of humanity”. It reiterated the need for all member-states to accede to and observe the various conventions it had evolved over the years. And it authorised the director-general of the organisation to formulate for the next session of the general conference, a draft declaration that would define the circumstances under which the “Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage” could be deemed to have taken place.

Evidently, besides being guilty of crimes against humanity, the chief minister of Gujarat is also guilty of crimes against the common heritage of humanity. And in its reluctance or refusal to intervene, the BJP-led government at the centre stands charged with flagrant violation of international conventions to which India is a signatory.

Medical attention

One of the most disturbing and sinister truths about some prominent masterminds behind the Gujarat carnage was the fact that many of them hailed from the medical profession and, despite their professional allegiance to the Hippocratic oath, violated it to lead mobs to rape, pillage, maim and kill and that too, in the most barbaric ways.

Justice AP Ravani spoke of his personal acquaintance and knowledge of doctors being threatened and told not to treat Muslims. At least six injured persons rescued from Chamanpura (Gulberg society), testified before the Tribunal confirming that the VS Hospital had refused them treatment, demanding that a police statement be obtained first. This, from a group of persons who had been brutalised and traumatised, having been witness to 60–70 of their close relations or neighbours stripped, raped, cut into pieces, and burnt alive.

As bad as the perpetration of crimes by medical professionals during the Gujarat carnage, and the attempts to brutally communalise hospital spaces, were the attempt by the police in Ahmedabad and Vadodara to actually harass and stop ambulance services belonging to the minority community. At the height of the carnage, these ambulance services were the only ones to provide desperately needed medical support, saving groups, carrying mutilated bodies, etc. The fact that even they were stopped, as were trucks carrying relief, indicates the premeditation of the carnage at the very top levels, as also the genocidal nature of its entire execution.

A severe strain on community health services was evidenced during and after the carnage, with the state abdicating its primary role. In the numerous relief camps that sprung up across the city/state, there was a severe problem of clean drinking water, sanitation facilities and adequate food. Children were suffering from jaundice, a water-borne disease, diarrhoea and dehydration. The strain on small privately run hospitals increased.

It appears that there were well-organised and coordinated efforts to deny medical aid to the Muslim community. Since most of the Muslims, dead or injured, were being taken to VS Hospital, it was made the target of the mobs. Muslim drivers would be so scared that they would refuse to go there.

Muslims were also terrified to go to government run hospitals to claim their dead because systematic efforts were made to create an atmosphere of dread and terror there. Menacing groups of youths would stalk the casualty departments of hospitals, 50–60 at a time.

No relief

From the night of February 28, when brutal and systematic attacks against targeted sections of the Muslims population in Ahmedabad city began, distressed residents were shepherded out of their homes and localities, often in hired buses, in the dead of the night by community leaders. Overnight, relief camps came up in the city and by March 5 a staggering 98,000 refugees were housed there. Even by the admission of the district magistrate and collector of Ahmedabad, there were 66,000 refugees in these camps. In none of these efforts was any state presence visible.

The Tribunal is greatly concerned and outraged by the fact that only the leadership of the Muslim community was involved in the running of the relief camps because others did not come forward. Though some non-Muslim NGOs did contribute substantial amounts of aid to these relief camps right until August, the vast bulk of relief assistance to the refugees came from the community itself.

The government is under a constitutional obligation to protect the basic rights of every citizen and duty bound to start and run relief camps for the violence affected. Instead, for days and weeks, the Gujarat government adamantly refused even to recognise the existence of refugees (a direct consequence of the state sponsored carnage). It refused to register the relief camps and denied relief assistance — water, food, medical aid, sanitation — from state coffers. In fact, in the days following the first bout of brutal violence, agents of the state, notably the collectors/district magistrates, as also the officials of some police stations, obstructed truckloads of privately mobilised relief material — milk, foodgrains, etc. — from reaching the camps.

The Tribunal notes with concern and anguish that an insignificant number of international aid agencies came forward to help the victims. Given the scale of the state-perpetrated violence and given the response of international aid agencies to such carnages in other areas in the past, it was incumbent on the United Nations relief agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as well as international humanitarian organisations, to provide relief and rehabilitation assistance to all those displaced and dispossessed by the communal carnage in Gujarat, without discrimination. That this did not happen speaks volumes about the political dimensions of aid and intervention by foreign countries when mass crimes of this kind occur.

Similarly, the fact that major national newspapers which, during such calamities in the past, have always set up independent relief funds, did not do so in this case speaks for the silence and complicity that surrounds relief and rehabilitation of the survivors of the Gujarat carnage. This bodes ill for India’s polity.

On March 6, none less than Gujarat’s minister for food and civil supplies, Shri Bharat Barot had the temerity to state in a much publicised interview that since Hindus in his constituency, living close to the Dariakhan Ghumbat camp in Ahmedabad, felt insecure with so many Muslims living in a camp nearby, the camp should be closed down. As recently as September 9, at Becharaji, Mehsana, none other than the chief minister made a shocking public declaration: “What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby producing centres?”

Due to the callous attitude of the government and threats of penal action against individuals, a camp at Jahangirnagar, Vatwa, was forced to shut down on June 1. As a result, over 600 refugees were forced to reside under the open sky despite heavy rainfall. None of these refugees had until mid-May received any compensation for the destruction of their homes.

The actions of the state government and its agencies in coercively shutting down relief camps are malafide, given the abject refusal of the government of Gujarat and its chief executive, Shri Modi, to actively engage in any rehabilitation or reconciliatory measures. The reluctance of the Gujarat government to provide relief to the inmates of these camps (where even water and food grains had to be obtained through court orders), and its subsequent use of coercion to close them down, is intrinsically connected to an abject and crude refusal to concern itself with rehabilitation of its citizenry.

None will argue that life in a relief camp should continue forever. But the scale and brutality of the violence at a dozen places across the state of Gujarat requires relocation of the victim-survivors to more conducive surroundings, where life, liberty and security can be somewhat assured. Hence the attitude of the Gujarat government in coercively closing down camps, thus forcing victims to ‘disappear’, is shocking, to say the least. Moreover, it is linked to the refusal of the government to rehabilitate the victims of the carnage. Both are violations of the just and humane principles underlying Indian constitutional law and international covenants related to violence, refugees and state responsibility.

This brings us to the crucial issue of compensation for the enormous human and material loss during such mass man-made disasters and crimes. Can the amount of Rs 1.5 lakh [150,000] ever compensate for the loss of a life deliberately, cruelly and brutally taken away? What when a family loses not one but over five family members, men and women, especially those who are in the prime of their lives, leaving bitter heirs behind? What about the loss of livelihood, dignity, a sense of family and security?

The Gujarat government showed itself in a crudely partisan and anti-constitutional light when it initially announced discriminatory amounts of compensation for the survivors of the Godhra tragedy and the post-Godhra carnage.

A measly Rs. 2500 is being given as dole to persons for loss of household goods and, though the Prime Minister had announced that Rs. 50,000 would be given for loss of homes, less than 10 per cent of those who have obtained home compensation from the Gujarat government (at least 25 per cent of the total affected have not received anything at all) have got more than Rs. 30,000 each. For most of the survivors of the Gujarat carnage, the state government has rubbed salt on the wounds already suffered, by giving them paltry amounts of Rs. 1200–2500 each or less.

Not only has no comprehensive rehabilitation package been declared even five months after the violence, no survey has been conducted. And by its behaviour and action, the government has made it clear that it wishes to have nothing to do with the physical and psychological rehabilitation of its own people, the Muslims of Gujarat.

Muslims who have returned to their battered homes have faced a strictly enforced economic boycott by the dominant castes and communities through their refusal to buy milk products from them, to hire them as labour on their fields, etc. A near permanent loss of livelihood, and therefore a reduction to penury, is an imminent and serious likelihood. The urgent need for intervention by central and state agencies is a must before this enforced destitution causes further alienation and marginalisation of these populations.

That only a fragile peace prevails in the state can be gauged from the fact that, with the slightest hint of fresh aggression or trouble, vulnerable sections of the Muslim population who have returned to their original or new places of residence rush back to the security of those camps that are still running.

The crimes against humanity that took place in the state of Gujarat after February 27, were all gross violations of basic human rights. The survivors were rendered destitute. All the homes, schools, cultural and religious places, that have been damaged or destroyed need to be rebuilt.

 

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