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No improvement yet in Muslims’ situation in Gujrat despite western governments’ noise

Zawahir Siddique

The whole world is anxious to find out about the ‘post pogrom’ situation in Gujrat. They will have to be patient; the pogrom is not yet over. The state apparatus and RSS/VHP/BD forces are still engaged in the ‘holy’ duty of ethnic cleansing. The genocide, now in its third month, is as brutal in its operation as it was in the beginning.

The recent escalation of violence in Ahmedabad ignited a new phase on April 21, when policemen killed more than a dozen Muslims in unprovoked firing in the Gomtipur area of Ahmedabad. Of those killed, six, including two women, were shot in the forehead point blank. On May 10 eight were killed, one of them burnt alive; 35 were injured as violence erupted once more in Ahmedabad on May 10, even as K. R. Kaushik took over as the new Police Commissioner in place of PC Pandey. Indefinite curfew was immediately imposed in four areas. In other incidents reported on May 10, three people were killed and over 30 injured when police opened fire to ‘disperse’ violent ‘mobs’ indulging in arson, stabbing and other activities in the Raikhad and Jamalpur areas.

Yet, despite the continuing incidents, the state apparatus and the law-and-order machinery continue to play their partisan roles. The central government has appointed KPS Gill as special security advisor to stem the tidal wave of ‘hatred’. Over 120 personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force arrived from New Delhi on the morning of May 10, and more were expected to arrive in the afternoon. That the government and the police have not deployed the 6,200-strong army and central paramilitary forces so far should be a warning Gill, who plans to bring in more force.

It is interesting to note the changes that the Gujrat government has been trying to bring in the administration. In the first ‘major shuffle’ in the police since the pogrom began, the Ahmedabad police commissioner, PC Pandey, has been removed and a ‘Muslim official’ appointed security advisor to Narendra Modi, the chief minister. Pandey, supposedly moved in the ‘public interest’, has been appointed additional director general of the armed police unit in Gandhinagar, instead of being dismissed from office altogether for his atrocious abuse of power.

Innumerable cases of attacks on fire-brigade personnel in different parts of Gujrat have been reported. The Ahmedabad fire brigade went on strike on the night of May 9, protesting attacks on firemen and their families in many areas, and the burning of ambulances that carried injured firemen to hospitals. However, the firemen ended the agitation on May 1 after assurances by the municipal commissioner that police protection would be provided while they answer fire-calls.

On April 1 the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) released its findings on the Gujrat situation, with preliminary comments and recommendations. Its report, prepared after the NHRC team visited Gujrat from March 19 to 22, is being kept “confidential” for the time being.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), on the other hand, made it “clear” that the state government’s description of violence as “communal riots” was a trivialization of the issues, indicating that the violence ought to be considered a pogrom. In spite of the growing ‘concerns’ of these non-governmental institutions, the state apparatus and its various arms seem to be unconcerned. On May 10 the Supreme Court declined to issue any direction for the extension of relief camps in Gujrat beyond May 31; the highest judicial authority of India made this declaration on its last working day, and will reopen only after two months of summer vacations. Whether or not the relief camps continue to function beyond May 31 makes little difference to the demoralized victims. The discrimination displayed by the state apparatus is utterly humiliating.

It is impossible to narrate every instance of the horrible atmosphere that prevails in much of Gujrat. The inhuman decision of the state government deliberately to deny opportunities to Muslim students in Gujrat is just a minor instance of the persistent abuse of human rights. The Muslim students, expected to appear for their crucial grade 10 and grade 12 examinations, have been compelled to boycott their examinations. This desperate decision followed the refusal of the state government to guarantee their safety to return from their examination-centres to their refugee-camps. The state government also denied Muslim students examination centres in ‘Muslim-friendly’ areas, although Hindu students have been provided with examination-centres in their own strongholds. Other incidents, such as selective attacks on Muslim students during primary-level examinations, are also reported in plenty. The over-emphasis on education should not mislead readers about the wide variety of bestialities committed against the Muslims of Gujrat. More than one instance is known of pregnant women being cut open and their unborn babies being burnt or otherwise murdered.

The remarkable events in Gujrat have for the first time in the history of India provoked significant international attention. India is little worried about its tarnished image, although it is definitely concerned about the probable decline in foreign investments. Swiss foreign minister Joseph Deiss has not only expressed his ‘concern’ to Vajpayee, Advani and Jaswant Singh in separate meetings, but also cancelled his visit to Swiss-aided projects in Gujrat. British foreign secretary Jack Straw was the first to express “deep concerns about the deaths and injuries on both sides of the religious divide” in Gujrat. Christina Rocca, US assistant secretary of state, called the riots “horrible”; Finnish foreign minister Erkki Twomioja made sharp remarks in an interview.

In between came ‘leaks’ to selected Indian and foreign media. The British high commissioner’s internal report to the British foreign office was ‘leaked’: it called the post-Godhra violence “pre-planned and aimed at removing Muslim influence from parts of the state”. The dossier, compiled by British diplomats in New Delhi, also estimated that the number of deaths in Gujrat was approaching 2,000 while the Vajpayee government’s own estimate was still to reach three digits.

The German embassy’s report spoke of “surgical strikes” against Muslims and Muslim-owned establishments, and commented that India’s democratic and secular credentials had been damaged. The Dutch report blamed Narendra Modi for his failure to protect “minorities”. The EU’s internal report was the most damning of all, even mentioning “the clear evidence of complicity by the state ministry”.

India’s external affairs ministry at first responded arrogantly. Nirupama Rao, their spokesman, said, “India does not appreciate interference in our internal matters and we have faced difficult diplomatic situations in the past over Kashmir and Pokhran nuclear tests.” One EU source responded sharply: “when over 900 people have died and over 140,000 people are in refugee camps, Gujrat can no longer be called an internal matter, and we cannot turn a blind eye to events like Gujrat riots.” Veteran ex-diplomat G. Parthasarathy was even more emphatic: “India should consider itself very lucky that the Israeli offensive against Palestine took place simultaneously with the Gujrat riots and we should thank Ariel Sharon for diverting the world’s attention from Gujrat.”

It is the British immigrants from India who could end up giving Vajpayee his biggest international headache. The relatives of those killed in the Gujrat pogrom are determined to bring Narendra Modi to book, and cases against him will shortly be filed in Britain and Belgium (Belgian law allows Belgian courts to hear cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity regardless of the crimes were committed). In another move by the British relatives, Vajpayee, Advani and Modi have been indicted before the European Court of Human Rights. Habibullah Akudi, the British lawyer who represents the families of the victims, hopes to have Modi, Vajpayee and Advani charged in the European court with presiding over an “organized pogrom” against Gujrat’s Muslim community; he will also file a charge of murder against the chief minister of Gujrat in the British high court.

Narendra Modi, the Gujrat chief minister, claimed initially that he brought the state “under control” within 72 hours. Little or no control seems to have been achieved even after 72 days. Even those who were in the forefront of the hate campaign in the first 72 hours seem to have no control now over the mobs that pounce when and as they please, even as the official deathtoll approaches four figures and the non-governmental estimates approach four times that.

When earthquake struck Gujrat last year, victims were provided ‘humanitarian relief’ tainted with religious discrimination: Muslims were often beaten and given assistance only if they sang Hindu songs. If this could happen after a natural calamity that struck everyone in Gujrat, Hindu and Muslim alike, just a year ago, then there can be absolutely no surprise that the state treats Muslims with such vicious contempt during a campaign aimed at setting ‘ethnic cleansing’ records.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 6

Rabi' al-Awwal 03, 14232002-05-16

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