Gujarat: Almost Ten Years Since the Genocide

by Cedric Prakash

On Sept. 13 of this year, the US Department of State released its International Religious Freedom Report (July to December 2010) in which the communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat, India once again feature very prominently. Here are some excerpts from the Report:

“There was continued concern about the Gujarat government’s failure to arrest those responsible for the communal violence in 2002 that killed over 1,200 persons, a majority of which were Muslim. Media reports indicated some Muslims still feared repercussions from Hindu neighbors as they waited for the court cases to be resolved.”

“The situation for many persons displaced by the 2002 violence remained difficult. In September, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported that approximately 19,000 persons remained displaced eight years after the violence, living in 86 relief colonies that lacked adequate infrastructure and typically were not connected to city centers.”

“Consulate and senior embassy officers continued to express concern over the slow pace of bringing the perpetrators of the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 to justice.”

February to May 2002 will go down in the annals of Indian history as one its bloodiest chapters. In the early hours of the morning on Feb. 27, 2002, a train car was set on fire just outside Godhra railway station in Eastern Gujarat. The fire left 58 persons (mostly Hindu pilgrims) dead.

Even today, no one has been able to establish the cause of the fire. The then-home minister of India announced in Parliament that it was an accident, and most reliable reports seemed to agree with this assumption.

A day later several right-wing Hindu groups began mobilizing people toward violence, attacking unsuspecting Muslims throughout Gujarat. Murderous mobs plundered, looted, burnt, raped, and lynched at will. After almost three months of unabated violence, it is believed that more than 2000 Muslims were killed, with many more missing and hundreds of thousands rendered homeless.

India has a history of communal violence. Even before the country attained independence, religious wars between the Hindus and Muslims were commonplace. Even as he led the nation towards independence, Mahatma Gandhi (a native of Gujarat) strongly believed that unless communal harmony, meaning the tolerance and acceptance of one another across the religious divide, could prevail, India would never be truly free.

The tragedy of the Gujarat genocide was that the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, orchestrated it. There is ample evidence and testimonies of reliable witnesses who reported that he ordered top police and other officials to ensure that “the Muslims are taught a lesson.” That the army and other security forces were never called out to quell the violence or that Modi, as the chief executive of the state, has not shown any remorse nor uttered a word of compassion to the victims, also strongly supports these allegations.

Several Independent Commissions and Inquiries clearly point the blame at Modi, with the Supreme Court of India referring to him as “a modern day Nero” in a very disparaging remark.

Citizen groups, human rights activists, and others have consistently aided the victims of this genocide in their quest for justice. Victims have filed several cases in the Lower Courts, the High Court of Gujarat, and even the Supreme Court of India. There have been a handful of convictions and some perpetrators have been held responsible for the crimes they have committed.

Foreign governments have also responded. In 2003 the U.S. government denied Modi permission to enter the U.S. and even revoked two of the valid visas that he had held for the country. The European Union, through a demarché, held him responsible for the violence in Gujarat and declared him a “persona non grata” in all countries that form a part of the Union. Of course, the Islamic bloc would never think of allowing him to enter their states. Thus, despite being a democratically elected head of government, he is also considered an international pariah.

And yet, Modi continues to “get away.” Just a day before the U.S. State Department report was released, the Supreme Court passed a verdict that the monitoring of one of the Gujarat cases would be handed over to a trial court, which would frame charges and refer it to a Sessions Court. This was directly against and in spite of an allegation made by the petitioner, a victim, that the administration and the lower judiciary of the State were complicit in the denial of justice.

Modi and his right-wing political outfit, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), went into overdrive saying that the Supreme Court had exonerated Modi. “God is Great,” Modi tweeted, implying that he had been vindicated and that he was no longer culpable for the Gujarat genocide. In the meantime, the Indian media has been forced to blank out the U.S. State Department report.

On Sept. 17, in an act of bravado, Modi launched his Sadbhavna (harmony) Mission, including a three-day fast, with much fanfare and publicity. He said all the seemingly “right things” and stage-managed the show to near perfection, even allegedly getting people to dress up as Arab Sheikhs or Muslims with burquas and skull caps or Christian Pastors. He needed to showcase to the world that Gujarat 2002 is forgotten and that communities across the board supported him in his plans for “development and harmony.”

While Modi did get extensive media coverage, several editorials and op-eds were critical of his stunt. The victim survivors of the Gujarat carnage vociferously maintained that there could be no harmony without justice. There was not the slightest tinge of remorse in his many speeches during the three-day jamboree, though he constantly maintained that he had succeeded in vanquishing his detractors.

Modi and his supporters in power continue to twist the truth in a manner that is beneficial to them. What makes it worse is that there are many who buy into these lies. Modi continues to ride on waves of popularity, albeit only in certain pockets of the country. Yet at the same time, given his political ambitions to run for prime minister and rule the country, he and his coterie engage in acts that to a certain degree appear to be directed by fear. However, for the most part his actions are merely sinister.

In an incisive op-ed in the leading English Daily, DNA, the doyen of the human rights movement in Gujarat, Mr. Girish Patel, says,

“Chief Minister Narendra Modi may be celebrating what he believes is the ‘clean chit’ given to him by the Supreme Court in its September 12 order on Gujarat riot cases. But he forgets that besides personal culpability under criminal law, there is also what is called ‘constitutional culpability’ for elected government heads. Modi is clearly guilty under international criminal law on the basis of the principles of ‘command responsibility’ and ‘joint criminal enterprise’ for genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of basic human rights. Indian laws, Supreme Court judgments, and electoral victory cannot erase his guilt under international law. Let us join the international community and eliminate the current culture of impunity for those in power that prevails in the country.”

Clearly, almost ten years down the road, the journey, for many, has been a painful one. But they live in the hope that one day, truth and justice will prevail!

Fr. Prakash is a Jesuit Priest of the Gujarat Province of the Society of Jesus, as well as a human rights and peace activist. He has held several positions in the Society of Jesus and numerous other organizations. In the wake of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002, Fr. Prakash has been one of the voices championing the cause of the Muslims and other minorities. Currently, he is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice, and Peace, which he founded in 2001. He is also the Convener of the Gujarat United Christian Forum for Human Rights. Fr. Prakash is a visiting faculty member at numerous universities, including Marquette University, where he was the Wade Chair Scholar in 2009 – 2010; Eastern Mennonite University; and the Development Education Summer School of the European Union in Slovakia. His expertise includes group facilitation, strategic planning and evaluation, institutional mapping, conflict resolution, and peace building. He has been conducting workshops and trainings on these subjects for many years. He is the recipient of many prestigious awards from India, France, and the US for his work in peace building.

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