Gujarat victims were ‘stripped, burned and hacked’
Two months after the event that triggered Gujarat’s pogrom, Muslims in the western Indian state are still counting the cost. Yesterday, 40 survivors came to Delhi to tell journalists and parliamentarians how their relatives and friends had been stripped, raped, burned and mutilated.
A boy of 11, Raja Bundubhai, recalled seeing his mother and sister stabbed then burned alive. A woman identified as Reshma recounted how she saw a heavily pregnant woman called Kausar Bano “being brutally raped … Her stomach was carved open, her baby flung into the fire before she was sexually abused, cut up and burnt.”
On 27 February, a mob of Muslims in the town of Godhra attacked a train carriage full of Hindu activists returning from the temple town of Ayodhya, killing 59. Hindu retaliation in the days that followed left hundreds of Muslims dead in pogroms that shamed India and appalled the world.
And although the scale of violence has slackened, peace has yet to return to the state, famed as the home of Mahatma Gandhi and as an economic powerhouse before it became a byword for savagery.
At least 35 people have been killed in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital, in the past week. “They [Hindus] provoke us by yelling insults and bursting crackers during the night,” said Iqbal Kansara, who lives in Juhapura, a large Muslim area. “Youngsters who can’t stand the insults come out to retaliate and police fire at them.”
The state government says some 850 people have died in the violence, but a secret report by British diplomats leaked this week to the BBC says at least 2,000 died. The report claims that far from being a spontaneous eruption of Hindu anger after the Godhra outrage, the violence was pre-planned and carried out with the support of the state government.
The British officials said the violence had all the marks of ethnic cleansing, and that reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims was impossible while the controversial chief minister, Narendra Modi, was in place. Mr Modi heads the Hindu nationalist BJP government, and Gujarat is now the only sizeable state where the party that leads the ruling coalition in Delhi is in power. For this reason the central government is accused by the opposition of doing nothing to bring about normality. A censure motion on the government’s performance on Gujarat will be debated next week.
Delhi claims Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has apologised for the leaking of the report, but there have been many European rebukes. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said some governments were interfering and could damage relations. The “interference”, however, is unlikely to end as long as the government ignores the worst communal bloodletting in 10 years.
Tens of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat remain crammed into squalid camps, too scared to return to their homes. Some commentators believe cold political calculation by the BJP is to blame. The Indian Express said: “Because of the severe beating that the Muslims have taken … no Hindu is safe unless governments … partial to us are put in place.”