SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE HINDUTVA ASSAULT ON CALIFORNIA
Details: Visit the CA
Textbooks Issue Home Page
Today, we in California are facing a
Hindutva assault on school history textbooks of the kind that went on
a few years ago in India. This is an issue of rising concern in the California
community and we at Friends of South Asia are alarmed by these attempts
to misrepresent India and South Asia's ancient history and the history
of Hinduism. Please join us in speaking out against these attempts to
distort history texts with propaganda. (more
NOTORIOUS INDIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSER
DENIED ENTRY INTO US!
Coalition of thirty five human rights organizations
wins first victory
“Victory and a New Resolve for Justice” Rally to be held as scheduled on Sunday
March 20th 4:30 PM Outside the Madison Square garden.
YORK— The American State department decision to deny Mr. Narendra Modi,
the Chief Minister of Gujarat and chief architect of the Gujarat pogrom
of 2002, a diplomatic visa and to revoke his existing tourist/business
visa based on the International Religious Freedom Act is a landmark victory
for the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG). The denial of a visa
to Mr. Modi is not the outcome of a diplomatic battle between governments,
instead it reflects the strength of the transnational alliance between
South Asian organizations and human rights groups in the U.S. The CAG
action against Modi that began February 24th 2005, ran simultaneous
campaigns on multiple fronts and received strong support from international
organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Institute on Religion and
Public Policy (IRPP) and Amnesty International (AI). The 35 organizations
in U.S. and Canada that constitute CAG represent a spectrum that include
women’s organizations, youth collectives, secular groups as well as Hindu,
Sikh, Christian and Muslim organizations (www.coalitionagainstgenocide.org)
Mr. Modi is directly
implicated in the 2002 massacre in Gujarat, India, of more than 2,000 persons
and is a member of a violent and chauvinistic Hindu nationalist organization
called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – National Volunteers Corps).
The RSS is a shadowy all-male organization drawing inspiration from Hitler
and Mussolini that trains militia-like groups of men and indoctrinates
them into ideologies of racial/religious cleansing. Mr. Modi currently
faces two law suits for crimes against humanity in India, and is in violation
of international laws and conventions including Convention on the Elimination
of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the International Religious
Freedom Act of 1998.
Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) campaign focus was to educate and inform
the American public and policymakers about Mr. Narendra Modi’s role in
the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and in preventing justice being delivered to the
victims of the pogroms. Although Mr. Modi is attempting to characterize
the state department’s visa denial as a nationalist issue, we would like
to point out that he was not here to represent the Indian state. Instead,
he was sponsored by a corporate entity, the Asian American Hotel Owners
Association (AAHOA), that condoned his abysmal human rights record and
invited him as chief guest for their annual convention in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida on March 24, 2005. CAG’s publicity and outreach actions included
letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a campaign to inform members
of the U.S. Congress, and a phone and fax campaign against MSNBC host Chris
Matthews, American Express and the California State University, Long Beach,
who were sponsoring and participating in Mr. Modi legitimation process
during his U.S. visit. CAG’s first success came when Chris Matthews withdrew
from the AAHOA convention. Further, the CAG campaign moved Rep. Conyers
to introduce Resolution 156 in Congress condemning Mr. Modi and finally
led to the denial/revocation of the visas by the State department. Responding
to the announcement of visa denial, CAG spokesperson Usha Zacharias said
the visa denial decision “is a testimony to the work done by large segments
of the progressive organizations in India and abroad who documented in
great detail the abuses of Mr. Modi. CAG’s work in the U.S .was to use
this detailed documentation and highlight the desperate need for justice
to the victims of the pogrom in Gujarat.”
will continue with its plans to hold a rally on Sunday March 20th at
4:30 PM outside the Madison Square Garden where Mr. Modi was to speak,
except that it will be a “VICTORY AND A NEW RESOLVE FOR JUSTICE” rally
instead of a protest. The Sunday rally will highlight the continuing human
rights violations in Gujarat and push further for the speedy delivery of
justice to the victims of the 2002 pogrom. In addition the rally will challenge
the role of the US supporters of the divisive politics espoused by Mr.
Modi and his political party, and their attempts to direct money to institutions
in India that promote hate-mongering and communal violence.
the denial of visa to Mr. Modi as a clear victory for supporters of human
rights and justice in the U.S. and in India. It sends a clear message that
perpetrators of religious and political persecution can be held accountable
for their actions through dedicated work by broad, inclusive coalitions. Indian
and U.S. groups share a long, common tradition of battling for human rights,
and securing justice for the oppressed that CAG and its partners will continue
to build on. In this context, we call on the Indian government to legally
follow up this decision by pressing criminal charges against Modi, and
by choking the funding pipeline that runs from the U.S. to India to facilitate
the growth of Hindutva’s violent politics.
also call on all organizations concerned with minority rights and women’s
rights to join us in our battle against the RSS ideology of ethnic cleansing
we witnessed in horrific detail in the 72-hour pogrom in Gujarat. Amnesty
International has clearly held the state of Gujarat, headed by Mr. Modi,
responsible for gender crimes in its report, Justice, the victim - Gujarat
state fails to protect women from violence http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa200012005,
as has Human Rights Watch. The cancellation of Mr. Modi’s visit represents
the first step in a battle we must continue to fight.
For more info on Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), please visit
A Sadbhavna Mission for Healing the Wounds of the People of Gujarat
September 6-24, 2002
Reflections From Our Trip to Gujarat,
Delhi, and Other State Capitals
(* With apologies to Swami Vivekananda, whose spirited and unabashed defense
of Hinduism from yesteryear is being wilfully distorted by some into a hate
campaign against the minorities of India.)
are a delegation of NRIs, representing various organizations from the U.S.,
who went to India on a non-partisan humanitarian mission, to see for ourselves
the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage. We went there to listen, and to learn
about what we can do to support initiatives for communal harmony. We met
a wide cross section of civil society, including the victims of the unprecedented
violence; NGOs who have been caring for them; and other citizen's groups,
businessmen, religious leaders, politicians and the media.
As ruling party officials in Gujarat and New
Delhi declined to meet with us, we could only meet with the opposition parties.
We conveyed to them our views on the desperate humanitarian situation in
Gujarat, and challenged them on how they would rule differently should they
return to power. We presented our observations and recommendations in a memorandum
to the President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, at the Rashtrapathi
Bhavan on September 12. We met the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh,
Mr. Chandrababu Naidu, on September 23, and urged him to use his influence
in New Delhi to bring some hope to those who are still being victimized in
Children of Shahpur Camp #26
of us are now back in the U.S. to share our experiences with others; to
raise awareness in the NRI community about the dangers of continued silence
about the break-down of the rule of law in Gujarat; and to raise funds
for the rehabilitation of the victims. Some of us plan to spend more time
in India to pursue individual actions in support of communal harmony and/or
to work against the politics of hate.
have prepared this write-up for our friends, and others who care about
what is happening in India, to give them a sense of what we saw and heard.
Our observations are based on notes and recollections by some of us, and
do not necessarily represent the collective view of this diverse delegation.
Where possible, we have included a Q & A format, representing the general
thrust of our conversations with our hosts (not direct quotes).
"Five crore Gujaratis have been
affected by the violence," declared our leader in a press conference
in Ahmedabad. Some of the journalists were incredulous--they were quite
sure that he had his numbers wrong. He hastened to explain: "Yes,
we think that every Gujarati--Muslim, Hindu, and Christian--is a victim
Shri Poddar with Camp Residents
had heard of the severe strains that the economy of Gujarat was going through--especially
in foreign direct investment, the hospitality sector, transportation, and
small businesses. We had heard of increasing unemployment, especially among
youth--for example, thousands of Rabari youth losing their jobs
as a result of over a thousand Muslim-owned restaurants being burnt down.
But more than all the economic losses, we could sense the fear in the air
in cities like Ahmedabad and Vadodara, beneath a veneer of normalcy. People
seemed genuinely baffled that the Muslim community, which had been demonized
for so long, had kept its peace, in spite of the scale of brutality inflicted
upon them. There was apprehension everywhere that this wasn't going to
last long, especially in light of constant provocations by the likes of
Modi, Singhal and Togadia. Some even speculated that the troika's inflammatory
rhetoric was designed to elicit some sort of violent reaction from the
victims, which could then be used to justify further violence.
They may have been right. The reaction came just a few
days after we departed Gujarat
at Akshardham. Was the deplorable
terrorist attack on the Swaminarayan temple the kind of response they were
dreading? Are there more to come? Is the good sense that prevailed in Gujarat
after Akshardham a harbinger of peace? Or is there a risk that continuing
communal killings in places like Vadodara will be exploited once again by
Women Who Bore the Brunt
tried to seek our own answers to such troubling questions during our week
of travel in Gujarat, during which we spoke to numerous victims and camp
organizers to understand the ground reality. We visited Gulberg Society,
Naroda Patiya, Juhapura and Sanklit Nagar, and several chalis and
unofficial camps in Ahmedabad. In the Panchmahals, we visited the Godhra
relief camp, Kalol camp, the village of Boru, Halol camp, and the village
A Muslim Home in Ghasiram Chali
visits lead us to the unfortunate and inescapable conclusion that there
is an officially sanctioned and orchestrated campaign in Gujarat to harass
and punish the victims of the carnage, through every available means available
to the state. The objective seems to be to drive them to desperation, force
them to permanently forsake their land and homes, and perhaps even leave
the state altogether. In many cases, Hindu neighbors are setting humiliating
conditions, including dropping of criminal charges against the killers
amongst them, before allowing their Muslim neighbors back. But there are
also instances of Hindu neighbors welcoming back their former neighbors.
(But for the interference and connivance by politicians and the police,
we are sure that there would have been many more such healing initiatives
by both communities.)
Here is a picture of what we termed in our memorandum to
the President as the 'Third Carnage' underway in Gujarat:
all the camps are officially closed, when many people still do not have
a home to go to or feel safe enough to return. This is clearly designed
to put pressure on the victims and their relatives, who are exhausting
their own meager savings.
85,000 high school students are in a limbo after their exams were deliberately
disrupted. Most can't afford private tuition. Many youth are reported to
comparison to the Rs. 2,000-4,000 crores in estimated damages (10,000 homes
and 18,000 properties) only Rs. 250 crores of aid is in the pipeline, including
Rs. 150 crores from the PM's Relief Fund.
the average, victims have received less than 10% of their losses in compensation--and
it's not unusual to see checks amounting to less than 1% of the reported
loss (e.g. Rs. 500 and Rs. 2,000 for properties worth Rs. 1 lakh!)
the death compensation of Rs. 1.5 lakhs, a significant portion is in Narmada
Bonds! Also, there is no hope of compensation for the large number of missing
persons, unless relatives can produce the equivalent of Rs. 4.5 lakhs in
collateral (this is under review, we were told).
legal system is loaded with public prosecutors who are often acting more
like defense attorneys for the accused murderers, and as prosecutors of
their own clients. Some of them are also known to be office-bearers of
FIRs have been doctored with, or superceded by cyclostyled 'omnibus' FIRs,
which replace the names of the accused people with terms like 'unruly mobs,'
ensuring that there will never be any prosecutions. (In one instance, our
guide was personally at a police station with a victim to inquire about
the status of her FIR. "The accused is absconding," the
police asserted, even as the accused man was seated right next to them!)
grim statistics make the point loud and clear: The elected government
of Gujarat was happy to collude, encourage, or stand on the sidelines as
mad men and women systematically destroyed human lives and property. But
it WILL NOT take any responsibility to rebuild people's lives, shifting
that impossible burden to already over-stretched NGOs and private citizens.
of these insurmountable odds, however, we were amazed at the fortitude
of the people affected. For example, we found Muslim legal assistance groups
to be more optimistic about prosecutions than other legal aid groups, who
were quite sure that there would never be any convictions. (Q: Is this
because the minority community doesn't have the luxury of being cynical?)
Wherever possible, people in urban areas are trying their best to return
to their homes and businesses, notwithstanding hostile neighbors. When
asked why they don't leave the state to go to places like Bangalore or
Hyderabad or Mumbai, victims in one camp responded unanimously: "Why
should we? This is where the jobs are."
Beneficiaries of EKTA/CAC/AIF Funds
a week of heart-wrenching visit to Gujarat, we left behind thousands of
victims, Hindus and Muslims, carrying a few indelible impressions with
leaders fighting an impossible battle on multiple fronts--relief supplies,
compensation, housing, rebuilding businesses, legal remedies, etc., while
worrying endlessly about their children's education, and the possibility
of their turning to violence.
of Naroda Patiya, who point to the unscathed Hindu temple and Hindu Houses
in their midst as symbols of communal amity that had existed, even as they
live patiently on the streets for their modest homes to be rebuilt. (We
were pained to hear that many of these people had to rush back to safe
havens within hours of Akshardham, in anticipation of more violence
which, mercifully, never came.)
women, who would rather get on with their lives than pursue cases of indescribable
violence against them (perhaps, to the consternation of women's groups).
man who keeps a vigil in front of the locked home of Kausar Bano, the pregnant
woman whose stomach was cut open, and the fetus pulled out and torched. "Arent
you going to visit the spot?" he asks. We just don't have the
Hindu volunteer in the Sanklit Nagar camp, who had to take off her bindhi for
a few days so that she didnt scare the already traumatized children
in the camp.
villagers in Panchmahal, whose minds have been so poisoned that our attempt
to dialogue with one Sarpanch leads to a not-so-veiled threat against our
and other poor Hindus, who may be slowly realizing that they too were manipulated
by the politicians to turn against their neighbors and friends. (Some of
them may have had the dubious distinction of being participants in the
violence as well as its victims: When we toured Naroda Patiya, we could
see that the mob hadn't been able to make distinctions between Dalit and
Muslim homes, which often shared a common wall. Many of these homes are
now being rebuilt by the Islami Relief Committee, with support from secular
class Hindus, who are facing the fear of violence every day, and may be
beginning to understand the scale of brutality that had occurred right
under their noses. (The recent apology from a section of the Jain community
may be one such indicator.)
who have been conditioned into believing that anyone who speaks up for
a secular India is anti-Hindu, and found it hard to believe that we were
ready and willing to meet with relatives of the Godhra train victims.
is near-unanimous: the Indian media had, by and large, done an exemplary
job of covering the Gujarat violence and its aftermath--not just the ugly
side, but also the humanitarian side, i.e. citizens from all communities
reaching out to help one another. The exception to the rule, we had been
told, was the Gujarati press, Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar in
particular. We had very much wanted to meet with those editors, and we
finally got a chance to do so
with Gujarat Samachar. (Sandesh refused
to meet with us.) We also met with Gujarat Today, which caters primarily
to the Muslim community, and had taken a lead role in relief work through
its various charities. In Hyderabad, we got a chance to talk at length
with the publishers of The Siasat Daily, the largest Urdu daily
in the city, which has the reputation of being a progressive voice within
the Muslim community. In addition, we were also able to hold press conferences
in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, New Delhi and Hyderabad; and we were able to meet
several veteran journalists in New Delhi.
Najama Sultana Speaking to Reporters
some impressions from these encounters:
We are quite nervous as we are ushered into the publisher's
office, after an on-again, off-again appointment. Shri Shreyans Shah and
his brother Bahubali are immaculately dressed. The office smells of sweet
incense and is decorated with Hindu icons. We nervously exchange pleasantries.
Our leader is quick to state our purpose: "We have read reports
of incitement and mis-reporting by your paper in the days following Godhra.
We are here to talk to you and find out the truth for ourselves."
That opening remark elicits a barrage of comments from the
duo: "What is the basis of your accusation? Where is your evidence? If
we are anti-Muslim, would we dare step out of this office, which is in
a Muslim-dominated area? We have always been critical of the establishment,
including Modi. This is not a question of Hindu Vs Muslim, but a nexus
between politicians and criminals. The central problem is our judiciary,
which is anti-Hindu--Why do they need years to reach a verdict on Ram Janambhoomi?
English papers are totally biased. They deliberately reported that Ahsan
Jafri's daughter was raped. They print such lies and never retract them
Before they go any further, we introduce them to Nishrin
Hussain, daughter of ex-M.P. Ahsan Jafri, who has joined our delegation from
Delaware. (Ahsan saab was brutally murdered by mobs in front of his home
in Gulberg Society on February 28.) The Shahs are taken aback for a moment...but
continue their tirade. Nishrin asks them what they had done to defend her
father's work on communal harmony, instead of maligning him after his murder.
(The Editor's Guild had reported that Gujarat Samachar had published
an article after the Gulberg massacre implying that Ahsan Jafri 'deserved
it.') Shri Bahubali can't contain himself: "Did your father ever
write about Kashmir? What about Pakistani terrorism? What about the Pandits?" Nishrin
snaps back, "Sir, my father was a Gujarati first and a patriot. He
worked here in this state and wrote about his environs. Why should he carry
any special burden to write about Kashmir?"
The Shahs claim that they have written in the past in support
of their 'friend' Jafri saab. They attack the Editor's Guild as biased,
and claim that they have received a written apology from them. We get the
feeling that they resent being clubbed with Sandesh, which had clearly
broken all norms of decency in its reporting. (We understand that
competition between the two papers is fierce, which could partly explain
their race for sensationalism--throughout our conversation, they kept emphasizing
their circulation figures.) We aren't quite prepared with original research
in Gujarati to confront them with specifics of their provocative reporting,
as we hadn't really expected to meet them! So we ask, "If you are
so sure about the nexus between politicians and criminals, then why didnt
you publish those details [instead of blaming the minorities]?" Their
response: "We cant publish such things without 100% proof!"
As we continue our exchange, there is less tension in the
air, and we seem to be getting across to each other at some level. They
offer to print an article by Nishrin, unedited. They offer their library
to us, should we choose to do our research and bring to their attention
specifics of mis-reporting. We readily accept their offer. But do we have
the bandwidth to follow up?
The discussion veers to America and their perception of our
double standards: "You allow America to destroy another country
because of 9/11, and you complain about what happened in Gujarat?" We
assure them that most of us do not support American foreign policy in Asia.
But, we point out, Bush had addressed the nation within days of the 9/11,
flanked by Muslim Americans, to proclaim that we shouldn't equate Islam
with terrorism: "How come none of our leaders here did something
similar to stop the carnage in Gujarat?" Shri Shah is visibly
angry at what he perceives as our staunch defence of President Bush.
We decide to take their leave while we are still 'ahead.'
But, somehow, we get the feeling that both sides had come out of the meeting
with a slight change in perception of each other. Nonetheless, a human
gesture on their part to condole Nishrin for her tragic personal loss might
have helped their cause with us much more. But that was never to come.
we didn't get a chance to meet the editors of Sandesh, we got a
chance to recall an article they had published sometime prior to Godhra,
accusing Muslims of 'deceptively' naming their establishments with Hindu
names. One of the reports we received in Ahmedabad contained a list of
restaurants destroyed (a classic example of prior incitement by Sandesh).
Our curiosity was aroused, and we read on: Citycorner, Sanflower, Signor,
Supreme, Central, Tasty, Way Wait, Appicurian, A-one, Kabir, Alpha, Lakeview,
Topaz, Sarvoday, etc. Some Hindu names!
Gujarat Today seems to be more than just a newspaper--it represents
a proactive movement for education and health among the poor, especially
Muslims. Their office is quite a contrast to that of Gujarat Samachar--just
one big warehouse, with a modest office in the corner. Mr. Tirmizi, the Publisher,
is very focussed on relief and rehabilitation efforts, in which they have
been quite active from day one, through their holding charities, Lok-Hit
Prakashan Sarvajanik Trust, Shah-e-Alam and Al-Ameen Lok Hit Charitable
Trust. He also talks about their support for ongoing legal work on behalf
of the victims. As we narrate our Gujarat Samachar visit, he says
with a smile: "They are my friends." We find that he is
not in such a charitable mood when it comes to Sandesh.
The Editor's Guild report had acknowledged this paper's balanced
and wide coverage of the Gujarat violence. After meeting the editorial
staff, we too can sense their professionalism.
The Siasat Daily:
We had called Mr. Jahid Ali Khan, publisher of The Daily
Siasat, an Urdu paper in Hyderabad, barely 48 hours before our visit.
So we are pleasantly surprised that he has arranged a private dinner,
interviews with his reporters, and a well-attended public meeting at
the Siasat offices. His entire household has become vegetarian
for the evening, as he openly discusses a wide range of issues affecting
the Muslim community, and its relation with the majority: dearth of enlightened
leadership, education, women's role, cow slaughter, uniform civil code,
police-citizen relations, etc. Nothing seems off limits. A strong proponent
of the Urdu language, he chides the community for clinging to the notion
that they should send their children only to Urdu medium schools, which
according to him are ill-equipped, ill-maintained and ill-staffed. "We
should be pragmatic," he says. "What's wrong in sending
our children to Telugu medium schools and benefiting from it, with Urdu
still as the second language?"
A Public Meeting at The Daily Siasat
He is proud of the strong tradition of communal harmony in
Hyderabad, and the role his paper plays in the community. Like everyone
in Hyderabad, he is elated that the just concluded Ganpathi Visarjan celebrations
had gone off without any violence, for the first time. But how? He tells
us how some Muslim neighborhoods had welcomed the processions, and had
even offered water to the Hindus; how the Hindus had invited the Iranian
ambassador to officiate at one ceremony; and how the entire law and order bandobast for
the day had been lead by the second man in command of the police--a Muslim!
Did all of these represent a change in mindset and tactics
by the Hyderabadis to maintain harmony? Or did they represent good governance,
something sadly missing in many states? Almost everyone we spoke to thinks
that the two went hand-in-hand. And they applaud their CM for taking care
of the needs of all the communities and for maintaining harmony, in spite
of the pressures he must face from NDA and from local units of BJP.
Muslims here do empathize strongly with the minorities in
Gujarat, and have been providing a lot of succor to the victims, both financial
and emotional. The Daily Siasat alone had raised over Rs. 6 crores,
we are told, which is being disbursed through Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind.
We get a chance to speak to many of these donors and supporters of Siasat at
a public meeting. Among other themes, Najma, an NRI-SAHI delegate and a
native of the city, talks eloquently about the need for her community to
look inwards into issues of education and women. Satinath, another NRI-SAHI
delegate, focuses on the coming Gujarat elections, and talks about why
it is important for every state in India to send contingents to Gujarat
to defeat communal politics.
Notwithstanding their strong feelings about Gujarat, many
Hyderabadi Muslims seem willing to 'forgive' Naidu for not making good
on his threat to walk out of NDA. Why? In their scheme of things, retaining
Naidu as their CM seems to be a very high priority.
Many of us in the NRI-SAHI delegation are novices when it
comes to the press corps, but we did all right in the four press conferences
that we hosted. Attendance was quite good at all the venues, thanks to
our coordinators, who had done a lot of groundwork in a very short time.
We received extensive coverage in the print media, in English, Gujarati,
Hindi, Urdu and Telugu. Nishrin and Shrikumarji were on Star TV with
Rajdeep Sardesai. And Aaaj Tak featured the entire Delhi press conference.
Aditi Desai at the Vadodara Press Conference
Why so much interest in this 'not-so-high-powered' NRI delegation,
seven months after Godhra? After all, we had brought no joint venture business
proposals, no checks to be presented to politicians at public functions,
and we did not represent any bilateral aid agencies or human rights organizations.
The only plausible answer we could think of was that this was the first
time ever that an NRI delegation had come to India on a peace mission.
For the most part, the press corps was very supportive. At
times, the Delhi conference felt like a memorial service for Ahsan Jafri.
But there were also many questions about the role of NRIs in funding right
wing Hindu organizations in India. The conferences in Ahmedabad and Vadodara,
however, were quite tension-filled. The questions were dominated by a few
hard-liners, whose line of questioning, not surprisingly, went thus:
Q: "Why are you coming seven months later? What about Godhra? Did
you visit the Godhra victims? Where is the proof that Modi declined to
meet with you? What about terrorism in Kashmir? Did you do anything for
A: "We condemn terrorism of all sorts, anywhere. In
fact, we are ready to meet the relatives of the Godhra killings, but
no one even had a list of the victims until just two weeks back. Some
of us will be happy to return to Gujarat to meet them. As for Kashmir,
yes, we have condemned terrorism there as well, but one must recognize
that the Gujarat carnage was a clear case of state-supported terrorism,
and the incitement is still going at the highest levels
One reporter persists even after the end of the press conference: "Have
you ever tried to enter Dariapur?" His view of Dariapur as a
dangerous place (a mini-Pakistan as some call it) appears to be shared
by many otherwise reasonable Ahmedabadis. So we pop the question later
to several people. One of them refers us to a Washington Post investigative
report, which is supposed to have debunked the myth of Dariapur. Others,
some of whom are visibly orthodox Hindus, say that they walk around in
Dariapur all the time and had never felt threatened in any way.
Perhaps the reality is somewhere in-between. Perhaps, communities
like Dariapur are well prepared to defend themselves, which might explain
why they were largely left alone in the carnage. (The planners seem to
have mainly targeted areas where Muslims were a minority.) On the other
hand, bad legends and paranoia have a way of taking hold in people's imaginations
(like the demonization of Palestinian villages in the Jewish psyche). In
our view, only vigorous efforts by civil society to promote a dialogue
between the communities can possibly exorcise the 'ghost of Dariapur.'
Veteran Journalists and Jurists:
We met several seasoned journalists and former judges during
our visit with I.K. Gujral, former Prime Minister of India. There seems
to be a genuine sense of alarm among many of them that we are at a critical
crossroad in our nation's history: a choice between an explosive combination
of fascism and religiosity OR a secular, if imperfect, democracy. "If
we lose Gujarat, that's the end of secular India," we heard some
of them say. While agreeing with the feeling that the nation is indeed
at a critical juncture, Mr. Gujral gently chided the 'all or nothing' viewpoint.
He reiterated his abiding confidence in the good sense of the people of
India and described how, after Gujarat, many Islamic groups had come forward
to him with positions that would have hitherto been unthinkable. He also
reminded everyone about how the people of India had surprised the world
by defeating Indira Gandhi's rule.
Q: What are veteran Indian journalists doing about the new wave of Internet
journalism by apologists for the Sangh Parivar, who seem to have become
darlings of the right wing NRIs--e.g. writers like Rajeev Srinivasan
and Varsha Bhosle?
A: Rajeev who?
Clearly, some of them are out of touch with the NRI Internet
scene. Others agree that it is important to prevail upon portals like Rediff
to present a wider spectrum of opinions.
Gulberg Society (Chamanpura):
this narrative with our solemn pilgrimage to the Gulberg Society compound
in Chamanpura, where ex-Congress M.P. Ahsan Jafri, and over 70 other men,
women and children seeking shelter at his home, were brutally hacked or
burned to death by a mob on February 28. (Over 10 women were gang raped
and then burnt alive, according to eyewitnesses.) The so-called mob was
lead by people whom the victims knew well--neighbors, friends, and political
partisans of the neighborhood. Ahsan saab had made over 200 desperate phone
calls for help to the police and to politicians in Gujarat and Delhi. But
no help came to save the man who had worked all his life for communal harmony;
only cruel comments at the other end of the phone such as, "Is
he still alive?"
Entrance to the Jafri Home
the first time Nishrin is setting foot in her grotesquely charred home.
She takes off her shoes, for she knows not where her abba lies.
As she tries to come to terms with tell-tale signs of indescribable brutality
at her childhood home, and surveys the kitchen where her mom had cooked
and fed them, we see traces of chemicals all over the walls and ceiling.
We see the destruction wrought by their own propane cylinders, which the
mob had systematically exploded. We are told that the compound was littered
with hundreds of vials of mysterious chemicals, some of which have been
sent to labs for analysis. There is also speculation that the 'mob' had
used chemicals donated by other countries following the 2001 earthquake,
to help 'melt' concrete and steel to reach survivors. How did they have
access to such potent chemicals, which may have been used to 'melt' human
beings? Are we seriously expected to believe that all this was the result
of spontaneous popular rage?
takes us back to the open stairwell at the back of the house, which leads
to the first floor. She points to the piles of bricks and stones still
lying on the stairs: "They were being stoned from the back to prevent
them from going upstairs to relative safety." Mrs. Jafri and many
other neighbors were hiding in terror upstairs, but many others couldn't
join them. Had they known what was in store for them downstairs, would
they have minded a few bricks to save their own lives? We talk to Shareifbhai,
Mr. Jafri's neighbor, who was among those fighting a losing battle with
the surging mob outside, while his entire family was being hacked and burnt
to death inside Jafri saab's house--wife and daughters and all.
Shareifbhai Narrating the Horror of
narrates the fate of and each and every resident of the compound to Nishrin--who
made it, who didn't, who ran away, and so on. He points to the mound of
earth in her backyard, where they had buried whatever remains they could
find. Nishrin winces every so often, but keeps her composure. She is especially
pained at the fate of her neighbor, Khan uncle, who had bravely stepped
out of his home in the middle of the mayhem to put out a fire. They never
saw him again. No body
no death certificate
hence frozen bank
and no financial support whatsoever for the family. (Nishrin
had just bought the family some cooking utensils and other household items.)
swell up in Shareifbhai's eyes as he admits that this is the first time
he is about to breakdown. Teesta tells us that he is getting ready to start
rebuilding the homes in the compound, and is already restocking his adjoining
electronics/furniture store, which had been destroyed by arsonists thrice
in the last few years! What makes people Shareifbhai go on?
Q: Why are you still clinging to this
A: xxxbhai and others, who lead the massacre, were
my friends. They are now going around the neighborhood whispering that
they really should have 'taken care' of people like me. What have I got
to loose at this point, except my life? Isn't it more important that we
carry on Ahsan saab's dream of proving that Hindus and Muslims can coexist?
get ready to depart, someone opens the lid to the underground water tank
in the middle of the courtyard. We peer in disbelief at remnants of humanity
at the bottom of the clear water. The tank, we are told, was full of body
parts on February 28th, before the mobs returned to torch the evidence.
We are reluctant to draw the rest of the group's attention to this horrific
we contemplate the charred skeleton of the Ashoka tree in front of Nishrin's
home, a mute spectator to the massacres, now bearing a little sign with
a verse from the Quran. But wait! We also see fresh green shoots
emerging from the ground. A symbol of hope, perhaps, and Gujarat's capacity
in the day, Nishrin had bombarded Shri Shankarsinh Vaghela with tough questions
about the Congress party's inability to prevent the carnage in their own
back yard, and to save her father. (There are reports that Congress party
workers too were involved in the violence, which he doesnt deny.)
He promises that he would go to Gulberg Society on October 2nd,
Gandhi Jayanthi, to pay his homage to Ahsan Jafri: "I will do that
for my friend, even if
" He doesn't quite say it, but we
can sense the politician's antenna going up to the possibility of being
glad to be here at Gulberg, with Nishrin, Shareifbhai, and other survivors
of the carnage, to draw inspiration from their courage and strength to
go on. Together we must, and we shall, fight the monster in our midst.
[P.S. We understand that
Mr. Vaghela kept his promise to Nishrin. On October 2nd, Gandhi Jayanthi,
he joined 300 other people at Gulberg Society to pay homage to Ahsan Jafri
and all the other innocent men, women and children, who gave their lives
for the future of our nation.]
Part 2 Coming Up:
Our Meetings with NGOs, Politicians,
and Religious Leaders.
A Sadbhavna Mission for
Healing the Wounds of the People of Gujarat: An Appeal to the President
of India - September 12, 2002
team made to beat retreat -
Times News Network, September 11, 2002
- NRIs Sadbhavana Mission
To Gujarat & New Delhi
confront Sadhvi Rithambara in New York - Rediff
Article, July 27, 2002
NRIs demonstrate against
Hindu Right demagogue Sadhvi Ritambra at the Ganesh Temple in Flushing,
New York: Temple space should not be used
to promote and fund the politics of communal hatred in India, the
group says - New York,
July 26, 2002
fast outside New York's Indian Consulate puts PM on notice: Fearful
of further communal violence, NRI group opposes govt. decision
to allow Gujarat Rath Yatras to proceed as planned on July
12th - July 10, 2002
- NRIs National
Meeting Honors Mothers of India on Mother's Day - May 12, 2002