Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Facts Speak For Themselves: Godhra and After: A Field Study – II D S Tewatia

Godhra Incident- Analysed- Facts and Inferences

There has been so much said, written and broadcast about the Godhra incident that it is difficult to distinguish between facts, half-truths, innocent imagination and motivated lies. Media and interested parties have selected, distorted and added fiction to the story to prove their respective points of view.

Unfortunately, professionalism took a back seat as media persons, fact-finding commissions and administrators by and large failed to maintain the fairness, neutrality and objectivity expected from them. To engage in a dispassionate analysis the Study Team has divided all the facts relating to this incident into four categories:

1. Indisputable facts.

2. Facts that appear to be true but need verification.

3. Information that appears to be untrue.

4. Mysteries.

Indisputable Facts

1. On 27.02.02 Sabarmati Express from Faizabad reached Godhra more than four hours late.

2. There were more than 2000 Hindu pilgrims on this train.

3. No serious dispute took place at the platform at Godhra between the passengers and the vendors.

4. The entire train was stoned right after it left the platform at Godhra and it continued even after it was stopped at Signal Faliya.

5. Firebombs, acid bulbs and highly inflammable liquid(s) were used to set the coaches on fire that must have been stored already for the purpose.

6. Miscreants succeeded in torching only one coach.

7. The conspirators did not allow the fire fighting staff to reach the burning train expeditiously.

8. The iron grills of the windows of S-6 were broken and bent from outside.

9. Fifty-eight passengers of coach S-6 were burnt to death by a Muslim mob and that one of the conspirators was a Congress Councillor, Haji Balal.

10. The train was stopped by pulling the chain and the vacuum pipe was cut.

11. Someone used the public address system exhorting the mob to kill kafirs and enemies of Bin Laden.

12. Assembly of a mob of about 2000 Muslims in three minutes could not have been spontaneous.

13. The attack on Sabarmati Express on 27.02.02 was pre-planned and pre-meditated. It was the result of a criminal conspiracy hatched by a hostile foreign power with the help of local jehadis.

Facts That Need Verification

1. There was a conspiracy to reduce the effectiveness of the fire fighting system of Godhra municipal committee.

2. The mob that burnt the coach had Muslims from outside the town as well.

3. Firearms were used by the mob.

4. Police could have caught or killed some of the miscreants at the spot.

5. Local politicians and elected representatives took active part in instigating the mob.

6. Railway Police at Dahod sent a message to Godhra Railway police that some Muslim youths on board Sabarmati Express were likely to create mischief at Godhra.

7. Head of a passenger of S-6 coach was cut when he tried to get out of the window. The head was later thrown back into the coach to burn.

Police investigations have opened the lead to an autorikshaw used for purchasing the petrol from a local petrol-pump and carrying the same in jerry cans to the Signal Falia area and still continuing.

Information That Appears To Be Untrue

1. Some women passengers are missing.

2. Some women passengers were raped or molested.

3. Passengers had pulled the beard of a vendor at Godhra Railway Station.

4. Passengers carried weapons with them.

5. Railway staff connived with the miscreants.

6. The pilgrims had taunted certain Muslims of Godhra while returning from Ayodhya.

7. Police firing while they were burning the coach killed two Muslims.

Some Mysteries

1. Assistant Collector, Godhra (a young Muslim from eastern UP) goes on leave two days before the incident and does not return till the middle of the March while the district of his posting was aflame with communal riots.

2. The unusual growth rate of Muslim population in Godhra.

3. Absence of information with the District officials about the number of arms licenses issued.

4. Abnormally large number of passports issued to the residents of Godhra.

5. Presence of a very large number of persons without ration cards in Signal Faliya and Polan Bazar areas of Godhra.

6. A large number of unemployed Muslims in Godhra have mobile phones.

7. Very high traffic of telephone calls from Godhra to Pakistan (mainly Karachi) before 27.02. 02.

8. Holding of istema - religious gatherings - at Godhra that were attended by foreigners in large numbers.

Communal Riots in Gujarat after 27.02.02 both Spontaneous and Planned but a Trap of International Terrorism

The news of the events of 27. 02.02 at Godhra at about 0800 hrs spread like wild fire all over the country by the afternoon. The television media, which has the advantage of instantaneous reporting, played its role in disseminating the information about this carnage. Nothing happened for almost twenty-four hours, though the situation was said to be very tense. Vishwa Hindu Parishad gave a call for state-wide bandh to protest against the Godhra carnage. Communal violence erupted almost simultaneously on 28.02.02 in many parts of the state when the charred bodies, the injured and the passengers travelling in the ill-fated train reached their homes. It became more intense during next twenty-four hours and started subsiding after that. After 01.03.02 there were only stray incidents of communal violence in certain parts of the state.

On 15.03.02, after shila daan ceremony at Ayodhya by Ramchandra Paramhans, processions of Ram dhunwere taken out all over Gujarat. The participation on these occasions was very large in Gujarat, presumably as a reaction of what had happened in Godhra. The Ram dhun processions at many places including Ahmedabad and Vadodra became the points of communal tensions once again and the communal tension that was subsiding again flared up.

Although the Muslim elders had assured the police at Vadodra that peace would be maintained at all costs, the processions were stoned from a mosque. The intensity of the attack proves that these were pre- meditated. The attack was so massive that the police had a tough time handling it.

The state once again came under the grip of communal riots. The rioting was very intense for about three days. Sectarian violence, however, continued in several parts of the state even three days after the attack on Hindu procession at Vadodra.

Incidents of violence on a large scale were initially reported from Ahmedabad and Vadodra towns and the districts of Panchmahals, Sabarkantha and Mehsana. Later it spread to other areas also. However the communal violence was mainly confined to Central and North Gujarat. Saurashtra and South Gujarat remained relatively peaceful. There was no communal violence in almost one half of Gujarat.

The team was told that when the charred bodies of the dead reached their families or the news of their killings reached the relatives, friends and neighbours attacked the nearby Muslim establishments. Similar incidents took place when chautha and kriya ceremonies of the dead were solemnised.

Gujarat has a long history of communal riots. The first such riot has been reported in 1714. After independence major riots broke out on several occasions since 1969. Jagmohan Reddy Commission of Inquiry of 1969 and Dave Commission of Inquiry of 1985 analysed the causes and consequences of communal tensions in great details. Serious rioting occurred in 1970 and also in 1992-93. According to official data, Gujarat witnessed 443 major communal incidents between 1970 and 2002.

Another characteristic of the communal frenzy in Gujarat is that it has always taken a long time to return to normalcy. For instance in Godhra itself in 1985 curfew remained imposed for about a year. Communal disturbance in 1985 continued for more than five months from February to July 1985. … …

Administrative Response

Based on the information collected from official and non-official sources at Godhra, Ahmedabad and Vadodra the Study Team is of the considered opinion that:

1. The local administration did not respond with speed to the Godhra carnage. The police remained a passive spectator and hesitated to use force against the miscreants. It made no attempt to apprehend the leaders of the mob that indulged in burning alive innocent pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. However, the administration took preventive measures after the VHP gave a call for Gujarat bandh in protest against the attack on the train.

2. In Godhra, Vadodra and Ahmedabad the police tried to control the rioting mobs but, more often than not, failed, as the police were outnumbered - the mobs were unexpectedly large and the police were inadequately armed. In certain cases, the mob carried more lethal weapons that the police had.

3. The administration was not prepared to handle massive migration of riot affected people of both the communities and did not have any idea of the quantum of the relief and rehabilitation work required.

4. Co-ordination between the administration and the NGOs was inadequate.

5. Training and drills for managing communal tensions was conspicuous by its absence in a state that periodically witnesses communal frenzy.

6. Socio-psychological understanding of the communal divide is lacking amongst the officials.

7. The adverse comments on the transfers of officials in the media and not so much the actual transfers demotivated the official machinery.

8. At many places policemen did commendable work of protecting life and property.

9. Policemen, by and large, responded to the situation without communal bias.

Deployment of Army

There has been lot of comments on the timing of the deployment of army in various urban and rural areas in Gujarat after the outbreak of violence. Although the team did not have enough time to go into the question in depth, the information made available to it shows that there was no delay on the part of the Gujarat Government in summoning and deployment of troops. A comparison with the past is presented for a proper perspective.

1. By the afternoon of 28.02.02 it was clear that the communal violence has spread widely and the situation had become so alarming that it was unlikely to be controlled by the police and paramilitary forces.

2. On 28.02.02 at 4.30 p.m. the Chief Minister announced at a press conference that the State Government has decided to call army to assist the civil administration.

3. By evening the Union Government had given instructions for the deployment of two brigades in Gujarat.

4. Defence Minister air dashed to Ahmedabad at midnight and had a meeting with the Chief Minister to discuss deployment of the army.

5. The army had to be withdrawn from the country’s border with Pakistan despite the fact that the troops are deployed in full strength in eye-ball-to-eye-ball situation on Indo-Pak borders.

6. Withdrawal of army from the border may have weakened the country’s defensive and offensive strategies.

7. Within less than 24 hours at least one brigade of Indian Army had air landed at Ahmedabad. In a meeting at 0800hrs in which Chief Minister, Defence Minister, army generals and civil officers participated, the formal plan for the deployment of the army was approved. Magistrates who must accompany the army were appointed and by 11 a.m. on 01.03.02 the actual deployment of army at sensitive points had begun.

8. The second brigade was deputed to Rajkot and Vadodra on 01.03.02 by that night.

9. Columns allotted to Godhra reached there in the morning of 02.03.02.

10. Army went back to barracks on 10.03.02. ….

Involvement of Tribals

Earlier in Gujarat, tribals never got involved in the Hindu-Muslim riots. However, their involvement in post Godhra riots added a new dimension to the communal violence. In rural areas the vanvasis attacked the Muslim moneylenders, shopkeepers and the forest contractors. They used their traditional bow and arrows as also their implements used to cut the trees and grass while attacking Muslims. They moved in groups and used coded signals for communication.

Two factors seem to have contributed to this disturbing phenomenon:

1. A delegation of tribals told the Study team that the Muslim moneylenders, shopkeepers and forest contractors have been exploiting the tribals for decades. They charged exorbitant rate of interest to money loaned to tribals. In certain cases the rate of interest is as high as 50 per cent per year.

Having got into this never-ending vicious circle of loans, the tribals have been reduced to the status of bonded labour. Tribals working as servants are ill-treated by these money lenders who happen to be Muslims.

The accumulated anger of years of exploitation became explosive when moneylenders sexually exploited their womenfolk. The tribals are no longer allowed to use forest produce that has been their sustenance for centuries. This too fuelled the feelings of anger, hatred and revenge among them.

2. Tribals have, of late, become conscious of their Hindu identity because of the awareness campaign launched by VHP and other Hindu outfits. Burning alive of Hindu pilgrims by a Muslim mob at Godhra provided the spark for the fire of revenge and hatred.

It may be mentioned that these are only exploratory postulations, scientific anthropological, economic and sociological analysis is required to understand the changed behaviour of tribals.

Role of Media

The Study Team received a large number of complaints against biased reporting’, non-objective attitude and anti Gujarat conspiracy of Delhi Media. The team felt it necessary to objectively observe and analyse the role of Media both regional and English language newspapers published from metropolitan cities. It also solicited comments about the role of media from about 500 persons with whom the members of the team interacted. The team’s observations are:

1. Local and regional papers at times seemed to be emotionally surcharged and lost sight of objectivity. However, Gujarati newspapers, by and large, were factual in day to day reporting.

2. The editorial pages of local and regional newspapers maintained a balance in projecting all viewpoints.

3. Newspapers published in English from Delhi invariably editorialized the news. Direct and indirect comments in the news writing were so telling that the personal likes and dislikes of the news reporters were too obvious to be missed.

4. English language newspapers published from Delhi appeared to have assumed the role of crusaders against the State Government from day one. It coloured the entire operation of news gathering, feature writing and editorials.

5. The edit pages of English language press carried comments that clearly indicated biases:

- against the State Government of Gujarat,

- in favour of Congress, leftist parties and the secularist intellectuals,

- indifferent to the carnage at Godhra,

- against the Hindu organizations, and

- against the NDA government at the Centre.

6. Most of the national newspapers and news channels played down the intensity of Godhra carnage and projected it as a result of provocation by pilgrims. Not many reporters were deputed to dig out facts or to do follow-up stories. This resulted in large number of editorials and articles that projected Godhra as a reaction to provocation by karsevaks’ and riots in rest of the state as “state sponsored terrorism”.

7. A distorted image of sectarian violence in the state was projected by the electronic and print media based in Delhi.

8. Repeated telecasts of arson and violence contributed in spreading the tension to unaffected areas. TV channels ignored warning from officials and kept telecasting communal riots like infotainment.

9. Coverage of Machhipiti in Vadodra is an example. One national news channel went overboard to telecast police firing at Machhipiti as if it had taken place in Ahmedabad.

10. On 27.02.02 the Government of Gujarat announced a compensation of Rs. 2 lakh for the next of kin of victims of Godhra carnage. There were protests about discrimination between Hindu and Muslim victims and the Government announced on March 9 that all victims would get Rs one lakh.

Yet, as late as the first week of April a Congressperson in USA cited a report in an Indian newspaper to accuse the Government of discriminating against minorities in the grant of compensation. The newspaper concerned did not care to inform its readers of the correct situation.

11. The code of ethics prescribed by the Press Council of India was violated by the media with impunity. It so enraged the citizens that several concerned citizens in the disturbed areas suggested that peace could return to the state only if some of the TV channels were closed for some weeks.

12. Media did not help to cool down the tempers. It failed to act as a platform for a dialogue between the Hindus and Muslims on the one hand and between the people and the establishment on the other.

The Study Team is of the considered opinion that the media in general failed to perform as conscious and socially responsible gatekeepers of information.

It followed in the footsteps of an American journalist who said, “My job is to report the facts. I give a damn to the consequences”.

Telecasting images that spread hatred and instigated violence is unhealthy, but their repeated telecast is lethal. The media acted as an interested party in the confrontation, not a neutral reporter of facts.

The team was alarmed at the intensity of hostile attitude among the people of the state for Delhi press and television news channels. This attitude was especially articulated by delegations of intellectuals like lawyers, doctors, and businessmen. Even the tribals complained that the media had no time to hear their tale of their agony and was spreading canards against the Hindus.


Terrorism nurtured by communal disharmony:

The Godhra carnage and related incidents make a typical case study of international designs and conspiracies to weaken India as an emerging world power. Analysts and professional strategists of all ideological inclinations converge on one forecast that India is going to be a major player on the international scene sooner rather than later.

The global community also realizes the inevitability of India becoming an important economic and military power. In such a situation it is but natural that nations hostile to India or its adversaries make all out efforts to create impediments in this process.

Their strategy is to keep India engaged in communal and caste strife so that the nation’s focus on development is defused and its endeavour to emerge as a super- power is thwarted. It would surprise no one if Pakistan with the tacit support of not-so-friendly neighbours and world powers hatches conspiracies to destablise and weaken the Indian State.

A careful and in-depth analysis, if carried out with an open mind, would throw open an action plan where terrorist activities appear to be merging with the already existing strong antagonism between Muslims and Hindus. Our hostile neighbour, sometimes in the guise of a friend, keeps on creating wounds on the body polity of our nation.

Creation and perpetuation of Kashmir problem is one such example. The support to the authoritarian regimes in Pakistan by USA and European countries speaks volumes about the super power’s commitment, or lack of it, to democratic values. Godhra and the wide spread communal violence in Gujarat in recent weeks is a part of this nefarious design.

The Study Team concludes

1. Burning of 58 Hindu pilgrims at Godhra on 27.02.02 was an act of international terrorism carried out with the evil objective of pushing the country into a communal cauldron.

2. The plan was to burn the entire train with more than two thousand passengers in the wee hours of February 27, 2002. It was a terrorist action plan that partly failed. The perpetrators of the terrorist acts received support from jehadi elements operating from Godhra. These included some Congress members of the Nagarpalika. … ….

[For more details, please contact the Council For International Affairs And Human Rights, A-208, Surajmal Vihar, Delhi 110 092 (Phone 2374816, fax 2377653, Email]