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"Intervention, Religious Fanaticism, and Fascism in South Asia"

report on the public forum presented on the 4th anniversary of the Gujarat Massacre,
by the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD)
on Febr. 26, 2006 in West Hastings, Canada

On February 28, 2002 in the State of Gujarat in western India, approximately two to three thousand Muslim men, women and children were systematically massacred by armed mobs with the support of the state. There were horrendous atrocities, thousands of homes and businesses were burnt down, and about a hundred and fifty thousand citizens became refugees in their own land. This was the culmination of a developing crisis of the nation in India and a forecast of intensifying struggle for the redefinition of nation and citizenship. Gujarat was declared a "Laboratory of Hindu Rashtra" providing the formula for remaking the pluricultural and multi-religious Indian nation-state that was created in 1947 into a homogenous nation-state of "Hindus", while the ancient diversity of Hinduism itself is put into the straitjacket of a newly constructed homogeneity.

SANSAD's forum, "Intervention, Religious Fanaticism and Fascism in South Asia" held at Simon Fraser University's Harbour Centre campus was a commemoration of the Gujarat massacre of exactly four years ago, and an examination of the current situation in the rest of the country (with a special focus on the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Orissa) in regard to the development toward a Hindu-fascist state in India. The forum also examined the crisis of the nation in Pakistan, where 40,000 military personnel stationed in Baluchistan are engaged in a ruthless battle against the Baloch people seeking autonomy and just control over their resources.


Dr. Hari Sharma, Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University and president of SANSAD, who finally managed to get a visa to travel to India, recently returned from a visit to the country. While there, he spent many days in Gujarat and also visited several districts in Rajasthan.

Gujarat, Dr. Sharma said, remains a highly divided and polarized society, four years after the genocide. The wedge between the Muslim and Hindu communities is very deep. He cited an example of a very senior university professor whose house was totally destroyed by a mob. The university allotted the homeless professor a flat, but as soon as he moved in, everyone else in that block of university houses instantly moved out. "After losing everything, I live now a life with not even neighbours", lamented the professor. Sharma said that he met several Muslim people who had lived in comfortable middle class neighbourhoods, but after the Feb-March, 2002 genocide had to move out; not only in big cities like Ahmedabad and Vadodara, but also in mid-size towns. There are villages in many parts of Gujarat with a signboard at the entrance, "Welcome to the Hindu Rashtra". No Muslim families live there anymore. In one Taluka (Kalol) of Panchmahal district, out of a total of 80 villages, there are now only nine, which still have some Muslim population.

This ghettoization of the minority community was most apparent in the large Johapura area of Ahmedabad. Spread over about 20 sq. kilometers, and home to half a million Muslims, the entire neighbourhood (called "Mini-Pakistan" in the mainstream society) was reported to have not a single branch of a bank, or of post office. Even the city buses were reported to be not running through the area. No ordinary non-Muslim would venture into the locality.

Relief and Rehabilitation: What happened to the approximate 150,000 people who had to leave behind their homes and hearth, their cattle, land, livelihood and tools, and run for life, and had become refugees in a matter of days? About a hundred makeshift relief camps had sprung up instantly, primarily through the efforts of the Muslim community itself, and also with generous help from several civil society and NGO organizations. Narendra Modi shut them all down, back in June 2002. "What shall we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby producing centres?" Modi publicly stated on September 9, 2002 while on his 'gaurava' yatra. Today, tens of thousands of internally displaced people cannot be traced at all; they most likely drifted to other parts of India. A few certainly went back to their villages or neighbourhoods. Others have tried to locate themselves in newly constructed "colonies". In Ahmedabad city itself, there are 14 of them, housing 920 families. Across Gujarat, in nine districts, there are 48 colonies, where 4,387 small houses have been built. These rows and rows of single-room abodes were built, partly by victims' own scarce resources, but also hugely aided by numerous philanthropic organizations. The Government of the "Hindu Rashtra", true to its predictable disposition, not only didn't come forward with any assistance it actually created every conceivable obstacle in the building of these homes. In the several such colonies Sharma said he visited, there was no proper access road built, no electricity connection, no water supply, no drainage or sanitation, no primary health facility, no access to even primary education for the children. People were simply left to fend for themselves. On the contrary, the local district and taluka level administration kept imposing restrictions for the building process to continue. In the village of Baria, hundreds of people had to literally gherao the office of the District Magistrate, one Mr, Pandhor, before he allowed them to put the roof slabs on the 74 unfinished house-shells, as long it was done within the next three days! In Rajgarh village, Sharma said he saw 26 out the 46 homes still without roof, because the district administration would not let them continue, citing one bureaucratic hassle or the other.

Then, there is the widespread economic and social boycott. Those who survived the genocide could not easily rehabilitate themselves economically. Drivers of auto-rickshaws could not drive them now. The owners would not lease their rickshaws to Muslim drivers. In Boru village, Kalol Taluka, the driven out Muslims eventually came back. Many of the men were experienced masons, making about 150 rupees a day. Now, four years later, they were sitting idle, willing to go and work for 50-60 rupees. No building contractor (who all happened to be Hindus) would hire them. Men and women who worked as agricultural labourers and earned about 70-80 rupees a day were all there in the village in the middle of the day, willing to go and work if anyone would give them even twenty rupees for a day's work.

The harassment of the victims of genocide continues in a variety of ways. Sharma said that he visited the town of Godhra, where the tragic Sabarmati Express fire took place on Feb. 27, 2002. The entire neighbourhood close to the railway station, all the way to Signal Falia (where the coach was burnt), is exclusively a Muslim neighborhood. The City of Godhra has re-wired the electricity distribution system in a way that anytime it wanted it could shut down the power in that area. And this was done on a daily basis, several times a day; and at times for days in a row. It caused major inconvenience for everyone who lived there, but especially to those whose small businesses entirely depended upon a steady supply of electric power (restaurants with refrigerators, auto mechanic shops using power tools, etc.) The owner of an auto-repair shop on the busy business street of the neighborhood said that his major client used to be the Godhra Railway Station (servicing and repairing their vehicles). He did not get that business anymore.

The worst harassment came in the form of frightening intimidation: odd hour visits by men in uniform to take away unsuspecting Muslim men, for interrogation, for indefinite detentions. The draconian POTA Act may have been repealed by the Central government, but since it was not revoked retroactively, it was still invoked in Gujarat to book new persons in the already existing POTA cases. According to a very knowledgeable source, Sharma said, there were about 3000 people in Gujarat languishing in jails. How many of them were under POTA was uncertain; no proper documentation was maintained, he was told. But Sharma said that he visited three different areas, two in the town of Godhra and one in Kalol, and met scores of mothers, wives, fathers, brothers and little children of those who were picked up and were kept, without bail, under POTA; some for as long as almost four years.

Invariably, the Muslim POTA detainees in Gujarat are "booked" in connection with the massively constructed conspiracy theory that the fire that took place on the train on February 27 was a result of a well-planned attack by Muslims; a well-orchestrated, hyped-up, notion that became the basis for the organized genocide starting the next day. To Modi, it does not seem to matter if it was true or not. The Banerjee Commission in its Interim Report already concluded that the fire was not deliberately caused but was a result of an accident (further confirmed by the Commission's final report released only a few days ago); but the Modi government seems to be adamant not to heed to these findings. A Central Government Panel ruled several months ago that POTA could not apply to the Godhra train accident; but this ruling was subverted by a stay order of the Gujarat High Court. Those detained continue to languish; families outside continue to wait.

Four years have gone by. There is no remorse, no rapprochement on the part of the Gujarat government. On the contrary, Modi continues to gloat in "gaurav" (pride); and seems to have entrenched himself in the position of power, as reflected in the last Municipal elections in which he not only routed the Congress Party, but also his own rivals in the BJP.

In this gloomy, rather depressing, overall situation there were heartening things too. And these were the heroic efforts of a large number of people in the cities, towns and villages of Gujarat. Sharma said that he met very many of them: lawyers, journalists, human rights and social activists, grass-root workers, as individuals and as part of organizations. When the State failed to do what it was supposed to do for its citizens, efforts of these people have been trying to undo the damage; to restore lives and confidence. Building homes, running schools where none exist, tending to sick and wounded, providing special care to widows and orphans, creating income-earning capacities - are some of the things being done.

A most significant part of all this was to legally pursue the cases for the crimes that were committed in 2002. It has not been an easy process. Narendra Modi had stacked up the entire judicial system to ensure that none was convicted. Special courts were established with judges known to be RSS-VHP followers/sympathisers. Prosecutors were assigned who acted more like defense lawyers than prosecutors. FIRs (First Information Reports) were filed in a manner that technically prevented the cases to go forward. Consequently out of a total of about 4,200 cases that were filed, 2,020 were closed right away, due to faulty/inadequate FIRs. In about 800 cases, the accused were quickly acquitted. Even then, very many cases have been followed diligently, with competent lawyers providing proper help. At times cases already closed by the courts in Gujarat had to be reopened by going to the Supreme Court and getting its intervention. The biggest challenge has been to identify, consolidate and protect impeccable witnesses to the crime; people who would not be frightened away, or easily bought over and turned hostile. This required protracted confidence building for the potential witnesses, and also sustaining an extensive support system in the immediate family, community and neighbourhoods. Even then, it has not been an easy process. In one case (Pandarwada village), at the time of the "identification parade", the office of the Executive Magistrate of the area (where the parade was taking place) was surrounded by thousands of BJP/RSS supporters, to intimidate the witnesses. Even the presiding Magistrate was reported to have warned the witnesses as to what would happen to them when they go out of the building after identifying the guilty!

The process continues. Trials in approximately 600 cases are in process. Many successes have already been achieved. The recent verdict by a court in Maharashtra in the famous Best Bakery case has been justly hailed as a great victory, as a restoration of confidence in the judicial system. It indeed was a great achievement. But convictions of the guilty have been achieved in 13 other cases in Gujarat, prior to the Best Bakery case. Dozens of people are already in jail on ten-years or life-term imprisonment, including not only prominent local level BJP-VHP-RSS leaders and activists, but also police officers and constables. As recently as December 14 last year, eleven people were given life, and three a ten-year, rigorous imprisonment for the murders and rape they committed in the Anjanwada case; all the accused were known activists of the VHP and other Sangh Parivar outfits.

With the direct order from the Supreme Court last year to re-open the hurriedly closed cases (2,020 of them), hopefully many more convictions of the killers and rapists might come. This would certainly require diligent and patient work on each case at a time.

But the fact remains that Modi and his entire Hindutava brigade would not shed any tears for a few hundred of their own supporters ending up paying a price for the 2002 crimes. The Sangh Parivar is capable of abandoning some of their foot soldiers, as they are openly called in Gujarat. The flag of Hindu Rashtra is still flying high there, as was amply witnessed at the massive mobilization of Hindutava forces in Dang, where they re-wrote the Hindu mythology by creating a fifth site for the Kumbh Mela. For the Adivasi Christians and for Muslims, life in Gujarat is still filled with fear, isolation, discrimination, ghettoization and everything else that characterizes a second-class citizenship.

If and when Narendra Modi himself is tried and convicted for crimes of genocide, and crimes against humanity, for which he is a most suitable candidate, things might change in Gujarat. Till then, Gujarat will remain a bastion of Hindu Rashtra.


Gujarat has only been a laboratory. The goal of Hindu Rashtra is the whole country; if not "Akhand Bharat" incorporating Pakistan and Bangladesh, and maybe more. And they have been busy at it all over India; especially where the BJP is ruling the state (Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan).


Hari Sharma briefly reported on the growth of Hindutava forces in Rajasthan too, on the basis of his visit to several districts in the province. The already entrenched and well-organized forces of the Sangh Parivar in Rajasthan received a powerful impetus immediately after the Gujarat massacres of 2002; and more so after the BJP came back in power in 2003. Along with the many stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar, Narendra Modi himself extensively campaigned during the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, openly encouraging people to follow the Gujarat example. "Muslims are like mosquitoes; crush them", he was reported to have said in his public speeches in the province. In Bhilwara district, he publicly extolled a local BJP candidate for his leadership in the total demolition of a centuries-old mosque in the village of Karjalia.

But Modi or no Modi, the BJP government of Vasundhara Raje is seemingly doing a good job, especially with the help of her Minister of Home Affairs, Kataria. An ordinary murderous feud (something quite common in the countryside of India), which involves the death of a Hindu, is suddenly turned into an anti-Muslim frenzy, mobilizing at times thousands of Sangh Parivar activists in the area. The Home Minister with his law-and-order machinery ensures that the cases are "properly" filed and followed. It does not have to be a Hindu victim of the murder. In village Musakhera of Alwar district a common feud between two families in which three Sikhs died, was instantly whipped up and turned into a Muslim-Sikh issue. Practically all the Meo-Muslims living in the village were rounded up, arrested and booked. Tens of thousands of Sikhs from all over Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi, as well as RSS-VHP-BJP leaders and cadre, descended on the village, significantly, on December 6 (Babri Masjid anniversary) last year, filling up the large Muslim population in the area with terror.

December 6, a day of much shame for the people who value the pluralistic and composite civilization of India, is in fact celebrated throughout Rajasthan as a "Samman Divas" (Day of Self-respect), and Chief Minister Raje obliges at least one of the locations with her presence, to expand and consolidate the hold of Hindutava in the region. Trishul distribution ceremonies are organized with much pomp and show, and although banned under the previous regime have been started again. Throughout the province, "Hindu Mata" Temples are coming up in the name of this non-existent Goddess of the Hindu pantheon. These become ominous when they are built right in the proximity of a Church, as it happens in very many areas of Banswara district in southern Rajasthan. Bordering on Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the district's population is predominantly tribal (85%), many of whom had converted to Christianity long time ago. Like everywhere else in India, the Christian community in Rajasthan has been a target of ruthless and systematic attacks and intimidation; especially since 1995. Churches have been burnt, desecrated. Nuns have been attacked and assaulted. October 2005 was particularly bad, since it marked the conclusion of the Eucharistic Year Catholics all over the world celebrate. Hundreds of people from all over the district and beyond were to travel on October 16 to the Trikeshwar Church in Kushalgarh (the Tehsil Headquarter) in Banswara district. Road blocks were created to prevent people from getting to the town. People were pulled out of buses and beaten up. Nuns, including old ones in their 60's, were beaten up bad. Girls and women walking on the streets had their blouses ripped to check if they wore a cross; and if so, publicly humiliated. And all this happened with the full connivance of the local administration. When charges were laid, not even FIRs were registered.

Rajasthan, under the BJP government, is definitely moving to turn the province on the Gujarat model. Vanvasi Kalyan Parishads, Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, Ekal Vidyalayas, Khel-Kood Samitis, Adarsh Vidya Mandirs, etc. are among the many educational/social-cultural institutions that have been set up all over the state to propagate and consolidate the Hindutava ideology and culture, with the full backing of the state government. In late December, the government went as far as to issue a Special Circular allowing MLAs to donate from their discretionary Local Area Development Fund up to Rs 10 lakh each to Adarsh Vidya Mandir schools run by the Vidya Bharati of the Sangh Parivar. Promoting development in the state is now synonymous to promoting Hindutava ideology among he young ones.


Dr. Angana Chatterji of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies started her research in Orissa several years ago, essentially to look in the matter of land rights. During the course of her work, she said, it became obvious that the Hindutava forces were rising in a rather alarming way. She traveled to over sixty villages in the province, collected testimonies, including interviews with even some of the leaders and activists of the Hindutava organizations.

Dr. Chatterji was a co-Convenor of the recently held Indian People's Tribunal on "Hindu Communalism in Orissa", whose report is soon to be made public.

Orissa is definitely shaping as Hindutava's next laboratory, Dr. Chatterji said. Praveen Togadia, international general secretary of the VHP, visited Orissa in January and August 2003 to rally Hindu extremists. He advocated that Orissa join Hindutava in its movement for a Hindu state in India. 'Ram Rajya', he promised, would come. In a personal interview Subash Chouhan, state convenor for the Bajrang Dal (the paramilitary wing of Hindutava), spoke with zeal of current hopes for 'turning' Orissa. Christian missionaries and 'Islam fanatics' are vigorously converting Adivasis (tribals) to Christianity and Dalits (erstwhile 'untouchable' castes) to Islam, Chouhan emphasised. He stressed the imperative to consolidate 'Hindutva shakti' to educate, purify and strengthen the state.

Dr. Chatterji reported that there are around 30 dominant sangh organisations in Orissa. The RSS operates 2,500 shakhas with a 1,00,000 strong cadre. The VHP, created in 1964, has a membership of 60,000. The Bajrang Dal has 20,000 members working in 200 akharas. Membership of the BJP stands at 4,50,000. The Bharatiya Mazdoor sangh manages 171 trade unions with a cadre of 1,82,000. The 30,000 strong Bharatiya Kisan sangh functions in 100 blocks. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, an RSS inspired student body, functions in 299 colleges with 20,000 members. The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, the RSS women's wing, has 80 centres. The Durga Vahini, with centres for women's training and empowerment, has 7,000 outfits in 117 sites. Thousands of schools are run by these organizations with the financial support from diasporic Hindu nationalist charities and also the state that teach Hindu mythological version of the history of the nation, identifying India with Hinduism.

Dr. Chatterji reported that this mobilisation is the largest base of organised volunteers in the state. Their main target are Christians (about 2.1% of the total population), Adivasis (24%), Muslims (1.98%), Dalits (17.5%) and other marginalised peoples. In recent years, she said, churches and homes have been burnt down; nuns raped; missionaries killed. Tribals and Dalits have been forcibly reconverted. Muslim and Christian women have been beaten, Christian women had their head shaved as a sign of their reconversion and punishment for their original conversion. Muslims everywhere are threatened and treated as the enemy. Bangladeshi Muslim refugees are discriminated against and threatened with social and economic boycotts.

The organizers of the Hindu-fascist organizations openly declare that there is no place for Muslims and Christians in Orissa and India and they will take whatever steps necessary to bring this about. They even threatened the women members of the People's Tribunal, some of whom were members of the Indian judiciary, with rape.


Mr. Imran Munir, a senior reporter for a national English daily newspaper in Pakistan and a Ph.D. candidate at SFU, traced the history of the betrayal of the Baloch aspirations going back to the British colonial rule, when the Baloch nation was divided in separate entities. In 1948, Pakistan annexed Baluchistan against the will of its people, who wanted an independent state. Armed resistance by the Baluch people was severely crushed, but it erupted again in 1968, and culminated in a prolonged war of independence during 1973-77. Using massive ground and air forces, including gunship helicopters, Pakistani army managed to crush the Baluchi resistance. Thousands were killed and many more made destitute by the killing of their cattle. Injustices have continued. Though Sui in Baluchistan, for example, has been a major source of gas for Pakistan since the 1950s, the sole city in Baluchistan to have access to gas is Quetta, the capital, which started receiving it only in 1971 because it became home to a military cantonment. In Southern Baluchistan, over 500 Chinese engineers and contractors and hundreds of engineers and workers from Pakistan are developing the mega project of deep sea port at Gawadar to transport Central Asian oil and facilitate trade. The project offers no jobs for Baloch people, while the land around the port has been bought up by Pakistan military personnel and Punjabi businessmen.

The decision by the present military regime of General Musharaf to allow USA to use air and ground facilities in the province to launch attack in Afghanistan and to establish army cantonments in Balochistan to consolidate the military's stronghold in the province, infuriated the people, who believe that these cantonments will be used to further colonize the Baloch people.

The continuous exploitation of the Baloch people and their resources forced them, once again, to take up arms against the federal government. In last two years, organized forces like Baluchistan Liberation Army, Baluchistan Liberation Front, and People's Liberation Army have emerged. They are conducting operations against the government installations, gas pipelines, and military troops. Despite the massive use of air and ground power by the Pakistan government, rocket attacks, bomb blasts, and land mine explosions have become order of the day. The Baloch militant have also killed seven Chinese engineers. The Musharaf regime is blaming the Al-Quaida and Indian intelligence agency RAW for the insurgency, a claim no body takes seriously outside Islamabad.

Mr. Munir pointed out that Baluchistan is used by the US as a base in its "war on terror" in Afghanistan, that it will be a launching pad for the impending attack on Iran, and is currently used for commando incursions into Iran. Several kilometers around the US base are marked off as a security zone in which Baloch cattle may not graze, causing great hardship to the people. There is reliable evidence that the Pakistan army is using chemical weapons against the Baloch, though such weapons are banned by international conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory.

During the discussion, a member of the small Baloch community in Vancouver, expressed his appreciation that there was a public forum where the grievances of his people could be voiced. He pointed out as a sign of the discrimination the Baloch faced in Pakistan that of the more than ninety universities in the country only one was located in Baluchistan and that of the several thousand Pakistanis studying abroad with scholarships not one was from Baluchistan.

The SANSAD Forum concluded with the sense that remembering oppression and giving voice to the oppressed were essential steps toward building resistance against fascistic developments in South Asia.

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy

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Landelijke India Werkgroep / India Committee of The Netherlands - March 8, 2006