Gujarat: Four Years After the Genocide
Azim Sherwani (Qalandar, March 2006)
Last month, during a visit to Ahmedabad I befriended the owner of a tea-stall, a policeman and a businessman. My vendor ‘friend’, a wonderful man, was an innocent victim of systematic saffron propaganda against Muslims. After a few days of our friendship, when I asked him about the carnage of 2002 in Ahmedabad he narrated how people from the posh CG Road looted showrooms belonging to Muslims. To my surprise, the policeman wanted to know if I could help him, through a senior police official friend of mine, to secure a place in the Crime Branch or Anti-Terrorist Squad. Before my Gujarat visit I had assumed that postings in these special cells were considered punishment postings in police circles. I did not know that these agencies had been turned into a new extortion industry. My third ‘friend’, a disciple of Murari Bapu, was very happy because, he said, under Modi’s regime Hindus ‘taught a lesson to Muslims’. The state-sponsored pogrom in Gujarat was a systematic effort to terrorise Muslims and reduce them to the status of second-class citizens by destroying their lives, livelihood, homes and self-respect. Beginning on 27 February 2002 the spate of violence continued for well over three months. Coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express train was burnt down at Godhra, taking a toll of 59 persons and leading to violence on an unprecedented scale and magnitude directed against Muslims in Gujarat. The profound human tragedy resulted in more than 2000 Muslims dead, many more grievously injured, orphaned, sexually abused, rendered homeless and without any source of livelihood, and property worth billions burnt or looted. Reports from several independent sources corroborate that the state was actively involved in the massacre of innocent Muslim citizens. The physical violence ended within six months, but thereafter it was time for violence of another kind. This violence was through a systematic subversion of justice and denial of human rights of an entire community. The entire legal system was subverted to protect the culprits and to work against the interests of the victims, almost all of whom were Muslims. Out of the 4000-odd cases registered, more than 2000 were summarily closed without any trial. In other cases, witnesses were compelled to turn hostile in the face of threats by state-supported criminals who perpetrated the killings. Further victimization and terrorization of the Muslims continued by picking up innocent people, detaining them illegally before being charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The fascist goal of reducing the Muslims to second-class citizens has thus been accomplished in Gujarat. There is enormous human suffering that still remains to be healed—insecurity, homelessness, ill-health, economic distress, obstacles in securing justice, denial of human rights and state apathy.
Ahmad Husain, a 32 year-old teacher and social worker, is the second eldest son of the late Allah Rakkha who fought the British Raj. Under colonial occupation Allah Rakha was charged for treason but now his son has been charged for the same offence in ‘independent’, ‘secular’ and ‘democratic’ India. His family had no clue until they were told by the officials of the Crime Branch of Ahmedabad that he was detained under POTA. The officials threatened another accused to identify Ahmad or be ready for the detention of his son under POTA. They wanted a confession from Ahmad, and so they took his youngest brother Mohammad Ali into custody. Ahmad was told by the officials that it was in his family’s interest to sign the confession papers prepared by the police, or else, they said, they would detain his younger brother under the same charges. A police officer sarcastically told Ahmad that if his younger brother was also detained her mother would die. In a letter to the magistrate Ahmad wrote, “Whenever, I asked about the reason of severe beating and torture by the crime branch personnel they told me your destiny has brought you in this condition, we know you haven’t done wrong in this life but you are being punished for your sins in your previous life.” He further states, “Policemen used to say, ‘the law is ours and judges are ours, we can book anyone under POTA”.
Khatoon Bibi is the mother of three boys who are detained under POTA for being allegedly involved in the Godhra incident. Her 68 year-old husband Sultan Khan Pathan is suffering from throat cancer. She and her daughter in-law are the sole bread earners in the family. In deep anguish and frustration she continuously requested to be taken to the residence of Gujarat’s chief minister, who played a key role in engineering the anti-Muslim genocide. She says in anguish, “Why doesn’t Modi’s government detain my whole family so at least we will not face suffering and humiliation?” She is unable to understand what her sin was. In fact she is guilty of a ‘crime’ — a ‘crime’ not defined in the Indian Penal Code — the ‘crime’ of being a Muslim mother in Modi’s fascist Gujarat.
Another unfortunate mother, who lost her eyesight while crying for her detained son for years, asked me about the draconian anti terrorist law POTA. She says, “My innocent son is languishing in jail and the butchers are roaming freely. What kind of law is it which punishes the innocent and acquits the guilty?” She wanted to know when her son would be released. I, of course, had no answer to her queries because the present regime in Gujarat does not even pretend to be remorseful for the heinous crimes that it perpetrated against the state’s Muslims. The questions raised by these victims of state terrorism are shaking the foundations of rule of law and justice to all as enshrined in the Constitution of India. How can we still claim to be world’s largest ‘democracy’? Theirs is a story of unimaginable sufferings. The voiceless victims are losing their faith in every institution including ‘democracy’. As Mukul Sinha, a prominent social activist from Ahmedabad, says, “I am convinced that Muslims will not get justice in Gujarat under the present regime. The entire legal system has been sabotaged by the fascist government.”
Abdul Rashid Machiswala, father of a detainee under POTA, asks me, “95 Muslims were killed in Naroda Patia alone but no one was booked under POTA for the heinous crime. Yet, all POTA detainees are Muslims. What kind of justice is meted out to the poor Muslims in Gujarat?” One of the detainees narrates his own traumatic experience at the hands of the state authorities thus: “A policeman took us before the Magistrate, Mr Rane, in Ahmedabad. We complained about the torture in police custody. He shouted at policemen and said, ‘How you have prepared them? Take them back and come with good preparation?’ By this he meant using more third degree torture so we should not complain.”
These innocent detainees have been subjected to the worst forms of physical as well as mental torture. One detainee wanted to remove his trousers before Ms Sonia Gandhi when she visited the Sabarmati Central Jail to show what he had suffered in police custody. The Gujarat police are almost completely saffronised. In the name of combating terrorist activities and to please their political masters, the Gujarat police have been cooking up false cases of sedition, illegal arms and criminal conspiracy against young and innocent boys of the Muslim community. Extending illegal detention of poor Muslims by the Anti-Terrorist Squad and Crime Branch is an everyday affair. In Modi’s Gujarat equality before the law and equal protection of the law have no meaning. Courts are proactive in granting bails to Hindu accused and jail to Muslims. The posts of Public Prosecutors are filled with fanatic members of VHP and sympathisers of the BJP. In short, three years after the genocide, justice for Gujarat’s Muslims still remains a far cry.
The writer is a Delhi-based human rights activist. He may be contacted on email@example.com.