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2002 Gujarat violence

In February 2002, about 58 people died in a train fire in Godhra, Gujarat. In the following days and weeks, it is reported that around 800 to 2000 people were killed throughout Gujarat in what have been called some of the worst communal riots seen in India since it gained independence. The perceived cause for the former incident is seen as triggering off the latter.

Table of contents
1 The train fire in Godhra
2 The riots that followed
3 Electoral consequences
4 Arrests and charging of alleged perpetrators during 2003
5 See also
6 External references

The train fire in Godhra

In February 2002, a sleeper coach in the train Sabarmati Express, coming from Faizabad and proceeding towards Ahmedabad caught fire a few minutes after it left the Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, killing an estimated 58 people. The coach that was ravaged in the fire was occupied predominantly by members and sympathisers of the Sangh Parivar, called Kar Sevaks who were returning after a pilgrimage to Ayodhya, a place in North India and the site of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janma Bhoomi dispute. This incident was a precursor to a spate of widepsread communal violence in the state which lasted nearly three months.

The incident was widely reported in the media and the most commonly circulated version was that this was an incident of sabotage and arson, aimed at the Hindus. Because Godhra is a town with a Muslim majority, it was widely suspected that a few miscreants from that community were responsible for this ghastly incident. During the course of investigation, the central investigating agencies found evidence of arson. The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in its initial report, confirmed that the fire was fuelled by 60 litres of inflammable liquid.

Though acceptance of the accounts so far described is almost unanimous, the following are the key points of contention between the various parties.

Points of view differ on how the fire happened. Many accusations were made about the media's role in reporting the fire:

The riots that followed

In the riots that followed the Godhra incident, it has been reported that around 800 to 2000 people were killed. Points of view differ on the number, with the figure 2000 being seen by some as an exaggeration, and by others as an underestimate. Points of view differ with respect to how these deaths occurred: some refer to these as riots while others refer to these as a pogrom. Points of view also differ on what fraction of the victims were Muslims: some believe the vast majority of victims were Muslims or perceived as Muslims, while others dispute that position.

On February 28, in one incident in Ahmedabad, at Naroda Patia, across the road from the State Reserve Police (SRP) quarters, a crowd of about 5000 people set fire to the entire locality, gang-raping women and girls before killing them, altogether killing at least 65 people. The community mosque, Noorani Masjid, facing the SRP, was burnt using LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cylinders. In the following days, hundreds of young people with swords, daggers, axes, and iron rods walked around the area, shouting "Jai Shri Ram".

According to Human Rights Watch, who visited Naroda Patia three weeks later, [1] Muslim homes in the area were completely burnt but Hindu homes were not burnt at all. Several witnesses claimed that the police not only failed to protect residents' calls for help, but participated in the killings. Witnesses also claimed that Sangh Parivar members (from Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena) were directly responsible for the killings in this incident.

These killings were investigated in an unofficial inquiry headed by retired Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer. The inquiry included gathering and analysis of 2094 oral and written testimonies, both individual and collective, from victim-survivors and also independent human rights groups, women's groups, NGOs and academics. The findings were published in the report Crime Against Humanity - An Inquiry into the Carnage in Gujarat [1].

According to this report, the Sangh Parivar, in particular the BJP, the VHP, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, encouraged, supported and participated in the violence [1].

However, some observers claim that several events in the report Crime Against Humanity - An Inquiry into the Carnage in Gujarat are fictitious. Moreover, they claim that the opinions of Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer are biased by his left-wing politics; in particular, they attach importance to his role as a Kerala state government minister in the 1957 Communist Party government of E. M. S. Namboodiripad), and as a candidate for President of India in 1987, chosen by the opposition against the ruling Congress Party.

Electoral consequences

In subsequent state elections in late 2002, the BJP was re-elected to government in Gujarat with a landslide victory.

Arrests and charging of alleged perpetrators during 2003

As of mid October 2003, about 80 people - all who identify themselves as Muslims - had been charged and arrested in relation to these incidents with the charge of conspiracy against the state. Almost all have been charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). According to Amnesty International, the arrestees have been subjected to arbitrary and illegal and incommunicado detention, have been denied access to lawyers, relatives, and medical attention, and have been tortured. [1]

On November 24, 2003, a sessions court judge in the Nadiad district found 15 people guilty (out of 63 accused) for the killing of 14 Muslims on March 3, 2002 in the village of Ghodasar. [1]

See also

External references