India: Eyewitness accounts of communal carnage

The unabated communal carnage going on in the State of Gujarat in particular and the communal tension all over the country in general, is in a way the logical conclusion of the chauvinistic build up that was going on for several months in the recent period.

What happened on February 27 at Godhra railway station in Gujarat brings back not just the memory of 1992, but the partition period 1947. The hapless women and children locked in the coaches of Sabaramathi Express returning from Faizabad were hacked and burnt to death by a violent mob -allegedly Muslims – is an act of human carnage. The details of the event goes to show that it was a well planned attack which had its roots from Faizabad and the demand by Hindu extremist to build a temple on the ruins of the destroyed Ayodhya Mosque.

The reports though unconfirmed, explain that in the coaches in which the Karsevaks (volunteers to build the new temple) were travelling there was a lot of sloganeering and name calling against the Muslims. Though some of the remaining Karsevaks claim that they were just singing Bhajans and nothing else, their headbands give away the truth. These volunteers of VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) Bhajarang Dal, and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) always wear headbands abusing Muslim sentiments and claiming to build the Hindu Temple at whatever cost and consequences.

Karsevaks attacked

Incidentally, all the Karsevaks in that train hailed from Gujarat and were returning from Ayodhya after offering their prayers. Gujarat has a history of communal clashes right from the period of pre-independence. VHP has its strongest base in Gujarat. BJP gets maximum votes in Gujarat as well. Presently, the State is ruled by the BJP. All these factors add to the gruesome killings and genocide that has followed the dastardly massacre at Godhra railway station.

In this situation one cannot forget or ignore the recently concluded elections to the Four State Assemblies. Uttar Pradesh in particular where the BJP was defeated conducted a highly communal campaign. It played cats and mouses with the issue of building Temple at Ayodhya. It was evident in the run-up to the elections that the BJP was using the Temple issue to polarize the voters on religious lines. Thanks to the imbroglio of caste politics that kept the BJP from gaining a majority. They lost more than half the seats that they held in the previous assembly. (Now 88, previously 163) But it was the campaign, which was unprecidentedly communal, which has led to a tinderbox situation in the entire country.

In the last week of the prestigious UP elections Prime Minister Vajpayee the so-called soft-liner within the BJP addressed a rally in Varanasi which is a temple town on the banks of the river Ganges. He in his attempt to shed his soft image said, "We are not dependent on the Muslim votes at all". After an outcry by the opposition he tried to correct his statement by issuing a press briefing. The other leader of the BJP, L.K. Advani, who is presently the Home Minister in a meeting commemorating the Seventy Fifth anniversary of the Jana Sangh (the precursor of the BJP) vowed the present existence of the BJP in power to the Ratha Yatra (criss crossing the entire country on a vehicle) of 1992 in which he had incited the Hindu mobs to assemble and demolish the Babri Mosque on 6 December.

Time and again the leaders of the BJP including the Prime Minister have repeatedly asserted that building the Temple at disputed site is according to the wishes of the popular national sentiment. On the other hand they give lip service to the issue to be settled in the Supreme Court.

BJP defeat

The defeat of the BJP in the recent elections and the subsequent communal riots is an indication, that on the one hand the BJP and its communal partners such as VHP, Shiv Sena and Bhajrang Dal have noticed the writing on the wall and they realise that unless and until they communalise the situation they will loose the grip on the sections which is their support base since 1992.

It is for sure, that BJP’s ascendance has peaked out, the fissures that have opened up within the BJP and its communal camp is also a reason for this sudden upsurge in communal politics. The 21 party ruling alliance called National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is sprinkled with all sorts of political parties. In their own strong holds they put on the veil that they are secular and respect equal rights for all the religious minorities. It is the anti-congressism that has brought them to the camp of the BJP. The agreed agenda of NDA is to put the temple issue on a back burner and wait for the court decision on the issue. The BJP has repeatedly played this card to its own hard liners that they are bound by the NDA program. In fact in many public meetings the BJP leaders have put the blame on the voters saying that "You have not given us a full mandate hence we cannot fulfill all the BJP promises, such as temple building at Ayodhya, abrogation of the article 370 of the constitution which gives special property rights to Kashmiri Muslims and Uniform Civil Code."

But the communal passions does not understand these technicalities, once unleashed it has its own momentum. The organisations such as VHP and Bhajrang Dal have their own agendas to full fill. They feel that BJP is also like any other pro Muslim party. In fact recently a Hindu priest Acharya Paramahans, who is leading the temple agitation said the " BJPs government came to power on the slogan of temple building, if it goes down for the same cause, so be it".

The BJP leaders are trying to put the genie back into the bottle, but it is too late. The RSS which was strident in its criticism against its own deciple BJP before the election defeat, has softened its stand and now wants to mediate between the government and the temple agitators.

What happened in the State of Gujarat in the aftermath of gruesome Godhra killings was a state sponsored attack on Muslims. For a clear 24 hours Hindu lumpen gangs were free to go on a rampage against the Muslims. Police were mere spectators if not abettors of the mass murders that took place in the urban as well as rural Gujarat.

The Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi went on T.V and likened the incident to the Newton’s Law. Many leaders of the BJP participated in the protest marches (communal clashes) called by VHP.

Around the country VHP organised terrorizing rallies, which has attracted thousands of lumpen youth from the majority community. In Hyderbad of Andhra Pradesh, Arasikere of Karnataka and some parts of UP, the VHP and Bhajrang Dal gangs have attacked Muslim owned shops on their way back from the instigation rallies.

The post September 11 scenario has also contributed to the heightened emotions. The BJP and its communal camp has used the Muslim baiting to equate Islam to Terrorism, The attack on the Indian Parliament and the subsequent disclosure that it was allegedly the handiwork of ISI sponsored terrorists organisations has been used by the BJP to the brink in the election campaigns.

Gujurat flare-up

Even before the Gujarat communal flare up, the tensions were so high that any moment a civil strife could have occurred in most parts of the country. The calling of the army to Gujarat to quell the mobs goes to show that the state missionary has to use extraordinary means to deal with situations like this. But it is anybody’s guess as to how impartial that the army can be in a communally charged country.

But it is a pathetic scene to witness as to how the left led by communist parties are reacting to these events. A communal VHP gives a call for an All India Bandh (total stoppage) but the Communist Parties want to go for a national integration day on March 6 th.

Communal Politics should be opposed by class action such as general strikes and trade union defense committees to defend the vulnerable in both communities against the fundamentalists.

We the New Socialist Alternative demand the Trade Unions and the Left Parties to organise for a country-wide general strike against the fundamentalists groups and its supporting parties at the center and Gujarat State.

We urge the trade unions to organise defense committees to protect the minorities and communally vulnerable communities in every city and town.

Eyewitness report: Anti-Muslim pogroms in Ahmedabad

India is reeling from the worst communal violence for ten years. On Wednesday 27 February in the town of Godhra in Gujarat, a train carrying Hindu nationalists was attacked with petrol bombs. The train caught fire and 58 people were killed. On Thursday, Hindu nationalists across Gujarat responded with violent riots which have so far left around 70 dead. The epicentre of the violence has been Ahmedabad, state capital of Gujarat, where 35 Muslims have been burned in their own homes, and at least 150 have been injured. A Swedish student in Ahmedabad, gave us this eyewitness report:

"The rioting passed by about five metres outside our school. We heard the Hindu mob which rushed forward and screamed every time a shop was set alight," she said.

"A big part of the Old City, where we go shopping, is completely destroyed. The Old City is largely populated by Muslims, and there Hindus have burnt down shops and homes. People are afraid that Muslim groups may respond tonight or tomorrow.

"Our school, National Institute of Design, is in the Paldi district, and in the neighbourhood around here about 20 Muslim owned shops have burnt down. Across the entire horizon we can see thick plumes of smoke rising into the evening sky.

"Hindu families, mothers with small children, looted the shops before they were set aflame. They filled their saris full of groceries. The police came, looked, and gave a ‘high five’ to the leader of the mob who had started it all", she added.

"The police do nothing, they most likely sympathise, and the army won’t do anything unless the President gives the order. And we all know what the President thinks of Muslims,² she continues, who thinks the army will intervene only when Muslim groups retaliate.

"Our school has direct contact with army to relieve the situation if

something happens here. We have guards outside the building and there doesn’t seem to be any direct threat to us. It all seems unreal, like watching televsion at home in Sweden but with live explosions. Apocalyptic, with screams and shots," she says, pointing out that all the schools and offices in Ahmedabad will be closed on Friday in an attempt to thwart further rioting.


cwi The background to the violence is the religious or communal tensions which have increased in the last two decades. During the 1980s, Hindu nationalist parties such as the BJP, VHP and Shiv Sena grew – parties on the extreme right with fascist features. A question of great symbolic importance for these parties has been the temple at Ayodhya, which Hindu groups regard as the birthplace of the god Ram and which has seen pilgrimages for hundreds of years. In the year 1528, Muslim Moghul rulers built a mosque – the Babri Mosque – on this, for Hindus, holy site. The extreme nationlistic Hindu parties seized upon the question of the Ayodhya mosque in the 1980s, and in 1991 the BJP managed to win the state elections in Uttar Pradesh, which includes the town of Ayodhya.

This gave a powerful impulse to Hindu extremism which in 1992, culminated in the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque and a resultant wave of communalist violence across India in which 2 to 3,000 were killed. Both the BJP, VHP and Shiv Sena took part in the demolition of the mosque. The present interior minister, BJP member L. K. Advani, is regarded as one of those who masterminded this action. In 1996 the Congress party suffered is biggest election defeats ever and the BJP emerged as the single biggest party in India. In 1998 the BJP formed a coalition government under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who since then has balanced between the more extreme Hindu nationalist forces in his own party and his coalition partners. Prior to the state elections in Uttar Pradesh in February 2002, Vajpayee and the BJP declared that they would not sanction the building of a Hindu temple on the site in Ayodhya. The more confrontational VJP declared that, as in 1992, they would take matters into their own hands and, on 15 March, start building a temple.

In recent weeks the VHP has gathered temple builders in Ayodhya who have begun assembling walls, statues, pillars etc. At this moment there are a reported 20,000 Hindu nationalists at the holy site. Fighting has broken out at railway stations en route where VHP activists are reported to have taken food and other merchandise from Muslim vendors withour paying. It was just such a train which was attacked on Wednesday in Godhra.

On Thursday 28 February a curfew was imposed on 27 cities in Gujarat and the army was mobilising to take control of Ahmedabad and other cities. A 10,000-strong paramilitary force was reported to be on its way to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The question is whether this will be enough to stop the violence spreading to Uttar Pradesh and other parts of India. Even if Vajpayee, in fear of completely losing control, has appealed for law and order and urged BJP activists not to go to Ayodhya, the BJP led state government in Gujarat supported yesterday’s day of protest. The VHP has also called for national day of protest on Friday. In Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat the situation was completely out of control on Thursday and this could spread. Vajpayee has dispatched one of his ministers, Rajnath Singh, to Ayodhya to negotiate with VHP representatives who have given some indications that they may retreat on their plans to build a temple on 15 March.

Chauvinist propaganda

The BJP’s chauvinist propaganda and war mongering against Pakistan did not prevent it from losing all four state elections which have been held this year. In the biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, with 170 million inhabitants, where Ayodhya is situated, the BJP only managed to win one-third of the seats in the assembly. BJP rule has been shaken by at least as many corruption scandals as previous governments and has encountered massive protests against its neo-liberal policies such as privatisations.

Vajpayee’ government’s survival depends on his ability to stop the violence rom spreading. Total chaos threatens to engulf India, the effects of which will increase the risk of war with Pakistan, of greater instability in Kashmir etc. Vajpayee is now compelled to try to rein in the Hindu chauvinist monster he himself helped create.

Peter Lahti, Socialist Justice Party, Sweden, 1 March 2002

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March 2002