Jump to navigation Jump to search
Nicole Elfi is a French author. She has written books on Indian spirituality and on Indian politics and history.
The Godhra Riots: Sifting Fact from Fiction, 2013
- Strangely, instead of clearly, straightforwardly condemning the act, the Indian English-language press tried to justify it: “Pilgrims provoked by chanting pro-Hindu slogans” (they were not slogans but bhajans, or devotional songs, ending with “Jai Sri Ram” (Victory to Sri Rama). “It’s because they were returning from Ayodhya, where they asked for the reconstruction of a temple at the traditional birth place of Rama; this offends the feelings of the Muslims.” In sum, the victims, roasted alive, were guilty.
Numb with shock, the people of Gujarat did not react straightaway. They remained calm at first. Till that afternoon, when the charred bodies started arriving at their respective families—with no comforting voice, no condemnation of this barbaric act—then these people known for their non- violent nature and exceptional patience, burst into a frenzy.
- We read all over about a “genocide of Muslims”. Do we remember a single report on the Hindus who heroically helped save Muslims in their neighbourhood? Was even one family of Hindu victims interviewed following the criminal burning of the Sabarmati Express? One fourth of the dead in the ensuing riots were Hindus. How to classify those 250 victims? Who evoked the dead on the Hindu side? According to reports, Congress Party councillor Taufeeq Khan Pathan and his son Zulfi, notorious gangsters, were allegedly seen leading Muslim rioters. Another such character, Congress member of the Godhra Nagarpalika [municipality], Haji Balal, was said to have had the fire- fighting vehicle sabotaged beforehand... Which newspaper article stated that the most violent events took place following provocations by leaders of this sort? The Union Home Ministry's Annual Report of 2002-03 stated that 40,000 Hindus were in riot relief camps. What made those 40,000 Hindus rush to relief camps? To seek protection from whom? Why was it necessary if they were the main aggressors? More than the barbaric event itself, it is the insensitivity of the Indian “elite” and of the media that infuriated the Gujaratis. Those accused of terrorism often receive political support, are benevolently portrayed by the media, and a host of “human rights” organisations are always on hand to fight for them. But those victims whose lives are cut down for no reason, are they not “human” enough to get some rights too?
- Apart from local journalists usually more objective in their reports, no English newswriter thought it worthwhile to look deeper into the events at the Godhra railway station. Nobody came to question possible survivors of the tragedy. Is a coach of Hindu pilgrims even worth the trip? They had to wait for the “elite” to react; they had to receive directives from the politically correct, before picking up their pens. Worse, they reported deliberate rumours and made up versions as actual news.
- And why were 2,000 Muslims assembled there at 7 A.M. with jerry-cans of petrol bought the previous evening?
- Inquiries with the Railway staff and passengers travelling in the Sabarmati Express showed that no quarrel whatsoever took place on the platform between a tea vendor and pilgrims, and no girl was manhandled nor kidnapped. As the Nanavati Report established later, this fictitious report was in fact circulated by the Jamiat-Ulma-E-Hind, the very hand responsible for the carnage. It nevertheless went around the world, exhibited as “the true story.” Aren’t we compelled to conclude that the assailants, in India, are those who dictate what’s “politically correct,” and instruct the media?
- A few journalists then booked their tickets for Gujarat. As far as we can see, they had a framework in place: the outbreak would be dealt with independently of the Godhra carnage, as a different, unrelated issue; it was a planned violence perpetrated by “fundamentalist” Hindus against Gujarat’s Muslims, fully backed by the State of Gujarat. From this day on, the burning of coach S-6 was to be left behind, forgotten.
- The Gujarat Government sued Outlook magazine. In its May 27 issue, Outlook published an apology to save its face. But in the course of its apology, the magazine’s editors quoted a “clarification” from Roy, who withdrew her lie by planting an even bigger one: the MP’s daughters “were not among the 10 women who were raped and killed in Chamanpura that day”! From Smita Narula to Arundhati Roy, “four or five girls” had swollen to “ten women,” equally anonymous and elusive... This redefines the term “fiction writer”.
- Another story about a “pregnant Muslim woman” whose stomach was allegedly “ripped open,” her “foetus taken out” and both being burnt, horrified people all over the world. The first mention of it seems to be in a BBC report around March 6, which, though “uncorroborated,” spread like wildfire, with fresh details (divergent and varied, but who cares?), so much so that you end up feeling there is no smoke without fire. The rumour was never confirmed— which twisted tongue first whispered it?
- Human Rights Watch, an NGO based in New York, published a dossier (April 30, 2002) about the Gujarat events which caused a sensation and fed a large number of articles in the international press. At that point we jump into the sensational... Those rapes and hackings are said to have started at 3:30 P.M. ... when the house was already on fire. Was the mob waiting for everything to be reduced to cinders to commit its crimes?
- Press articles kept quoting one another, creating “dossiers” out of floating rumours. None of the authors even deigned to visit the scene of the alleged events; none except the official inquiry commissions, had the honesty to question fairly, in parallel, the involved Hindu families regarding the tragedy unfolding in the two Gujarati communities.
- Consequently, just after the fast-track court acquittals, three members of Zaheera’s community “barged into her home” around midnight, and told her she would have to change her statement “in the interests of the community.” This meant that Zaheera had to declare that she had lied to the court (which is a criminal offence). Did she have a choice? Along with her mother and brother, she was taken to Mumbai “without their consent,” and brought to Teesta Setalvad, 11 an activist of the much- vaunted “human rights.” The activist took them under her wing for several months, accommodated them in a rented apartment while providing assistance for a living. In the meantime she prepared affidavits (in English which Zaheera does not read) for the girl to sign before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in which she “confessed” to having lied to the Vadodara trial court, “trembling with fear and threatened” by BJP MLA Madhu Shrivastav (who had nothing to do with her area and whom she did not even know). And Zaheera now designated as guilty, the twenty-one people she had considered innocent. All media were ready with their cameras, mikes and pens to splash the news.
- In 2004, Zaheera “managed to flee” from her confinement by the activist, and in November, seized by remorse for having allowed innocent people to be accused, stated in an affidavit before the Vadodara Collector that whatever she had told the Supreme Court, was done under duress from Teesta Setalvad and her associate Rais Khan; and whatever she told the NHRC was a lie. “Ramzan is on and I want to state the truth,” she said. “What I had said in Vadodara Court during the trial was my true statement. The judgement was correct and had given me all the justice I wanted.” She sought police protection from Teesta Setalvad. 12
- Especially in light of the revelation that “a host of Gujarat riot case victims were misled into signing affidavits giving false information, for which as many as ten of them had received 100,000 rupees from Setalvad’s Citizens for Justice and Peace. A list of names were sent to the CPI(M) relief fund, and demand drafts were handed out at a function in Ahmedabad on August 26, 2007 by CPI(M) politburo member Brinda Karat, Teesta Setalvad and Rais Khan.” 14 On April 13, 2009, the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) charged the activist Teesta Setalvad, with “adding morbidity” to the post-Godhra riots by “cooking up macabre tales of killings”. The SIT report stated that all the affidavits of 22 witnesses were drafted, typed and printed from the same computer, giving sufficient grounds to believe they were “tutored”. When the SIT questioned those who signed the affidavits, it was shocked to learn that these complainants were not even aware of the incidents. 15
- In December 2004, a fatwa was issued against Zaheera by the Muslim Tayohar Committee, excommunicating her with the approval of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, “for having constantly lied.” In other words, for having stood by the twenty-one wrongly accused Hindus neighbours.
- Human Rights Watch Smita Narula’s report (30 April 2002) was titled “ ‘We have no order to save you’—State participation and complicity in anti-Muslim violence.” Issued from US shores, its words were lapped up by the Indian elite and politicians... But where are the facts to corroborate such an allegation, which of course was instantly peddled the world over? Can a “carefully orchestrated attack” happen overnight? And how can someone sitting in the U.S., gauge the “spontaneity” of such an outbreak?
- In rural areas the Vanavasis attacked the Muslim moneylenders, shopkeepers and the forest contractors. They used their traditional bows and arrows as also their implements used to cut trees and grass while attacking Muslims. They moved in groups and used coded signals for communication. Apparently, the accumulated anger of years of exploitation ... had become explosive.
- English language newspapers ... appeared to have assumed the role of crusaders against the State [Gujarat] Government from day one. It coloured the entire operation of news gathering, feature writing and editorials. They distorted and added fiction to prove their respective points of view. The code of ethics prescribed by the Press Council of India was violated ... 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.
- Neelkanth Bhatia, among the few survivors, was not. He gathered enough strength to challenge the formation of this committee, and in October 2006, the Gujarat High Court quashed the conclusions of the Banerjee Committee. It declared its formation as a “colourful exercise,” “illegal, unconstitutional, null and void,” and its argument of accidental fire “opposed to the prima facie accepted facts on record.” Moreover, one high-level commission conducted by Justice Nanavati-Shah had been appointed by the Gujarat Government to probe the incident, two months earlier. The Court also did not miss the point that the interim report was released just two days before the elections in Bihar—the State of the Railways minister, well-known for his political ambitions and notorious for his histrionics. Politicians know no common sense or shame. But what about the judiciary?
- It is easy to see why the Nanavati Report was frowned upon by Citizens for Justice and Peace, namely Activist Teesta Setalvad who asked the Supreme Court “to restrain the Gujarat Government from acting upon, circulating and publishing this report.” Fortunately on October 13, 2008, the highest court sharply turned down the petition, thus making the testimonies and inquiries available to all.
- However, under pressure from the UPA Government and pestered by the National Human Rights Commission and Citizens for Justice and Peace NGO, on October 21, 2008, the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan (whose tenure was marked by allegations of misbehaviour) directed that the Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA) could not be used against the 134 accused in the Godhra train burning incident. The trial would have to be held under the regular provisions of the Indian Penal Code. This amounted to accepting prima facie that the guilty were not terrorists...
- This appears to be a pattern: whenever Muslim riots or bomb attacks target Hindus, it is thought acceptable to accuse the victims, in order to avoid possible revolts. Thus in 1993 in Mumbai, after eleven coordinated bomb blasts in Hindu majority areas, which killed 257 people and injured 713, the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Sharad Pawar quickly cooked up a twelfth explosion ... in a Muslim area! “I have deliberately misled people,” he explained later, to show that both communities had been affected.” 25 And to portray both communities’ potential to behave as “terrorists”. Truth and clarity of mind are the casualties.
The Godhra Riots. Postscript: The Masterminds (2014)
- On 27 February 2002, when a coach of Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya went up in flames at Godhra railway station, a Congress member of the Godhra municipality, Haji Balal, led a mob and stopped the fire-fighting vehicle on its way to the station. The fire crew reported that “he had been visiting the fire station at night for the past few days on the pretext of watching films on television.” Haji Balal, a few days earlier, had the clutch plates of one of the main fire-fighting vehicles removed; in the second vehicle, the nut connecting the pipe to the water tank was spirited away.
- citing Justice Tewatia Committee Report, short for Gujarat Riots: The True Story; Facts Speak for Themselves – Godhra and After, A Field Study by Justice D. S. Tewatia, Dr. J.C. Batra, Dr. Krishan Singh Arya, Shri Jawahar Lal Kaul, Prof. B.K. Kuthiala. Council for International Affairs and Human Rights, Governing Body for the Term 2001-03.
- In order to quickly gather a crowd of angry Muslims to the Godhra station and attack the train, so that no one would guess who was pouring petrol in the S6 and S7 coaches, rumours that a Ghanchi Muslim girl had been abducted by the Kar Sevaks were spread by the Jamiat-Ulema-E-Hind (JUH), a long-standing ally of the Congress.
- They however found a fertile ground in the US, especially with the evangelical lobbies. 14 On 1 st April 2002 Teesta Setalvad created “Citizens for Justice and Peace” (CJP), an NGO “outsourced by the Congress to the job of attacking Modi”, as Madhu Kishwar put it. 15 The activists approached the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a U.S. government-funded body, with known roots in the evangelical movement, whose “original intention was to protect Christians around the world ... to review facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally — and to make policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and the Congress”. 16 Testifying before the USCIRF, Teesta Setalvad alleged that the BJP had conducted: successful pogroms and attacks against the countries religious minorities, ...
- This “testimony” from India is what fed countless self-styled human rights organizations and intellectuals in India and in the West. They drank in Setalvad’s words and regurgitated them as articles and “reports” with a plethora of gory details.
- As for Sanjeev Bhatt’s testimony, the SIT called fax messages produced by him “not genuine”, “forged document, fabricated subsequently by someone with a vested interest.” 25 “This conduct of Shri Sanjiv [sic] Bhatt in arranging, prompting and controlling the witness [a witness produced by him] to corroborate his statement is highly suspicious and undesirable.” 26 And from the location of his mobile phone, his claim of being present at the said meeting at the Chief Minister’s residence proved to be false. “Shri Sanjiv Bhatt is a tainted witness and therefore, cannot be relied upon keeping in view his background in the police department as he was involved in criminal cases of serious nature and departmental inquiries are also in progress against him.” 27 Cases against him included inflicting torture in custody leading to death, abduction, extortion and unprovoked firing, killings and planting narcotics with a view to blackmail. SIT head R.K. Raghavan concluded that Bhatt had lied and brought in tutored witnesses to falsely implicate Modi. 28 The Gujarat Vigilance Commission recommended his suspension twice (on 15-07-2002 and 19-10-2006) for professional misconduct, but each time he managed to evade prosecution.
- quoting Special Investigation Team (SIT) Report
- A last brush stroke on Sanjeev Bhatt’s erratic comportment is given by senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani in a Sunday Guardian article. The man “handed over charge and his official computer, leaving all his emails in an unprotected mode for all to read”... The state government forwarded the material to the SIT for investigations, and thanks to this irresponsible gesture, authorities harvested details of his “hobnobbing with the Opposition Congress party in a thoroughly illegal and almost seditious manner to concoct evidence against the Chief Minister and the state of Gujarat”. To this end Bhatt was in constant touch with top Congress party leaders, from whom he received not only guidance,but “packages” and “materials”, as per his own statement.
- quoting Jethmalani, R. 2011. “UPA, media have a brazen mission to demonize Modi”, online at: www.sunday-guardian.com/analysis/upa-media-have-a-brazen-mission-to-demonize-modi (retrieved July 2014). Also Kishwar 2013: 6, op. cit.