Indian Muslims won a brief respite last month when Hindu extremists were forced to postpone plans to start building a temple on the site of the demolished Babri masjid in Ayodhya on March 15, because of a massive police operation forced on the authorities by the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat earlier in the month. Thousands of police prevented Hindu activists from approaching Ayodhya, and Ashok Singhal, leader of the VHP, ended a protest hunger strike after only two days.
Hindu leaders had planned to lay a foundation stone for the proposed temple, in defiance of court orders not to proceed until a legal decision on the matter had been reached. The courts later promised to speed up its deliberation of the court case, which has lingered for eight years. The case is to decide whether there is any basis for the Hindu myth that the Babri mosque was built on the site of a temple marking the birthplace of Ram. Even Hindu historians dismiss the claim, but so many people in the Indian government and establishment are committed to Hindu extremism that the result of the court case cannot be taken for granted.
Although the laying of the foundation stone did not take place, a government official at Ayodhya accepted a shila – a ceremonial carved pillar intended for the temple – from activists of the VHP, an act that was widely interpreted as official acceptance of the Hindu demand that the temple should be built. The Hindus have said that they are continuing their preparations. The next date on their schedule is June 2, when they may again try to lay the foundation stone regardless of the status of the court case.
While focus had temporarily shifted to Ayodhya, meanwhile, regular trouble was continuing to take place in Gujarat. As this issue of Crescent goes to press, almost 6 weeks after the beginning of the pogroms, Muslims are continuing to be killed on a daily basis and large areas of Ahmedabad and other towns remain under nightly curfew.
The scale of the losses suffered by the state’s Muslims is also becoming clear. Several thousand were killed and hundreds of thousands rendered homeless. Homes, businesses and property were deliberately destroyed. Although precise numbers are impossible to obtain, over 65,000 Muslim refugees who lost their homes and property are living in camps in Ahmedabad alone. (For an account of such a camp, see p. 10.)
It is also clear now that the pogrom, although it may have been set off by the incident in Doghra, was in fact the result of long and detailed planning, and that the state government is at the very least guilty of provocation and negligence.
It is now known that Hindus in the area were gathering information about Muslims in preparation for an attack on them since at least January, including lists of Muslim-owned businesses. The pogroms were centrally directed and locally controlled by leaders carrying communication equipment and distributing weapons.
The state government, under Narendra Modi, failed to clampdown on the Hindus for more than 72 hours, allowing massive damage to be done. Modi himself played down the pogrom at a time when Muslims were dying in scores, saying that “every action produces a reaction”. His subsequent claims to have immediately sent the army in to restore order have been contradicted by army officers, who have said that they were unable to act because of contradictory orders and obstruction from the state government.
It is also clear now that Gujarat was by no means the only place where Muslims were attacked as a result of the Hindu call for a strike on March 1 and later at the time of the Ayodhya showdown.
Other areas where trouble has continued to simmer for several weeks include Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajastan, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In Haryana, Muslim homes and businesses were attacked and set ablaze. Several mosques were destroyed, including at least three in Loharu town, where a rumour was spread that a cow had been slaughtered.
Numerous Muslims have been killed in towns such as Ayodhya and Faizabad. There have been numerous reports of the usual humiliations of Muslims, forced to strip in public, forced to chant Hindu slogans and to watch their women raped in front of them. Such atrocities are now so routine, however, that they do not justify coverage in the national news.
The pogroms in Gujarat brought the situation of Indian Muslims to the world’s attention briefly; but after the journalists have moved on Indian Muslims will continue to suffer grievously in what is supposed to be a secular democracy.