This report analyses the causes and context of the recent rioting in the state of Gujarat in India by Hindu nationalists. It begins by documenting the sequence of events leading up to the riots, before analyzing the escalation of violence itself and isolating its principal causes. The role of the Indian authorities in the riots is also discussed. The report attempts to place the recent crisis in context with the history of communal violence in India, particularly in terms of conflict between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The historic role of British colonialism and the contemporary role of the international community in fuelling factors conducive to communal antagonism within India are highlighted. Against this broad historical and international context, the rise of Hindu nationalism and its detrimental impact on communal relations é for instance, in terms of religious discrimination, repression and even apartheid é is explored. Finally, the report discusses the responsibility not only of the Indian government, but also of leading members of the international community for the intensification of violence in the country often on communal lines. In this respect, the little known role of the United States and the ENRON corporation in India are examined as a case in point.
Towards the end of February 2002, rioting by Hindu mobs broke out across the Indian state of Gujarat. The rioting was sparked after the death of 58 Hindus on a train in what was described by Indian officials as an arson attack by a mob of Muslims in Godhra, a town southeast of Ahmadabad. Exactly what provoked the attacks on the train was at first unclear. According to some initial reports, passengers were “misbehaving with women on the train”. Other reports suggested that: “Muslims were angered by a rumor of an attack on a mosque in Gujarat state.” Yet another report stated that: “Hindu activists returning from Ayodhya had been chanting provocative slogans as the train passed through Muslim areas.”
According to local police station chief J. K. Katija:
“Muslim tea vendors and their neighbors stoned the train, then set it on fire when Hindus, chanting nationalist slogans, refused to pay for snacks during a five-minute halté Fourteen children were among the dead. The Hindus were returning from the site of a mosque torn down in 1992 where they now want to build a Hindu temple.”
The arson attack occurred in the context of increasingly aggravated religio-communal tensions. According to another local police chief, Raju Bhargava, tension had been building in Godhra in the five days prior to the arson attack, as well as in other towns in Gujarat. “Hindu nationalists travel by train across Gujarat to and from a religious site in Ayodhya, in northern India, where the World Hindu Council vows to build a temple to the Hindu god Rama on the ruins of the 16th century Muslim mosque.” Hindu nationalists had destroyed the mosque in 1992, sparking nationwide riots resulting in the deaths of around 3,000 people. Police chief Bhargava stated that the Hindu activists traveling by train “often refused to pay for food taken from Muslim vendors at the stations, and brandished sticks as they shouted slogans, causing resentment and anger to build up.” Inter-communal tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities had been exacerbated by the decision of “two extremist Hindu groups allied to the BJP [who] gave [Prime Minister] Vajpayee a March 12 deadline to make a decision to allow work on the temple to go ahead.” The passengers of the attacked train had been returning from a religious ceremony at the northern town of Ayodhya, where the proposed temple is planned.
A report by Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran described the build-up of tensions and hostility as a consequence of the activities of a rowdy mob of Hindu nationalists. Based on interviews with passengers on the train, witnesses to the incident and police and railway officials, he concludes that the train fire was “not a premeditated ambush by young Muslims, but rather a spontaneous argument, provoked by the Hindu activists,” that went out of control. “For two days, as the Sabarmati Express snaked across northern India, some Hindu activists in cars S-5 and S-6 carried on like hooligans”, Chandrasekaran recorded from Godhra. “They exposed themselves to other passengers. They pulled headscarves off Muslim womené
“They evicted a family of four in the middle of the night for refusing to join in chants glorifying the Hindu god Ram. They failed to pay for the tea and snacks they consumed at each stop. When the train pulled into this hardscrabble town in western India on the morning of Feb. 27, the reputation of its rowdiest passengers preceded it. When they refused to pay for their food, Muslim boys among the vendors at Godhra station stormed the train.”
Describing in detail the sequence of events, Chandrasekaran reports that:
“The train was five hours late, largely because the activists’ behavior had forced the conductor to make several emergency stops. Instead of arriving quietly in the middle of the night, the Sabarmati arrived at 7:43 a.m., just as word of the group’s behavior had trickled in from vendors at other stations. The vendors in Godhra were resolved not to be victimized. The Hindu council members, too, were ready for action: Rocks collected from near the tracks were piled near the doors of their cars.
“When the Hindus refused to pay for their tea and snacks, several young Muslims jumped on the train as it started to leave the station and pulled the emergency brake chain. With a piercing squeal, the Sabarmati ground to a halt a half-mile from the station, in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood. An argument ensued, drawing hundreds of residents.
“Police and railway officials said they do not know who began throwing stones first. But the officials said they believe that after about 10 minutes, one or more Muslims poured a flammable substance on a mattress and ignited it between the S-5 and S-6 cars. A few minutes later, a fire broke out at the other end of the S-5. Within moments, the car was engulfed by flames.”
However, the cause of the second fire that engulfed carriage S-5, resulting in the death of 58 Hindus – mostly women and children é is unclear. According to police reports, whether or not the second fire was caused by Hindus or Muslims is uncertain. “Police officials said they are not sure how that second fire began”, records the Washington Post. “[Police official] Nanavati said the Muslims could have set another fire, or the Hindus, trying to respond in kind, might have accidentally sparked a blaze in their own car, which was filled with kerosene and cooking gas.” B. K. Nanavati, the Deputy Police Superintendent in Godhra, thus confirmed that the ongoing investigation into the incident does not support the contention by Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi, that the train assault was a “terrorist attack”. He stated that: “It was not preplanned. It was a sudden, provocative incident. It could have been an accident.” Another local police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, observed that: “Both sides were at fault. The provocation was there and the reaction was strong. But no one had imagined all this would turn into such a big tragedy.”
In the aftermath of the arson attack, indiscriminate reprisal attacks were instigated by Hindu mobs throughout the state of Gujarat against Muslim civilians. The escalating attacks on the minority Muslim population by Hindu nationalists, have turned out to constitute the worst communal violence in India since 1992, continuing for days on end. To date, nearly 700 Muslims are confirmed dead, although credible reports indicate that the death toll is probably over a thousand.
Organised attacks on Muslim civilians in Gujarat by extremist Hindu groups broke out in purported response to the train burning incident. The attacks were accompanied by the looting and destruction of homes, businesses, and holy places. In the initial stages of violence, at least 50 mostly Muslim-owned buildings were torched in Ahmadabad. Rioters blocked roads – in one instance, dragging a truck driver from his vehicle and killing him. On the highways elsewhere in the state, gangs of young men with sticks and iron rods stopped cars, looking for Muslims. Roadside tea and tobacco stalls owned by Muslims were burned to the ground. In three towns, seven Muslims were stabbed to death overnight. On the 95-mile route from Godhra to Ahmadabad, roadside businesses were burned and village boys used tires to barricade the roads. Before dawn near the village of Udalpur, some 2,000 Hindu nationalists with petrol and kerosene “burned half a dozen shops belonging to Muslims, and a spice factory,” according a police officer, J. Chaudhary.
In one of the worst incidents on Thursday, dozens of Muslim labourers were killed when their homes were set on fire. At least eight children burned to death. On 2 March, police reported that at least 30 Muslims were burned alive when armed Hindus set fire to Pandarvada village in Gujarat state on Friday. By 3 March, the death toll had risen to nearly 500 after Hindu mobs had stormed the village of Sardarpura, setting houses and shops ablaze by lighting fires near cooking gas containers. Twenty-seven Muslims died in that attack, according to local police officials speaking on anonymity. Baker Moin-uddin Sheikh, 31, watched his family die in an attack on Friday in which 65 Muslims were burned alive. “I saw my father, sister and mother being burned alive. Despite pleas for help nobody came to our rescue,” he said. “Will someone take action against them for being responsible for my family’s brutal killing?”
London Guardian correspondent Luke Harding’s description of the violence depicts a sequence of unrestrained bestial carnage unleashed by Hindu extremists on Muslim civilians that is almost genocidal in intent and scale. “The events of the last two days”, he reported on 2 March, “have been described as rioting. But rioting fails to evoke what has really been going on – an attempt by one dominant community to pulverize its weaker rival.” He refers to an incident where an Indian Muslim MP was mobbed, beaten and burned to death by Hindu rioters rampaging through the streets of Gujarat: “The mob broke into Ahsan Jafri’s compound in the middle of the afternoon, tipping kerosene through the windows of his two-storey houseé
“The former Muslim MP who had served India’s Congress party with distinction, tried to summon help but the police did not respond to his increasingly desperate telephone calls. When Jafri resorted to firing into the air, the 10,000 strong Hindu crowd stormed his home, and carried him into the street.
“Nobody is sure whether he was already dead when they poured paraffin over his head and set him alight. The crowd also dragged out his brother-in-law, his brother-in-law’s wife and their two small sons. They were burned too. The Chamanpura district of Ahmedabad – a small Muslim enclave surrounded by a sea of Hindu houses – was a vision of hell yesterday. In a pyre outside Jafri’s house was the tiny blackened arm of a child, its fist clenched.
“Jafri’s nameplate lay in a still-smouldering heap of charred books and human hair. Everyone from the Gulbarg housing society suffered the same fate. Outside their verdant courtyard, Hindu crowds gathered yesterday to peer at the remains of their Muslim neighbours. Not much was left: only twisted spines tangled among bicycle wheels and mattresses… Yesterday western India continued to blaze, as Hindu mobs across the state of Gujarat systematically turned on their Muslim neighbours.”
Police and army forces deployed by the government to restore law and order have largely granted Hindu extremists a free reign in the state. “The carnage was made possible by the city’s Hindu police force, which merely watched yesterday as gangs rampaged through Muslim areas”, observes Harding. He cited the plea of one Muslim resident, Mrs Dishu Banashek: “We are being killed. Please get us out of this hell. They are firing at us. Several of our women have been raped. You must help.” The area in which she lives, Sonaichali, has been transformed, reports Harding, “into a film-like war zone. A Hindu crowd armed with machetes and iron bars stood less than 15 metres from her house, on the opposite side of the streeté
“All the shops on the Muslim side of the road were ablaze by yesterday afternoon, surrounded by a carpet of bricks. Smoke blotted out the sky; gas cylinders exploded. Officers in blue uniforms from India’s rapid action force charged theatrically at the Hindu mob, but later abandoned the area, leaving its Muslim residents to their fate.”
Indeed, the belated arrival of about 900 troops in Ahmedabad on 1 March amounted to little more than an ineffective PR stunt, in a city whose population is about 5 million, of whom 15 per cent are Muslim. “[T]he army’s belated deployment seemed little more than a political calculation that the Muslims had now got the beating they deserved”, observes The Guardian. Summing up the violence, the Hindustan Times reported in an Editorial that: “There are thousands of horrifying stories of bestiality that make butchers like Idi Amin look like Mother Teresa. But here’s just one instance of how the government brazenly, shamelessly, let violence loose in Gandhinagar, near Narendra Modi’s house, where no one lives except ministers and government officersé
“A mob of trishul-waving youths, blood-lust writ all over them, attacked a television news team not far from the residence of the chief minister, right on the main road. The car was smashed, the team was asked to ‘prove’ they were Hindus, which, fortunately, they were, while some of the ruffians screamed, ‘We will kill some Muslims today and then relax’.
“They then began to vandalise the car, smashing its windshield, lights and fittings. And these sacrilegious louts then had the temerity to take the name of Lord Rama and snarl: ‘Say Shri Ramji ki jai’ to the terrified newsmen. Not satisfied with the way they said it, they screamed again: ‘Louder! Louder!’ When the team was finally allowed to go, a brick was thrown by these vicious trolls through a window of the car smashing into the head of the cameraman. Obviously they couldn’t contain their bloodlust.”
Christians have also been targeted in the attacks. The All India Christian Council called for a ban on Hindu extremist groups in the aftermath of the violence, reporting that many Christians were victims of the rioting. The Council’s Secretary-General John Dayal reported that members of the World Hindu Council and other extremist groups allied to the ruling BJP, burned down a Catholic mission in Sanjeli village, attacking two priests with stones. He also reported that a Hindu mob had ransacked a missionary school near Godhra. In an official statement, the Council announced that Hindu extremists have “engaged in a constant hate campaign against the minorities”, and are training hundreds and thousands of people in armed warfare.
The result has been a confirmed death toll of over 600, which continues to steadily increase as the corpses of mostly Muslim men, women and children are uncovered in different areas of Gujarat. Reports strongly suggest that the total number of people killed is over a thousand. As the London Independent has observed: “The deaths of nearly 450, and probably more than 1,000, Gujaratis, nearly all Muslims, in four days of communal bestiality have exploded the claim forever the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) claim to have presided over an era of communal peace.” Indian officials confirm that 52,000 Muslims are living in refugee camps and makeshift huts in Muslim neighborhoods after having fled the violence.
Longtime Delhi-based foreign correspondent Peter Popham brings in focus the context of these gruesome atrocities in what he describes as a “neo-facist” brand of Hindu nationalism rooted in distortions of the Hindu religion.
“é the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, or ‘World Hindu Council’), an extremist group within the same Hindu nationalist family as the BJP, is pressing ahead with its plans to begin construction of the long dreamed-of temple to the god Ram in Ayodhya, on the ruins of the mosque torn down by a mob of the same people in December 1992. These two events, the Gujarat bloodbath and the Ayodhya temple, are intimately connected.”
Describing the key tenets of this pseudo-religious ideology, Popham records in an article which is worth quoting from copiously:
“The first man on earth was an Indian, and a Hindu. Hinduism was the primeval religion, not just of India but of the world. There was no Aryan invasion of India, no enslavement of the southern Dravidians. Hindus were here from day one. Other people arrived on these shores, but eventually they bent the knee to Bharat Mata, Mother India, and were knitted into the Hindu fabric. Only the Muslims (and to a lesser extent the Christians) stood out. They smashed temples and erected mosques on the rubble, with sword and fire they tore millions of Hindus from the breast of Mother India and brought them forcibly over to Islam. It is the duty of patriotic Hindus to reverse that historic wrong.
“That, reduced to its crude essentials, is the Hindu nationalist creed, and it helps to explain why the primary goal of the most powerful political party in this vast, impoverished country, with all its desperate problems, should be the construction of a temple in a squalid little town in Uttar Pradesh. Ayodhya, goes the mythology, is ‘Ramjanambhoomi’, the birth place of Ram, an avatar of Vishnu. The Muslim invader Babur (and this, too, is myth) tore down the great temple that stood here and built the Babri Masjid mosque, demolished by the mob in 1992. ‘Hindu Rashtra’, the true Hindu nation, cannot come into being until the temple is rebuilt.
“The men who have been ruling India for nearly four years, including the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and his powerful second-in-command Lal Krishna Advani, the Home Minister, are true believers in this, India’s exotic variety of neo-fascismé But while India’s stature grew abroad, at home Mr Vajpayee was often described by critics on the left as the ‘mask’ of the BJP, the acceptable face of a neo-fascist movement that was only biding its time.
“Mr Vajpayee, increasingly doddery at the age of 78, remains in place; but in the past week the party’s mask has been ripped away. The war on terrorism and India’s long military stand-off with Pakistan, which continues undiminished, have given a new licence to the Hindu nationalists. Muslim equals terrorist, they tell each other: we have it on American authority; we have 140 million terrorists in our midst. At the same time, recent BJP losses in state elections both in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh have given the hardliners a new urgency and a new determination. Strike, they have been told, while the BJP still holds power. Strike to maintain and increase that power. Now is the moment for dramatic, decisive actioné
“The BJP rose to power, as fascists do, through violence and the threat of more: the Ayodhya demolition signalled its rapid rise from obscurity, the vision of a state where Hindus rule supreme continues to excite its ideologuesé [M]uscle power é and that includes the mass burning alive of women and children é can yield political power.”
Credible reports have emerged from multiple sources demonstrating that the almost weeklong stint of bloodthirsty carnage in the state of Gujarat were government-sponsored. An Editorial in The Hindu raised some pertinent questions on the failure of the government to respond promptly and effectively to the escalation of violence: “The singularly inept and slow response to the scenes of destruction and death raises disturbing questions about the Gujarat State Government’s approaché
“True, any administration will necessarily require some lead-time to react to a sudden and potentially explosive development. The Narendra Modi [Chief Minister of Gujarat government] regime however showed little signs of having come to grips with the situation as late as Thursday evening, leaving the field absolutely free for rampaging mobs to go about their ‘business’ – looting, pillaging and setting blocks of houses afire at will – and there appeared to be a clear design behind all the ‘senseless’ violence, going by the targets they had chosen – shops and houses owned by the minority community in revenge for the Godhra incident.”
The Hindu goes on to highlight the probability that the BJP-backed Gujarat administration deliberately engineered conditions in which Hindu nationalists could freely rampage through the state:
“If the law enforcing machinery in Gujarat has been notoriously politicized and communalized, the fact that all the current lawlessness that has been unleashed in the name of a VHP-sponsored ‘band’ to protest against the Godhead carnage more than explains the State BJP regime’s deliberate lack of firmness in containing the orgy of violence. There has also been an inexplicable delay in calling in the Army. Such a partisan approach to critical issues of governance like maintaining public peace and ensuring the security of citizenry will seriously undermine the legitimacy of the Modi administration.”
An Editorial in the Hindustan Times raises similar issues, citing reports that the Gujarat police were intentionally reigned in by the government: “This abdication of responsibility is also evident from reports that the police were often passive bystanders during the mayhem perpetrated by the rioters.” There are endless examples of this. Luke Harding of The Guardian highlights the brutal murder of an old Indian lady, Mrs. Rochomal, in her home by a mob of rioting Hindu extremists, an atrocity that had occurred with the consent of local police officials. “Her charred, mutilated corpse lay in the sunny courtyard, framed by the metal posts of an upturned bed. It was not just the kerosene that had killed her. The Hindu mob that poured into her home two days ago had slashed her twice across the face. They had also cut her throaté
“A few clues hinted at Mrs Rochomal’s final terrifying hours: a small blue address book was abandoned next to her Nokia cellphone. She clearly knew what was coming and had been trying to summon help while hiding in her outside pantry. The fact that Mrs Rochomal lived 80ft away from a police station reveals a bleak truth about the violence that has convulsed India over the past four days: it has been state-sponsored.”
The reality, Harding reports, is not only that “the police made no effort to hold back the mob”, but the fact that “in certain places even joined in.” One Muslim resident, Naseem Aktar, in the suburb of Bapunagar, testified that: “Several policemen without uniforms started firing guns at us. They killed six or seven people.” According to other testimonials from “Muslim survivors of grisly massacres and the unchecked 30-hour orgy of violence and arson”, “the police simply stood by, or in some cases even encouraged the rioters as they went on the rampage, burning entire families to death in their homes.” Sakina Inayat Sajid, who lost six of her family and whose husband is missing, narrated from her hospital bed how “The police actively supported the rioters, almost as if they were accompanying them.” The few policemen she pleaded with for help in Shehajpuri Patia told her to “go and die elsewhere.” However, all exit points had been surrounded by mobs armed with swords, iron rods, acid and paraffin. Yet other testimonials are cited by Ananova News Service, which reports that:
“A girl has described how police slapped her mother and called her names when she pleaded with them for protection in the Gujarat riots. She says police stood by and watched as the mob hurled homemade bombs at shops and beat the Muslim residents with sticks… ‘Instead of protecting us, they were supporting the mob’, said one man in Ahmadabad.”
The Gujarat government has even incriminated itself in its own public statements and actions, with regards to its increasingly blatant role in sponsoring acts of genocide. The Independent, for instance, reports that: “After the killing of 58 Hindus in a train last Wednesday, the event that ignited the violence, Gujarat’s Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, quickly announced compensation of 200,000 rupees, about é3,000, to the bereaved familiesé
“Hundreds of Muslims have died since, but there is no word of compensation for them. Mr Modi endorsed the VHP’s call for a strike last Friday, his official nod to the ensuing bloodbath. The police have stood idly by while the mob did its work; sometimes, victims allege, they actively led the violence.”
Chief Minister Modi had also described the initial train-burning event as “an organized terrorist attack” é despite the official police reports confirming that the event could have been an accident, and that it is unclear whether the perpetrators had been Hindus or Muslims. Modi additionally indicated the government’s tacit endorsement of the mass killings of Muslims by Hindi nationalists in a public statement: “I believe that the reaction is that of restraint compared to what the terrorists did in Godhra.” In an interview with the BBC, Modi praised the response of the authorities é that had stalled the deployment of army and police effectively granting Hindu rioters a free reign in the state é and further lauded police measures, although numerable sources confirm that the police deliberately ignored the violence or otherwise actively participated in it. Indeed, he went so far as to describe “his government’s response as a success story. He said that he was not happy about what had happened in Gujarat but he was happy about the response of the authorities and defended the police, saying they had done excellent work.”
In the aftermath of the violence, senior Indian police officials have written and filed reports implicating government officials in direct participation in the violence against members of the Muslim minority community. Called “First Information Reports” or FIRs, the documents are the first stage in an Indian criminal investigation. The Associated Press records that: “Police say a local leader of India’s governing party and officials from a Hindu nationalist group linked to it led mobs that burned to death 107 Muslims during religious riots…
“Police reports obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday named several important figures in two attacks in the city of Ahmadabad… Police officers wrote and filed the reports on Sunday in the neighborhood of Naroda, where 65 Muslims were burned to death as they slept by Hindus who set the slum on fire Friday morning; and in Meghaninagar, where thousands of Hindus burned to death 42 Muslims in their homes Thursday night.”
None of the men accused in the reports could be contacted for comment by the Associated Press. Deputy Police Commissioner P. B. Gondya clarified that they had been avoiding police attempts to question them. According to one report by Kirit Erda, senior inspector-in-charge of the Meghaninagar police station, nine people including local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Deepak Patel headed Hindus who burned to death 42 people, including former Parliament member Ahsan Jaffrey, in the Muslim residential area known as Gulbarg Society in Meghaninagar. “These persons, armed with weapons, led a mob of 20,000 to 22,000, which attacked Gulbarg Society and set it ablazeé They first burned to death 18 residents and later burned 24 more persons in the same place.” A separate report on the Naroda killings, by N. T. Bala, an assistant police sub-inspector, blamed members of the World Hindu Council, closely linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the Indian and Gujarat state governments. “The carnage at Naroda Patia was the handiwork of a mob of 6,000, which was led by Babu Bajrangji, Kishan Kosani, T.J. Rajput, Harish Rohit and Raju Goyalé These people, possessing deadly weapons, led the mob of about 6,000, all belonging to the Hindu community.” The report details how the mob set fire to 24 homes, killing the 65 Muslims inside.
Further reports have surfaced corroborating the above. Testimonials from Indian intelligence officials confirm that both the central and local governments deliberately stalled the deployment of army units to allow Hindu rioters to escalate atrocities against the Muslim minority. The small number that were deployed received high-level instructions to avoid areas of rioting, to allow Hindu mobs to carry out acts of violence, and to only display themselves publicly in areas where members of the Muslim community had already been forcefully expelled. The London Telegraph reported that: “Intelligence officials [in India] admitted, however, that there had been a deliberate delay by federal and state governments in deploying the army to give Hindu militants a free hand after a Muslim mob killed 58 Hindus on a trainé
“The air force had 13 transport aircraft fuelled and ready at Jodhpur in neighbouring Rajasthan state to ferry troops to Ahmedabad, early on Thursday evening, when the rioting was at its height. ‘But for an inexplicable reason, even though it was apparent that the state police were proving incapable, 1,000 troops were flown out only the next morning,’ said a senior military officer.
“On arriving in Ahmedabad, scene of the worst violence, the soldiers were not provided with transport, information on communally sensitive areas or guides. ‘When the army was eventually deployed on Friday evening it was not taken to the trouble spots, but merely asked to display itself in areas from which the Muslims had already fled,’ a security officer said. ‘It was a calculated decision by the state’s Hindu nationalist government.’
“Intelligence officials admitted that a ‘systems failure’, prompted by politicians, allowed the rioting to continue. They said some police connived and, at times, even helped Hindu mobs.”
In light of the mounting evidence of high-level state-complicity in the bloodshed, numerous prominent Indian citizens – including politicians, religious leaders, journalists and human rights activists – have spoken out against the government, accusing it of sponsoring acts of terrorism and genocide. According to the Times of India, the Indian Congress charged the BJP government with resorting to “state terrorism” during the period. A day later, prominent Indian citizens accused the administration of “conniving with fundmentalist forces of the majority community in brutalising the minorities.” In a joint appeal to President K. R. Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, prominent citizens including former Union Minister Y. K. Alagh concluded that:
“The state connived with fundamentalist forces of the majority community, that is brutalising and vandalising the minority community… In fact, the state took the view that the anger of the majority community was natural and backlash was obvious… [The state] abdicated its most primary responsibility of being objective protector of all citizens.”
The appeal was drafted during a conference of at least 300 prominent citizens at Sabarmati Ashram. Shamsul Islam, an Indian journalist and activist who has spent his life bringing the Hindu and Muslim communities together through street theatre projects, forwarded an email from the India Centre for Human Rights and Law to Indian journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown of the London Independent: “We have been in touch with friends in Gujarat. The situation against minorities is completely out of control. The police are actively involved in perpetrating violence against the Muslims. At the moment there is a situation of state sponsored genocide.”
Former Indian Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda demanded the dismissal of the local Gujarat government under Narendra Modi, and condemned the central government, characterising the widespread violence as “state sponsored terrorism”. Gowda, who returned to the city after taking oath as a Lok Sabha member, following his victory in the Kanakapura by-poll, criticised both local and central government, asserting that “both have failed to protect communal harmony.”
A top Hindu religious leader similarly described the anti-Muslim riots as “state terrorism” and demanded that the organisation behind the violence be banned. Shankaracharya Shri Aadhog Shajananda of Shri Govardhan Math, issued a statement that: “Whatever happened in Godhara on Wednesday is highly condemnable and barbaric. Subsequent mob attacks all over Gujarat on minorities and their properties with direct assistance of VHP office-bearers and police on Thursday is still more saddening as it could be termed as state terrorism.” The Hindu pontiff expressed incredulity at the Gujarat government’s failure to uphold the rule of law, noting that the failure was a deliberate result of “political thinking” on the part of the World Hindu Council (VHP) and its governmental ally, the BJP:
“Provocative actions of VHP in the pious name of tolerance-oriented Hindu religion is the root cause of it. Should VHP be allowed to denigrate the world renowned Vedic philosophy and Hindu culture just because their fraternal political organ, BJP, has started loosing power in various states?é Gujarat is burning in communal riots and if VHP and similar organizations are not checked immediately the country would start burning and unfortunately there is no good political leader whose advice would be listened then. As such for the sake of unity and communal harmony and in order to save Hindu religion from further denigration VHP should be banned, like SIMI, and all their so-called leaders and activists should be arrested forthwith under National Security Act.”
The Hindu pontiff further referred to and condemned the BJP’s continuing covert support of the World Hindu Council (VHP).
Testimonials from the survivors of the massacre and journalists on the scene indicate that a fundamental objective of the violence has been to drive out the entire Muslim minority from India. Many of the Hindu rioters openly declared their intent to force their Muslim neighbours to flee to Pakistan where they should, it was suggested, permanently reside. Harding reports that: “The violence in Gujarat – which has been encouraged by the state’s Hindu nationalist government – amounts to nothing less than religious cleansing.” A stream of homeless Muslims, he notes, have been steadily pouring into the Muslim-dominated village of Savala, which is relatively safe from the Hindu mobs active throughout the surrounding countryside. “For centuries Hindus and Muslims in the fertile western state of Gujarat have lived alongside each other in the same villages. They have shared land, water pumps – and cups of tea. But in areas where Muslims are in a minority they are now leaving, moving to communities such as Savala which are rapidly becoming Muslim ghettoesé
“‘Our Hindu neighbours told us we should go to Pakistan. But we are Indian. India is our country. It is our motherland. We are faithful to our country and we don’t want to leave’, SS Pathan, a teacher, explainedé It is clear that Gujarat’s ultra-rightwing chief minister, Narendra Modi, would like his Muslim minority to disappear, though it is not clear where he expects them to go. Last week Mr Modi instructed his police force to turn a blind eye to the anti-Muslim violence that began in Ahmedabad, the state’s main city, then rapidly spread to rural areasé In some places, including Savala, the police even coordinated the destruction. A large group of local Hindus advanced on Savala on Friday afternoon, accompanied by six police officers. They set light to the village’s outlying mustard fields, its main source of income. The police prevented Savala’s farmers from intervening by shooting at them, injuring a youth in the hand. Two goatherds who made the mistake of taking their flock to the edge of the village were seized and then stabbed to death.”
The reason for the BJP’s sponsoring of the violence are depressingly familiar. The party is attempting to consolidate its power in the wake of its flagging popularity by revitalising its principal base of support in the neo-facist distortions of Hindu nationalism: “é there are many within [the] Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) who believe that communal violence is now the only way of reviving the party’s flagging electoral fortunes, following its comprehensive drubbing last month at the polls in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.”
Unsurprisingly, the government has attempted to ensure that its own sordid role in the genocidal massacre and ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of members of the Muslim minority community does not come to light through an official inquiry. The Times of India candidly observes that: “The ruling BJP government in Gujarat is in no mood to extend the terms of reference of the proposed judicial inquiry commission into the Godhra train incident to its bloody aftermath all over Gujarat…
“At least one of the judges approached by Modi is understood to have asked the chief minister clearly whether the riots after the Godhra incident would also be covered by the inquiry commission. The reply was in the negative… Aspects like the BJP’s support to the VHP’s bandh on Thursday, the soft approach towards the rioters on the first two days and the slugging reaction of the entire administration were best probed by the judiciary. And that’s precisely why the Modi government does not want an all-encompassing judicial probe to open a can of worms which will explode in its face.”
It is neither possible to fully comprehend the most recent crisis, nor to offer solutions for the crisis, without taking into account its historic roots. To understand the causes of the current conflict, it is essential to take note of its wider religious and social context in the history of communal tension between Hindus and Muslims in India. There are approximately 112 million Muslims in India, comprising the country’s largest minority and representing 11 percent of the country’s population of 984 million. Hindus retain the majority, forming eighty-three percent of India’s religious followers. The Muslim incursions into the Indian subcontinent occurred during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, marking the beginning of the dominance of Islam that continued until the consolidation of British colonial rule in the eighteenth century. Under the Mughal rulers, beginning in the sixteenth century, Islam became particularly dominant in the traditional northern Hindu heartland. But Mughal leaders generally did not seek to impose their religious beliefs upon the Hindu population, and maintained freedom of religion.
According to the ‘Minorities at Risk’ Project of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM) at the University of Maryland, Hindu-Muslim conflict and hostility was introduced by the British Empire in an effort to consolidate control over the subcontinent: “The imposition of colonial rule on the subcontinent fuelled animosity and open conflict between the Hindu and Muslim communitiesé
“Following on the heels of the decline of Mughal power, the British often utilized ‘divide and rule’ tactics in order to maintain their governance over the vast area. For example, the British largely employed Hindus as civil servants. This meant that the Muslims were unable to effectively benefit from educational or economic opportunities.”
In essence, the Hindu-Muslim conflict has existed in earnest since this time. Indeed, the colonial manufacture of religio-communal tension between Hindus and Muslims in India, with the purpose of weakening indigenous opposition to British rule, directly contributed to the entrenchment of mistrust, hatred and fear between the two communities. Lord Curzon, Governor General of India (1895-99) and Viceroy (1899-1904) was told by the British Secretary of State for India, George Francis Hamilton, that they “should so plan the educational text books that the differences between community and community are further strengthened.” Another Viceroy, Lord Dufferin (1884-88), was advised by the Secretary of State in London that the “division of religious feelings is greatly to our advantage”, and that he expected “some good as a result of your committee of inquiry on Indian education and on teaching material.” Yet another Viceroy, Lord Elgin (1862-63), was reminded by the Secretary of State for India that: “We have maintained our power in India by playing-off one part against the other, and we must continue to do so. Do all you can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling.”
The history of Muslim rule in India, which lasted for almost 1000 years, was falsified by British writers in the colonial era with the view to deliberately provoke antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. British historian Sir Henry Elliot, for instance, had wondered why it was that Hindus “had not left any account which could enable us to gauge the traumatic impact the Muslim conquest and rule had on them.” Since there was no such account, Elliot went on to produce his own eight-volume History of India (1867), wherein Hindus were allegedly slain for disputing with “Muhammedans”, largely prohibited from worshipping and otherwise practicing their faith, forced into conversions and marriages, their temples destroyed, and massacred by Muslim tyrants. Scores of other scholars writing on behalf of the consolidation of the British Empire went on to produce a history of India in which Muslims and Hindus were pitted against one another.
However, the noted Indian scholar and historian, Dr Bishambhar Nath Pande, records that the history “originally compiled by European writers” had as its main objective to serve the colonial policy of divide and rule. In his famous Khuda Bakhsh Annual Lecture (1985), Dr. Pande observed:
“Thus under a definite policy the Indian history books text-books were so falsified and distorted as to give an impression that the medieval [i.e. Muslim] period of Indian history was full of atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on their Hindu subjects and the Hindus had to suffer terrible indignities under Muslim rule. And there were no common factors [between Hindus and Muslims] in social, political and economic life.”
Dr. Pande’s meticulous research was crucial in uncovering how the myth of the mass persecution of Hindus under the sanction of Muslim rule was propagated by British historians in the service of the colonial Empire without justification, and subsequently repeated uncritically by Hindu historians.
The growing Hindu-Muslim divide that developed thereafter as the colonia era was ending, was therefore a direct consequence of British policy during that era. Early in the twentieth century, Muslims began to mobilise to ensure their rights. By the 1930s, the idea of an independent Muslim state began to gain wide currency. The upper caste Hindu domination of the Congress Party was the main force seeking independence from British colonial rule, and this exacerbated Muslims fears of discrimination in a Hindu post-colonial state. The Muslim League led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah sought to ensure that Muslims would not be overwhelmed in such a state. Growing tensions led many observers to believe by the end of the Second World War, that the partition of the Indian subcontinent was inevitable. Escalating Hindu-Muslim violence continued until the independent states of India and Pakistan were created in 1947. Over one million people died during the period leading up to partition, during which one of the largest population transfers in history occurred as many Muslims left India to reside in Pakistan while Hindus moved to India.
The British government decided to dismantle the Raj because it feared further attempts to hold India by force would be increasingly costly in terms of both manpower and funds, and furthermore, increasingly unviable. It had become clear that the Indian National Congress (INC), the principal nationalist party propped up under British rule, was less and less able to contain worker, peasant and student discontent. Beginning with the Non-Co-operation movement of 1920-22 under the charismatic leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress party mobilised the poverty-stricken masses to pressure the British to grant home rule. The 1942 movement for Indian independence had rapidly assumed an almost semi-insurrectionary character. Post-war India was wracked by strikes, peasant unrest and mass demonstrations against British rule.
British responsibility for the chaos, violence and mass deaths that accompanied the process of partition is thus unequivocal. The British had wanted to move out of India as quickly as possible to avoid economic losses, being fully aware that direct control over the subcontinent could not be maintained for much longer without such losses. As a consequence, the government did not take the care to ensure that partition – which itself was the culmination of a Hindu-Muslim schism introduced by the British Empire in the first place é occurred in a peaceful manner with full agreement from both parties. Instead, the British colonial government pressured both sides into agreeing to a hasty partition. At the end of the Second World War, the United Kingdom moved with increasing urgency to grant India independence as mass protests and opposition to British rule grew with escalating fervour. However, the Congress Party and the Muslim League, representing respectively the clashing Hindu and Muslim communities, could not agree on the terms for a constitution or a prospective interim government. In June 1947, the British Government declared that it would bestow full dominion status upon two successor states – India and Pakistan. The overall result of this British escapade was a million dead, and several million expelled from their homes. Professor of History Francis Robinson of the University of London records:
“For the British it [i.e. partition] was a regrettable necessity. They did not have the power to impose a solution on their Indian empire which left it unified; partition came to be the only way in which they could extract themselves from a commitment which they could no longer affordé A Labour Government in Britain was keen to leave india as fast as possible; every extra day that British troops remained added to British debt. In February 1947 Mountbatten was sent out as Viceroy with a brief to pressure the politicians into agreement. Mountbatten quickly saw that Britain could only withdraw by transferring power not to one government, but to two.”
As partition was subsequently hastily imposed under British eagerness to extract itself, millions of Muslims in India left their homes to settle in Pakistan, and millions of Hindus and Sikhs left Pakistan for new homes in India. A million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs perished in the consequent partition riots and mass expulsions of 1947-48, while 14 million people were uprooted from their homes. The wounds from partition are still felt in both nations é India and Pakistan – and continue to affect the political relations between and within them.
Within India, distrust and hostility between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority communities é the ongoing legacy of British imperialism é continues to contribute to civil conflict. The CIDCM’s ‘Minorities at Risk’ Project records that: “The Muslims that remained in India are in a precarious position. Although many have resided in the area known as India for centuries, they are often viewed with suspicion and considered as ‘anti-Indian’ by the majority Hindu communityé
“Under the Constitution, Muslims are not provided with reservations in political office, employment, and education as is the case with other minorities like the Scheduled Tribes. In the early 1980s, Muslims only formed 1.5% of officers and 1% of the clerks in the Indian civil service and under 2% of the army officer corps. Muslims remain largely concentrated in small businesses, artisanship, fishing, and unskilled worké During the 1980s, a number of conflicts between the Hindu and Muslim communities increased communal tensions. In 1987, for instance, several hundred Muslims were killed at Meerut by police forces, raising charges of discriminatory police treatment.”
Indeed, in the latter half of the twentieth century, the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and nationalism has increased communal tensions, pitting the Hindu community in confrontation not only with the Muslim minority, but also with Christian and Sikh minorities.
Violence and communal strife have defined the relationship between Hindus and Muslims since partition. The religious conflict between the two communities has been perpetuated by numerous occurrences and issues over the last decade in India. At the heart of the present-day dispute is the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, in North-central India. Hindu fundamentalist parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena contend é without scriptural basis or historical evidence it should be noted – that the mosque was located on the birthplace of Ram, who is an incarnation of a Hindu god, and that a Ram temple was torn down in order to construct the mosque on the same site a couple of centuries ago. Acting on their beliefs, a mob of Hindu zealots stormed the mosque in 1992 and reduced the eighteenth century building to a pile of rubble. The destruction touched off Hindu-Muslim rioting across the country that resulted in the killing of 3,000 civilians.
A 1998 judicial commission of inquiry found that the Shiv Sena – a member party of India’s governing BJP-dominated coalition and the dominant partner in the two-party alliance that rules the state of Maharashtra – fomented and organised communal riots in Bombay in January 1993 that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Muslims. According to the final report of commissioner Justice B. N. Srikrishna, Shiv Sena members led attacks on Muslims and Muslim-owned properties at the instigation of the party’s top leaders. Justice Srikrishna concluded that the party’s leader Bal Thackeray acted “like a veteran [military] commander.” He ordered Shiva Sena supporters “to retaliate” for Muslim protests against the December 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya with “organized attacks against the Muslims.”
Srikrishna’s report also lays most of the blame for the Bombay riot of December 1992 on the Shiv Sena. He finds that the party goaded Bombay’s Muslim minority into taking to the streets with provocative “celebrations” of the razing of the Babri Masjid mosque by Hindu nationalists. Justice Srikrishna also concluded that the December riot “was anything other than a spontaneous reaction of leaderless and incensed Muslim mobs, which commenced as peaceful, but soon degenerated”. However, the January disturbances had followed weeks of propaganda by the Shiv Sena leadership on the virtue of “retaliation”, combined with exaggerated reports in its newspaper of Hindu casualties in the December riots. The Shiv Sena (literally, the army of Shivaji, a 17th century Marathi warrior-king) is a pseudo-Hindu organisation patterned after the fascist Rashtra Swayamsewak Sangh. For both ideological and political reasons, the Shiv Sena is a close ally of the BJP, the neo-facist pseudo-Hindu party which dominates India’s ruling coalition.
The Srikrishna report indicts the Shiv Sena for what is in effect an act of genocide éthousands, mostly Muslims, were killed in the 1992-93 riots. The commission report also directly condemns the BJP and the Congress, and finds that the Bombay police systematically discriminated against Muslims. During the Bombay riots, Maharashtra’s government, then controlled by the Congress Party, provided “effete political leadership”, according to Justice Srikrishna. For four days in January 1993, it failed to take determined action to stop Shiv Sena-led mobs from rampaging through Muslim areas. On the other hand, the BJP spearheaded, nationally, the agitation for a Hindu temple to replace the Babri Masjid mosque, then joined with the Shiv Sena in Bombay in celebrating its razing. The police used excessive force against Muslims and systematically refused to register their complaints against Hindu assailants. Justice Srikrishna’s damning findings thus confirm that much of the political elite and security forces in Maharashtra é India’s third largest and most industrialized state -were complicit in the riots in December 1992 and January 1993. The BJP played a direct and deliberate role in this complicity.
The BJP is therefore without doubt a party of the extreme right. It espouses exclusivist mystical ideals of nationhood couched in key principles of Hindu chauvinism and militarism. Indeed, at the core of the BJP stands a mass, fascistic organisation associated over many decades with communal violence – the Rashrtiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It was a BJP-RSS campaign for the building of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya that culminated in the 1992 razing of the Babri mosque, in defiance of India’s Supreme Court, precipitating the most extensive communal bloodletting in the post-colonial history of India. Although the immediate overt objective of the Ayodhya campaign was the erection of a temple to the Hindu god Ram, for the BJP, the RSS, an extensive network of RSS-affiliated groups, and the Shiv Sena, the Ram Rajya mobilization was part of the drive for a radical, but ill-defined change in the Indian polity – the establishment of Hindu rashtra (or Hindu rule). According to the Hindu nationalists, transforming India into a “true Hindu state” will revive the alleged glory of India’s past and raise her to the status of a superpower in the modern world.
The bond between the BJP and RSS goes beyond shared objectives and ideology. RSS activists effectively control the BJP party apparatus and dominate the party’s leading bodies. The two most important BJP leaders and the two most powerful figures in the current government, Atal Vajpayee and Home Minister L. K. Advani, are RSS members and supporters. Advani’s replacement as party president, Kushabhu Thakre, is a lifelong RSS member. Some 75 percent of the current BJP executive have RSS roots. Throughout its more than 70-year existence, the RSS has been associated with communal riots and virulent pseudo-Hindu chauvinism. The organisation was founded in 1925, ostensibly to defend the Hindus of Nagpur, one of many Indian cities that were wracked by communal violence after the collapse of the first mass mobilization against British rule (the 1920-22 Non-Cooperation Movement). The RSS first emerged as a mass organisation during the horrific communal violence surrounding the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent. The group’s neo-facist ideology of Hindu rashtra – that India is the nation of the Hindus and the Hindus alone comprise the nation – was developed in opposition to the liberal-democratic program elaborated by the Congress Party leadership, which maintained that all Indians, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or caste, should enjoy equal citizenship rights. The principal ideologues of Hindu rashtra – the RSS-leader M.S. Golwalkar and V. D. Savarkar (head of a the Hindu Mahasabha) have made clear in their writings and speeches that Muslims and Christians are alien groups who in a Hindu nation will enjoy citizenship rights only at the sufferance of the majority.
The history of the Indian republic has been characterised by growing social inequality and the ever-increasing communalisation, caste-ization and regionalisation of politics. Unable to offer genuine solutions to the prevailing conditions of mass unemployment, poverty, disease and illiteracy, these groups under the public mantle of the BJP have dredged up the most retrograde ideologies to deflect public attention from the failure of their political and socio-economic programmes, while channeling public frustration in a reactionary direction.
The principal neo-facist objectives of the BJP can be discerned from the statements of its current leader, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In a little known article published by The Organiser, the official organ of the RSS, PM Vajpayee observes: “The Muslim problem would best be solved by culturally cleansing the members of the minority community.” Vajpayee cites the demolition of the historic Babri Mosque in 1992 by Hindu nationalists as an example of this “cleansing act”, justifying the atrocity by advocating the need for “Hindu expansion”: “It is a question of self-preservation. If Hindu society does not expand itself, it will face a crisis of survival.”
But the vehemently anti-Muslim policy of the Indian government, rooted as it is in the fascisization of Indian politics under the guise of Hinduism, is merely one prominent dimension of an increasingly powerful system of discrimination against all religious minority communities. For all intents and purposes, this comprehensive albeit informal system of discrimination is a form of religious, or perhaps more aptly, a pseudo-religious apartheid. As Human Rights Watch reports:
“The increasing domination of Hindu nationalism in India’s current political landscape has dramatically undermined India’s constitutional commitment to secular democracy. The policies espoused by India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sister organizations, collectively known as the sangh parivar, have already resulted in much violence against the country’s Christian, Muslim, and Dalit (‘untouchable’) populations.”
Thus, it comes as no surprise to find that the Christian minority community has been the victim of discrimination and violence by Hindu nationalists for years, a situation that is maintained with the complicity of the government: “Between January 1998 and February 1999, the Indian Parliament reported a total of 116 incidents of attacks on Christians across the countryé
“Unofficial figures may be higher. Gujarat topped the list of states with ninety-four such incidents. Attacks have also been reported in Maharashtra, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Manipur, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and New Delhi. Attacks on Christians have ranged from violence against the leadership of the church, including the killing of priests and the raping of nuns, to the physical destruction of Christian institutions, including schools, churches, colleges, and cemeteries. Thousands of Christians have also been forced to convert to Hinduism. A majority of the reported incidents of violence against Christians in 1998, the same year that the BJP came to power in the state, occurred in Gujarat.”
These recent attacks, HRW finds, “fall into a pattern of persistent abuse against marginalised communities.” Furthermore, they represent “a clear failure on the part of both the federal and state governments to ensure that such communities enjoy the full protection of their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and equal protection under the law.” But the federal and state governments have not merely failed, they have actively promoted and cultivated the rise of a neo-facist pseudo-Hindu ideology that calls for the Hinduization of India. For instance, in its annual report for 2001, HRW noted that: “The state governments of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh lifted a ban against civil servants joining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps, RSS), a sangh parivar memberé
“In Gujarat, Delhi, and Orissa, district administrations conducted surveys to assess the activities and whereabouts of minority community members and leaders. Meanwhile, the BJP and its allies continued to implement their agenda for the ‘Hinduization’ of education, mandating Hindu prayers in certain state-sponsored schools and revising history books to include what amounted to propaganda against Islamic and Christian communities.” 
The mass profusion of this Hindu supremacist culture, in this manner, has directly created the sort of climate that is conducive to frequent communal violence. Militant training camps where the linkage between culture and violence is institutionalised are tolerated, if not tacitly supported, by the government. “Throughout the country, over 300,000 training camps, known as shakhas, are dedicated to recruiting young boys and men and providing them with extensive physical and ideological training for the purpose of creating a group of volunteers full of ‘Hindu fervor’ with military-like discipline.” Accordingly, HRW explicitly points out this linkage: “The Hindu nationalist policies espoused by India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliate organizations undermined the country’s historical commitment to secular democracy. Violence against Christian, Muslim, and Dalit, or ‘untouchable’, populations was one result.” In this context, it is hardly surprising that official BJP policy culminated directly in the most recent outbreak of violence in Gujarat in the endorsement of the call by Hindu nationalists to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram at the site of the destroyed Babri mosque: “In the hopes of achieving a comeback victory in elections in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh scheduled for early next year, the BJP and its allies have amplified calls to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram at the site of the Babri Masjid, a mosque in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.”
But Christians, Muslims and other non-Hindu religious minorities are not the only victims of what may be quite aptly described as a system of informal or hidden pseudo-religious apartheid. Dalits throughout India, constituting some 160 million people, are denied their basic civil rights because of their ranks as “untouchables” at the bottom of India’s caste system. The caste system is once again rooted in the neo-facist strain of pseudo-Hinduism espoused by the BJP and its allied organisations. Solely due to their position of ancestry within the caste system, Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands of the police and of higher-caste groups that enjoy the state’s protection. In what has been called India’s “hidden apartheid” by human rights groups, entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste. In an extensive 1999 report on the subject, HRW documents in detail how: “The Indian government has failed to prevent widespread violence and discrimination against more than 160 million people at the bottom of the Hindu caste systemé
“é [E]ntire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste, in what has been called ‘hidden apartheid’. Untouchables, or Dalits – the name literally means ‘broken’ people – may not enter the higher-caste sections of villages, may not use the same wells, wear shoes in the presence of upper castes, visit the same temples, drink from the same cups in tea stalls, or lay claim to land that is legally theirs. Dalit children are frequently made to sit in the back of classrooms. Dalit villagers have been the victims of many brutal massacres in recent years.
“‘Untouchability’ is not an ancient cultural artifact, it is human rights abuse on a vast scale’, said Smita Narula, researcher for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch and author of the report. ‘The tools for change are in place – what is lacking is the political will for their implementation.’
“… An estimated forty million people in India, among them fifteen million children, are bonded laborers, working in slave-like conditions in order to pay off debts. The majority of them are Dalits. At least one million Dalits work as manual scavengers, clearing feces from latrines and disposing of dead animals with their bare hands. Dalits also comprise the majority of agricultural laborers who work for a few kilograms of rice, or 15-35 rupees (less than US$1) a day. In India’s southern states, thousands of Dalit girls are forced to become prostitutes for upper-caste patrons and village priests before reaching the age of puberty. Landlords and the police use sexual abuse and other forms of violence against women to inflict political ‘lessons’ and crush dissent within the community. Dalit women have been arrested and tortured in custody to punish their male relatives who are hiding from the authorities…
“In Bihar, high-caste landlords have organized private militias, or senas, which have killed Dalit villagers with impunity. Extremist guerrilla groups have retaliated by killing high-caste villagers, leading to an escalating cycle of violence… One of the most prominent militias, the Ranvir Sena, has been responsible for the massacre of more than 400 Dalit villagers in Bihar between 1995 and 1999. Within a span of three weeks in January and February 1999, sena members killed 34 Dalit villagers in two separate attacks… The senas, which claim many politicians as members, operate with impunity. In some cases, police have accompanied them during their attacks and have stood by as they killed villagers in their homes. In other cases, police raids have followed attacks by the senas. The purpose of the raids is often to terrorize Dalits as a group, whether or not they are members of guerilla organizations. During the raids, the police have routinely beaten villagers, sexually assaulted women, and destroyed property. Sena leaders and police officials have never been prosecuted for such killings and abuses.
“Dalits throughout the country also suffer from de facto disenfranchisement. During elections, Dalits are routinely threatened and beaten by political party strongmen in order to compel them to vote for certain candidates. Dalits who run for political office in village councils and municipalities (through seats that have been constitutionally ‘reserved’ for them) have been threatened with physical abuse and even death to get them to withdraw from the campaign… [N]o action has been taken against police officers involved in violent raids or summary executions, or against those accused of colluding with private actors to carry out attacks on Dalits. In many instances, Dalits have repeatedly called for police protection and been ignored. Even national government agencies concur that impunity is rampant.”
In its annual Human Rights Report the European Parliament called upon the European Union to investigate the extent to which its policies “contribute to the abolition of caste discrimination and the practice of untouchability in India” and “to formulate strategies to counter the widespread practice [of caste discrimination].” The European Parliament also called on the EU and its member states to ensure that caste discrimination was properly condemned in the final declaration of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism that was held in Durban, 2001. Disgracefully, the final declaration issued at the Conference by UN member states failed to highlight caste discrimination, and accordingly a subsequent European Parliamentary resolution expressed regret at this failure. The reasons for this failure, which illustrates a reluctance on the part of the leading members of the international community to properly highlight and condemn India’s human rights abuses, are rooted in the strategic and economic interests that these members have in the South Asian republic under the leadership of the neo-facist BJP regime.