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Godhra aftermath made Modi strong, changed Hindu psyche, depressed Muslims

Harsh Thakor* 

The Godhra train burning on February 27, 20 years ago, will go down in history as a breeding ground of Hindutva. In its aftermath from February 28 a communal carnage was unleashed targeting Muslims -- a manifestation of the saffron ideology. It is ironical that burning of the train coach was staged on February 27, the day the Nazi storm troopers set fire on the German Parliament, Reichstag, in 1933, weeks after Hitler was elected as German chancellor.
Narendra Modi, as Gujarat chief minister, sought to whip up Hindu chauvinist hysteria to capture vote bank. The intensity was comparable to the riots after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Mumbai, or earlier the Sikh riots in 1984 in Delhi. Similar to Babri Masjid, it completely transformed the psyche of Hindus. Ever since, the Muslim psyche has been demoralised and the community alienated.
To quote Harsh Mander, “There was a distinct, tragic and ghastly feature of the state sponsored carnage unleashed against the Muslim minority in Gujarat, which was the systematic sexual violence committed against young girls and women. Rape was used as an instrument for the subjugation and humiliation of a community. A chilling technique, absent in pogroms unleashed hitherto but very much in evidence this time in a large number of cases, was the deliberate destruction of evidence.”
He adds, “Barring a few, in most instances of sexual violence, the women victims were stripped and paraded naked, then gangraped, and thereafter quartered and burnt beyond recognition. The Gujarat carnage stands out for its extensive and specific targeting of women, young girls and children, who were subjected to the most sadistic and vicious forms of violence.”
It was a reminder that our parliamentary democratic system is secular only in form and not in essence. The policies of successive Congress regimes paved the path for the ascendancy of Hindu communalism. Who can forget the Congress patronage of Shiv Sena in Bhiwandi riots, the opening of the doors of the Babri Masjid in 1986 and support to Rath yatra in 1990?
One can recount instances of Congress endorsing brick worship and lighting Ramshilas to win elections. It never revoked the demand to build a Ram Mandir in the decade before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It was this very policy that set a fertile ground for a leader like Modi to sprout in Gujarat. Activists like Teesta Setalvad were hunted down and incriminated, which testifies to fascist tendencies.
Historians need to dwell into the archives which record how for a sustained period a tempo or breeding ground was sown to whip up anti-Muslim communal hysteria, culminating in the massacre. There was continuous ebb and flow in various commissions in projecting what led to the burning of the S-6 Godhra coach of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra.
One trend placed the blame on Muslim activists, while others projected how it was a plot hatched by the Hindutva forces. The Nanavati-Mehta Commission appointed by the Gujarat government went out of the way to distort events. However, the Concerned Citizens Tribunal made a historic intervention in investigating the truth. Its findings are in striking contrast to the lies of the government-appointed Nanavati Commission.
Still we must never obliterate from our memories the numerous instances of Hindus and Muslims not abstaining from the scene and saving many a life. There were many examples of Hindus giving food and shelter to Muslims and vice versa. One is touched by the cultivation of a brotherly relationship between Qutbuddin Ansari, a victim of the riots, and Ashok Parmar, who inadvertently became an instrument of rioting. Ansari inaugurated Parmar’s footwear store. Parmar earlier launched Ansari’s biography.
The saffron ascendancy to power has had a wide-ranging impact. Textbooks began being written in order to tarnish the image of Muslims as though historically they waged a conspiracy on India by destroying temples and robbing Hindus of their rights. They give no credit to the Muslims for the heroic role they staged in confronting the British colonialists. Today discrimination of Muslims has reached an unprecedented height.
A strong tide erupted, exonerating Modi of any responsibility for the 2002 genocide. In 2012, Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India. The SIT rejected claims that the state government had not done enough to prevent the riots. In July 2013, allegations were made that the SIT had suppressed evidence. In April 2014, the Supreme Court expressed satisfaction over the SIT's investigations in nine cases related to the violence, and rejected a plea contesting the SIT report as baseless.
Thanks to support it receives from NRIs, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has sprouted into a big organised Hindutva force. Activists of Chinmaya mission world over today openly profess that Muslims are enemies, indoctrinating Indian youth. And in Gujarat, the organised democratic and left movement has been ineffective in checking the escalation of Hindutva politics. The trade union movement has been turned simply ineffective. Gandhians failed to diffuse the communal onslaught.
In Mumbai certain organizations and NGOs played commendable role forming a joint front of democratic and secular organizations. They held a sustained postering and leafleting campaign to help those undertaking relief programme for Gujarat Muslims. The secular spirit of Mumbai could not be broken. A joint statement condemning the BJP and Modi was published by five Left groups. In many a basti area secular self-defence forces were set up which stung the saffron brigade.
Ashok Parmar, Qutubuddin Ansari
Intellectuals like Randhir Singh, Sumanta Banerjee, Romila Thapar, Rana Ayub and Gautam Navalakha rebuked the saffron brigade, and so did several civil liberty groups in Delhi. Efforts in similar direction were made by students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Fronts like Jagrut Kamgar Manch and Lok Shahi Hakk Sanghatana did creditable work in quelling communal hysteria in that period in basti areas.
Though officially classified as a communal riot, the events of 2002 have been described as stage managed by many scholars, with some commentators alleging that the attacks had been planned, and the attack on the train an act of premeditated violence. Other observers have stated that these events had met the "legal definition of genocide," or referred to them as state terrorism or ethnic cleansing.
The United States banned Modi from travelling to the United States due to his alleged role in the attacks. The allegations centre around several ideas. First, the state did little to curb the violence, with attacks continuing well through the Spring. Secondly, there was suppression of freedom of religious relief.
Throughout the violence, attacks were made in the complete presence of police stations and police officers who did not intervene. In many instances, police became part and parcel of the mob fury. 
Instances of mass violence included the Naroda Patiya massacre that took place directly adjacent to a police training camp and the Gulbarg Society massacre, where Ehsan Jafri, a former Congress parliamentarian, was among those killed. At one Muslim locality, of the 29 deaths, 16 were caused by police firing into the locality.
Some rioters even had printouts of voter registration lists, allowing them to selectively target Muslim properties. Even the Muslim Wakf, located within the confines of the high security zone and just 500 metres from the office of the chief minister, was not spared.
--- 
*Freelance journalist based in Mumbai

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