Indian High Court convicts 31 Muslims for roasting 59 Hindus to coal in 2002- Horrific Godhra Killings!
“Godhra”. The word is more than just the name of a town located in Panchmahal district in the western Indian state of Gujarat. The word used also indicates an event. A mind-numbing one. A horrifying one. An unimaginable one. A barbaric one. The word “Godhra” records the gruesome killing of some 59 innocent people, including 25 women and 15 children and injuries to 40 by a mob of 2000 fanatic Muslims on 27 February 2002. Independent India saw many horrors. This was one of the worst of them.
On 9 October 2017 the High Court of Gujarat State of India upheld the conviction of all 31 accused in the Godhra train burning case but commuted the death penalty of 11 to life imprisonment. Thus all 31 Muslims convicted have been given life imprisonment. Total 94 accused were standing trial, of whom 63 were acquitted by the trial court, which was also upheld by the High Court. This was a matter of outrage, a well armed mob of 2000 fanatic Muslims had roasted to coal 59 Ram sewaks including 15 children and 25 women returning from Ayodhya. Only 94 were tried and only 31 were convicted. Earlier on 22 February 2011 the trial court had also convicted exactly the same 31 Muslims, but given death penalty to 11 of them, and life imprisonment to remaining 20.
Now let us see the exact horrible, lurid details of the Godhra massacre of 27th February 2002 with the background. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) [literally “World Council of Hindus”] had organized a ‘Purnahuti Yagya’ (Yagya is a Hindu religious ceremony) in Ayodhya (holy Hindu city, in Uttar Pradesh state in North India where it is believed Lord Ram was born) in February-March 2002. It declared 15th March 2002 as the date for the beginning of the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya at the place which is a sacred site of the Hindus, believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. [Belgium-based world famous scholar Dr Koenraad Elst (1959-) has also written: “It is entirely obvious that a Hindu sacred site belongs to Hindus and to no one else.“] People participating in this ‘Yagya’ had simply participated and gone home. They did not stay in Ayodhya until 15th March, 2002 for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya at the undisputed site (majority of the undisputed land was owned by VHP and affiliated bodies and the SC in its order of 1994 had said that the undisputed land can be given to its owner).
People from all parts of the country went to Ayodhya, participated in this event, i.e. the Purnahuti Yagya and returned home from mid-February to 27th February 2002. A trainload of such people called ‘karsevaks’ or ‘Ramsevaks’ were returning to Ahmedabad city in the western Gujarat state from Ayodhya after participating in the Purnahuti Yagya. Whether they were all members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or just ordinary people supporting the VHP’s stance on the Ram temple in Ayodhya is not known.
The train, the Sabarmati Express was supposed to reach Ahmedabad [The commercial capital and biggest city of Gujarat State of India, and also twin city of its specially planned capital city of Gandhinagar] early in the morning. It was running more than four hours late (Source: India Today, dated 11th March, 2002). It reached Godhra station at 7:42 am instead of the scheduled time of 2:55 am. Shortly after the train left the Godhra railway station at 7: 47 a.m., a mob of 2000 fanatic Muslims stopped it. This was 500-700 meters away from the Godhra railway station, at Signal Falia area, which is a densely populated Muslim area. The train was not burnt at the railway station, but at Signal Falia. That is why the attackers could not burn the train from outside. Had it been on a railway platform, they would not have found it too high. But at Signal Falia, it was too high. Hence, some of them entered the train cutting the vestible from the side coach number S-7 and set it afire from inside and then went out again. The mob was reportedly armed with petrol bombs, acid bombs and swords. The attackers poured petrol into the compartment and then set it afire. Two thousand people were standing on all sides of the compartment to prevent the karsevaks from running away and saving their lives from the fire. The karsevaks were literally caught between devil and the deep sea. There was fire inside and armed Muslims outside. 59 karsevaks were burnt to death in a most horrifying manner. Many of the bodies were charred horrifically. The victims included 25 women, 15 children, including some toddlers and some old people of above 65. They were all done to death in the most brutal manner.
Account of a 16-year-old Survivor
On 27th February, Gayatri Panchal, a young eleventh class student, was also amongst those who were returning from Ayodhya. She is a surviving witness to the inhuman atrocious cruelty in which right in front of her eyes two of her sisters and parents were burnt alive.
Harshadbhai Panchal, a resident of Ramol, left for karseva at Ayodhya on 22nd February, together with his wife, Neetaben and three daughters, Pratiksha, Chhaya and Gayatri. His sister-in-law, her son, her neighbour, Poojaben and her would-be husband were also accompanying him.
All of them were returning to Ahmedabad along with several other karsevaks. Harshadbhai and his family, Poojaben and her husband were in one compartment, while his sister-in-law and her husband and their son were in another compartment. The only survivor out of these ten, Gayatri, says about this horrible event that,
“On the 27th morning, at around 8 a.m. the train left Godhra Station. The karsevaks were loudly chanting the Ram Dhoon. The train had hardly gone a few meters, when it suddenly stopped. Somebody had perhaps pulled the chain to stop the train. Before anybody could know what had happened, we saw a huge mob approaching the train. People were carrying weapons like Gupti, Spears, Swords and such other deadly weapons in their hands and were throwing stones at the train. We all got frightened and somehow closed the windows and the doors of the compartment. People outside were shouting loudly, saying ‘Maro, Kato’ and were attacking the train. A loudspeaker from the Masjid closeby was also very loudly shouting ‘Maro, Kato, Laden na dushmano ne Maro.’ (“Cut, kill, kill the enemies of Laden”)These attackers were so fierce that they managed to break the windows and close the doors from outside before pouring petrol inside and setting the compartment on fire so that nobody could escape alive. A number of attackers entered the compartment and were beating the karsevaks and looting their belongings. The compartments were drenched in petrol all over. We were terrified and were shouting for help but who was there to help us? A few policemen were later seen approaching the compartment but they were also whisked away by the furious mob outside. There was so much of smoke in the compartment that we were unable to see each other and also getting suffocated. Going out was too difficult, however, myself and Pooja somehow managed to jump out through the windows. Pooja was hurt in her back and was unable to stand up. People outside were trying to hold us to take us away but we could escape and run under the burning train and succeeded in crawling towards the cabin. I have seen my parents and sisters being burnt alive right in front of my eyes.” Luckily, by the grace of God, Gayatri was not hurt too badly. “We somehow managed to go up to the station and meet our aunty (Masi). After the compartments were completely burnt, the crowd started withering. We saw that even amongst them were men, women and youngsters like us, both male and female. I returned here after evacuating the dead bodies of my family members at Godhra Station. Out of 18 of us, ten had laid their lives.”
In spite of what had happened, Gayatri still feels that she would any time once again venture to go for karseva. She says, “I shall not allow the sacrifice of my parents to go in vain” (Source: Vishwa Samvad Kendra, Gujarat and various English dailies such as The Indian Express dated 28th February, 2002).
A foreign daily Portsmouth Herald reported: “Sixteen-year-old Gayatri Panchal saw her mother, father and two sisters die before her eyes in the train fire as they returned home after participating in a religious ceremony at Ayodhya. ‘We were sleeping and I opened my eyes when I felt the heat. I saw flames everywhere. My mother was in flames, her clothes were on fire,’ she said. ‘Someone pulled me out of the compartment and then I saw my father’s body being taken out. He was covered in black. Then I fainted.’”
The Times of India reported 1 year later, on 27 Feb 2003: “For the four Panchal sisters — Komal (20), Avani (19), Gayatri (17) and Priyanka (15) — the last year has been full of tears. Their father Harshad Panchal, mother Mita Panchal, sisters Pratiksha and Chhaya fell prey to the barbarity in Godhra on February 27. And, life was never the same again.
The result. Gayatri, a topper in SSC, today is sickly and struggling with education at grade XII. Lost without their parents the girls often go to bed in tears, as memories of the tragedy come flooding back every day. Said Komal, “We are trying to get on with life but it is difficult. Life seems meaningless without the love and affection of parents.”
“After pelting stones, they started pouring kerosene in our compartments and set them afire. Only a few of us managed to come out of the broken windows. The adults and the old people were stuck inside. The old women were pleading, ‘don’t kill us’ but they just didn’t listen,” says Gayatri Panchal (16), who says 3-4 people ran after her as soon as she jumped off the train (The Indian Express, 28th February, 2002).
Sixty-five-year-old Devika Luhana was trembling with anger as she alighted from the ill-fated train. “It was vandalism at its worst. They did not even spare old people like me and pelted stones indiscriminately. They will all go to hell for this act of malice,” said Devika, who could not even retrieve her bag as she ran for her life.
“They stormed inside the women’s bogie, and before we could react, they set the entire bogie on fire. Some of us managed to escape, but a number of our sisters got trapped…it was horrifying,” said Hetal Patel, a member of Durga Vahini [a women’s youth wing of VHP].
Terror still haunts 13-year-old Gyanprakash as he bursts into tears from time to time. “I cannot forget the sight of people burning in front of me,” he says while recuperating at the Ahmedabad city hospital. Gyanprakash was on the S2 coach of the Sabarmati Express when it was set ablaze in Godhra on Wednesday. His family was returning to Ahmedabad after attending a relative’s funeral. They had boarded the train at Kanpur. Gyanprakash recalls the horror: “The train had just left Godhra but stopped a little way away from the station. Suddenly, stones were being thrown at the train. The pelting continued for almost an hour. Then something was hurled into our coach and there was smoke everywhere.
“It was so suffocating I could hardly breathe. I heard my father telling me to get off the train. I went to the door but saw that people trying to get off were being stabbed. I went to the other side and jumped off” (Mid-Day, 6th March, 2002).
That is, old women were pleading: “Don’t kill us” but the attackers did not spare anyone, neither children nor old people, and certainly not the women. Most horrific was the attackers’ act of not allowing anyone to escape and watching with their eyes 59 Hindus roasting to death, crying with pain, pleading for mercy. (Those who did come out like Gayatri Panchal were also tried to be pushed back.) Had the 2,000 attackers shot dead, these 59 people with bullets, it would not have been so horrific. Had they set afire the train and ran away, it would not have angered the masses so much. But these attackers were indescribable barbarians. They watched and pushed back into fire the victims including 15 children and roasted to death in a horrific manner 59 Hindus returning from Godhra..
But this was not the first time, nor the last time, that the town witnessed communal vandalism. The town had a long history of bloody communalism. It was well-known for it. Let us take a brief look at the town’s long history of bloody communal riots.
Communal History of Godhra for the Record
Godhra is the main centre of Panchmahal district, which is considered to be communally very sensitive. Chronology of a few communal riots/atrocities is appended below:
1927-28: Murder of P.M. Shah, a leading local representative of Hindus.
1946: Mr. Sadva Hazi and Mr. Chudighar, pro-Pakistani Muslim leaders were responsible for attack on a Parsi Solapuri Fozdar during communal riots. After partition, Mr. Chudighar left for Pakistan.
1948: Mr. Sadva Hazi conspired an attack on the District Collector, Mr. Pimputkar in 1948 but his bodyguard saved him at the cost of his own life. After that, Mr. Sadva Hazi also left for Pakistan in 1948.
On 24th March, 1948, one Hindu was stabbed to death near a mosque in Jahurpur area. Around 2,000 houses of Hindus were burnt, besides Hindu temples. District Collector Pimputkar could save the remaining areas belonging to Hindus by imposing curfew, which lasted for six months.
1965: Shops belonging to the Hindus were set ablaze near police chowki No. 7 by throwing incendiary material from the nearby two Muslim houses, viz. Bidani and Bhopa. It could be possible allegedly because of the Congress MLA belonging to the minority community. PSI of this police chowki, which was near the Railway Station, was also attacked by anti-social elements.
1980: A similar attack was made on the Hindus on 29th October, 1980, which started from the Bus Station of Godhra. This attack was planned by Muslim miscreants who were involved in anti-social activities near the Station Road area.
Five Hindus including two children of five and seven years of age were burnt alive. A Gurudwara was also set on fire, in Shikari Chal of this area. Forty shops belonging to the Hindus were also set on fire in station area. Due to these communal riots, Godhra was put under curfew for a year, which severely affected the business and industries.
1990: Four Hindu teachers, including two women teachers, were murdered (cut into pieces) by miscreants in Saifia Madarsa in Vhorvada area of Godhra on 20th November, 1990 in front of children. One Hindu tailor was also stabbed to death in this area. All this was done by anti-social elements allegedly at the instance of the Congress MLA of the area.
1992: More than 100 houses belonging to the Hindus were set on fire near the Railway Station in the year 1992 to snatch away this area from Hindus. This area in 2002 was lying vacant as most of the Hindu families have shifted elsewhere.
2002: The bogies of Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express were set on fire on 27th February, 2002 by Muslim miscreants. S-6 coach carrying karsewaks returning from Ayodhya was targeted as a pre-meditated plan/ conspiracy. 59 innocent men, women and children died and 40 sustained injuries. The attackers had a plan to set on fire the entire train but could not do so because the train was late for four hours and they could not take the advantage of darkness of night.
(Source: Vishwa Sanwad Kendra, Gujarat and The Indian Express dated 30th April, 2002: http://www.indianexpress.com/storyOld.php?storyId=1822, quoting Gujarat’s then MoS for Home Gordhan Zadaphiya)
2003 September: Ganesh idol immersion saw stone pelting and conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. This was reported by rediff.com and The Times of India, but was forgotten by everyone, including the Sangh Parivar leadership.
2002 March: On 13 March 2002, a mob of 500 Muslims again attacked Hindus in Jahurpura area of Godhra near the Old Bus Stand. The report of NDTV was:
“Mob Attack in Godhra, 12 Arrested
Wednesday, March 13, 2002 (Godhra): Within a fortnight of the February 27 railway station mayhem and subsequent violent fallout, tension escalated again today with a minority mob allegedly attacking people in the town, leading to police firing. Police said a ‘500-people strong mob of minority community’ attacked people in the Jahurpura area near the Old Bus Stand. They resorted to stone pelting and also ‘opened fire’ with private arms, police said. Police opened fire and hurled tear gas shells to disperse the mob. There was no report of any injury or casualty so far.
Additional forces of police, State Reserve Police and anti-riot Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel led by senior DSP, Raju Bhargava, rushed to the spot and carried out a combing operation. ‘Twelve persons including two women were picked up from a nearby place of worship,’ police said. The situation was under control but tense, police said” (Source: NDTV web).
This was the story carried by NDTV. NDTV, which is similar to Communists as far as anti-Hindu ideology is concerned, reported that Muslims attacked Hindus in Godhra again soon after the 27th February carnage. The Times of India also reported this PTI news, and it can be read today at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Mob-attacks-people-in-Godhra-12-arrested/articleshow/3682215.cms
All the above details of Godhra (except the 2003 stone pelting and mob attack of March 2002) are also mentioned in an article titled “Godhra in Ferment even before Independence” in the Milli Gazette magazine on 16 March, 2002. (Source: http://www.milligazette.com/Archives/15042002/1504200276.htm).
This magazine is considered as a mouthpiece of Indian Muslims or at least a voice of Muslims in India. This is the Indian Muslims’ leading English newspaper and it has also published these details about Godhra.
After the 2002 Godhra carnage, the Nanavati Commission was appointed to probe the carnage which was a full-fledged Commission of Inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952. It submitted its report on the Godhra carnage in September 2008. The report said: “Godhra town is a very sensitive place. There is a high percentage of Muslim population in various places in the district. Communal riots had taken place in Godhra in the years 1925, 1928, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1953, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992. The communal riots that had taken place in 1948 were very serious. Initially, the Muslims had burnt 869 houses of Hindus. Thereafter, the Hindus had burnt 3,071 houses of Muslims”.
The whole report can be read at: http://www.home.gujarat.gov.in/homedepartment/downloads/godharaincident.pdf
Can anyone imagine 2,000 Hindus burning to death 59 Muslims at Karachi Railway Station in Pakistan? If Hindus had mustered courage to do that, each and every Hindu in Pakistan would have been killed.
Godhra was a well-planned attack by 2000 fanatic Muslims. 140 litre petrol had been bought one day ago. It is impossible for 2000 Muslims to assemble at 7:47 am suddenly in 5 minutes (The train halted for only 5 minutes in Godhra) having already managed to procedure petrol bombs, and acid bombs! However, the Leftists in those days had a near-monopoly over the Indian media, and certainly over the electronic and English media. Even today, they have a near monopoly and disproportionate representation in the English media, and electronic media, but there is now a social media (users of Twitter, Facebook and Internet in general) which has reduced the monopoly of the Leftists to some extent, at least on the social media. But in those days, there was a total monopoly of Leftists over the mainstream media, TV channels, and English dailies. Except for 2 right-wing parties, namely the BJP and Shiv Sena, all other parties were of the ‘secularist’ ideology (read greedy for Muslim votebank, who were 14% of the Indian population). After Godhra, all these parties, and the Leftist media insulted the dead 59 Ram sewaks, including 25 women and 15 children by making false allegations of ‘provocation’ on them, like ‘kidnapping a Muslim girl’, ‘Not paying for tea and snacks’, etc- all charges being self- contradictory. Of course the attack was pre-meditated and the mob was ready and waiting.
They simply could not blame Muslims for anything, including such a horrific crime of Godhra! The VHP was the enemy of the Leftists, ‘secularist’ media people and politicians, who they ranted against day in and day out, and Muslims of course, they loved the most. Politicians loved them for their mass votes, and media people out of the global Leftist ideology of being pro-Muslim. Even such a horrific massacre could not melt their heart, and they made blatantly false allegations on the dead Ram sewaks, and accused them of ‘provoking the incident’. The Gujarat unit chief of the Congress Party (which claimed to be ‘secular’ in ideology, pro-Muslim) the late Amarsinh Chaudhary came on TV on 27 February 2002 night, and blamed the Ram sewaks for provoking the incident, and alleged that they did not pay for tea and snacks at the station, which caused the incident. Blaming the roasted 59 Ramsevaks in Godhra for the horrific crime & not Muslims is like blaming a rape victim for her brutal rape and killing, and not the real rapists.
Everyone, including pseudo-secularists who invented these concocted ‘provocations’ insulting the dead kar sevaks, knew that it was a well-planned attack. But since they could not blame Muslims for anything, including roasting of 15 children and 25 women, to use a metaphor, they decided to kick the dead dog and keep a safe distance from the mad dog.
The pseudo-secularists (media-politicians in India and the foreign media as well) started a different game after a few days. No doubt, they insulted the dead kar sevaks by making baseless allegation of provocations on them (and they were not alive to deny such third class allegations), but by doing so, they had admitted that Muslims had burnt the train. But some days later, they started raising denying this fact itself, and ‘raised questions’ (basically, denying the undeniable) like “The fire was set ‘from inside'”, “Kar sewaks carried inflammatory material with them” and “VHP killed its own kar sevaks to trigger an anti-Muslim wave (a charge also made by many politicians thriving on Muslim votebank e.g. Congress, RJD, Samajwadi Party and Communist Parties)”. Alleging BJP-VHP roasted 59 Ramsevaks in Godhra & not Muslims is like alleging that the family of a rape victim did the rape, and not real rapists.
Godhra has not been raised enough by the nationalist and sensible Hindus in India. The Hindu masses must be made to realise that tomorrow if 59 of them, or their wives, children and other relatives are roasted by Muslims, the self-proclaimed ‘secularists’ and politicians will do nothing to give them justice and use every trick in the book to let the inhuman murderers go scot-free, like they did in Godhra.
In 2005, Lalu Yadav a very casteist anti-Hindu minded politican who had become Railway Minister of India, appointed a U C Banerjee Committee at a departmental level to make an inquiry on Godhra. As expected, it whitewashed the sin of Muslims and said that Godhra was an ‘accident’ (thereby incidentally acquitting BJP, VHP of the charge that they roasted their own kar sevaks. If it was an accident how could BJP-VHP have done it?). Though fully knowing that the truth, the media, particularly the English language one and TV channels tried to defend this as much as possible. This report of the Banerjee Committee was released a fortnight before Assembly elections in Bihar, a state with nearly 17% Muslim population, in February 2005, the state of Lalu Yadav. Muslims were the core of Lalu Yadav’s vote. He took copies of this report and said in in public ralllies: “BJP-RSS people roasted 59 people in Godhra. Claimed that Muslims did it.” The Banerjee report said it was an accident, not that BJP-RSS did it. Later this Banerjee Commitee was declared illegal by a High Court in October 2006, making all the conclusions of it null and void (and rightly so).
There was a full-fledged Commission of Inquiry (unlike Banerjee Committee which was a departmental committee and later was held illegal), appointed under the Commission of Inquiry Act, namely Nanavati Commission to probe the Godhra train burning incident. When Nanavati Commission said in its report submitted in September 2008 that Godhra was a pre-planned attack done by Muslims, none of the media-politicians would relent and continued to deny the truth. Politicians cannot be expected to change, they have large vote-bank considerations but the media should have known better. Even after the courts convicting 31 people, nobody is coming out to tell the truth, blame the attackers instead of the victims, and apologise for lying and making inhuman allegations first on the dead kar sevaks, women and children and then on BJP/ RSS/ VHP and Narendra Modi.
What all this shows is that no act from any Muslim, including roasting of children to coal after locking them in a train and pushing them back as they tried to come out, will ever make the Indian mainstream English media blame any Muslim for any crime. Whether a Muslim attacks VHP rallies, RSS headquarters in Chennai, Nagpur or whether Hindus kill Muslims, the media will always blame the Hindus in general and the Sangh Parivar in particular.
The Reaction of the English Media to Godhra in India and abroad
The media in general and TV channels like Star News and NDTV (who then had a collaboration) in particular, almost all English newspaper editors of the print media, and almost all non-BJP, non Shiv Sena politicians of India belong to this Left-liberal-secular brigade. And almost every non-BJP leader, who came on TV, rubbed salt into the wounds of the anguished people. This was done by rationalizing or justifying the Godhra carnage. Insult of dead karsewaks, defense of inhuman barbaric killers of Godhra by media-politicians troubled conscience of one of them.
He was Vir Sanghvi, the Chief Editor of The Hindustan Times. He wrote an article entitled “One Way Ticket” in The Hindustan Times on 28th February, 2002. He must have written it on 27th February itself, the day of the massacre in Godhra. This is the full text of his article:
“There is something profoundly worrying in the response of what might be called the secular establishment to the massacre in Godhra. Though there is some dispute over the details, we now know what happened on the railway track. A mob of 2,000 people stopped the Sabarmati Express shortly after it pulled out of Godhra station. The train contained several bogeys full of kar sewaks who were on their way back to Ahmedabad after participating in the Poorna Ahuti Yagya at Ayodhya. The mob attacked the train with petrol and acid bombs. According to some witnesses, explosives were also used. Four bogies were gutted and at least 57 people, including over a dozen children, were burnt alive.
Some versions have it that the kar sewaks shouted anti-Muslim slogans; others that they taunted and harassed Muslim passengers. According to these versions, the Muslim passengers got off at Godhra and appealed to members of their community for help. Others say that the slogans were enough to enrage the local Muslims and that the attack was revenge.
It will be some time before we can establish the veracity of these versions, but some things seem clear. There is no suggestion that the kar sewaks started the violence. The worst that has been said is that they misbehaved with a few passengers. Equally, it does seem extraordinary that slogans shouted from a moving train or at a railway platform should have been enough to enrage local Muslims, enough for 2,000 of them to have quickly assembled at eight in the morning, having already managed to procure petrol bombs and acid bombs.
Even if you dispute the version of some of the kar sewaks – that the attack was premeditated and that the mob was ready and waiting – there can be no denying that what happened was indefensible, unforgivable and impossible to explain away as a consequence of great provocation.
And yet, this is precisely how the secular establishment has reacted.
Nearly every non-BJP leader who appeared on TV on Wednesday and almost all of the media have treated the massacre as a response to the Ayodhya movement. This is fair enough in so far as the victims were kar sewaks.
But almost nobody has bothered to make the obvious follow-up point: this was not something the kar sewaks brought on themselves. If a trainload of VHP volunteers had been attacked while returning after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, this would still have been wrong, but at least one could have understood the provocation.
This time, however, there has been no real provocation at all. It is possible that the VHP may defy the government and the courts and go ahead with the temple construction eventually. But, as of now, this has not happened. Nor has there been any real confrontation at Ayodhya – as yet.
And yet, the sub-text to all secular commentary is the same: the kar sewaks had it coming to them.
Basically, they condemn the crime; but blame the victims.
Try and take the incident out of the secular construct that we, in India, have perfected and see how bizarre such an attitude sounds in other contexts. Did we say that New York had it coming when the Twin Towers were attacked last year? Then too, there was enormous resentment among fundamentalist Muslims about America’s policies, but we didn’t even consider whether this resentment was justified or not.
Instead we took the line that all sensible people must take: any massacre is bad and deserves to be condemned.
When Graham Staines and his children were burnt alive, did we say that Christian missionaries had made themselves unpopular by engaging in conversion and so, they had it coming? No, of course, we didn’t.
Why then are these poor kar sewaks an exception? Why have we de-humanised them to the extent that we don’t even see the incident as the human tragedy that it undoubtedly was and treat it as just another consequence of the VHP’s fundamentalist policies?
The answer, I suspect, is that we are programmed to see Hindu-Muslim relations in simplistic terms: Hindus provoke, Muslims suffer.
When this formula does not work- it is clear now that a well-armed Muslim mob murdered unarmed Hindus – we simply do not know how to cope. We shy away from the truth – that some Muslims committed an act that is indefensible – and resort to blaming the victims.
Of course, there are always ‘rational reasons’ offered for this stand. Muslims are in a minority and therefore, they deserve special consideration. Muslims already face discrimination so why make it harder for them? If you report the truth then you will inflame Hindu sentiments and this would be irresponsible. And so on. I know the arguments well because – like most journalists – I have used them myself. And I still argue that they are often valid and necessary.
But there comes a time when this kind of rigidly ‘secularist’ construct not only goes too far; it also becomes counter-productive. When everybody can see that a trainload of Hindus was massacred by a Muslim mob, you gain nothing by blaming the murders on the VHP or arguing that the dead men and women had it coming to them.
Not only does this insult the dead (What about the children? Did they also have it coming?), but it also insults the intelligence of the reader. Even moderate Hindus, of the sort that loathe the VHP, are appalled by the stories that are now coming out of Gujarat: stories with uncomfortable reminders of 1947 with details about how the bogies were first locked from outside and then set on fire and how the women’s compartment suffered the most damage.
Any media – indeed, any secular establishment – that fails to take into account the genuine concerns of people risks losing its own credibility. Something like that happened in the mid-Eighties when an aggressive hard secularism on the part of the press and government led even moderate Hindus to believe that they had become second class citizens in their own country. It was this Hindu backlash that brought the Ayodhya movement – till then a fringe activity – to the forefront and fuelled the rise of L.K. Advani’s BJP.
My fear is that something similar will happen once again. The VHP will ask the obvious question of Hindus: why is it a tragedy when Staines is burnt alive and merely an ‘inevitable political development’ when the same fate befalls 57 kar sewaks?
Because, as secularists, we can provide no good answer, it is the VHP’s responses that will be believed. Once again, Hindus will believe that their suffering is of no consequence and will be tempted to see the building of a temple at Ayodhya as an expression of Hindu pride in the face of secular indifference.
But even if this were not to happen, even if there was no danger of a Hindu backlash, I still think that the secular establishment should pause for thought.
There is one question we need to ask ourselves: have we become such prisoners of our own rhetoric that even a horrific massacre becomes nothing more than occasion for Sangh Parivar-bashing?”
Today it can be read at: http://www.virsanghvi.com/Article-Details.aspx?key=611
What Vir Sanghvi wrote in that article really explains everything, not just about Godhra, but everything that followed after Godhra too. And not just that, but the behavior of the newspaper editors, who call themselves ‘secularists’ on all major issues too is explained and exposed by this self-confessed article such as their response to all major communal riots in India and all clashes between the Hindus and other minorities.
Let us see his statement: “We are programmed to see Hindu-Muslim relations in the simplistic terms: Hindus provoke, Muslims suffer.” This is the first and biggest admission of pseudo-secularism from Vir Sanghvi, not just for himself, but also for his entire fellow ‘secularists’.
When any person views any happenings in a biased way, i.e. one person suffers and the other provokes, it also shows his moral and mental bankruptcy. Irrespective of whether a VHP member thrashes a Muslim or whether Muslims thrash or burn alive a trainload of VHP members, the ‘secularist’ newspaper editors will continue to bash the VHP and hold it responsible for all the troubles. They will not even bother to see who has suffered, and try to investigate who is at fault, but simply close their eyes and blame one group, i.e. the Hindu group during the Hindu-Muslim conflicts.
Something similar was said by the great Congress leader, Kanhaiya Lal Munshi (1887-1971): “If every time there is an inter-communal conflict, the majority is blamed regardless of the merits of the question… the springs of traditional tolerance will dry up.” (Source: Pilgrimage to Freedom by K.M. Munshi, p. 312).
He also wrote on the same page: “While the majority (i.e. Hindus) exercises patience and tolerance, the minorities (i.e. Muslims) should learn to adjust themselves to the majority. Otherwise the future is uncertain and an explosion cannot be avoided”.
Inability to judge any situation on merits, whether XYZ person attacked ABC person and killed him, or it was the other way round but simply judge it on the names of the persons, i.e. ABC or XYZ or the identities of the persons, Hindu or Muslim, i.e. ABC provokes and XYZ suffers, shows that the ‘neutral’ observer (in this case, the ‘secularists’) is partial with prejudice and jaundiced vision.
In reality, the Hindu-Muslim relations in India have been different. It is, in fact, often a case of the minority community starting the riots. Ganesh Kanate, a staunch anti-BJP and anti-Sangh Parivar journalist with Communist leanings and staunchly pro-Muslim, wrote in his weekly column in the English daily The Hitavada dated 15th August, 2003, “The Muslims start riots and then suffer heavily because of the riots which they themselves start.” Even a ‘secularist’ like Ganesh Kanate said that Muslims start most of the riots. Deep down, all the newspaper editors like Vir Sanghvi and all self-proclaimed secularists also know this. The report of the Congress’ Home Ministry blamed Muslims for starting 23 out of 24 riots between 1968 and 1970 in Bhiwandi in Maharashtra State in India. This was quoted by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who later became India’s Prime Minister from 1998-2004 in Parliament on 14 May 1970. This writer would like to make it clear that he feels that every case should be judged on merit- on who is at fault, without any prejudice against any community.
Belgium-based world famous scholar Dr Koenraad Elst also wrote in his book “BJP Vis-à-vis Hindu resurgence” (Published by Voice of India in January 1997): “Another example is riot reporting. Riots, though mostly started by Muslims (e.g. the Mumbai riots of December 1992 and of January 1993), are systematically reported in the world media as “pogroms” committed by well-prepared and well-armed Hindu death squads against poor defenceless Muslims. In journalistic and scholarly references, Advani’s peaceful 1990 Rath Yatra has become a proverbially violent “blood yatra”.”
The Concocted ‘Provocations’
As Vir Sanghvi says, some versions have it that karsevaks shouted anti-Muslim slogans, others that they taunted and harassed Muslim passengers. In the first place, this too is completely wrong, since there is not an iota of evidence to support any of these claims. But despite this, the TV channels and most of the print media concocted such myths. This was only the detailed part of the provocations. Most of them treated the Godhra massacre as a response to the VHP’s Ram temple agitation. The Ayodhya movement itself was held as a provocation for this massacre.
Weeklies like India Today, The Week, Outlook and fortnightly Frontline also published stark lies on this subject by concocting imaginary provocations such as altercations between karsevaks and the Muslim tea-vendors on the Godhra railway station, or kidnapping of a Muslim girl by the karsevaks at the station, or any number of imaginary details.
Despite knowing fully well that Godhra was a well-planned conspiracy, the Indian media forcibly did seeking of provocations to defend it as deed done on the spur of the moment. Vir Sanghvi’s The Hindustan Times carried a front-page headline on Godhra on 28th February, 2002 titled “Gujarat Hit by Ayodhya Backlash”, i.e. it held that the Ayodhya movement was the main and the biggest cause of the Godhra massacre. So much so that the headline ignored the act and simply reported the ‘provocation’, which too was altogether imaginary. The Hindustan Times did not even bother to have the headline like: “58 karsevaks burnt to death in a ghastly attack in Godhra” or something of the sort.
The inhuman massacre in Godhra, unparalleled in human history, was justified by many of the foreign newspapers. The Independent, England insulted the dead kar sewaks and leveled baseless allegations. The report written by Peter Popham published on 20 March 2002 was:
“…kar sewaks were drunk…they kidnapped a Muslim girl…she began screaming for help…a crowd of Muslims gathered…demanded her release…karsewaks refused to give her back…so the mob attacked them and burnt them…karsewaks responsible…”
The reason why The Independent stooped to such unimaginable levels is because of the Indian media. The behavior of the Indian media of repeated insults to the dead karsevaks and defence of Muslim communalism prompts the foreign authors to write like this. Does this author think that 15 children were also drunk? All this nonsense and character assassination of the martyred Hindus done by this newspaper is not even worth repudiating.
Godhra was Planned, Post-Godhra was a Result of Provocation
Godhra was clearly a planned, unprovoked attack. It is impossible for it to have been the result of petty quarrels at the Godhra railway station. Vir Sanghvi has already said it in his article. As he says, slogans shouted from a moving train or a railway platform cannot enrage local Muslims, and 2,000 Muslims cannot assemble at the railway station in five minutes’ time already having managed to procure petrol bombs and acid bombs. And the time was also 8 a.m. in the morning. Some 140 liters of petrol was reportedly bought in cans a day before the massacre.
Weeklies like India Today gave imaginary provocations with graphics. But all these people forgot one thing. For the train to have been attacked, the attackers (Muslims) had to surround in on at least two sides. If it was on the spur of the moment, it would have been very difficult for the Muslims to surround the train on both sides. How could at least 500 Muslims reach the other side of the train? If that was the case, then the karsevaks would have ran out of the train and saved their lives, by running from the second side before Muslims reached there. In any case, all these provocations are purely fabricated and a figment of imagination. Something which was done with absolutely no provocation and full planning was rationalized by the media.
And there was a JUDICIAL CONFESSION by a Muslim accused in Feb 2003 that it was a pre-planned massacre, planned day or days before 27 February 2002, with petrol brought beforehand.
Even Kuldip Nayar (born 1923), known for his extreme anti-RSS, anti-BJP and anti-Narendra Modi and pro-Muslim and pro-Pakistani views, wrote in an article published on 3 April 2002: “I have no doubt that the (Godhra) attack was a well-planned one. Otherwise, it is not possible for a mob of 500 carrying petrol and kerosene to assemble in three minutes in an area that can only be reached by running through prickly bushes.”
As a matter of fact, such a horrible crime should not be committed even against animals. If 59 animals had been locked in a train, pushed back into the fire as they tried to come out and then roasted to death with bodies charred, it too would have been considered as a gruesome human tragedy by all right-thinking sensible people. But because these 59 were karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, false charges were made on them—the incident was condemned merely for token with the blame put on the roasted women and children, and the VHP. Vir Sanghvi said that the karsevaks had been dehumanized. They were actually treated even worse than animals.
This is the most important revelation. Dehumanization. This approach of the media of dehumanizing the dead karsevaks including 15 children angered the entire nation. More so Gujarat, in which is Godhra situated.
Even if the karsevaks had indeed misbehaved with anyone, or refused to pay for tea and snacks, or shouted anti-Muslim slogans, or taunted or harassed Muslim passengers, or done any of the numerous things which have been charged (all charges are inconsistent and varying- which shows that the aim was to be forcibly concoct ‘provocations’), still there should have been no mention of it, or even if it was mentioned, the blame should not have been put on the dead. This is because no one insults the dead.
But, in this case, even though the karsevaks did nothing, baseless and absolutely wrong allegations were made to blame the dead for their own death. Even if they had indulged in any sort of misbehavior, such a massacre and brutal roasting cannot be rationalized. And here instead of blaming the Muslims who roasted the train, the media— the TV channels in particular—and the politicians made such allegations on people who were not even alive to refute the charges. And all the charges were absolutely wrong. The people who lost their lives in a human tragedy, in a gruesome massacre, a well- planned attack, were unfairly accused and blamed for something which they did not do.
The people of Gujarat were used to this policy of the TV channels and the print media. They were used to the continuous bashing of the Hindutva ideology, of the karsevaks, of the Ayodhya movement, of the VHP and the continuous defence of the Muslims. But the people thought that the Godhra massacre was just a bit too much. At least, such a horrifying massacre of innocent people including 15 children will make the hearts of the anti-Hindu ‘secularists’ bleed. At least, in such a huge tragedy, will the media stop insulting the karsevaks and criticizing the VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi movement? At least now, will the media condemn the fundamentalist Muslims and call them Jehadis and criticize them for the unprovoked massacre?
But nothing of the sort happened. The media continued its usual ways. And Vir Sanghvi’s fear of a Hindu backlash became a terrifying reality on 28th February, 2002, which was Thursday. Of course, after that the riots were not one-sided and Muslims also attacked and killed hundreds of Hindus, even after Godhra, and threw 40,000 Hindus into relief camps, out of their homes in the 2002 Gujarat riots. 1,00,000 Muslims were also homeless, in relief camps in these riots.
Godhra was an act of a pre-meditated conspiracy of barbarism and not really terrorism. ‘Terrorists have no religion’ is a statement parroted many times in the media by many people. But Godhra was not done by one or two terrorists. It was done by a mob, a mass mob of 500+ people, ordinary people, not terrorists undergone training in training camps. Not terrorists armed with AK-47, AK-56 rifles or grenades. They were locals, not foreigners. The local Muslims did the barbaric, communal and criminal act of Godhra to further a premeditated plan.
This mind-numbing horror was also the cause of many more horrors, many more events, many more riots, many more political changes. It was also the immediate cause of rioting, which left some 1169 people dead- both Hindus and Muslims. Around 863 Muslims and 306 Hindus.
Difference between Godhra and Other Tragic Incidents
Several people have asked: “Why did riots occur only after Godhra? Why was nobody targeted after the Akshardham temple attack of September 2002—or after the attacks on Mumbai on 26th November, 2008?”
Well, the answers are many. The terrorist attacks in many parts of India such as Mumbai, Jammu, New Delhi, etc. are done by terrorists and they are acts of terrorism, whereas Godhra was not terrorism, but communalism and barbarism. It was the brutal roasting of 59 people whose bodies were charred to death beyond recognition.
The attackers also differed. Terrorists are people who are considered to have no religion. Those who attacked the Akshardham temple were called ‘terrorists’ by the media, and rightly so. Two foreign terrorists killed more than 30 people in the attack. It was not done by local Muslims. Nobody said in the media “Muslims kill 30 Hindus in Akshardham”. It was said, “Terrorists attack the Akshardham temple”. Had the Indian media, the TV channels in particular, and the non-BJP politicians, who came on TV on 27th February, 2002, called the incident as a ‘human tragedy’ and reacted exactly like they did after terrorist attacks in Mumbai or Akshardham, maybe the riots which occurred, could have been avoided.
Also the mob in Godhra numbered well over 1,000 and as per the report of the Tewatia Committee, the mob was 2,000 in strength. Since only 35 people were arrested for the attack on 27th February, as reported by various English newspapers the next day, it was found to be grossly inadequate by the masses. M.M. Singh—one of the finest police officers Gujarat has ever produced—also said that the police should have cordoned off the area in Godhra after the massacre. This, in his opinion, would have pacified Hindu sentiments to some extent at the very outset. And even a weekly like India Today reported in its issue dated 18th March, 2002 that the blame for the riots was being put on the Modi Government for its failure to nab the culprits of the Godhra carnage. Had the culprits not been allowed to flee, the people would not have directed their anger at all Muslims, according to the weekly. The weekly reports:
“The blame for the initial explosion on 28th February is being pinned on the Modi government for its failure to arrest those responsible for the Godhra massacre. The slum from where the train attack was launched was illegally constructed on Railways land and each of the 10 main suspects involved in the attack has a criminal background. Some even enjoyed political patronage. Haji Billal, one of the main accused, was known for his links with smugglers and traffickers. Such was his notoriety, claims a BJP MLA, that ‘a few months ago the authorities had difficulty pasting a notice on his door’. On 27th February, the VHP asked the State government to act against them and when it failed, the public anger was directed against all Muslims” (Source: http://archives.digitaltoday.in/indiatoday/20020318/cover3.html).
Since it was done by local Muslims and most of the culprits went scot-free and the media kept insulting the dead karsevaks and condemning the VHP and the Sangh Parivar, the angered masses exploded in Ahmedabad on 28th February.
To know why the masses retaliated, look at the photos of the victims. These pictures were shown on TV channels on 27th February and in Gujarati dailies the next day. WARNING: Gruesome pictures.
Anyone who understands human sufferings will realize the cause of the retaliation in Gujarat after looking at these pictures. However, our politicians and pseudo-secular media people are blind to Hindu suffering. For some people, Hindus in general and VHP supporters in particular, are not even considered human beings. These gruesome killings also were not enough to melt the hearts of the pseudo-secularists. One wonders then, what will ever make them condemn Muslims for any act, if they defend Muslims for Godhra and blame these children, who were roasted!