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NRI Team's Appeal to the President of India
September 12, 2002
Non-Resident Indians For A Secular & Harmonious India -- A Sadbhavna Mission for Healing the Wounds of the People of Gujarat
September 12, 2002
The Honourable President of India
Mr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
New Delhi, India
Subject: The Continuing Tragedy in Gujarat
Like all the people of India, we NRIs were also shocked at the sheer inhumanity of the Godhra killings on February 27, 2002. But, before we could even comprehend and respond to that deplorable event, we were horrified at the ensuing carnage directed against the Muslims of Gujarat, with the tacit complicity of state machinery at all levels. As the weeks slipped by, our eternal optimism in the people of India and our system of democracy had us believing that wisdom and common sense would soon prevail, and the state would reestablish law and order and communal harmony, if for no other reason than the selfish economic interests of Gujarat. Instead, Gujarat's elected government seems to have completely abdicated its constitutional role, and has cynically sought to worsen the situation for the victims at every level, and is continuing to exacerbate communal feelings, with electoral gains in mind. And, we have seen no signs of the Central Government or the party in power intervening to reverse this politics of hate.
Given this unprecedented situation in our nation, and the danger which it represents to the future of our secular and democratic fabric, this group of NRIs, representing many diverse organizations in the United States, decided several weeks ago to embark upon a Sadbhavna Mission to observe the situation first hand. Prior to embarking on the trip, we studied numerous reports from India prepared by various human rights organizations (including NHRC) and several other NGOs and citizen's groups, outlining the details of the violence and the plight of the victims. We have spent the last several days in Gujarat, during which we have had an intensive series of visits and meetings, including a visit to Godhra and the ill-fated train.
We have visited with:
Our overall conclusion from these visits is that there indeed is a third `carnage' underway in Gujarat, albeit a more subtle and insidious one, often hidden from public view. While there may be no overt violence or killings, we believe that there is a systematic campaign to humiliate the victims and increase their agony in every way possible. More specifically, our visit not only confirmed the various reports that we had seen but, in some ways, the situation seems worse than we had imagined.
Victims of the violence, many of whom are still in 'unofficial' camps, for they have nowhere to go. Villages, where many Muslim families are being prevented from returning to their homes, under threats and intimidation. In urban areas, we also visited areas where Muslims had returned to their homes, or what was left of it. Islamic as well as secular NGOs, who have borne the brunt of tending to the victims, with little or no government help, and often encountering governmental interference and harassment. Women's groups who are providing psychological counseling to the enormous number of women victims, and are still striving to bring to the nation's conscience the scale of brutality against women and children.
Religious leaders of all faiths Human Rights groups, which have never before felt so helpless. Legal cells working long hours to strive to bring a measure of justice for the victims, even when they know in their hearts that no convictions are likely under the current legal system. The Gujarati press, including those who are seen as biased against the minorities. Politicians in the Opposition. (We were unable to meet ruling party officials.) Ex-law enforcement officials, who are themselves aghast at the breakdown of law and order. Many, many brave individuals who have suspended all their normal activities to help the victims.
The level of communalization in the society seems so complete that even when there is NO normalcy for most of the Muslims, the majority community is able to go about with a contrived sense of normalcy. We also heard of numerous cases where Hindus themselves had been affected economically and/or emotionally, confirming our view that everyone in Gujarat is a victim. This environment is allowing the state machinery and the judiciary to get away with impunity as they distance themselves from relief and rehabilitation to the victims. Subvert the legal process on a daily basis, including doctoring of FIRs; pressuring and/or blackmailing the victims to withdraw FIRs; loading the system with public prosecutors with known antipathy towards Muslims and loyalty to the party in power; and bringing false charges against the victims, especially youth.
This environment has also lead to:
A large number of high school children whose lives have been traumatized by the circumstances of their exams, with little or no options in front of them. There is wide-spread apprehension among Hindus as well as Muslims that many of these frustrated youth could turn to violence while their elders are struggling to put their own family life together.
Job discrimination against Muslims seems to have become more severe, with communalization seeping even into otherwise 'enlightened' NGOs and CBOs.
With one notable exception, NO significant HINDU religious leader seems to have spoken out against the inhumanity, making everything that we have learnt about the Hindu ethos suddenly appear hollow.
We believe that there can be no communal amity without the speedy rehabilitation of ALL the victims. And there can be no true long-term rehabilitation without justice. For the sake our nation, and our future generations, about whom you have written so often and so eloquently, we earnestly appeal to you to do everything in your power to intervene immediately to reverse the dangerous course in Gujarat.
We do not believe that any half-hearted measures will suffice at this late hour. It is our humble opinion that only a period of President's Rule in the state, with an able and impartial administrator, who is beyond any party sympathies, can rescue Gujarat from a spiral of continuing hate and violence. (We do not believe that the current Governor, with his known political biases can do the job.) During such a 'cooling off' and healing period, we believe that the administration should prioritize confidence-building measures, reestablish true law and order (not just for the majority), and vigorously promote communal harmony. Specifically,
we believe that such an administration should:
Take immediate measures to completely overhaul the State's administrative and law enforcement machinery, which has become so
communalized. (Given the complete failure of the Police system during the violence, a citizens oversight committee might be appropriate to rebuild the people's confidence in the police--like it has been done in many U.S. cities).
Vigorously pursue legal action against all the accused and ensure convictions.
Speed up previously promised rehabilitation aid to the victims and increase the aid significantly to accelerate the return to normalcy. (Including state intervention to assist the 1 lakh high school children whose lives have been put on hold).
Speed up the process of establishing the status of all the missing persons and ensure that compensation for the missing is treated in the same way as death compensation, to remove the 'double jeopardy' that the kith and kin are being subjected to.
Ensure that all the displaced villagers can get back to their homes, preferably with the cooperation of their neighbors, and where that is not possible, with the support of the police.
Ensure that elections are delayed until all electoral rolls are properly verified, all the dislocated persons are back in their homes, especially in rural areas, and that an environment is established for free and fair elections.
Support communal harmony groups and send governmental representatives to work with civil society groups on such initiatives to help heal the wounds of Gujarat (like the government did after the devastating earthquake.)
Rebuild all places of worship destroyed and damaged during the violence, with active participation by civil society (Muslims and Hindus).
Honourable President, you have said in one of your books that your favorite character in Mahabaratha is Vidura, "who showed grit against the wrongdoings of authority and had the courage to differ when everyone else chose to surrender before the tyranny of adharma." We have encountered many a 'Vidura' during our trip to Gujarat, many of whom are being ostracized or punished for their views. All of them, and all of us, are counting on you to not only exercise your full constitutional authority, but to speak out publicly against the continuing horror of the people of Gujarat. Only then can we together reestablish true peace in Gujarat, without which, as you have rightly said, "There can be no progress."
Delegates of the Sadbhavna Mission from the United States.
Mr. George Abraham, Chief IT Operations, UN Pension Fund, New York
Dr. Satinath Choudhary, Prof. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, New York
Dr. Aditi Desai, Sociologist and UN Consultant, New York
Mr. Gautham Desai, Founder, Develop in Peace Forum, North Carolina
Ms. Nishrin Hussain, Daughter of late M.P. Ahsan Jafri, Delaware
Mr. P.D. John, Federation of Indian-American Christians, Washington D.C.
Dr. Arjun Makhijani, Institute for Energy and Environment Research, Maryland
Rev. Bernard Malik, Director, Global Center for Indian Christians, Delaware
Mr. Shrikumar Poddar, Acharya, Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, Michigan
Mr. Raju Rajagopal, Social Activist/Worker, EKTA/Coalition Against Communalism, California
Dr. Najma Sultana, Founding Member of NRI-SAHI, Washington