NRIs´ fast outside New York´s Indian Consulate puts PM on notice: Fearful of further communal violence, NRI group opposes govt. decision to allow Gujarat Rath Yatras to proceed as planned on July 12th
New York, 10 July 2002
There was a fast and vigil all day today outside the Indian Consulate to protest the Indian government´s decision to allow the Jagannath Rath Yatras to proceed as planned in Gujarat on July 12th, a decision that may lead to a fresh round of violence against Muslims in the state.
Eleven NRIs fasted all day, while as many as twenty others came to show their support for several hours at a time. Ranging in age from their teens to their sixties, the protestors passed leaflets and discussed the Gujarat situation with visitors to the Consulate. In light of the current U.S. government advisory against travel to India, most Consulate visitors were either Indian citizens or Indian-Americans who are naturalized U.S. citizens.
122 signatures were collected on the spot on a petition to Prime Minister Vajpayee urging him to reconsider the decision regarding the Gujarat Rath Yatras, and putting the Indian government on notice that they will be held fully accountable for any outbreak of violence on July 12th. The majority of Consulate visitors signed on to the petition. One Indian-American medical student visiting the Consulate for a visa felt so strongly about the issue that she decided to join the protest.
The petition to the Prime Minister was delivered to Consulate officials, who will convey it to his office. The petition read as follows:
We are mostly non-resident Indians from Boston, New York, New Jersey and surrounding areas, some representing various organizations, the Boston-based Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, and the New York based SAMAR media collective, INSAF (International South Asia Forum), Forum of Indian Leftists, and NRIs for a Secular and Harmonious India; others acting as individuals of conscience. We are holding a fast and vigil outside the Indian Consulate in New York today because we are concerned that your government´s decision to allow the Jagannath Rath Yatra to pass through communally sensitive areas in Ahmedabad on July 12th might lead to a fresh outbreak of violence against Muslims in Gujarat. Our group is fasting in solidarity with the ravaged Muslim population of Gujarat, and to remind your government that it will be held fully accountable for the consequences of this decision.
The pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat in February-March claimed about 2,000 lives and displaced over 100,000 men, women and children. Every independent investigation into the violence since that time -- by national and international human rights organizations, by women´s groups, by committees of journalists, former civil servants and judges, even by the British High Commission -- has concluded that the BJP government in Gujarat colluded in the violence against the minority community. The vast majority of the extremists guilty of murder and rape remain unpunished, and will very likely attend the upcoming Rath Yatra in large numbers. The Gujarat government has shown little interest in organizing relief and rehabilitation for the Muslim victims of violence. Most recently, it has been reported that relief camps are being disbanded by the government and riot-victims are being forced to return to the very homes that they fled to keep from being massacred.
Under these circumstances, we cannot understand your government´s decision to allow right-wing Hindu groups to conduct a procession through the Muslim areas of Ahmedabad on July 12th, and thus to endanger the lives and property of Muslims in Gujarat once again. This is our message to the Indian government: the whole world is watching you, and you will be held completely responsible for any untoward incidents that may occur on July 12th.