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home > News/Analysis  > Archive: Selected Analytical Articles  > Gujarat Carnage - the NRI perspective

Gujarat Carnage - the Non Resident Indians (NRI) perspective
By Gautam Appa, London School of Economics, 30 May 2002
Source: South Asia Citizens Web

    At least two families of Gujarati Muslim NRIs [Non Resident Indians] have lost family members in the carnage. A families-centred campaign is being planned on the same basis as the highly successful campaign to bring the racist murderers of Steven Lawrence to justice. Steven, a black Briton whose parents migrated to Britain from Jamaica, bled to death on a London footpath after being stabbed repeatedly by four racist, white youths. The police arrived too late and did too little to catch the criminals, preferring to see the murder as a drug related black on black attack. The campaign spanning over six years did not succeed in putting the murderers behind bars but it did cause the Daily Mail, a popular tabloid paper well known for its racist stance, to print their photos on the front page under the heading 'MURDERERS'. It also led to the state accepting the existence of institutional racism and changed the way the police handles race hate violence. Its impact was equivalent to the Gujarati daily Sandesh calling Modi a mass murderer and the police in Gujarat being forced to register FIRs when any member of the minority community complains of an incidence of communal violence.

    Contrary to what was reported in the Indian press, the families have not decided on their course of action yet. While bringing a case under the Human Rights legislation is an obvious option, others are being considered that may prove to be even more embarrassing to the BJP governments in Gujarat and at the centre. Plans are also in hand to bring about actions from NRIs in Canada as well as the US.

    It is important to note that Muslims are only a small minority in Awaaz - South Asia Watch, the newly formed coalition of NRIs involved in these impending actions. All of us - Dalits, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Hindus, many from Gujarat - share a common dream. We want India to be a country of such ample opportunities for all its citizens that none would need to become an NRI merely to improve his/her lot. What has happened in Gujarat shatters our dream. We are fired up to act now to save today's Gujarat becoming the harbinger of tomorrow's India.

    Having seen the reports of the National Human Rights Commission, the Citizen's Initiative sponsored women's panel and the latest interim report by the Concerned Citizens' Tribunal, we are very clear that what went on for three days since the riot at the Godhra station on the 27th of February was a state sponsored massacre of Muslims. We understand what Narendra Modi meant when he claimed that he ended the violence in 72 hours. He only gave total immunity from police or army intervention to the marauding bigots for 72 hours. But violence did not end then. A majority of the 1.1 lakh people, reported by the Gujarat government to be in the 99 relief camps, did not arrive there in 72 hours. We know from personal visits and published materials that although there are Hindu and Muslim relief camps, there is a quantitative and qualitative difference. More than 90% of the relief camps are for Muslims. On a personal visit to the Hindu relief camp at Kankaria School 7 and 8 - the one visited by Vajpyee, Fernadez and Modi - I found that only one person there had received a personal injury, no one had lost a relative in the violence and more than half of them went home at night to sleep in their own beds. In contrast, at the Shah Alam relief camp for Muslims, I met women who had been gang raped, children with deep skin burns and orphans who had seen their parents burnt alive.

    Gujarat has seen communal carnage before, but not on this scale. It is clear that there are three important interrelated reasons - partisan policing, misinformation by the two main Gujarati dailies, Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar, and above all, a misuse of political power. There is no denying that in the short run the bigots in the Parivar have won in Gujarat. During BJP's second term of office Bajrang Dal has recruited among Dalits and Adivasis, Christians have been terrorised and Muslims massacred, and the hard Hindutva streak has replaced the unthinking support of the soft Hindutva line. I shall never forget Vibha, an Ahmedabadi Jain relative, who is a devout follower of Mahavir's philosophy of Ahimsa, saying to me during my recent visit: 'they should all be killed, only then we would have peace'.

    Here in Britain the VHP (UK) and the HSS (the word Rashtriya is replaced by the word Hindu in the international organisation of the RSS) have a strong organisational base among Gujaratis from East Africa. Like its counterpart in India VHP (UK) fronts many organisations. Management committees of many Gujarati temples include one or two VHP members. There is overlapping membership of the VHP (UK) and local government-funded centres purporting to cover innocuous sounding cultural activities such as language or yoga classes and prayer groups. A key aspiration of all these front organisations is to work as a bulwark for the promotion of the goals of the VHP and the RSS in India, including the nefarious goal of Muslim-bashing. I have seen their information sheets for members detailing how much money each local government administration spends on Muslim as opposed to Hindu organisations. Recent reports suggest that the extreme racist British National Party has approached them for joint work against Muslims, their common enemy.

    The contribution of these British organisations to the work of the Sangh Parivar in India in terms of propaganda and fund raising is not insignificant. Prior to the demolition of the Babri mosque, they had collected 150,000 signatures and vast sums of money for the Ram temple. According to the charity commissioner's records, the two main charities associated with VHP (UK) and the HSS had collected nearly one million pounds in the last financial year. It is common knowledge that a large chunk of the overt and covert collection ends up in India in the hands of the Sangh Parivar.

    What can be done in this desperate situation?

    A model is provided in Britain by the anti-Nazi league which uses moles to monitor every move that the British National Party makes, opposes every demonstration it organises, carries out counter propaganda, combats it in the streets and fights it every inch of the way. This is in contrast to the reactive strategy followed by the NRIs in the West. Thus, after the demolition of the Babri mosque an Alliance against Communalism was formed in Britain. It brought together leftists, women's groups, Gandhians, Ambedkarites, Buddhists, non-sectarian Hindus and Muslims in combating the propaganda put out by the VHP and the HSS. Once the non-sectarian majority became active, it was an easy job to meet the challenge of the local VHP which tried to disrupt a play by Habib Tanvir which, they alleged, was anti-Brahmin. In spite of their hate leaflets and token demonstration outside the venue, the play went ahead in Leicester in September 1993. A similar determined effort in New York last week blew away an attempt by the local chapter of the VHP to disrupt a play based on the United Nations official Sashi Tharoor's novel, 'Riot', starring Madhur Jaffrey and Shabhana Azmi.

    But what is needed is a permanent challenge to the Parivar's activities. The Gujarat carnage has provided a new impetus. Organisations of NRIs are springing up in Canada, US and Britain to meet the sectarian challenge. Advertisements will go out in all three countries to find NRIs who have suffered in Gujarat and those with information about the perpetrators. A co-ordinated campaign on behalf of the victims' families will demand direct involvement of the respective governments for its affected citizens. The charitable status of Parivar-related charities will be queried. Joint performances of Hindu and Muslim artists will be staged. The arrogation of the mantle of sole representatives of Hindus by the VHP will be contested. Wars with Pakistan may come and go but the days of the non-sectarian majority of NRIs remaining silent while the handful of bigots besmirch the name of Hinduism are over.