The myth and truth of Godhra

By Arvind Lavakare

Since no ‘secularist’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘objective’ person ever challenged the above sets of figures, some questions arise: Who killed 200-odd Hindus so early in those riots? Was it the police or the Hindus themselves? And what made those 40,000 Hindus rush to relief camps? Was it fear of Hindu mob violence, rape, arson and murder?

Two recent ‘news briefs’ in print are critical evidence of a reality that’s been totally ignored by our ‘liberals’ who have, for four years running, gone on and on and on about the ‘genocide’ of Muslims in Gujarat after the sudden inferno in the S-6 compartment of Sabarmati Express had consumed 58 Hindus, including 26 women and 12 children, returning home after performing kar seva at Ayodhya.

In its edition of March 19, 2006, The Sunday Express carried the following report from Ahmedabad:

“Post-Godhra riot case: 7 get lifer The city sessions court on Friday convicted seven people in a post-Godhra riot case and sentenced them to life term for the murder of 35-year-old Mukesh Panchal, a resident of Lambha. He was attacked by the accused and went missing on November 7, 2003 from Shah-e-Alam Darwaza. His mutilated body was found near Chandoka Lake on November 11. One of the seven accused—Javed Shaukat Ali—meanwhile managed to give the cops a slip and fled from the court.”

In its edition of Wednesday, March 29, 2006 The Indian Express carried the following report, also datelined Ahmedabad:

“Nine get jail in post-Godhra riot case The city sessions court on Tuesday convicted nine accused in a post-Godhra riot case. Additional Sessions Judge Sonia Gokani sentenced Mushtaq alias Kanio Ahmed Sheikh to 10 years in jail for murder and attempt to murder. Eight others were sentenced to 18 months in prison for unlawful assembly, possessing weapons and rioting.”

Out of the five convictions so far in l’affaire Godhra, the above two rip the blindfold on Godhra that the country was subjected to since March 2002. Those two convictions conclusively prove that even as some Hindus in Vadodra, Ahmedabad and a few other parts of Gujarat were provoked into insane killing, arson and loot by the S-6 carnage, the Muslims in that state were hardly the cattle hiding from the slaughter house that they have been made out by the “secularists” in and outside our national English media. Do you, for instance, recall reading about the mutilation of Mukesh Panchal’s cadaver in any of the English print media? Did you hear a sound byte about it on our TV?

Yes, despite all the media and the consequent political, propaganda about the ‘genocide’ of Gujarat’s Muslims, the reality is that some of that community were also engaged in murder, rioting and unlawful assembly with arms in hand.

This trend was discernible to the objective person four years ago itself. Thus, in its issue of April 28, 2002, The Times of India reporter, Sanjay Pandey, told us that of the 726 people who had been killed by then in the post-Godhra riots, 168 were Hindus. In its issue of June 24, 2002, India Today carried an article saying that the official figure of all people killed in Gujarat in the three months following the S-6 massacre was 800, of which a quarter were Hindus. The Union Home Ministry’s Annual Report 2002-03 said that about a third of the total dead in the Godhra riots were Hindus. It also said that, at one stage, 40,000 Hindus were in riot relief camps.

Since no ‘secularist’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘objective’ person ever challenged the above sets of figures, some questions arise: Who killed 200-odd Hindus so early in those riots? Was it the police or the Hindus themselves? And what made those 40,000 Hindus rush to relief camps? Was it fear of Hindu mob violence, rape, arson and murder?

More proof of the blindfold on Godhra came in 2005, when the UPA coalition (comprising the ‘secular’ friends of Muslims) made a statement in Parliament that 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in those riots.

But our national media simply refused to remove the blindfold on Godhra. Hence it was that the elites of our society continued to rant about the Gujarat ‘pogrom of genocide’; some cussed Indians even conspired to deny a US visa to the Chief Minister of one of the country’s fastest developing states.

Aiding and abetting that conspiracy were reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International et al. The National Human Rights Commission joined in; written lies by the likes of Arundhati Roy and fake e-mails added fuel to the fire. All of them went to town about the Gujarat ‘genocide’ with blinkers on, a blindfold underneath. None wanted to touch upon the minority community’s role in that tragedy.

But the latest criminal conviction of 16 Muslims evokes the recall of the Justice Tewatia Report on the Godhra issue published on April 26, 2002 under the aegis of the Council For International Affairs And Human Rights, based in New Delhi.

It was a report based on a six-day field study of a team headed by Justice D.S. Tewatia, former Chief Justice, Calcutta High Court and Punjab and Haryana High Court. Its other members were Dr J.C. Batra, senior advocate, Supreme Court, Dr Krishan Singh, academician, Jawahar Lal Kaul, veteran journalist, and Prof. B. K. Kuthiala, Dean, Faculty of Media Studies, G.J. University, Hisar.

The five-man team visited three affected areas and relief camps in Ahmedabad, interacting freely with the public and members of both communities, and without government interference. In Godhra, five delegations from both communities and also of mixed composition presented their views and facts to the team. Similarly, free discussions with the public and affected communities were held in Vadodra at seven affected areas and five relief camps. It collected information from the staff at the Godhra Railway Station, district administration, including the Collector and Police Commissioner, passengers traveling in Sabarmati Express on 27.02.02 in S-6 compartment as well as in other compartments, staff of the Fire Brigade, Godhra, reports in 22 newspapers and nine magazines (local, regional and Delhi) and views on media coverage articulated by some 500 persons including intellectuals like lawyers, doctors and businessmen. The site where the train was initially stopped and stoned was also visited. A high point was that 13 delegations consisting of 121 citizens met Justice Tewatia’s team and presented their viewpoints and information. The delegations ranged from the Association of Hoteliers to a group of Vanvasis and affected Muslim as well as Hindu women.

Based on the considerable oral, audio and visual evidence obtained from the above interactions, the Justice Tewatia team’s conclusions most relevant to the blindfold on Godhra were as follows:

Burning of 58 Hindu pilgrims on February 27, 2002 was an act carried out at the behest of then government of Pakistan which had planned to burn the entire Sabarmati Express carrying some 2000 passengers. The primary objective was to create Hindu-Muslim communal conflagration in India. The actual perpetrators were jehadi elements in the predominantly Muslim town of Godhra where

a very high traffic of telephone calls was recorded between Godhra and Pakistan, especially Karachi, before the date of the carnage

an abnormally large number of passports were issued,

there was a large number of persons without ration cards

a large number of unemployed Muslims had mobile phones,

though there is no tradition of being a Muslim pilgrim center and the local Muslims are not affluent, three istema (religious gatherings) have been held and attended by large numbers of foreigners, and

an Assistant Collector (a young Muslim from eastern UP) went on leave two days before the gory incident and did not return till the middle of March though the district of his posting was aflame with communal riots much earlier.

The vacuum pipe between the Coaches No. S-6 and S-7 was cut thereby preventing any further movement of the train. Miscreants threw bricks and stones at the train as soon as it left Godhra railway station. The stoning intensified after it finally stopped about 700 metres from the station. The passengers of the train, particularly Coaches S-5, S-6 and S-7, were the main targets. Burning missiles and acid bulbs were thrown on and in the coaches. One such acid missile landed in Coach S-7 and a fire started which the passengers were able to extinguish. But the attack continued and more burning missiles were thrown into the Coach S-6.

In an effort to control the subsequent riots, the Gujarat government

Publicly announced its decision to employ the Army on the evening of the day riots began on February 28 (Within less than 24 hours at least one brigade of Indian Army had air-landed at Ahmedabad),

Made preventive arrests of over 33,000 people,

Fired over 12,000 rounds of bullets,

Fired over 15,000 rounds of tear gas shells,

The involvement of Vanvasis in the post-Godhra riots added a new dimension to the communal violence. In rural areas the Vanvasis attacked the Muslim moneylenders, shopkeepers and the forest contractors. They used their traditional bow and arrows as also their implements used to cut trees and grass while attacking Muslims. They moved in groups and used coded signals for communication. Apparently, the accumulated anger of years of exploitation by Muslim moneylenders (interest of 50 per cent per annum), shopkeepers and forest contractors had become explosive after moneylenders sexually exploited their womenfolk.

The media selected, distorted and added fiction to prove their respective points of view. The code of ethics prescribed by the Press Council of India was violated by the media with impunity. It so enraged the citizens that several concerned citizens in the disturbed areas suggested that peace could return to the state only if some of the TV channels were closed for some weeks. Even the Vanvasis complained that the media had no time to hear their agony and was spreading canards against the Hindus. Newspapers published in English from Delhi invariably editorialised the news. Direct and indirect comments in the news writing were so telling that the personal likes and dislikes of the news reporters were too obvious to be missed. They appeared to have assumed the role of crusaders against the State Government from day one. It coloured the entire operation of newsgathering, feature writing and editorials.

Conclusions 1 to 4 above are indicators as to why our national media, ever afraid to criticise the Muslim and ever ready to indulge in BJP/Hindu bashing, bypassed the Justice Tewatia Report, despite its high credentials and the fact that it was publicly released at a press conference in New Delhi. After all, our ‘secular’ national media simply could not have tolerated giving even a line to report’s conclusion 5 above. Hence, they simply buried the whole report itself, put a blindfold on the country vision of it. After all, they had found their Hindu-bashing agenda in the post-Godhra riots and they were hell-bent in pushing it full steam, right up to the Supreme Court and beyond to the United Nations.

Will the criminal conviction of 16 by two separate sessions judges in Ahmedabad remove the blindfold on Godhra that the ‘monster media’ put on the people of this country?

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