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India: Muslims Ruled Innocent of Train Fire AccusationWhich Caused Hindu Rioting

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    Radical thinking By Jo Johnson March 30 2007 The Financial Times, UK Shortly before 8am on February 27 2002, a fire broke out on the Sabarmati Express as it
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 8, 2007
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      Radical thinking
      By Jo Johnson
      March 30 2007
      The Financial Times, UK

      Shortly before 8am on February 27 2002, a fire broke out on the
      Sabarmati Express as it pulled out of Godhra, a town prone to
      religious violence in the Indian state of Gujarat. Many of the
      passengers were Hindu pilgrims returning from a ceremony called
      Chetavani Yatra. Rescuers pulled 58 bodies out of carriage S-6, all
      of them charred beyond recognition. An official report, published
      four years later, in 2006, concluded that the blaze had been an
      accident, but at the time it was blamed on Muslim youths, who were
      accused of throwing petrol-bombs at the saffron-clad pilgrims.

      The blood-letting started the next morning and continued until early
      May, leaving about 2,500 Muslims murdered. Armed with knives,
      firebombs and sharpened ceremonial tridents, and guided by electoral
      rolls that revealed the location of Muslim homes, mobs began to move
      across the state. �What ensued was a ghastly sight the like of
      which, since bleeding partition days, no Indian eye had seen,�
      wrote Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, in a report by the Tribunal of
      Concerned Citizens, an independent body composed mostly of retired
      �Hindutva barbarians came out on the streets ... and, in all
      flaming fury, targeted innocent and helpless Muslims. They were
      brutalised by miscreants uninhibited by the police; their women were
      unblushingly molested; and Muslim men, women and children, in a
      travesty of justice, were burnt alive. The chief minister, oath-
      bound to defend law and order, vicariously connived at the inhuman
      violence and some of his ministers even commanded the macabre acts
      of horror.�

      The first to suffer were the largely middle-class inhabitants of a
      housing complex called the Gulberg Society in the Chamanpura
      district of central Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat. The
      centre of an Indian commercial city saw a medieval and macabre dance
      of death, humiliation and revenge, reported the Tribunal in its
      account of the pogrom, Crime Against Humanity, which was based on
      2,094 statements taken from survivors.

      By 10am, a mob of between 20,000 and 25,000 people had surrounded
      the Gulberg Society, where many had fled to shelter in the home of
      Ahsan Jafri, an influential trade unionist and former MP from the
      Congress party. In his desperation, Jafri made over 200 calls for
      help that day. During earlier bouts of violence in Ahmedabad, he had
      been able to protect his community, but not this time. At 2.30pm,
      the politician was dragged out of his house, slashed with swords
      until his limbs were severed, and then set alight. Around 70 others
      from the Gulberg Society died with him that day.

      A series of investigations by the Tribunal of Concerned Citizens, by
      India’s National Human Rights Commission and by Human Rights Watch
      in New York later accused two Hindu extremist groups, the Vishwa
      Hindu Parishad and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, of masterminding
      the massacres. Numerous human rights groups, including HRW, argued
      that the state government, led by Narendra Modi, a senior figure in
      the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had been
      wilfully deficient in its response.

      For the millions of Muslims whose families opted to stay behind in
      India at the time of partition, preferring life within the secular
      federal republic promised by Jawaharlal Nehru to the safety of the
      newly created Muslim homeland in Pakistan, it was a betrayal of
      trust. â€�It was the first full-blooded pogrom in India’s
      independent history,� says Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of
      political science at the University of Michigan. �It was driven by
      hatred and ideologically charged.�

      Modi’s approach to the riots may have helped him solidify his
      electoral base ahead of that year’s state elections. â€�For every
      action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,� he said. The
      machinery of justice, to the extent it was used at all, was stacked
      against Muslims, who accounted, perversely, for the vast majority of
      those arrested. Human Rights Watch alleged that the government of
      Gujarat had systematically obstructed efforts to bring the
      perpetrators to justice.

      Police refused to file reports for the missing, let alone arrest
      suspects. Witnesses who came forward to identify attackers were
      harassed, threatened or bribed into turning hostile on the witness
      stand, or simply into not showing up when the case went to trial.
      Only Muslims who withdrew their testimony were allowed to return to
      their neighbourhoods. For four years, impunity prevailed. Only in
      early 2006, following the exasperated intervention of the Supreme
      Court in New Delhi, was there some token progress, with the
      conviction, by a Mumbai court, of nine people for the murder of 14
      Muslims who had taken refuge in a bakery.

      �Gujarat was a turning point,� says Sayeed Khan, a social worker
      with political ambitions who runs Muslim Youth of India, a Mumbai-
      based group that is battling against the radicalisation of the
      country’s young Muslims. â€�After Gujarat, young Muslims started
      asking themselves: ’Why are they killing us just for being Muslims?
      ’... All over India, there are youths who think there should be
      revenge. And they’re ready to do whatever it takes.â€�

      In the past 18 months, India has been lashed by a wave of terror
      attacks outside the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, the main
      battleground for Islamic militants waging a jihad against Indian
      �occupation�. Some see a pattern emerging. It started in October
      2005, on the eve of the Hindu holiday of Diwali and the Muslim
      festival of Eid, when bombs exploded in markets across Delhi,
      killing 62 and injuring 210. It continued in March 2006, when blasts
      in Varanasi, a city holy to Hindus, killed 15 and injured 60.

      The following month, explosions at Delhi’s main mosque, the Jama
      Masjid, injured 13. Thirty-five Kashmiri Hindu villagers were shot
      dead in May. Then, on July 11, a date that has become known as
      India’s 9/11, terror struck Mumbai, with seven bombs hitting the
      commuter train network, the backbone of the city’s transport
      system, killing 209 and injuring more than 700. In September, blasts
      in Malegaon, a town in Maharashtra prone to communal violence,
      killed 37 Muslims as they left a mosque after Friday prayers.

      And then on February 18 this year, as the five-year anniversary of
      the Godhra train attack approached, terrorists placed kerosene bombs
      linked to sophisticated timers on an overnight train from Delhi to
      the Pakistani city of Lahore. Six minutes before midnight, as the
      Samjhauta Express travelled through late-winter wheat fields north-
      west of Delhi, two firebombs exploded inside denim-clad briefcases,
      causing an inferno in carriages packed with slumbering passengers
      that left 69 dead.

      The catalogue of atrocities demands explanation. Why is India, a
      country that prides itself on its democratic safety valves and
      vibrant political system, proving so vulnerable to terrorism? Indian
      authorities have in almost every instance laid the blame on Pakistan-
      based militant groups, citing their opposition to a peace process
      that would end the jihad. Ajai Shukla, a leading security affairs
      analyst in New Delhi, says India is looking for scapegoats beyond
      its borders.

      �While external support certainly fans the flames of disaffection,
      terrorism increasingly springs from radicalised elements within
      India that have not been able to address issues by other means,�
      says Shukla. â€�Besides the disaffection in India’s north-eastern
      states and in Kashmir, Gujarat is now becoming a fertile recruiting
      ground for terrorist cells. Setting up terrorist cells has been made
      wonderfully simple by poor law-and-order enforcement and lax
      financial regulation that allows criminal groups to flourish and
      terrorist groups to ride piggyback on them.�

      This tendency to blame the �foreign hand� also ignores the
      assessment that even sophisticated Pakistan-based militant groups
      are likely to be dependent on local terror cells to carry out their
      attacks. �After the Mumbai blasts, there is now no doubt that
      there are terror cells in India,� says Varshney. �That kind of
      attack cannot be undertaken without a deep local knowledge of Mumbai
      and without serious local co-operation, whether paid for or
      ideologically motivated.�

      Academics believe the roots of India’s worsening terrorism problem
      can be found in a complex fusion of greed and grievance. While an
      unscrupulous criminal underworld plays an important part in
      facilitating and carrying out terror attacks, that is just part of
      the story. Despite three years of turbo-charged growth, there are
      still hundreds of millions living in abject poverty, with next to no
      stake in this newly wealthy and self-confident society. Some,
      inevitably, succumb to the blandishments of recruiters from the
      country’s myriad insurgencies and extremist movements.

      Unless these underlying causes of India’s susceptibility to
      terrorism are addressed, India’s path to superpowerdom will be
      bumpier than almost everyone now predicts. In that context, the
      successful integration of India’s Muslim population has strategic
      significance for the subcontinent and for the political west. The
      Muslim community, although far from monolithic, forms the second
      largest religious group in the country and represents just under 14
      per cent of the 1.1 billion population.

      In global terms, India has the largest Muslim population after
      Indonesia and Pakistan. By the time its population stabilises,
      sometime in the middle of this century, demographers expect it to
      number between 320 and 340 million, and its share of the total
      population, by then 1.7 billion, to be almost 19 per cent. India’s
      success as a society will, to a considerable extent, depend on it
      reversing a worrying trend towards radicalisation in certain
      sections of that population.

      Many take this for granted. Announcing a strategic partnership
      between the US and India last year, George W. Bush, for example,
      repeatedly hailed India as a model for the successful integration of
      a large Muslim population in a secular political framework. In
      recent weeks, however, such complacency should have been punctured
      following the government’s release of a shocking study of how the
      country’s Muslims as a whole have fared since independence.

      Commissioned by the prime minister and produced by a committee
      chaired by Rajinder Sachar, a former justice of the Delhi High
      Court, the report presents a sharp counterpoint to perceptions of
      India as a stable, inclusive and multicultural society. Of all the
      groups yet to benefit from India’s spectacular recent growth - set
      to hit 9.2 per cent this year - none, apart from so-called dalits
      (once known as �untouchables�) and tribals, have fared as poorly
      as Muslims.

      �Muslims in India have this sense of being degraded,� says
      Sarfaraz Arzu, editor and publisher of The Hindustan Daily,
      Mumbai’s oldest Urdu-language newspaper during an interview in his
      office on the first floor of a crumbling building near Mohammed Ali
      Road. â€�They’re not getting their share of the national pie. They
      see things whizzing past them at high speed. They see growth in all
      sectors, but are untouched by this growth. They are not the only
      section of society untouched by this growth, but they are excluded
      because of their identification as a distinct religious group, which
      means, in simple terms, that they’re targeted for what they are.â€�

      Moreover, in a world ever more connected by cable television and
      internet chatrooms, the community’s feeling of vicarious
      victimhood is also growing. Arzu has devoted the day’s front page
      to violent protests around the world against Israeli excavations
      near the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site.
      Later that day, there will be anti-Israeli demonstrations in the
      Azad maidan, a triangular field in south Mumbai used for cricket
      matches and political rallies.

      India’s 140 million Muslims are divided along class, caste and
      sectarian lines, with sociologists describing their relationship to
      the rest of Indian society as one of �upper class inclusion and
      mass exclusion�. A small elite - typified by the Khans that rule
      Bollywood, the aristocratic Nawabs and businessmen such as Azim
      Premji, chairman of Wipro, a leading software group - thrives in the
      new India, while the masses, mostly low-caste converts from
      Hinduism, face marginalisation.

      The Sachar committee found that India’s Muslims, constantly
      battling perceptions that they are �anti-national�,
      �unpatriotic� and �belong in Pakistan�, are reluctantly
      withdrawing or being pushed into ghettos. Markers of their identity,
      such as the burkah, the purdah, the beard and the topi, a Muslim
      cap, invite ridicule and harassment. Bearded men find that they are
      routinely picked up for interrogation, hijab-wearing women that they
      struggle to find jobs.

      Sachar notes that many Muslims are unable to buy or rent property in
      the area of their choice and find their children rejected from good
      schools. This has contributed to the sharp growth in the number of
      madrassas. The phenomenon should not be exaggerated: just 4 per cent
      of Muslim school-age children now attend full-time madrassas,
      according to Sachar. But in some states, including the populous
      northern state of UP, where more than 7 per cent of Muslim
      schoolchildren are being educated in religious seminaries, madrassas
      are spreading rapidly.

      Behind the green gates of 41 Mohammed Ali Road is the Minara Masjid
      complex, where 450 young Muslim men aged between 12 and 25 live and
      study at the madrassa attached to the mosque. �There has been a
      100 per cent increase in the number of madrassas in India over the
      last five years,� says Syed Ather Ali, principal of the madrassa,
      which provides students with lodging, board, books and medical care.
      Students pass their days translating and memorising the Koran and
      their nights sleeping on mats in a number of concrete-floored

      The educational system is failing India’s Muslims, whose average
      literacy level was 59.1 per cent in the 2001 census, compared with a
      national average of 65 per cent. While the average child in India
      goes to school for four years, Muslim boys will spend around 36
      months and Muslim girls just over two and a half years. Just 4 per
      cent of Muslims above the age of 20 are graduates or diploma
      holders, compared to 7.4 per cent for the country as a whole.
      Muslims, tellingly, account for 1.3 per cent of students at the
      elite Indian Institutes of Management.

      Poorly educated Muslims generally end up working as self-employed,
      economically vulnerable casual labourers. Relatively few pick up
      coveted salaried jobs, which tend to be monopolised by high-caste
      Hindus. And those Muslims who do receive regular salaries tend to
      occupy the lowest rungs within organisations, with more than 70 per
      cent having no written contract or social security benefits. Poor
      work conditions are also reflected in lower earnings. The proportion
      of Muslims living below the poverty line, at 31 per cent, is higher
      than the 22.7 per cent for the country as a whole.

      Sachar found that Muslims had an �abysmally low� share of prized
      government jobs, accounting for just 3 per cent of posts in the
      Indian Administrative Service, the elite corps of the civil
      bureaucracy, 1.8 per cent of the Indian Foreign Service and 4 per
      cent of the police. They had such a low profile in the military that
      the Ministry of Defence denied Sachar the data. The community is
      only consistently over-represented in the prison population. In
      Maharashtra, for example, Muslims account for more than 40 per cent
      of those jailed for less than a year.

      �This government was brought into power by two forces: the anger
      of the poor and the anger of the Muslims,� says Mobashar Javed
      Akbar in an interview in the New Delhi offices of The Asian Age, a
      newspaper he edits. And although prime minister Manmohan Singh
      provoked an outcry among Hindu nationalists when he promised in
      December to make sure that Muslims and other minorities had �first
      claim on resourcesâ€�, analysts say the government’s lack of
      follow-through may cost the Congress party dearly in the imminent
      elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 31 million Muslims.

      �The root problem is economic,� says M.J. Akbar. �If you look
      at Indian Muslims, their traditional businesses, such as crafts and
      weaving, have been wiped off the economic map, and there has been no
      effort to create jobs in the space stolen from them. And now the
      malls that are coming up across the country are about to eliminate
      their traditional role as suppliers of meat, wiping out another
      large source of employment. The impact of all of this will be 10
      years of serious violence.�

      Of the 700,000 towns and villages in India, the vast majority are
      free from communal conflict from one year to the next. But the
      potential for such violence is a terrifying underlying reality.
      Communal violence left 40,000 dead and injured between 1950 and
      1995, according to research by academics Steven Wilkinson and
      Ashutosh Varshney. The costs of riots have been overwhelmingly borne
      by Muslims, forced to leave their homes, businesses and land for
      sanctuary in safe Muslim areas.

      �Fearing for their security, Muslims are increasingly resorting to
      living in ghettos,� the Sachar report notes. But access to water,
      toilets, electricity, schools, clinics, banks and ration shops is
      often limited or non-existent in Muslim areas. The absence of these
      services affects women in particular because they are reluctant to
      venture beyond the confines of �safe� neighbourhoods to access
      these facilities from elsewhere, with knock-on effects on literacy
      and child health.

      Sofia Khan, a 42-year-old human rights activist, moved to Juhapura,
      a Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad, in the aftermath of the July 2006
      Mumbai commuter train attacks. She says she was hounded out of her
      home after local television stations advised viewers to check out
      their neighbours. �If you talk to the minority community today,
      they’re just pushed into a corner. For us, there’s no ’Vibrant
      Gujarat’ [Modi’s slogan for the state], it’s just violent

      â€�It’s five years now and there’s no sense of remorse in
      society at large, no sense of justice. Overwhelming feelings of
      insecurity and fear, these are our biggest problems. Fear that you
      will be targeted, fear that you will be victimised, fear that there
      will be another backlash. You cannot open your mouth. You cannot
      engage in human rights activities. Many people who were engaged in
      relief work are now in prison.�

      Juhapura is the biggest ghetto in Gujarat, with a population at
      400,000, that increases with every communal riot in the state.
      Disparagingly nicknamed �Little Pakistan� by some Hindus, it is
      on all sides carefully separated from adjacent neighbourhoods by
      empty wastelands that serve as no-man’s-lands separating the two
      largest religious communities. â€�It’s just as if it was a border
      between India and Pakistan,� Khan says.

      From her fourth-floor office, the trained lawyer overlooks a relief
      camp for victims of the 2002 riots. NGOs say as many as 35,000
      remain camped in 81 semi-permanent colonies set up by Islamic relief
      organisations. Access to public services is poor. India is in the
      throes of a telecoms revolution, but Khan’s building in Juhapura
      cannot get the state-controlled service provider to install a
      landline: �There is not a single bank or broadband internet
      connection in the area and you can forget about having a public park
      or a library, those are luxuries.�

      When religious organisations such as the Islamic Relief Committee,
      Jamaat Ulema-e-Hind and Imarat-e-Shariya opened madrassas, they
      filled a vacuum left by the state. One conservative religious
      organisation, Gujarat Sarvajanik Welfare Trust, has set up a relief
      camp at Siddikabad, which has become a semi-permanent home for about
      130 families displaced by the carnage of 2002, some of whom came
      from the Gulberg Society.

      �The government has not done anything for us,� says Mukti P., a
      middle-aged woman carrying water pots, who is so frightened of
      retribution that she requests I do not use her full name.
      �Whatever has been done for us has been done by our own people.�
      Abeda P., 36, who says her husband and daughter died as they hid in
      Jafri’s house, says: â€�When Narendra Modi dies, then there will
      be communal harmony in Gujarat because [alive] he will not allow it
      in the state.�

      Ravi Nair, a human rights activist who runs the South Asian Human
      Rights Documentation Centre, says these relief camps provide
      �cannon fodder for Islamic fundamentalist groups�. His
      assessment finds an echo with Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit
      priest, who was recently honoured by the French government for his
      work promoting religious harmony in Ahmedabad. �The whole ghetto
      is on the boil,� he warns.

      �Hundreds of thousands of Muslims are living in Juhapura without
      access to public banking services, schools, or drinking water.
      We’re pushing an entire community to the brink. One doesn’t need
      a lot of common sense to realise there’s going to be a reaction.
      Forgiveness and reconciliation can only happen in the context of
      justice. Suppose my daughter’s been raped, my only son’s been
      killed, and I can see the person responsible behaving with impunity.
      How then do I bring myself to forgive?"

      That day, Modi and I sit down together. The apostle of Hindutva
      ("Hinduness") has just addressed investors at the "Vibrant Gujarat"
      conference in Gandhinagar. He is an electrifying orator, and the
      global business community cannot get enough of a man in charge of a
      state that expanded by more than 11 per cent last year, making it
      the fastest growing investment hotspot in India.

      The idea of "Hinduness" emerged between the two world wars as an
      alternative to the Gandhian nationalist rhetoric of inclusiveness.
      While Hindu nationalist parties have had to tone down sectarian
      rhetoric to win power by building broad coalitions at national
      level, strident and threatening religious politics are frequently
      found at local level. Since the BJP's defeat in the 2004 national
      elections, Modi has sought to cultivate a less ideological image.

      For the moment, though, he remains something of a pariah within the
      Indian political system, a status that has been reinforced by the
      fact that he has been banned from travelling to the US. In March
      2005, the US State Department publicly denied him a visa, pointing
      in a statement to a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act
      barring entry to any foreign government official who "was
      responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly
      severe violations of religious freedom".

      In his meeting with the FT, Modi wants to talk business, not
      religious politics. Amid increasingly fierce competition between
      Indian states for investment, he has adopted the most can-do
      attitude of all chief ministers. Across the country, the
      government's policy of promoting Special Economic Zones, Chinese-
      style capitalist enclaves, has run into fierce opposition and many
      chief ministers have gone off the idea. But not Modi: "The whole of
      Gujarat is a SEZ," he says. "S stands for spirituality, E for
      entrepreneurialism, and Z for zeal."

      Would he like the US to lift the travel ban? "It is up to them," he
      says without hint of rancour. Asked why Gujarati Muslims feel
      marginalised and excluded from this growth, he shakes his head as if
      to imply a logical impossibility. "This state has constant double-
      digit growth. Would that be possible if 10 per cent of the
      population were excluded? That's my question to the questioners."

      The glib response saddens Rahul Dholakia, the director of Parzania,
      a new film about the Gujarat pogrom that is essential viewing for
      anyone wanting to understand why the events of 2002 continue to have
      such a far-reaching impact on the politics of religious identity in
      India. Based on the true story of a father and mother's tragic hunt
      for their cricket-loving son, Azhar Mody, who was swept up by the
      sword-wielding mob that ransacked the Gulberg Society, it is, at
      times, just too painful to watch.

      The film ends with an appeal: "His parents are still waiting for
      him" - and offers an e-mail address and mobile telephone numbers to
      which information on his whereabouts can be sent. Parzania, which
      has received critical acclaim and met with commercial success, is
      showing in nine Indian cities. But the people who would be best
      placed to help the family are unlikely ever to see it: the Bajrang
      Dal, the Hindu extremist youth group, has seen to it that no cinema
      in Ahmedabad, Gandhi's adoptive town, has yet dared show it.

      Manubhai Patel, the head of Gujarat's multiplex operators'
      association, told Dholakia to seek the permission of a notorious and
      self-professedly violent Bajrang Dal leader by the name of
      Babu "Bajrangi" Patel. Arrested in 2002 following the pogrom, but
      released shortly afterwards, Babu Bajrangi now runs an NGO,
      Navchetan (New Awakening), which forcibly "rescues" Hindu women who
      have been "lured" into relationships with non-Hindu men, and is
      widely loathed in the Muslim community.

      The idea of recognising Bajrangi as a legitimate authority was
      repulsive to Dholakia, a friend of the missing boy's parents, whose
      names were changed for the film. When he refused, the theatre owners
      said they could not show his film. "I can see the anger in the
      Muslim community," Dholakia says. "They will retaliate unless
      they're given a non-violent platform to express their anger at being
      denied justice. They will react in the way they find easiest, which
      is through violence."

      Sixty years ago, on the eve of independence, Nehru, called on his
      countrymen to help him "build the noble mansion of free India where
      all her children may dwell". He declared: "We are citizens of a
      great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up
      to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may
      belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights,
      privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or
      narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are
      narrow in thought or in action."

      His words are as true today as they were then.

      Jo Johnson is the FT's bureau chief in Delhi.



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