India: A Blind Eye to Bigotry
- Five years on, those behind the Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom are still
running the state
A BLIND EYE TO BIGOTRY
Five years ago this week, across the Indian state of Gujarat, the
stormtroopers of the Hindu right, decked in saffron sashes and armed
with swords, tridents, sledgehammers and liquid gas cylinders,
launched a pogrom against the local Muslim population. They looted and
torched Muslim-owned businesses, assaulted and murdered Muslims, and
gang-raped and mutilated Muslim women. By the time the violence
spluttered to a halt, about 2,500 Muslims had been killed and about
200,000 driven from their homes.
The pogrom was distinguished not only by its ferocity and sadism
(foetuses were ripped from the bellies of pregnant women, old men
bludgeoned to death) but also by its meticulous advance planning. The
leaders used mobile phones to coordinate the movement of an army of
thousands through densely populated areas, targeting Muslim properties
with the aid of computerised lists and electoral rolls provided by
Much of the violence unfolded with the full collaboration of the
police. In some cases, police fired at Muslims seeking to flee the
mobs. When asked to help a group of girls being raped on the roof of a
building, police officers demurred, explaining: "They have been given
24 hours to kill you." Subsequent investigations confirmed that police
knew in advance of the pogrom and had been instructed not to interfere
Indian and global human rights organisations have singled out
Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata party
(BJP), as the principal culprit. As a result of his alleged complicity
in mass murder, he was denied a visa to the US and cannot visit
Britain for fear of arrest.
Yet Modi remains chief minister and has become not only the BJP's most
popular figurehead, but also a poster boy for big business, foreign
and domestic. Gujarat, which contains 5% of India's population, now
boasts 18% of its investment and 21% of its exports. At this year's
Vibrant Gujarat conclave, the showpiece of the BJP regime, the great
names of Indian capitalism - Ambani, Birla, Tata - sang Modi's
praises, echoed by delegations from Singapore, Europe and the US.
Anxieties about dealing with a politician accused of genocide have
been allayed by the appeal of Gujarat's corporation-friendly
environment, not least its labour laws, which give employers
hire-and-fire rights unique in India.
Five years on, Muslims in Gujarat still live in fear. About 50,000
remain in refugee camps. Most of the cases filed by victims of the
violence have never been investigated. Witnesses have been
intimidated. No more than a dozen low-level culprits have been
convicted. None of the major conspirators has been brought before the
The events of 2002 did not conform to the paradigm of the war on
terror, in which India was a prize ally, so never achieved the infamy
in the west they deserved. An array of interests - in New Delhi,
London and Washington - is dedicated to ensuring the atrocity is
consigned to oblivion. For them, the release of Parzania, a feature
film centred on the violence, is an uncomfortable development. Despite
dramatic flaws, it accurately depicts the savagery of the anti-Muslim
violence, its planned, coordinated character, and the complicity of
the police and the state government. Cinemas in Gujarat, under
pressure from the Hindu right, are refusing to screen the film.
If and when Parzania reaches audiences here and in the US, it will
offer a necessary counter-tale to the fashionable fable of the Indian
neoliberal miracle, exposing the brutality and bigotry that have gone
hand in hand with zooming growth rates and hi-tech triumphalism.
· Mike Marqusee writes a column for the Hindu; his most recent book is
Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s.
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