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Genocide in Rural Gujarat: The Experience of Dahod District
A report prepared by
Forum Against oppression of Women and Aawaaz-E-Niswaan
Bombay, June 2002
The pattern of destruction in Dahod District
Many of the members of our teams have dealt with "riot" situations earlier, especially during the Bombay Riots in 1992 and 1993. In our work within Vadodara, we had visited many affected areas in and around the city as well. But in none of our experiences prior to these visits to Dahod, had we encountered such determined, single minded, and targeted violence and destruction. The numbers of the killed alone do not perhaps tell the whole story. Each and every Muslim house and shop has been completely destroyed in many small villages. Small dargahs and Masjids along the roads have either been blasted away or burnt and razed to the ground. Even small isolated dargahs atop small hillocks have been smashed into ruin. The ruins of these houses, shops, dargahs, madarasas, farms, gardens and trees are testimony to an intensely planned and executed campaign of destruction.
We were aware of the systematic organising of the tribals by the Sangh Parivar in this region and also of the attacks on the Christian missionaries working with the tribals in these parts of the state. Our conversations with the residents of different villages and towns highlighted how seriously this organising had been going on for the past few years and how that it was also intensified in the past few months. Poisoning the minds of the tribals against the Muslims and including them in the new found intolerant Hindu fold seemed to be the agenda here. The landscape dotted profusely with freshly painted well maintained temples and the fluttering saffron, white and blue flags atop all of them, bore testimony to this rising presence of the Hindutva-vadis in this region.
When we went around the rural areas in Dahod and spoke to people in the camps, what struck us further was the absolutely consistent pattern in which the entire destruction was carried out. The landscape and the narratives corroborated each other. It was as though the destructive mobs (in thousands) in different geographical areas across tens and hundreds of kilometres were executing well formulated instructions in unison.
The timing of attacks:
Most of the attacks started on the 28th February, day of the bandh call given by the Sangh Parivar (which included the usual BJP, RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc. but also had some new names like Jai Yogeshwar) or on the 1st March, the day of the Bharat bandh. On this first day the attacks were on the houses and business establishments of the Muslim community, which were either in the Hindu dominated areas like the market places or on the outskirts of the village. This was almost the warning message or warming up activity for what was to follow. Not much damage was done and the mobs were not large.
In most places marking of the Hindu houses amongst Muslim bastis, using saffron flags or pictures of Ram and Hanuman or with crosses was also done at this time in most places. Some places have also reported that this marking was done even a few days before the 27th of February.
In most places the attacks started in the afternoon, driving Muslim people out of their homes. From 1st to 3rd March, till the people could reach some safe place, in all the affected villages Muslims were forced to leave taking nothing with them. In every village people tried to gather in the Masjid or the few concrete houses that belonged to Muslims. These were also attacked and set on fire in many places. Most people managed to flee in some vehicles or on foot. In all cases these people were chased, and attacked, even when they were in vehicles. Trees were felled on the roads to obstruct the people who were trying to get away from the frenzied armed mob. Wherever the fleeing people were caught by the mobs they were murdered, burnt, women were verbally and physically sexually assaulted.
Although in many villages people managed to escape and reach "safer" places, many people were also killed and sometimes dismembered and completely burnt. Many women were stripped naked and repeatedly sexually assaulted by mobs. Some of the dead bodies have not been found. Some people died while fleeing and were finally buried only when a "safe" place for the living (and the dead) was found.
The profile of the attackers:
The mobs arrived in vehicles trucks, tempos, Jeeps, Marutis. The attacking mobs were led and directed by local Hindu community leaders belonging to Sangh Parivar. These leaders were using mobile phones, while the attacks were being carried on. These were the people that were identified by the Muslim survivors and who have been named in the complaints sent or FIRs recorded.
The second kind of group, had all the weapons, guns, trishuls, swords, arsenals, petrol, diesel, kerosene and chemicals for starting fires. They had vehicles, which were loaded with chemicals and weapons. This was the group, which was primarily responsible for the brutal burning deaths, the sexual assaults and other abuses. In more than one village, the Muslim survivors described that these men carried identical backpacks from which they took out pouches of chemicals. The planning was so complete that there was a different group that only did the task of loading the guns.
The third group mostly indulged in looting property from the houses and shops. This group in many cases consisted of Adivasis.
The mobs were very large in number, in thousands, and not always recognisable. There were some known faces in the crowd but many seemed to be outsiders. In some villages people said that not all of those who came in the mob spoke Gujarati. Some of them were also speaking in Marathi and Hindi.
The carnage and destruction of property:
All the Masjids, dargahs, madarasas and, in some places, churches were completely damaged, burned. Obscenities and statements like, "Hindustan is for Hindus, Muslims should go to Pakistan", were written on the walls. Names like "Ram and Hanuman" were written on whatever walls remained and saffron flags were hoisted on them. All the property around, including gardens and wells, were damaged.
The destruction of property across this entire region is so thorough and precise in all cases that it does not leave ground but to conclude that this was a pre-planned, well directed, thoroughly coordinated operation carried out in military like precision. Every single household and business establishment belonging to the Muslim community was looted and burnt in most villages such as Sanjeli, Sukhsar, Piplod, Fatehpura.
Once the Muslim residents of the villages fled to safer spaces, the mobs looted and then burnt the houses and shops at leisure. In many villages it has been reported that houses were being burnt until as late as the 10th or the 13th of March, in some instances, even later. There was no damage whatsoever to the marked Hindu houses. In Sanjeli the saffron flags are still there and it is also quite evident how the attacks and destruction was done in a way that the Hindu houses were not damaged. In another village, the adjoining Hindu houses were first sawed away from the Muslim houses and then the latter were set on fire.
In every structure be it a house or a shop:
Every door, window, window frame, grills, electric wiring, water pipes, taps, switch boards, electric meters, every movable property, even the roof is missing. There were traces of chemical powders used even when we visited these villages. Every place has been burnt completely. In places even walls have been broken down. In many places there are naked, burnt, bare walls remaining. The places look as though they have been bombed. Even bore-wells have been damaged/blocked. Every single big tree, including all fruit bearing trees have been cut down. It has been made sure that there would be no sign of life anywhere.
In most places, the looting and the destruction of property went on for days after the people ran away from the villages. People claim that many of their goods are still present in the village in the Hindu households but no attempt has been made by the State to look for them.
Role of the police and the State during the attack:
In all cases right from the day of the bandh, the Muslim community had approached the Collector and the police authorities for protection again and again; but this was never provided. In some places, like in Sanjeli, the people could be brought to a safe place only due to the intervention by a DSP but nowhere was there any attempt made to arrest the attackers or to stop them from violence. In Fatehpura, although people finally sought refuge in the police station and were protected there for more than thirty six hours, the police did nothing in terms of providing even food or water and in fact finally asked people to leave as they could not be assured safety even in the police station.
In fact, the pattern of attack is so similar throughout the region, that in many villages it was said that the large mob was preceded by the policemen from the village who came to the Muslim areas and said that there was a curfew and so people should get inside their houses. Immediately after this round by the police, a large mob followed. While the arson and attack was going on, the police even told the people from Muslim community that they had orders to not shoot at the Hindus and so they could just remain mute spectators.
Most people from all the villages managed to somehow reach the larger towns like Jhalod, Dahod, Godhra, Santrampur and Baria, where the people from the Muslim community itself looked after them in camps and in most of these places, the camps are still running.