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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
Sukhsar (Taluka : Fatehpura)
The majority of Muslims in Sukhsar belong to the Ghanchi community. Prior to the beginning of this round of anti-Muslim attacks, there were 605 people belonging to the Ghanchi community living in Sukhsar, with a total of 110 buildings, and 70 people belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community, with a total of 14 buildings. Sukhsar had sawmills and brick making bhattis owned by Muslim people.
No communal incidents had ever occurred in Sukhsar prior to February 28th. People also reported living without discrimination before. However, from 1992 onwards, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal had been distributing saffron flags at various meetings and been distributing provocative (anti-Muslim) literature to surrounding areas. This affected business and the general attitude of Dalits, tribals and other working class people toward Muslims.
One month before the Godhra incident, preparations were visibly underway to spread fear about Muslims doing business in surrounding area, and about purposeful communal fights taking place. Under the pretext of sudden Godhra massacre after 27th February, 2002, on 28th Feb. 2002 morning, when the VHP had called a Gujarat-wide bandh, Durgavahini, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad had gathered Dalits and tribals and in the evening around 5 pm they started breaking and looting shops, buildings, vehicles and then set them on fire in the bus stand area. Muslims in the area feared attack at night.
Between 28th February and 1st of March, Muslim leaders made at least 300 phone calls to collector and the DSP, to ask for protection. On 1st March people went and personally met the Mamlatdaar and the Police Inspector. The PSI had recently been transferred to the area. One interview respondent claimed that this was significant, as the previous PSI would have been opposed to these attacks, and would have done more to protect the Muslim community in the town.
On 1st March 2002, at 12.30 in the morning around 5000-6000 Dalits and tribals who were instigated against Muslims surrounded the Muslim basti, which has mostly properly built cement houses and saw mills, and three entry points. The residents of the basti were frightened by this sudden attack and asked for police protection. The police claimed that this violence was happening in all of Gujarat, and said `so how can we give you protection?" and "we were given commands by Gujarat government not to give any kind of protection to Muslims."
Muslim community members pleaded for the second time for help but local police refused to give protection. On further persuasion, the police came to the basti and aimed their guns at the people inside. People in the basti were told to keep quiet and let the mob do what they wanted, as they were given orders not to take any steps against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. They were further ordered by the government to shoot those Muslims who take any action. On continuation of the attack by the mob, identified as having been mobilized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, residents of the basti became frightened and ran for shelter to the concrete buildings in the area.
All three entry points to the basti were blocked off by the mobs. They had come in trucks and tempos. They were shouting `kill the Muslims' (`Muslim ko maro') and other slogans. Around 1.00 p.m., the mob first burnt Neel Kamal Saw Mill, and then Haruni Saw Mill. The Masjid was also destroyed. Police were present during these incidents; they watched the violence but did not intervene. The mob seemed to have a very clear division of labour. There were around 40 people who were continuously firing. When a gun would run out of ammunition, it would be passed to someone in a waiting truck whose job was only to reload used weapons and hand newly loaded weapons to people who were firing. People had both machine manufactured revolvers and `kata' rifles.
Another group in the mob was mainly involved in looting and setting structures on fire. They had pouches of chemicals, which they would throw to start the fires. One jeep contained all the material for setting fires. Evidence of these chemicals could be seen in burnt buildings more than a month later, as white powdery residue in pools of black oily liquid on the cement and stone floors. People were seen in the mobs carrying mobile telephones, and were observed coordinating their activities. People from Muslim households kept running from the mob and gathering in various houses for safety. By 2.30 p.m. it was very clear that the Muslims being attacked would have to leave the village. By then, police were openly encouraging the crowd to attack by shouting "Muslim ko Maro, Kato!"
By 4.00 p.m., everyone in the Muslim basti gathered in one household. There were approximately 600 non-Bohra Muslims and 35 Bohras present there. The burning and looting continued around them, forcing them to leave this house as well. At night, the mob tried to break open shops and buildings, looted, and set fires to kill people. People became terrified of such killer attacks and notified the sarpanch. The sarpanch, who is a tribal, supported them, called a member of parliament, and described the situation. The MP told the sarpanch to send all the Muslims of Sukhsar to the nearby village of Kundala.
At midnight, they left for Kundala in two cars provided by the sarpanch, and two cars belonging to Muslim community which had survived the carnage. These four cars were used to make many trips to Kundala, where they were hidden for three days. People kept hiding at various places, as the journey to Kundala was full of hazards. On 2nd March 2002 the entire basti of Sukhsar reached Kundala by 10 am. In order to save their lives, people left behind all their property, jewelry and cash. Two women were injured and died in the process.
The looting and burning continued on 2nd, 3rd and 4th of March. On the 5th of March, the BSF arrived and did a flag march, and shifted all the people to the Jhalod relief camp under police escort. The Jhalod camp was opened on March 6th. Many people were reunited with their family members in the camp. The two women who died enroute to Kundala were also carried to Jhalod relief camp and buried there. People from Sukhsar stayed in the Jhalod camp for almost one month.
It was reported that 5 to 7 women were sexually assaulted, but no one in the community was willing to talk about it openly. Usually the report was given in such a way as to convey that, yes, sexual assaults did take place, but the assaults happened in other places, not in Sukhsar itself.
On the 10th of March, an officer-cum-minister of Sukhsar and circle inspector of Fatehpura came to Jhalod to inform people that their buildings and property had been totally destroyed in this violence. Everything had been looted and burnt. The officer-cum-minister of Sukhsar and circle inspector of Fatehpura noted down information from people living in the Jhalod camp, acquired the judgment of arbitrators, gathered separate facts of the damage, and made a list.
The damage calculated was around Rs.6,55,66,303 on 10th March 2002. Approximately 80 permanent structures had been destroyed, roughly 40% of all structures in the town. Religious places like Masjids and madarasas were also damaged and there were anti-Muslim graffiti and orange flags on the buildings. People report having spent one month living in fear in the Jhalod camp. Out of 178 cases, 110 were given Rs. 1250 and for property Rs. 1000 accordingly. The rest have not been paid anything.
People claim that, when they applied for remuneration for destroyed, stolen and damaged property, the government did an unjust survey of the buildings. As they were living in Jhalod camp, they received Rs. 10,000 - 15000. In 2-4 cases, they were paid Rs. 25,000-40,000 just to show off. Only in 2 cases, people were paid Rs. 50,000. Against 84 buildings people were given money only for 50 buildings. As with the pattern of remuneration for these attacks, people were generally compensated far below what the replacement costs will be for all property damaged or destroyed in these attacks.
Muslims in the area own roughly 72 shops, and have submitted evidences about them, but are facing discrimination in receiving full remuneration. Small businesses have not been listed, and though there were repeated attempts to have them listed. People felt discriminated against by the Hindu surveyors because of instances such as this. Though the damage incurred is in the region of lakhs and crores, the government has paid only up to Rs. 50,000. A government officer told members of this community that even if a person owns any number of houses or property on record, the government has declared only Rs. 50,000 as remuneration. According to Hindu law, if a father is alive and he is very aged and his inheritors are staying with him and the property is in one name then government will give remuneration as if losses were incurred by only one person.
People from the community maintain that "We would like to put our demand for giving remuneration to all those who lost their property in burning or looting. Even now also antisocial elements such as Durgavahini, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal are instigating tribals to damage the property of minority and to kill them. Police also knows about it but government is not taking any steps.
"If our stolen goods are in our area then police can harass them and get back our things. Police can arrest the criminals and punish them but under government rule it can hardly do anything. We see our stolen goods lying with them yet on complaining police scolds us in return. If we want to live at the same place government will have to take upon our responsibility and provide safety to us so that we can live here peacefully.
"The loss incurred in our businesses should be remunerated as early as possible by the government then only we can start our business and live a normal life. And this should be done without the interference of the related officials, straight to the affected party as middle worker acts communally. This is our demand to the government. Police should do their work properly and should not harass Muslims. We are expecting an order from court regarding the issue of our safety. On the one hand we are affected by communal riots and the faulty justice system brings additional mental stress. Today many Muslims are in jail captured under false charges, government should punish the criminals to avoid another Gujarat carnage."
After living in Jhalod camp for more than a month and after many pleadings in front of related officers, people were given an order to initiate the Sukhsar relief camp on 5th April. They were rehabilitated at Sukhsar camp under the escort of 20 S.R.P., the collector, province officer and a member of parliament. They were provided with one week's rations by the office of the Mamlatdaar, following the government rule. People in Sukhsar have experienced many difficulties regarding receiving enough food rations; even on complaining to the government officers, no one has responded. People were informed that they would be provided ration till only 31st May, 2002. One person stated, "Now if government does not provide ration to us, we will be starved to death. As we are Muslims even government workers behave with communal discrimination. Our demand from the government is allowing the camps to function till 30th December, 2002. Government is not ready to listen to our plea. It has not taken into account our plea."
The Sukhsar camp consists of the cleaned-up remaining portion of a house. Walls have been smashed in, and portions of the roof are missing, as in all of the Muslim structures in the town. The destruction pattern is common across all the villages in Dahod. In every house the damage means complete destruction. Beside looting anything of value in the house, electrical wiring, meters, switch boards, lights, fans, water pipes, taps, grills windows , doors, and even window and door frames and finally the roof all are missing. Also these houses have been further burnt. Some places even walls have been destroyed using dynamite.
All members of the Muslim community are staying in the camp. In the first week of May, approximately 350 people were staying in the camp itself. Others were with relatives, or in camps in other parts of Dahod. From the 6th to 16th of April, people came at night and fired guns into the air near the relief camp. On the 16th of April, after people in the camp had eaten their evening meal, Hindus began throwing stones at people in the camp. Some people came in a Maruti van, stopped next to the SRP, the police camp set up outside the relief camp, and fired 8-10 rounds inside the camp. Three boys from the camp were injured in this incident. Again, police were witness to this, but did nothing to prevent or stop it from happening.
This news was sent to the collector of Dahod, the D.S.P. of Dahod and to the Mamlatdaar of Fatehpura. The D.S.P. and the Mamlatdaar arrived at the scene at night and sent the injured people immediately for the treatment. Next day at 10 am in the morning, an F.I.R. was lodged about the incident.
The Muslim community in Sukhsar is too frightened even to name the people who led the violence. They know the names, but have not given them names in the FIRs due to fear of further violence. People are aware, however, that amongst the people leading the violent mobs were a well known doctor, who had been practicing medicine in the village, and at least three other Hindu men of good standing in the village, all owning allegiance to the VHP and Bajrang Dal. All the property looted could be found in Sukhsar itself, besides in the villages of Sagada Pada, Ingala, Margala, and Natwa (all in the periphery of 3-4 kms from Sukhsar.)
In addition to their demand for fair remuneration for their property, and justice for all who were injured, raped, and murdered in their community, people in Sukhsar are demanding international pressure "so that others can hear our voices."