Images of corpse filled trains are so potent a symbol in India because they inevitably conjure up the actual and inscribed memories of Partition, when trains from either side of what became India and Pakistan would arrive with dead bodies. The burning of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on the morning of February 27 is destined to become an intrinsic part of a new 21st century partition narrative, unless something can be done to stop the poison spreading.
The Sabarmati Express had been full of karsevaks on their way back from Ayodhya. They had gone to help construct a Ram temple on the site of the Babri Masjid, which an earlier generation of karsevaks had demolished ten years ago. And now some of them were being brought back dead, burnt alive in a horrifying and gruesome attack, by a Muslim mob just outside Godhra station.
It took a day for organised 'retaliation' to begin. 28 February and 1 March were declared 'Gujarat Bandh' and 'Bharat Bandh' respectively. The Bandh, it turns out, was only for law abiding citizens - VHP and Bajrang Dal mobs had full control over the streets. Rumours and falsities abounded, including some which were given the authority of newspaper headlines. The Sandesh, for example, 'reported' on 28 February that the attacking Muslims had abducted Hindu women from the train. A day later, it an-nounced that the raped and mutilated bodies of two of these women had been found in Kalol near Godhra. The VHP and its supporters circulated these newspaper accounts around the state in order to incite and justify one of the worst communal carnages in India's recent history.
Official figures of the dead stand at roughly 950 till early May. These continue to rise as the 'missing' slowly get acknowledged as dead. Unoffi-cial figures stand at over 2000. Death statistics do not take into account those injured, assaulted, those whose houses have been burnt and families affected by the killing of the breadwinner. Attacks on Muslims took place in 19 districts of Gujarat, and were particularly intense in 10 districts along the north east-south west axis. As the still mounting statistics of lost lives and property show, the official use of the word 'riot', evoking images of group clashes, is not just wrong but a deliberate effort to obfuscate the issue. What happened was a systematic effort to terrorise Muslims and reduce them to the status of second class citizens by taking away their lives, livelihood and shelter. It was a genocide that was almost unprec-edented in its spread and intensity, the degree of organisation and atten-tion to detail, and the extent to which representatives of the state partici-pated in the attacks.
PUDR sent a fact-finding team in early April 2002 to investigate into the violence in Gujarat and its implications for the rights of citizens. A number of teams had by then already investigated and reported on the.2 large-scale and brutal massacres of Muslims, particularly in Ahmadabad and Vadodara. Several reports had also covered the Godhra incident. We visited the Godhra Railway Station and the burnt compartment, and spoke to officials and survivors from S6, and also two relief camps in Ahmadabad. However our team chose to concentrate on the rural areas and small towns in six affected districts which had been relatively less investigated. We met a cross section of victims in 21 relief camps in the districts of Panchmahals, Dahod, Mahesana, Sabarkantha, Anand, Kheda, Ahmadabad (city), and also visited villages where attacks had occurred in some areas. In Ahmadabad city and Gandhinagar, we briefly visited a few camps and met officials, journalists, lawyers. The team interviewed many officials -Secretary Revenue (in charge of relief and rehabilitation), Gujarat; the DGP, Gujarat; the SPs of Panchmahals, Kheda and Sabarkantha; the Col-lectors of Anand, Sabarkantha and Panchmahals; the Station Superintend-ent, Godhra and many local police and revenue officials. The team also met people from various walks of life, representatives of traders associations and the chambers of commerce, representatives of the VHP and Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and the NGOs assisting in relief work.
As we go to press, the focus of national attention has shifted away from Gujarat to the possibility of war with Pakistan. Yet, the situation in Gujarat continues to be tense, with sporadic reports of communal violence coming in. Religious communities are completely polarized. More importantly, Muslims in Gujarat live in a continuing state of fear, with none of their basic rights as citizens or humans met. This report is an attempt to under-stand and explain how some of these basic rights have been violated and to highlight not just the role of communal organizations like the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP, but the fundamentally discriminatory nature of state action both at the time and after.