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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
This report has been compiled, written and edited jointly by members of Forum Against Oppression of Women and Aawaaz-E-Niswaan, both women's groups from Bombay, over three visits made to the district from 23rd of April to 10th of May, 2002.
This report follows on many other reports, articles, testimonies, etc. on the recent carnage in Gujarat. Much of this information has been extremely detailed and comprehensive, especially with regard to the violence that occurred in urban areas like Ahmedabad and Baroda. This report deals substantively with the violence that occurred in the rural areas of Dahod district, and in the Santrampur Taluka of Panchmahals District. While there are many similarities between urban and rural violence, there are significant differences as well. Part of the reason to bring forth this report is to look into the specificities of the violence in rural areas.
Forum Against Oppression of Women and Aawaaz-E-Niswaan have been working with the Shanti Abhiyan / PUCL in Vadodara since the genocide began. We went to the Panchmahals and from there to Dahod at the behest of the Vadodara activists as there was need for people to work there. We proceeded on leads given to us by the people living in camps in Dahod town to villages like Sanjeli and Fatehpura. On this first visit it became clear that we needed to follow up more consistently to be able to gather adequate information on what had happened in the area and what kind of work could be done with the affected people. Thus the second, third, and more recently, the fourth visits to the district were conducted. We have not documented the fourth visit (May 18 to May 23, 2002) in detail in this report though we have added updates as required.
The first team went to the towns of Dahod, Jhalod, Sanjeli and Fatehpura on the 24th and 25th of April. They found out that they were the first outsiders to reach camps in places such as Fatehpura or Sanjeli where the camp was set up only on the 24th of April. The nature of destruction and the violence that was being narrated at these places and the fact that this information was not available to most of us, prompted the second visit. From the 30th of April to the 3rd of May four other members also visited the four towns, in addition to Sukhsar and Santrampur (which is actually in Panchmahal district). Finally on 9th and 10th of May, a team of three went to Santrampur and surrounding areas, and to Dahod, and collected individual testimonies for the Concerned Citizens' Tribunal.
On each of these visits we have been gathering more information and making contact with the people there. At the same time, these multiple visits have also allowed us to more fully understand not only the events during the first waves of mob violence took place, but also the various patterns pertaining to the events that preceded the events and those that have followed. Over this time, the situation in the camps, the pressures acting on the victims to go back to their villages, the particular situation of women, the processes of claims and compensations, have been unfolding.
All information compiled in this report was collected through group and individual interviews, observations, and tabulated information on the size of local minority populations and their property. Tabulated information was collected by relief and rehabilitation camp organizers, all of whom belong to the local Muslim communities. In the whole of Dahod district, the camps for Bohra and non-Bohra Muslims are separate and the data compilation has also been done separately. Although we did meet some Bohra camp organisers and collected data from them, most of the information that we have is from the non-Bohra Ghanchi Muslim community.
Interviews were generally conducted in the relief camps themselves, or while we were being shown the extent of the devastation in each town by victims of the attacks. The initial interview in each locality was conducted with all members of each fact-finding team and one or two men who identified themselves as camp organizers and leaders of the community. These interviews were conducted with a large group of male, and some female, onlookers, also members of the community, who would frequently give additional information, corrections of details, or give entirely new information, in the course of the conversations. The interviews dealt with the sequence of events in that locality, including the build-up of tensions in the area up to the Godhra incident on February 27th, and the subsequent violence, displacement, and relief efforts that followed.
We tried to meet with women separately wherever possible subsequent to the interviews with the men. In most places it was possible to do so, though we often had to split the team when talking to the women so that at least one person spoke with the men at the same time. As members of two women's organizations, we attempted to bring out women's stories in particular, especially in the context of the many reports of violence that has targeted women and girls.
Gathering information on sexual violence was especially difficult, as both men and women were still dealing with the fear of further attacks from Hindu townspeople. There was also the issue of izzat which permeated all conversations about the physical violations that women experienced. A loss of one's izzat was understood not only in terms of the sexual violence itself, but also in terms of acknowledging that violence, especially to outsiders. A result of this was that much of the conversations we had about sexual violence with women were conducted in the third person, such that the person whom we were interviewing would refer to the sexual violence experienced by people in other villages, or even other people in the community, but rarely that experienced by herself.
The people in the camps and villages, as well as the organisers were all extremely co-operative and shared information quite willingly with us. The whole region has seen extreme devastation in human, material, and emotional terms. The attackers have often been Hindu neighbours and people that have been known to their victims all their lives. Even in the face of such acute betrayal and inhumanity, the affected people were open to trusting us and sharing their experiences with our fact-finding teams, which were comprised, in total, of 8 women, 7 of whom were Hindu, and one who was Muslim.
Their sharing and openness also translated into the kind of concern they, who had lost so much and were living in terrible conditions, showered over us - from offering us cold water and chairs to sit on the minute we arrived to ensuring a constant supply of water and cold drinks as we sat for long hours with them. In one camp in Jhalod, on the first visit, a woman, who had lost everything in her house and had run away with the clothes on her back, took the hand of one team member and said to her, "Agar tum mere ghar mein aati to main tumhe hathon pe bithati, aaj to tumhe bhi takleef uthani pad rahi hai." Around us was a small tent, with very little floor covering, most of the women and children of the camp of 362 people were sitting in this space which also was being used as a cooking space.
This report has been compiled using the interviews and observations of all teams during all three fact-finding trips. Information collected in the earlier trips was verified, sometimes revised, in the later ones, and corroborated through telephone conversations with community contacts as needed. Individual sections of this report, e.g. Fatehpura, have been circulated online prior to the publication of this report.
This report is not a comprehensive document on all the villages and talukas of Dahod district. Dahod is a small, new district carved out of the Panchmahals, on the eastern end of Gujarat state. It shares the borders with Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and is a tribal district. Of the majorly affected talukas, we have not visited Devgarh Baria, though we have met people from Piplod in the camps in Dahod, and have had no direct contact with the people of Randhikpur most of whom are in Godhra camp and whose stories have been recorded by other groups. This document does, however, give details of representative areas in Dahod, and a substantive overview of the district. We have also included information on Santrampur taluka from the Panchmahals district.