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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
Fatehpura (Taluka : Fatehpura)
Fatehpura and Karodia are not two separate towns, they are almost like one same settlement. These towns have a total population of about 6,000. The Muslims in these areas did not have a separate locality as such. Their houses were scattered all over the town on different roads like Ballaiya Road (also known as Karodia), Ukhreli Road, Ghooghas Road, Jhalod Road, Main Bazaar, Palod Falia, Naik Wad, and Talav Falia.
There are about 200 to 250 affected Muslim families in all from Fatehpura. Some of the families are staying with relatives in an adjacent district of Rajasthan. About 200 Bohra persons are also staying separately in Dahod and Lunawada. The total affected population is 1720 people plus around 200 Bohra Muslims.
Dates of the violence: From 28th February evening to 4th March.
Deaths: In all four lives were lost. One old man about 65 years old who was mentally ill (Mohammad Ishabhai) was burnt alive and the others (Yusuf Mahammad and Ahmad Karim) were stabbed to death when they tried to intervene in the violence on women. The fourth was a small three years old child who fell and died while the people were being taken away in an over crowded vehicle.
Sequence of events:
On 28th February, around 8:30 in the evening, a mob of Hindus from the village came to the main bazaar area and near the mosque in the village and shouted slogans and threw stones at the mosque and the people. They made a lot of noise as well, "who log wahan par khele." While it is unclear whether people were hurt then, there was much terror.
On 1st March, Friday evening, on Ukhreli Road (which is on the outskirts of Fatehpura, about 2 km from the main village) there was burning and looting of one house and two or more vehicles. While no woman was raped, there was verbal and physical harassment.
In Fatehpura itself also a mob from the village itself came, made a lot of noise and threatened and went away. It was also said that on this day they came and identified the Hindu houses by putting some Hanuman / Ram photographs and posters on them.
On Saturday, 2nd March, in the morning at 9 am, a curfew was clamped in the town. Apparently a police patrol came with some two policemen in it and asked people to get into their houses. The mob was at this point at a distance. Once the mob entered the village, the police was nowhere to be seen. After this round of the police patrol, a large mob came. People's perceptions of the size of the mob varied from 8,000 to 20,000, but it was clear that the mob was large and the attackers were both from the town and outside the town.
The mob surrounded the whole village and started their looting and destruction from one end of the village. Since the houses were scattered, people ran out from there and started moving towards bigger concrete houses. In one such house in the main bazaar about 500 people took refuge. Similarly about 100 people hid in a house on another road. Others ran here and there and tried to find safe places to hide in. Some people hid in the mosque till the mobs reached there and then fled to the police station. One or two families were also sheltered for a day by an Adivasi family near the town. In the night they were then sent to the police station as the family who kept them were also in danger.
The 100 people in one of the houses hid there from 9am to about 3:30 pm. The house was set on fire and the people could manage to escape only after they broke open the roof and escaped from the roofs of the neighbouring houses. As the women came out, many of them were stripped and harassed. One woman was definitely raped and perhaps some more were also raped but people do not want to be identified. The people came out from here and managed to reach the police station where they all finally took refuge on the evening of the 2nd.
The people of around 15 households in another part of Fatehpura took refuge in one concrete house. They were attacked by the crowd at about twelve noon. They were surrounded from all sides and then the crowds entered the house. They first snatched at all the money and the jewellery and then took all the young women and children out. All this while they kept on verbally and physically assaulting the women and saying "give us all your young women and girls. We will take them." There were about 30 women and ten children and many men as well. They all kept on pleading, "please take away our money, jewellery and house, but leave the women alone." The women were dragged out of the house. These were women from other houses around who had come and taken refuge in this house.
The women were pulled out. Their clothes stripped. The children snatched from their hands and thrown away by which some of them also got injured. Then in front of their house and in full view of the others in the area also, these women were sexually assaulted by the mob. The three men who came out to protest and intervene were killed. The other men were also warned from intervening and hit. This went on till six in the evening.
Meanwhile the concrete house which was supposed to be safe was also set on fire from the front and the back. Petrol was poured on the house and on the people inside as well. People were trapped inside unable to come out till around six in the evening. The doors burnt and fell down and everyone trapped inside managed to come out walking over the burnt doors with fires raging on both sides. Many people were burnt in this process of coming out and had to live with that pain for a long time.
The women who had been abused were left to flee in their hurt, bruised and naked state and doused with petrol. There were several thousands of people around. These women had been repeatedly raped and assaulted in full view of their children, men, the neighbours, and the mob on the road. The police station where all the Muslims had fled to take refuge is almost a kilometre away from this place. These women had to walk naked and brutalised all this distance and no one, none of the women who were very much part of the watching crowd, gave them anything to cover themselves. Trying to cover themselves with chindis and whatever was available, some leaves on the road, they managed to flee to the police station.
The police station was packed with almost 2000 people and there wasn't even enough space to sit. So most of them just stood there from Saturday evening to Monday early morning. In that period there was only some water that was given for the children once, but otherwise everyone just stood there with nothing to eat or drink. The police did not let them get out and did not try to help them in any way at all. In fact the police said that if they came out then they will not be able to stop the mob from killing them off. In silence, pain and terror, these people waited standing for two days for help to arrive. There were 4 or 6 policemen at the station.
The mob continued with its acts of looting and burning and destroying all property that belonged to these people all this time. All their houses and shops and other property was completely destroyed. Two mosques were broken and also a graveyard was destroyed with the graves being dug out and the grave stones broken. The people said in their recounting to us "when we send in invites for marriages, one or two Muslim houses get overlooked, but these people were thorough and by Monday no house or establishment owned by Muslims was left standing."
When the arson and violence in the town ended on Sunday the 3rd of March late night / Monday early morning, the police escorted most of the people from Fatehpura in police and other vehicles. The vehicles were overcrowded and there was barely place to stand. All the people left in one big truck, 3 tempos and 1 jeep. It was in this travel that a mother lost the grip of her three year old and the child fell down and died. The people were brought to Rajasthan border where they were handed over to the Rajasthan police. The child who died was buried in Rajasthan and the post mortem was not done, and so no compensation was paid for the death of this child. Some of the fleeing people also had relatives in Rajasthan. After reaching Rajasthan, for the first time they were given some food and water and also some attention from other people. They got food and water at around 3 in the morning on Monday after being deprived of it since Saturday morning.
The Rajasthan police was very good and also apparently argued with the Gujarat police for not saving people from the violence. They stayed in Rajasthan for ten days until the 13th of March. They were very well taken care of and all their needs were met in the camps and houses at Rajasthan. The areas in Rajasthan where they were kept were: Galia Court, Gadhi, Pratapgarh, Shergah, Sajjangarh, Kalinjra, Kasarwadi, mostly in the Banswada district. There was help from both the Rajasthan State and the people.
On the 13th the Collector from Fatehpura came to take them back. The women did not want to go back to Fatehpura at all. The men agreed to go because they were told that they would lose out on their land and property compensation claims if they did not get back. The collector also assured total safety for the people. He and the police officials said that they were taking them back on their responsibility and no harm would come to them. The women were told that they were going to Jhalod and then tricked and brought to Fatehpura to the camp.
Even now the neighbours are not all friendly towards these people. The women who were abused are particularly being targeted and made fun of by all the others whilst also being threatened that the same thing would be done to them all over again if they try to come back to their houses. They do not at all feel confident about going back to their houses. They have not been able to go to their mohalla at all. The men have, but that too is very difficult. Many of their compensation claims have been given, including those of the men who were killed. Some people are trying to go back and clean up their houses and start making them liveable. Very few people also feel that their neighbours will not harm them and have asked them to come back.
There is tension even now. On 14th April, some pamphlets saying that there will be violence on the 17th were distributed and so people were tense for the 17th. On the 15th around 50% of the people left for Rajasthan and returned only on 18th and 19th.
Report on the camp and the living conditions
When the people were brought back from Rajasthan, they were housed in a camp set up in the Agriculture Produce Marketing Yard in Fatehpura. There were about 1135 people in this camp as of 25th April, 2002. Of these 117 families are from Fatehpura and another 60 families are from adjacent Karodia. The Camp started functioning from the 13th of March.
The camp is run by local organisers and the only help the state is providing is the ration. The camp had a tent of 12,000 square feet, which had been put up before they came from Rajasthan. The contractor who made that asked them for a payment of Rs. 1,30,000/, as rent till 17th April after more than a month. The Collector asked them to pay it from the Rs. 5/ allowance that they get along with grains for their daily meals. They are paying Rs.2.50/- per day from the contingency fund and have paid about Rs. 50,000 but are not able to give the rest. So the tent has been removed and they are out in the open.
There is a very inadequate temporary tent which falls many times a day and takes hours to put back up. The women do not want to go back yet. Some of them who had pucca houses might be able to go back but all of them want to stay on for at least two months more till the end of the rains in July. The water tankers are being paid for by two people from amongst the camp residents, but they don't know how long that can continue.
Around the 25th of April, when the new collector of Dahod district, Mr. Pandor, took charge and visited some camps in the District. He ordered the dismantling of the camps in Jhalod and sent a message to the Fatehpura camp that they must dismantle it as well. They said that they had rations for a couple of days and were allowed to live in the camp till the rations lasted. Many urgent messages were sent to and fro between the various camps in Dahod district, Delhi, Bombay and Ahmedabad.
The next day, the Collector sent another message to the Fatehpura camp, saying that they could stay on in the camp, and that it would not be dismantled at present. But it would be better if some people started moving out. So far, around 350 people have moved back to the remains of their houses they have been able to clean. Some more may be able to do so by the end of the month.
The 55 families (400 people) living in scattered houses feel unsure about going back and are wanting a collective mohalla or something like that on some land in the main bazaar or some place closer to the other Muslim houses. These 400 people will be completely unable to move anywhere before the rains and need urgent waterproof shelter before the monsoon begins. There is some land with the community which they could use, but they need monetary and infrastructural support to build there, as well as alternative accommodation till such work can be done.
Right now, there are about 795 people living in the temporary tent and 2 small tents. The rest have moved to their houses or whatever is left of them. They need something immediately as the monsoons are approaching. There is a great deal of despair, insecurity and helplessness.
We were the first people to reach this camp on the 25th of April. Unlike other places, the men wanted us to talk to the women and we were given separate space in their office to do this. The men too were willingly talking about the assaults on the women. Women were talking but they did not want to be identified individually and nor did they want to identify the people from the town who were the violators. They keep saying that we need to speak as "this is what happened at Fatehpura" without giving any names. They were clear that they did not want any publicity or any legal action in their village.
We also found that many women in these areas were educated. There were many young girls who had studied up till the 10th. Many women were also working. They had sewing machines or were running small shops or were working from home and some were doing majdoori. Even now some students have given their SSC exams while staying on at the camp.