Human Rights Watch
report on Gujarat: May 2002
"We Have No Orders to Save You"
State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat
Thirty-eight-year-old Mehboob Mansoori lost eighteen family members in
the massacre of Muslims in the neighborhood of Gulmarg Society, Ahmedabad.
He was interviewed by Human Rights Watch three weeks after the attack.
His story is representative of many testimonies contained in this report.
They burnt my whole family.
On February 28, we
went to Ehsan Jaffrey's home for safety. He is an ex-member of parliament
At 10:30 a.m. the stone throwing started. First there were 200 people
then 500 from all over, then more. We were 200-250 people. We threw stones
in self-defense. They had swords, pipes, soda-lemon bottles, sharp weapons,
petrol, kerosene, and gas cylinders. They began shouting, "Maro,
kato," ["Kill them, cut them"] and "Mian ko maro."
["Kill the Muslims"]. I hid on the third floor.
Early in the day at
10:30 the police commissioner came over and said don't worry. He spoke
to Jaffrey and said something would work out, then left. The wall in front
of the house was broken at 11:30 a.m. When they entered the hall we had
lost our spirit, we had no weapons, we couldn't fight back. Other people
also came there for safety. When the gas cylinder exploded I jumped from
the third floor. This was around 1:30 p.m.
At 3:30 p.m. they started cutting people up, and by 4:30 p.m. it was game
over. Ehsan Jaffrey was also killed. He was holding the door closed. Then
the door broke down. They pulled him out and hit him with a sword across
the forehead, then across the stomach, then on his legs
. They then
took him on the road, poured kerosene on him and burned him. There was
no police at all. If they were there then this wouldn't have happened.
Eighteen people from my family died. All the women died. My brother, my
three sons, one girl, my wife's mother, they all died. My boys were aged
ten, eight, and six. My girl was twelve years old. The bodies were piled
up. I recognized them from parts of their clothes used for identification.
They first cut them and then burned them. Other girls were raped, cut,
and burned. First they took their jewelry, I was watching from upstairs.
I saw it with my own eyes. If I had come outside, I would also have been
killed. Four or five girls were treated this way. Two married women also
were raped and cut. Some on the hand, some on the neck.
At 5:30 p.m. a car came, it was the Assistant Commissioner. They brought
us out slowly; some were hiding in the water tank underground. Some tried
to get out but were attacked. Sixty-five to seventy people were killed
inside. After the police came we told them to take us somewhere safe.
They brought us to the camp. We didn't go to the police station. Three
patients were admitted in the civil hospital. On March 3 and 4 the police
came here to file complaints, but only after camp organizers called them.
Indian government officials have acknowledged that since February 27,
2002, more than 850 people have been killed in communal violence in the
State of Gujarat, most of them Muslims. Unofficial estimates put the death
toll as high as 2,000. At this writing, murders are continuing, with violence
spreading to rural areas fanned by ongoing hate campaigns and economic
boycotts against Muslims. The attacks against Muslims in Gujarat have
been actively supported by State government officials and by the police.
The violence in Gujarat began after a Muslim mob in the town of Godhra
attacked and set fire to two carriages of a train carrying Hindu activists.
Fifty-eight people were killed, many of them women and children. The activists
were returning from Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, where they supported a campaign
led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP) to construct
a temple to the Hindu god Ram on the site of a sixteenth century mosque
destroyed by Hindu militants in 1992.
Between February 28 and March 2, 2002, a three-day retaliatory killing
spree by Hindus left hundreds dead and tens of thousands homeless and
dispossessed, marking the country's worst religious bloodletting in a
The looting and burning of Muslim homes, shops, restaurants, and places
of worship was also widespread. Tragically consistent with the longstanding
pattern of attacks on minorities and Dalits (or so-called untouchables)
in India, and with previous episodes of large-scale communal violence
in India, scores of Muslim girls and women were brutally raped in Gujarat
before being mutilated and burnt to death. Attacks on women and girls,
including sexual violence, are detailed throughout this report.
The Gujarat government chose to characterize the violence as a "spontaneous
reaction" to the incidents in Godhra. Human Rights Watch's findings,
and those of numerous Indian human rights and civil liberties organizations,
and most of the Indian press indicate that the attacks on Muslims throughout
the State were planned, well in advance of the Godhra incident, and organized
with extensive police participation and in close cooperation with officials
of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party, BJP) State government.
The attacks on Muslims are part of a concerted campaign of Hindu nationalist
organizations to promote and exploit communal tensions to further the
BJP's political rule-a movement that is supported at the local level by
militant groups that operate with impunity and under the patronage of
the State. The groups most directly responsible for violence against Muslims
in Gujarat include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the ruling
BJP, and the umbrella organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National
Volunteer Corps, RSS), all of whom collectively form the Sangh parivar
(or "family" of Hindu nationalist groups).
although different in many respects, have all promoted the argument that
because Hindus constitute the majority of Indians, India should be a Hindu
State. Nationwide violence against India's Muslim community in 1992 and
1993 and against India's Christian community since 1998, including in
the State of Gujarat, have also stemmed from the violent activities and
hate propaganda of these groups. Human Rights Watch and Indian human rights
groups have long warned of the potential scale of death and destruction
resulting from the Sangh parivar's Hindu nationalist agenda.
If the activities of these groups remain unchecked, violence may continue
to engulf the State, and may spread to other parts of the country. The
State of Gujarat and the central government of India initially blamed
Pakistan for the train massacre, which it called a "pre-meditated"
"terrorist" attack against Hindus in Godhra.
The recent revival
of the Ram temple campaign, and heightened fears of terrorism since September
11 were exploited by local Hindu nationalist groups and the local press
which printed reports of a "deadly conspiracy" against Hindus
by Muslims in the State. On February 28, one local language paper headline
read: "Avenge blood for blood." Muslim survivors of the attacks
repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that they were told to "go back
to Pakistan." Anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiments had been building
up in Gujarat long before the revival of the Ayodhya Ram temple campaign.
Human Rights Watch
was unable to verify conflicting accounts of what led to the mob attack
on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra though local police investigations
have ruled out the notion that it was either organized or planned. The
State government initially charged those arrested in relation to the attack
on the Godhra train under the controversial and draconian Prevention of
Terrorism Ordinance (POTO, now the Prevention of Terrorism Act), but filed
ordinary criminal charges against those accused of attacks on Muslims.
Bowing to criticism from political leaders and civil society across the
country, the chief minister dropped the POTO charges but stated that the
terms of POTO may be applied at a later date. Three weeks after the attacks
began, Human Rights Watch visited the city of Ahmedabad, a site of large-scale
destruction, murder, and several massacres, and spoke to both Hindu and
Muslim survivors of the attacks.
The details of the
massacres of Muslims in the neighborhoods of Naroda Patia and Gulmarg
Society and of retaliatory attacks against Hindus in Jamalpur are included
in this report. Human Rights Watch was able to document patterns in Ahmedabad
that echo those of previous episodes of anti-Muslim violence throughout
the State and of anti-minority violence over the years in many parts of
the country-most notably the Bombay riots in 1992 and 1993, and the anti-Sikh
riots in Delhi in 1984.
These include the role of Sangh parivar organizations, political parties,
and the local media in promoting anti-minority propaganda, the exploitation
of communal differences to mask political and economic motives underlying
the attacks, local and State government complicity in the attacks, and
the failure of the government to meet its constitutional and international
obligations to protect minorities. Between February 28 and March 2 the
attackers descended with militia -like precision on Ahmedabad by the thousands,
arriving in trucks and clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature
uniform of Hindu nationalist-Hindutva-groups.
Chanting slogans of incitement to kill, they came armed with swords, trishuls
(three-pronged spears associated with Hindu mythology), sophisticated
explosives, and gas cylinders. Computer printouts listing the addresses
of Muslim families and their properties, information obtained from the
Ahmedabad municipal corporation among other sources, and embarked on a
murderous rampage confident that the police was with them, guided them.
In many cases, the police led the charge.
A key BJP State minister is reported to have taken over police control
rooms in Ahmedabad on the first day of the carnage, issuing orders to
disregard pleas for assistance from Muslims. Portions of the Gujarati
language press meanwhile printed fabricated stories and statements openly
calling on Hindus to avenge the Godhra attacks. In almost all of the incidents
documented by Human Rights Watch the police were directly implicated in
the attacks. At best they were passive observers, and at worse they acted
in concert with murderous mobs and participated directly in the burning
and looting of Muslim shops and homes and the killing and mutilation of
Muslims. In many cases, under the guise of offering assistance, the police
led the victims directly into the hands of their killers.
Many of the attacks on Muslim homes and places of business also took place
in close proximity to police posts. Panicked phone calls made to the police,
fire brigades, and even ambulance services generally proved futile. Many
witnesses testified that their calls either went unanswered or that they
were met with responses such as: "We don't have any orders to save
you"; "We cannot help you, we have orders from above";
"If you wish to live in Hindustan, learn to protect yourself";
"How come you are alive? You should have died too"; "Whose
house is on fire? Hindus' or Muslims'?" In some cases phone lines
were eventually cut to make it impossible to call for help. Surviving
family members have faced the added trauma of having to fend for themselves
in recovering and identifying the bodies of their loved ones. The bodies
have been buried in mass gravesites throughout Ahmedabad. Gravediggers
testified that most bodies that had arrived- many were still missing-were
burned and butchered beyond recognition.
Many were missing body parts-arms, legs, and even heads. The elderly and
the handicapped were not spared. In some cases, pregnant women had their
bellies cut open and their fetuses pulled out and hacked or burned before
the women were killed. Muslims in Gujarat have been denied equal protection
under the law. Even as attacks continue, the Gujarat State administration
has been engaged in a massive cover-up of the State's role in the massacres
and that of the Sangh parivar. Eyewitnesses file d numerous police First
Information Reports (FIRs), the initial reports of a crime recorded by
the police, that named local VHP, BJP, and Bajrang Dal leaders as instigators
or participants in the attacks. Few if any of these leaders have been
arrested as the police, reportedly under instructions from the State,
face continuous pressure not to arrest them or to reduce the severity
of the charges filed. In many instances, the police have also refused
to include in FIRs the names of perpetrators identified by the victims.
Police have, however, filed false charges against Muslim youth arbitrarily
detained during combing operations in Muslim neighborhoods that have been
largely destroyed. The State government has entrusted a criminal probe
into the deadliest of attacks in Ahmedabad, in the Naroda Patia and Gulmarg
Society neighborhoods, to an officer handpicked by the VHP, the organization
implicated in organizing and perpetrating these massacres. On April 3,
India's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) released the preliminary
findings of its report on the violence, a strong indictment of the failure
of the Gujarat government to contain the violence.
As the Commission awaited a response from the State government before
releasing a comprehensive report, its very authority to intervene in the
matter was being challenged in the State's High Court based on the fact
that a State -appointed judicial commission of inquiry was already in
place. Following the trail of other commissions of inquiry appointed by
the State in the wake of communal riots in 1969 and 1985-whose recommendations
have yet to be implemented-the current State Commission inspires little
hope of justice. One lawyer noted, "The State government is involved
and is a party to what happened.
How can a party appoint a judge? We cannot expect him to give justice."
India's National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and National Commission
for Women (NCW) have also been severely critical of the Gujarat government's
response to the violence and its aftermath. Government figures indicate
that more than 98,000 people are residing in over one hundred newly created
relief camps throughout the State, an overwhelming majority of them Muslim.
They hold little hope for justice and remain largely unprotected by the
police and local authorities. One relief camp resident asked: "The
same people who shot at us are now supposed to protect us? There is no
faith in the police." A lack of faith has also kept many camp residents
from approaching the police to file complaints. Fearing for their lives,
or fearing arrest, many have also been unable to leave the camps to return
to what is left of their homes. The State government has failed to provide
adequate and timely humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons
in this report include serious delays in government assistance reaching
relief camps, inadequate State provision of medical and food supplies
and sanitation facilities, and lack of access and protection for nongovernmental
(NGO) relief workers seeking to assist victims of violence. Muslims have
also been denied equal access to relief assistance. Government authorities
are also reported to be absent from many Muslim camps. In sharp contrast
to the international and Indian community's response following a massive
earthquake in the State in January 2001-when millions of dollars in aid
from the international community and civil society poured into the State-the
onus for providing food, medical support, and other supplies for victims
of violence rests largely on local NGO and Muslim voluntary groups.
The relief camps visited
by Human Rights Watch were desperately lacking in government and international
assistance. One camp with 6,000 residents was located on the site of a
Muslim graveyard. Residents were literally sleeping in the open, between
the graves. One resident remarked: "Usually the dead sleep here,
now the living are sleeping here." The disbursement of financial
compensation and the process of rehabilitation for victims of the violence
has been painstakingly slow and has failed to include all of those affected.
Initially compensation was disbursed on a communal basis: the State government
announced that the families of Hindus killed in Godhra would receive Rs.
200,000 (U.S.$4,094) while the families of Muslims killed in retaliatory
attacks would receive Rs. 100,000-a statement that was later retracted,
in part due to widespread criticism from nongovernmental organizations
and Indian officials outside the State of Gujarat. In the wake of the
massive earthquake in January 2001 that, according to government reports,
claimed close to 14,000 lives and left over one million homeless, the
State of Gujarat also faces economic devastation.
The economic impact
is felt acutely by both Hindu and Muslim survivors of the attacks whose
homes and personal belongings have been destroyed, and whose businesses
have been burnt to the ground. Others reside in neighborhoods where curfews
have yet to be lifted, limiting their mobility. Thousands are also unable
to leave the relief camps to go to work for fear of further attacks. Many
Muslims do not have jobs to which to return-their employers have hired
Hindus in their place. An economic boycott against Muslims in certain
parts of the State has helped to ensure their continued and long-term
impoverishment. Acute food shortages resulting in starvation have been
reported in areas of Ahmedabad where Muslim communities are forced into
isolation, afraid to leave their enclaves to get more supplies. Children's
education has also been severely disrupted while the threat of measles
and other outbreaks looms large in Ahmedabad camps.
At this writing, one
U.S. dollar was equivalent to 48.85 Indian rupees.. On April 4, Indian
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Gujarat and announced a federal
relief package for riot victims. Vajpayee, who earlier described the burning
alive of men, women, and children, as a "blot on the country's face,"
stated that the Godhra attack was "condemnable" but what followed
was "madness." His comments stood in deep contrast to those
of the State's chief minister, Narendra Modi, formerly a Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh volunteer and propagandist, who at the height of the carnage declared
that, "The five crore [fifty million] people of Gujarat have shown
remarkable restraint under grave provocation," referring to the Godhra
This report is by
no means a comprehensive account of the violence that began on February
27. Ahmedabad was only one of many cities affected. Reports from other
areas indicate that the violence was statewide, affecting at least twenty-one
cities and sixty-eight provinces. Information from these areas also suggests
a consistent pattern in the methods used, undermining government assertions
that these were "spontaneous" "communal riots." As
one activist noted, "no riot lasts for three days without the active
connivance of the State." Gujarat is only one of several Indian states
to have experienced post-Godhra violence, though elsewhere incidents have
been sporadic and were often immediately contained. Events were unfolding
every day as this report went to press including developments related
to the political future of the Gujarat government.
Both the Godhra incident and the attacks that ensued throughout Gujarat
have been documented in meticulous detail by Indian human rights and civil
liberties groups and by the Indian press. Their painstaking documentation
of the attacks, often under grave security conditions, has been cited
throughout this report. In some cases, the names of victims have been
changed or withheld for their protection. Names of human rights activists
have also been withheld to ensure their ability to continue their important
work, an unfortunate indicator of the volatility surrounding the issue
of communal violence in Gujarat and beyond.
All of the communities
affected continue to live with a deep sense of insecurity, fearing further
attacks and a cycle of retaliation. Not included in this report are many
heroic accounts of individual police and of Hindu and Muslim civilians
who risked their lives and livelihoods to rescue and shelter one another,
and the many peace activities that have been organized by citizens amidst
the ruins of the State. The violence in Gujarat has triggered widespread
outrage in India. Civil society groups from across the world have also
mobilized to condemn the attacks and appeal for justice and intervention.
Responding to growing international scrutiny into the violence, however,
the Indian government has stated that it "does not appreciate interference
in [its] internal affairs."