- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

AHMEDABAD, India When a Hindu mob killed Ayub Ali's son and destroyed his one-room home with a gasoline bomb, it did much more than disfigure his life forever.
"I cannot go and rebuild that place so I will go and live in a strong Muslim area," he said, standing in the baking heat of a relief camp. "The Hindus say we are not welcome here, but where can I go? India is my home."
The brutality that killed his son and as many as 2,000 other Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat was a severe blow to India's foundation as a tolerant, secular state. By all accounts except that of the state government most of the bloodshed that has spanned three months was caused by extremist Hindu nationalist groups collectively dubbed the "saffron Taliban."
The March riots marked the first time officials of a political party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which controls Gujarat state government and leads the ruling national coalition in New Delhi, have been implicated in turning a blind eye to mass killings.
The police force, under the BJP's sway, has been heavily implicated in the violence, which has left India's Muslim minority of 140 million fearing for its future.
"This was state-sponsored violence, no doubt about it," said a senior police officer in Ahmedabad, the state's major city, where much of the killing happened. "The police were told by politicians to take no action. The police conduct was tantamount to murder. As an officer, I feel totally scandalized and disgusted."
Three British Muslims died in the violence, prompting the British Embassy to conduct an investigation that concluded that the attacks were premeditated and carried out with the support of the state government.
It said the atrocities had the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing and that reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims was impossible while the BJP chief minister, Narendra Modi, remained in power.
Mukul Sinha, a Hindu lawyer who is pursuing one of dozens of complaints against thugs, state assembly members and police officers, said: "Please don't say this was a riot. It was genocide, pure and simple."
The latest wave of violence that spread to 21 cities and 68 districts of Gujarat came after the killing by a Muslim mob of 59 Hindu men, women and children when two cars of a passenger train were set afire on Feb 27.
However horrific the attack, Indian civic and human rights groups are convinced it was not planned in advance. They argue that the atrocity was the spark Hindu groups were looking for to assert their anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan agenda and boost the BJP.
The retaliation was documented meticulously by liberal activists. There are accounts of pregnant women having their bodies ripped open and being burned alive. Women and girls were gang-raped before being hacked to death with swords and set on fire. Children were not spared as whole communities were butchered.
Mehboob Mansoori, who lost 18 of his family, told investigators: "All the women died. My brother, my three sons, one girl, my wife's mother, they all died. The bodies were piled up. I recognized them from parts of their clothes. They cut them, then burned them. First, they took the girls. I saw it."
Across the state, 180 mosques were destroyed or damaged along with thousands of Muslim-owned businesses and homes.
The attackers, armed with swords, machetes or iron bars, carried computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families, shops and businesses. Muslim shops or homes in congested Hindu-dominated areas were singled out, attacked, ransacked and burned. They had hundreds of gas cylinders, available only from the local government agencies, which were used as explosives. There had been a widespread shortage of gas cylinders in the preceding weeks.
There are numerous accounts of police turning a blind eye in places, and in others leading the charge or directing gangs toward Muslim houses. Two BJP state ministers spent lengthy periods in separate police control rooms. Callers to police stations were told: "We don't have orders to save you," and "We cannot help you, we have orders from above."
Mujib Mohammed Ansari, a Muslim businessman who oversees one of the dozens of relief camps sheltering 40,000 homeless Muslims, said: "They want to destroy our economy. What does India being the world's biggest democracy mean now?"
Much of the funding of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, a grass-roots group with close links to the BJP that is blamed for coordinating much of the slaughter, comes from expatriate Gujarati communities in Britain and America. As yet there is no evidence that funds from overseas were knowingly given for illegal acts.
The violence has declined into sporadic killings by both sides, but the forcing of Muslims into ghettos is being completed. Muslim shops and homes in previously mixed or predominantly Hindu areas are being taken over by the majority community.
Muslims returning to their devastated villages are said to have been forced to sign documents pledging that they will cut off their beards, not eat meat and never touch a Hindu woman.
Ahmedabad is where Mohandas Gandhi based his pacifist campaign against British rule and spread the gospel of forbearance that is written into India's constitution. But mention of Gandhi draws a tired sneer from Prakash Sevkani, a branch manager of the VHP.
"I find no reason to obey Gandhi. Times have changed. When he was alive, there was communal violence in Gujarat. If he couldn't stop it when he was alive, how can he when he is dead?"


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