- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

AHMEDABAD, India The deployment of more than 1,000 Indian troops to troubled Gujarat state in western India yesterday failed to stop Hindu mobs, armed with iron bars and cans of kerosene, from stalking and killing Muslims.
The death toll rose to more than 300 in India's worst outbreak of religious violence in a decade.
About 1,500 soldiers were flown into Gujarat early yesterday morning in an attempt to quell the violence. But the troops were not deployed until the afternoon.
Even then, pitched battles between Hindus and their Muslim neighbors continued in pockets of Ahmedabad, the state's largest city with a population of about 3.5 million.
There were reports of continued violence elsewhere in the state as well as in the neighboring state of Rajasthan and in Bombay.
Although the streets of Ahmedabad's old city and other areas with sizable Muslim populations were deserted yesterday afternoon, fighting, looting and burning continued.
In the Dariapur neighborhood of the old city, Hindus and Muslims fought a pitched battle, despite a curfew.
Elsewhere in the old city, a Hindu mob took over the Holy Family Catholic Church, using its upstairs terrace to throw rocks and firebombs at Muslims. Four priests cowered inside.
"They're terrified," said the Rev. Joseph Appauo, who had braved the streets in his white cassock to go for help. "They're begging me to please do something, but although I've spoken to the police commissioner, nothing has happened."
In the winding lanes of the city's Muslim quarter, where 50 persons had been burned alive, early yesterday morning, an angry Hindu mob torched and gutted a mosque.
Dozens of policemen patrolled the area outside the mosque after curfew had emptied the streets, but at the time of the attack, only two policemen stood guard, a street away, but made no attempt to stop the mob.
It is not certain yet how many people died in the attack. The 35 survivors are now in the hospital covered in third-degree burns. Many of the women among them said that before the mob poured kerosene over them and lit it, they were dragged out and raped.
"The mob surrounded us. They tried to burn us alive," said Fazana Ben, 30, who lost her 13-year-old daughter and her parents. "We tried to run from the back doors, but there were men there, too. They caught me and raped me. Most of my neighbors are dead."
Elsewhere, in the early hours of yesterday, 27 Muslims, including women and children, were burned to death as they tried to sleep.
The last 24 hours have reduced Ahmedabad, a normally prosperous commercial city, to a war zone. Burned-out cars, piles of burning bicycles and household possessions, and gruesome funeral pyres of Muslims who were dragged from their homes and burned litter the city.
Many houses are still on fire and there are constant explosions from overheated gas cylinders in houses that have been blackened by flames.
The violence began Wednesday when a Muslim mob attacked and burned a train returning to Gujarat from a disputed holy site in northern India.
Some 58 Hindus died.
Militant Hindus are planning to build a temple on a site in Ayodhya in northern India where they destroyed a mosque a decade ago.
The specter of communal violence has haunted India since 3,000 people died in a wave of similar riots 10 years ago.


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