'We Have No Orders to Save You': State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat
The report is available on line at www.hrw.org/reports/2002/india/gujarat.pdf.
In January this year, I was in Ayodhya, the north Indian pilgrimage town where in December 1992 an uncontrollable crowd of Hindus demolished a sixteenth-century mosque that they claimed was built by the Moghul emperor Babar over the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. I went to see Ramchandra Paramhans, the ninety-year-old abbot who heads both a militant sect of sadhus (Hindu mendicants) and the cash-rich trust that is in charge of building a Rama temple over the site of the demolished mosque. I found him tending his cows near the site. Born in the neighboring poverty-blighted state of Bihar, Paramhans has done rather well for himself in Ayodhya, where the richest people are Hindu abbots. With his dense white beard and matted locks, he came across as the irascible ascetic of Hindu legend, with apparently much to be angry about. The Hindu nationalists he thought he had helped elect to power in New Delhi hadn’t done enough to meet their promise of constructing the temple, even if they hadn’t stopped it from being prefabricated in a vast workshop not far from the site of the mosque.
That same morning, Paramhans told me, he had scolded L.K. Advani, the present home minister and one of the senior leaders of the ruling party, the BJP, who had witnessed the demolition in 1992. When I mentioned the constraints on Advani—the Supreme Court’s ban on construction, Muslim opposition—Paramhans became angry. “There are only two places Muslims can go to,” he shouted, echoing a popular Hindu nationalist slogan of the Eighties and early Nineties, “Pakistan or Kabristan [graveyard].”
Paramhans was expecting up to a million kar sevaks (Hindu activists) to visit Ayodhya in the days leading up to March 15, when he planned to shift the prefab gateway and pillars of the Rama temple to the site of the demolished mosque. His resolve appeared to be shared by some Hindu leaders I met at the large exposed field close to the temple workshop, where tents were being set up to host the tens of thousands of activists expected to visit Ayodhya during the next few weeks.
Thousands of Hindu activists from across India traveled to Ayodhya during the first few weeks of February. Many of them were from the prosperous western state of Gujarat, whose entrepreneurial Hindus, often found living in Europe and the United States, have been forming a loyal constituency of the Hindu nationalists since the 1980s. On February 27, some of these activists were returning on a train from Ayodhya when a crowd of Muslims attacked and set fire to one of the cars just outside the town of Godhra in Gujarat.
Gujarat has known several severe anti-Muslim riots in the last decade and a half. But Godhra, whose impoverished population is evenly divided between Muslims and Hindus, has an even longer history of organized crime and violence. Many of the local Hindus came over from Pakistan as refugees during the brutal partition of India in 1947. The Muslims,…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.