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THE TRAGEDY OF GUJARAT
Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.
Nearly 700 Muslims have been slaughtered and burnt, their homes and business looted, while police deployed to stop the rioting watched without doing anything in India in the last few weeks. TV news cameras, especially those of the BBC have taped the complicity of the Gujarat police in the mayhem on Muslims. The riot of Gujarat is justice Indian style. It is revenge for the murder and burning of 58 Hindus in a neighboring state.
The Provocation to Murder and
The karsevaks, who happened to be very unsavory characters, were indulging in atrocious behavior on the train. They were exposing themselves to women, harassing Muslim women and robbing petty shopkeepers all along the journey. Their reputation preceded them to Godhra and there when they refused to pay for the snacks they consumed they were attacked by Muslim youth and the altercation ended in the gruesome burning of the train in which innocent women and children were also brunt to death. Even though the Karsevaks were clearly unruly, and even though Indian police has remained very tolerant of Hindu fanatics, what Muslims did in Godhra was deplorable and deserves the strongest of condemnations. All of those responsible for the Godhra tragedy deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
While one can understand Hindu anger and outrage at what happened in Godhra, the Hindu reaction in Gujarat against Muslims who had absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with what happened in Godhra is unacceptable. The role that the police and the government of Gujarat played will forever remain a scar on Indias claims to democracy and secularism.
State Sponsorship of Terror
The most egregious dimension of the riots in Gujarat has been the complicity of the government in the massacre of nearly 700 Muslims. Gujarat, a state ruled by Hindu nationalists, has experienced retaliatory attacks against Muslims and their property. Nearly 700 have been killed of which over 100 have been burnt alive in their homes. Muslim shops and homes have been burnt and robbed while police officers have stood and watched. BBC news crews have been filming parts of the looting and arson and it is amazing how police officers just stood by grinning as Hindu fanatics went about expressing their religious fervor. Even kids felt emboldened to go out and indulge in indiscriminate looting of property.
While what happened at Ghodra can be blamed as an intelligence failure (if it was a premeditated crime) or as a surprise if it was a spontaneous act of evil. In the first case the authorities must be held partially responsible but if it was unexpected they cannot be blamed. But what happened in Gujarat for three entire days was expected. India does not have the civil society that underpins American democracy. After the horrible events of Sept. 11th, politicians, religious leaders and human rights groups took immediate steps to ensure that innocent Arabs and Muslims would not suffer any violent backlashes. In India it is natural to expect that innocent people would be killed. In the last fifteen years Hindu nationalists have gone looking for excuses to massacre Muslims. Now given this provocation it was obvious to all that there would be a blood bath.
The inability of the government of Gujarat to protect the lives and properties of Muslim minorities should not be seen as ineptness or incompetence. It should be seen as the deliberate complicity of the government in the massacre. Indeed the police was acting as facilitators of the arson and murder. It reminds me of the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 when the government took revenge on the minority by allowing Hindu fanatics to slaughter over 55,000 Sikhs and of course rob and destroy their property.
The Axis of Evil
The relationship between the political party, BJP, in power in Delhi and Gujarat with Hindu fanatics who have terrorized Muslim, Christian and Sikh minorities in India over the last two decades is mutually beneficial. Rather than protecting minorities, parties like BJP act as official sponsors of terror providing political cover to the Hindu fanatics and keeping the police at bay. The fanatics in turn provide political momentum to the Hindu nationalist agenda. This axis of evil between Hindu organizations, the mass movements such as the VHP, the militias such as Shiv Sainiks and Karsevaks, and the political parties such as the BJP, have the blood of over ten thousand Muslims and other minorities on their hands.
There is substantial historical evidence that shows that Hindu-Muslim riots exacerbate social polarities in India and Hindu nationalist parties, like the ruling BJP, have often cashed the resulting hatred at the polls. Political parties in India often use inter-religious riots to benefit at the polls. A few deaths, no matter how horrible, have rarely bothered the conscienceless politicians who rule India. The BJP, which now rules India, had only 2 seats in the national parliament in 1986. It made the dispute over the mosque a national issue and launched a nation wide campaign to demolish it and replace it with a temple. Several riots and thousands of deaths later they achieved their goals of demolishing the mosque in December 1992 and winning the majority in Indias parliament.
What will W Do?
To use the current language in Washington, the government of India, state and national, is harboring Hindu terrorists willing to rob and murder their Muslim neighbors. It is interesting to see if Washington will pause to rethink its cooperation with India in its global war on terror. Clearly what happened in Gujarat is a kind of state sponsored terrorism. Does our war on terror include terrorism perpetrated against innocent Muslims or is it only a war against Muslims? If Washington does nothing on this issue, then many Muslims here and in the Middle East will be given further evidence that the war on terror is basically a war against Muslims. Also if we remain silent then we are as inhuman as the police of Gujarat that stood by and watched innocent people being robbed and burnt alive marauding mobs for absolutely no reason.