Impunity And Injustice Still Hang Over The 2002 Gujarat Violence

Impunity And Injustice Still Hang Over The 2002 Gujarat Violence
In February of 2002, Gujarat, a state in western India, witnessed one of the deadliest instances of communal violence in India’s recent history. The violence, targeted towards the Muslim minority, was characterised by mass killings, rape, and arson, resulting in the death of more than 2000 people, mostly Muslims. On top of it, it precipitated the widespread destruction of property and the displacement of more than 150,000 innocent people. This event did not occur out of the blue, however. It had been simmering in religious polarization that resulted in such a tragedy.

The events leading up to this calamity can be traced back to 06 December 1992, when the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque, was destroyed by a Hindu mob. It was a culmination of a longstanding dispute between the Hindu nationalists and Muslims, as the site was sacred to both the communities. After its destruction, however, there were widespread killings and the tension between the communities remained palpable for years to come.

Fast forward to 27 February 2002, when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burned by a Muslim mob, killing 59 people, while Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of the province. State authorities, rather than probing into the matter and dealing it in a legal manner, resorted to blaming the Muslim community for this atrocity. The narrative of Muslim aggression and Hindu victimhood was propagated by the political leaders and organisations fueling the religious hatred and justifying the targeting of the Muslim community. Within hours, violence erupted within the state of Gujarat. Hindu nationalist groups, including the RSS, carried out a series of coordinated attacks on Muslim neighborhoods, markets and mosques under the eye of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).

The three-day retaliatory killing spree lefts hundreds dead and tens of thousands of people were dispossessed or made homeless. Homes, restaurants, shops, mosques were all looted and burned down. Consistent with the pattern of attacks on minorities, hundreds of Muslim women were brutally raped before being mutilated and burned to death. All of this is well documented in Amnesty’s International report “We have no orders to save you” that came soon after the incident.

The Gujarat government chose to describe the incident as a “spontaneous reaction.” However, the findings of numerous human rights organisations and media outlets beg to differ. They indicate that these attacks were part of a well-regulated campaign, planned well in advance, which sought to exploit communal tensions to further the BJP’s rule. It was due to extensive police collusion and local militant groups that roam around with impunity which led to such a massacre. The Babri masjid incident still holding sway over sentiments, coupled with the heightened fears due the recent 9/11 attacks, blinded them with religious fervour – making the Muslim community an easy target.

A decade later, Amnesty International issued another report “India: Gujarat – a decade of impunity” which highlighted the failure of the Indian state and its ruling party BJP to bring those responsible to justice. Reparations to the victims seem like a mere fantasy where, due to the lack of accountability, the marginalisation of the Muslim community and other minorities in Gujarat has only been exacerbated.

In conformity with the longstanding pattern of suppressing any dissent, Modi’s government recently banned a BBC documentary critical of Modi’s leadership as CM during riots in Gujarat in 2002, citing emergency powers under its IT laws. This blatant abuse of power is a direct attack on press freedom, which has been legalised in Modi’s tenure by the amendments made to the IT laws.

It is evident how religion has been politicised in India and is being used as a tool to mobilise support and justify violence against minority communities. The lack of accountability after the incident has created an irreparable rift in the Indian society, which continues to simmer up to this date.

If unaccountability will persist, this hate will keep on boiling beneath the surface and may explode into another large scale outbreak of communal violence in the near future.