September 27, 2006

Meerut: Hashimpura Muslim Massacre Trial Reopens

Hashimpura Muslim Massacre Trial Reopens: Can Justice
Be Expected?

by Azim A. Khan Sherwani

The criminal proceedings against the accused in the
notorious Hashimpura massacre case have recently
reopened in New Delhi's Tis Hazaree Court. It is a
chilling reminder of the apathy of the state towards
access to justice for Muslims that it has taken
nineteen long years for this to happen. While the
Œmainstream‚ media is awash with reports about the
courts pronouncing judgments in cases related to the
1993 Mumbai serial blasts, it is remarkably silent on
the continued denial to justice of the hapless Muslim
victims of the gory Hashimpura massacre in which
agencies of the state were directly involved. This
fits into a pattern˜Muslim victims of state and
Hindutva violence appear to stand little chance of
securing justice. Nor does the Indian political class
as a whole and the Œmainstream‚ media, influential
sections of which are unabashedly Islamophobic, appear
concerned about their plight.

In May 1987 policemen belonging to the Uttar Pradesh
Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) shot dead 42
Muslim men, most of them youths, including some
minors, from the Hashimpura locality in Meerut. The
massacre occurred in the wake of the communal riots
that broke out in Meerut in April that year after the
Rajiv Gandhi government decided to open the gates of
the Babri Masjid to allow Hindus to worship therein.
The violence was brought under control in a few days.
In May, however, Meerut exploded again.

The violence this time was unprecedented and a massive
force, including the Army, was deployed in the
affected areas. Curfew was imposed and PAC personnel
conducted searches in several Muslim localities in the
city. On May 22, 1987, they booked hundreds of Muslim
youth from Hashimpura, although there was no rioting
in that area of Meerut city. Nineteen PAC personnel,
under platoon commander Surinder Pal Singh, took about
50 Muslim youths, most of them daily wage labourers
and poor weavers, in a PAC truck from Hashimpura to
the Upper Ganga Canal in Murad Nagar, Ghaziabad,
instead of taking them to the police station. They
shot them dead in cold blood and threw their bodies
into the canal. The PAC personnel then drove ahead in
their truck to the Hindon Canal in Makanpur and shot
dead several other Muslim youths they had taken with
them. Two of the persons who survived the Hindon Canal
massacre and managed to escape lodged an FIR at the
Link Road Police Station. One of the four others who
managed to escape the massacre at the Upper Ganga
Canal filed an FIR at the Murad Nagar police station.

The horrific incident outraged sections of the media
and Muslim organisations. The People's Union for
Democratic Rights (PUDR) filed a writ petition in the
Supreme Court seeking more compensation to the
families of the victims and an inquiry into the
incident. The Supreme Court directed the state
government to pay an additional compensation of a mere
Rs.20,000 to the families of each of the victims. In
1988, the state government ordered an inquiry by the
Crime Branch Central Investigation Department (CBCID).

During the CBCID inquiry, Sub-Inspector Virendra
Singh, who was in charge of the Link Road Police
Station, related that when he received information
about what had happened he set off towards the Hindon
Canal. On his way, he saw a PAC truck heading back
from the place where the massacre had taken place. He
then tried chasing the truck and saw it enter 41st
Vahini, a camp of the PAC. The gatekeeper on night
duty stopped it. Soon, Vibhuti Narain Rai,
Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, and Naseem Zaidi,
District Magistrate, Ghaziabad, reached 41st Vahini.
They tried getting the truck traced through senior PAC
officers, but to no avail.

The CBCID identified 13 of the 16 bodies recovered
from the Hindon Canal and filed a charge sheet against
19 PAC personnel under Section 197 of the Criminal
Procedure Code (CrPC). Since most of the accused were
public servants, the state government's sanction under
Section 197 was needed to prosecute them. The
policemen were accused of murder, attempt to murder
and destruction of evidence. The charge sheet was
filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM),

The CJM issued summons to the accused, asking them to
appear before the court. When the accused did not
appear before the court, bailable warrants were issued
six times between January 1997 and February 1998.
Later, non-bailable warrants were issued 17 times
between April 1998 and April 2000. But the accused
evaded the summons and warrants.

Finally, as a consequence of the pressure of the
Supreme Court, 16 of the 19 accused surrendered before
the court in May 2000, 13 years after the incident.
However, although their bail applications were
initially rejected by the CJM, the accused managed to
obtain bail from the court of the District Judge,
Ghaziabad. While granting bail, the Judge claimed that
since the accused were members of the PAC there was no
chance of them absconding. Since then, the case has
been repeatedly delayed. In 2001, on the petition
filed by the victims before the Supreme Court, the
case was transferred from Ghaziabad to New Delhi as
the conditions there, it was argued, would be more
conducive to the trial. The Supreme Court transferred
the case to the Tis Hazari Court and ordered for day-
to-day hearing. But the case could not be argued
because the Uttar Pradesh government deliberately
delayed the appointment of the Special Public
Prosecutor (SPP). "We are at loss to understand why
the state has been taking this matter so casually and
why we were not informed over all these years the
correct position," a three-Judge Bench, headed by the
then Chief Justice A.S. Anand, lamented while hearing
a petition on the Meerut riots.

The state government had time and again failed to
comply with the directions of the apex court. The
first of these directives was made in 1996 while
hearing a petition drawing the court's attention to
the riots and the massacre in Hashimpura. The
petitioner had demanded to know what the government
had done on the basis of the recommendations of the
Justice CD Parekh Commission, which had been earlier
constituted by the state government to look into the
violence in Meerut. In this context, the Supreme Court

"We wish to emphasise that any further lapse or
failure to do the needful on the part of the state
would invite not only adverse comments from this court
but may require the personal presence of the Home
Secretary in this court to explain the lapses with a
view also to consider the question of starting
proceedings for contempt of court by the delinquents."

The court put on record that due to the
non-cooperative attitude of the state government in
the matter, "the case still remained in the
preliminary stages", although 14 years had passed
since the filing of the petition.

In February 2004, the Supreme Court issued a notice to
the Director-General of Police (DGP) and the Chief
Secretary of UP to appear before it in person.
Initially, the Special Public Prosecutor (SPP)
appointed by the UP government took no interest in
discharging his duties. The victims were clearly
dissatisfied with his functioning and so he was
removed after they complained. In November 2004, the
government appointed Surinder Adlakha, a less than
mediocre lawyer, as SPP. Recently, on 15th June 2006,
when the case started in the Tis Hazari Court, the
Additional Session Judge, N.P Kaushik, wrote very
strong words against the ill- preparedness of the SPP.

One of the lawyers representing the Hashimpura
complainants, Vrinda Grover, feels that the victims
have the right to be consulted before the SPP is
appointed. She accuses the UP government of
deliberately causing miscarriage of justice in the
case by trying to create hurdles in the proceedings
and appointing a lethargic and professionally
incompetent SPP. The case has not been properly
investigated and more evidence could easily have been
collected from the site of the massacre.

As the apathetic attitude of the government to the
case of the hapless Muslims of Hashimpura seems to
suggest, it is not just the fanatic Hindutva lobby,
including the BJP that is indifferent, if not hostile,
to the plight of Muslims repeatedly denied justice.
Today, UP is ruled by Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi
Party and a Congress-Left combine rules India. The
present MLA and Minister in UP government from Meerut,
a Muslim elected on the Samajwadi Party ticket, too,
has shown little or no concern to take up the cause of
the victims of the Hashmipura massacre, so supine are
many self-proclaimed Muslim 'leaders', who are
answerable to their parties rather than to their own
constituencies, concerned more about their own
personal political gains than about issues afflicting
the community.

Access to justice in riot and carnage cases is a
distant dream for Muslims in India. The Hashimpura
massacre is a part of a long series of cases of denial
of justice to Muslims. Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was
the Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, when the
massacre took place, states very clearly in his
pioneering book 'Combating Communal
Conflicts--Perception of Police Neutrality During
Hindu-Muslim Riots in India' that most of the police
personnel posted in Meerut saw the riots as a result
of Muslim "mischief", while ignoring or overlooking
the role of Hindutva groups in fanning them. They
claimed that Meerut had become a "mini-Pakistan"
because of "Muslim intransigence" and that it was
necessary to teach the community a lesson. He argues
for combating such deeply-rooted communal prejudices
among the police and insists on the need for adequate
Muslim representation in the police services. Yet,
communal biases remain firmly entrenched, as reflected
in the State's reluctance to prosecute guilty police
personnel in the Hashimpura trial.

There is a desperate need to scrutinise the role of
public prosecutors who, in many trials related to
communal riots and anti-Muslim pogroms, take a leading
role in facilitating impunity to the accused. In the
wake of the state-sponsored massacres of Muslims in
2002, Gujarat witnessed the same kind of modus
operandi adopted by the state, resulting in mass
acquittals of Hindus accused in heinous cases. This
calls for Muslim organisations to work along with
human rights groups as well as organisations
representing other marginalised communities to carry
on the struggle for justice.
The writer is based in Delhi and writes on issues
related to human rights & peace building. He may be
contacted on azimsherwani@gmail.com

September 26, 2006

Mass carnage in Gujarat 2002: Struggle for Justice

(Communalism Combat
September 2006)

Special Report

Struggle for Justice

Various issues related to the state sponsored genocide in Gujarat in 2002 require urgent attention: the guilty must be punished and the state must provide fair and immediate reparation

by Teesta Setalvad

The struggle for justice to the victims of the mass carnage in Gujarat 2002 has taken many twists and turns. The inordinate media attention on the famed Best Bakery case, which in a sense overtook all others, was justified given the prompt hearing and disposal of the issue by the apex court in its historic judgement dated April 12, 2004.

What somehow escapes public attention is the extraordinary scale and extent of state complicity in the carnage of citizens in 2002 and therefore the unrelenting efforts to shield its perpetrators. Various writ petitions, trials and civil suits have attempted to bring this out. Apart from the issue of punishing the guilty in the major massacres, the issue of fair reparation by the state is also pending before the Gujarat High Court (Citizens for Justice and Peace, CJP, are the petitioners).

Besides this, all the victim survivors of the Gulberg Society massacre have filed civil suits of compensation against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Zakia Jaffri, widow of the late former parliamentarian, Ahsan Jaffri, has filed an FIR (First Information Report) under Section 154 of the CrPC against Modi and 67 others (including present and former ministers and IPS and IAS officials) alleging criminal conspiracy at the highest level.

Over the next few issues of Communalism Combat we will refresh our readers’ memory on the various issues related to the state sponsored genocide that are pending decision before our courts. To begin with, in this issue we document the brazen attitude of the state of Gujarat in the mass carnage cases. (Apart from the Best Bakery case in which Additional Sessions Judge Abhay Thipsay of the Mazgaon court, Mumbai delivered his verdict in February this year.)

On September 1, 2003 when the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) approached the Supreme Court demanding retrial and transfer in the Best Bakery case, the statutory body also filed a transfer petition asking for reinvestigation and transfer of major carnage cases, including the Godhra train torching case, the Gulberg Society and the Naroda Patiya incidents. NHRC’s transfer petition was a logical corollary to its own fact-finding report on the Gujarat killings (May-July 2002). The report had strongly recommended transfer of investigation and setting up of special courts for the trial of the mass carnage cases.

CJP intervened in the case and filed over 65 affidavits for victim survivors of these massacres. It pleaded that the Naroda Gaon, Ode and Sardarpura massacres also needed to be reinvestigated and transferred for trial as they too had figured in the NHRC’s 2002 report. Following CJP’s arguments, on November 21, 2003 the Supreme Court stayed the Godhra, Gulberg, Naroda Gaon, Patiya, Ode and Sardarpura trials. Since then, detailed hearings have taken place during which CJP placed voluminous details on record.

After an inordinate delay – due largely to the turnaround of witness Zahira Sheikh in November 2004 — the Supreme Court, on July 11, 2006, resumed hearing the matter. It ordered the services of Judge Mehta, additional sessions judge, Delhi to guide the court on the issues raised. Now, on September 27 and 28, 2006, the issues of reinvestigation and transfer (as in the Best Bakery case) are to be heard by the apex court.

CC brings to its readers details of the failure of proper investigation and continued subversion of the justice process by the state of Gujarat, which CJP has already brought to the Supreme Court’s notice. The current issue of CC deals with the Gulberg Society, Naroda Gaon, Naroda Patiya, Ode and Sardarpura massacres. In our next issue, we will publish details on the Godhra trial.

Complicity at the highest level in the appointment of public prosecutors (PPs) by the state of Gujarat was thoroughly exposed in the Best Bakery case. Lawyers who had appeared for the accused were appointed as public prosecutors, exposing a transparent conflict of interest. Worse, many who were appointed were clearly linked, ideologically and organisationally, with the VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal, the very outfits that had proudly claimed credit for the post-Godhra violence.

Instead of learning lessons from the scathing comments of the apex court in the Best Bakery case, the Gujarat government has shown little inclination to correct its misdemeanours. A shocking piece of information has recently come to light related to the Godhra train arson and some of the major post-Godhra carnages. CJP has brought this to the notice of the apex court. Following the decision of the Supreme Court on July 11 to get the matter of the pleas for reinvestigation and transfer examined by a sitting judge (additional sessions) from Delhi, the Gujarat government announced that it was appointing two special public prosecutors to plead their case. Shockingly, Vinod D. Gajjar, one of the lawyers chosen by the state of Gujarat, holds the brief and has appeared for 23 accused in the Gulberg Society (Meghaninagar) massacre.

Even after November 21, 2003 when the Supreme Court stayed the trials, the Gujarat government has persisted with its double standards evident in the way it has pursued investigations in the Godhra train fire incident and in the post-Godhra massacres. In the former case, the Gujarat administration and police have aggressively persisted with their faulty and mala fide investigations. In sharp contrast, despite numerous and repeated complaints by victim survivors, the police doggedly refused to take any corrective action as regards investigation in the Gulberg, Sardarpura, Ode, Naroda Gaon and Patiya massacres. All this is now on record before the Supreme Court.

Despite three rigorous years in court, the Modi government is completely silent on why it did not undertake any further investigation following applications for reinvestigation made by witnesses. It is similarly silent on arresting those actually named as accused. They are, in effect, allowing those accused named to go scot-free without even a minimum investigation.

On protection of witnesses, too, misleading information continues to be provided to the Supreme Court. The government’s own table supplied to the court tells a different story. There is not a word on the clubbing of FIRs, deliberate omission of names of accused, incomplete list of dead and missing persons, absence of dying declarations and injured persons’ statements, appointments of PPs or reinvestigation.

In the post-Godhra massacres there has been no attempt to de-club FIRs (dealt with later) and no attempt to address the complaints of eyewitnesses challenging the facts recorded by the police pertaining to things such as the sequence of events and the names of the accused. Fresh statements of witnesses were not recorded and no reinvestigations have been conducted despite the fact that there was no bar on this.

As petitioners, CJP has demanded that all police control room records of the relevant time from the carnage-affected parts of Gujarat be scrutinised and placed before the court. This would bring to light the numerous distress calls that were made and which were ignored by top echelons of the government and police. But the Gujarat state has maintained a studied silence on the issue.

The blatantly discriminatory attitude towards the perpetrators of the post-Godhra violence is also evident in the obvious duplicity in granting of bail by the courts in Gujarat. Whereas a large number of the Godhra accused remain in jail four years after the incident, those responsible for heinous mass crimes were promptly granted anticipatory bail by the Gujarat High Court in cases where the lower courts denied the same. The result is that the perpetrators freely roam in the violence-rocked areas under political tutelage and continue to intimidate witnesses.

The Gujarat government has shown no qualms in misleading even the apex court. In 2004 it deliberately supplied a partial list of bail orders to convey the impression that bail had been refused to quite a few accused. When CJP, the interveners, pointed out this lapse to the court’s amicus curiae, Harish Salve, he had the bail orders translated which exposed the attempt at deliberate concealment: in cases where a lower court refused bail, the Gujarat High Court had invariably granted it. The Gujarat government chose to conceal such rulings of the high court. Such undue concern and interest in shielding the accused suggests complicity at the very highest levels.

As far as rehabilitation is concerned, the fact is that survivors and eyewitnesses of the Sardarpura massacre cannot return to Shaikh Mohalla in their native village and are still living as refugees at Satnagar in a neighbouring district. Survivors of the Gulberg massacre cannot return to their middle class housing colony. Survivors of the Ode massacre cannot return to their village. Well over four years after the carnage, only a few victim survivors of Naroda Gaon and Patiya have returned to their locality. Even after Supreme Court orders have been issued, the security provided to witnesses is inadequate and threats continue.

And while the property of those accused in the Godhra massacre has been attached by the authorities, the property of those granted anticipatory bail in the post-Godhra carnages has not been attached.

Gulberg massacre

In the ghastly massacre that took place at Gulberg Society between 7.30 am and 6 p.m. on February 28, 2002, over 70 persons were killed in broad daylight. An FIR was registered on the same date. Three charge sheets have been filed. Significantly, the witnesses made three applications for proper investigation between 2002 and 2003 but none of these have been adequately responded to by the state of Gujarat. A complaint addressed to Gujarat’s home secretary dated July 18, 2003 pointed out that Chetan Shah, the public prosecutor appointed by the government, had in fact appeared for accused.

Repeated applications for further investigation (the first was dated November 25, 2002) lodged by 11 of the witnesses with the Meghaninagar police station and the commissioner of police, Ahmedabad have been ignored. It was when these shocking facts pointing to gross negligence of duty were placed before the Supreme Court that it ordered a stay of the trial. Despite this, the Modi government continues to maintain a deafening silence on the issues raised and has failed to respond to the contentions raised by the witness survivors.

Survivor witnesses have filed affidavits before the apex court pointing out that their repeated complaints to the Gujarat police to do an honest investigator’s job have been ignored. For example, in his detailed application before the court, witness survivor Salimbhai Sandhi states that in his statements to the police recorded on March 6, 11 and 13, 2002 he had named Krishna, Naran Channelwalla, Atul Vaidya, Meghsingh Chaudhary (Vakil), Manish Prabhudas Jain, Rajesh Dayaram Jinger, Pradeep Parmar, Bharat Talodia, Bipin Patel and Arun Bhat as the accused. However, the investigating agency had deleted their names.

In his complaint to the police in November 2002, witness Ashraf Sikandarbhai pointed out that while he had named Girish Prabhudas Jain in his statement to the police on March 3, 2002, there is no mention of Jain in the statement recorded by the police. Another survivor witness, Imtyaz Saudkhan, had also demanded further investigation in November 2002, complaining that Jain’s name was missing from the police record of his statement of March 5, 2002 even though he had specifically named him.

Survivor witness Salimbhai Noormohammed’s affidavit in the Supreme Court complains that his police statement dated February 28, 2002 was falsely recorded and that his November 2002 application to the police in this connection has been ignored. Along with naming the accused he had also detailed the weapons each of them had wielded: Krishna (petrol carboys), Naran Channelwalla (with pipe and gupti), Atul Vaidya (sword), Meghsingh Chaudhary (petrol carboys), Manish Prabhudas Jain (sword and petrol carboys), Rajesh Dayaram Jinger (petrol carboys), Bharat Talodia (sword), Bipin Patel (sword).

Similarly, complaints lodged by victim survivors Sayrabhen Sandhi, Ashraf Sikandarbhai, Mohd Ali Shahjadali Saiyyed, Fakir Mohammad Saiyyad, Mohd Rafik Bukhara, with specific contentions, were also ignored by the Gujarat police. Fresh applications to the police made by witnesses in April and yet again in September 2003 also remain unanswered.

The second application filed by witnesses on April 16, 2003 contains shocking details about the PP. The first public prosecutor appointed by the state of Gujarat, respondents in the Gulberg trial, was Chetan Shah who had appeared for the accused in this very case. In September 2003 – after the Supreme Court took cognisance of the utter mockery of justice by the Gujarat government in the acquittals in the Best Bakery case – the plea of an eyewitness in the Gulberg massacre, Firoz Gulzar Mohammed Pathan, asking for a removal of Chetan Shah was acceded to. The PP appointed in Shah’s place was PP Atre. The application filed by witnesses before the trial court dated November 4, 2003 states that PP Atre (appointed after Chetan Shah’s removal) had argued against the witnesses’ plea for reinvestigation and had supported the affidavit of the police inspector denying allegations against the police about faulty investigation.

In a note filed before Judge Mehta, the Gujarat government admits that Chetan Shah was appointed PP in this case but was not assigned the case. No reasons are given here and none of the serious contentions, raised against a state which is the prosecuting agency and which is proven to have appointed lawyers who had already appeared for those accused of mass crimes, are addressed. The attitude of the state of Gujarat, despite judicial rebuke, remains one of smug complacency.

All the applications made by witnesses for corrections in the course of investigation were made in 2002 and 2003 and yet again after charge sheets were filed. However, there was no evidence of any desire at any stage by the Gujarat government to make amends.

Detailed affidavits filed by witnesses and victim survivors in the Supreme Court contain shocking details and raise important points to be considered on the following issues:

Coercion by investigating officer

The affidavit of Rupa Modi dated October 5, 2003 states how the original police inspector, PI KG Erda, tried to coerce her into changing her stand.

No protection to witnesses

Saiyyad Sajjad Ali’s affidavit mentions fear for life and lack of protection; Said Khan Pathan speaks of witnesses being surrounded and threatened on the premises of the Nanavaty-Shah Commission itself in August 2004. Similarly, the affidavits of Zakia Ahsan Jaffri and Tanvir Jaffri talk of being threatened by some of the accused who the police claim are absconding.

Clubbing of FIRs

In response to serious charges, the Modi government has provided extremely frivolous reasons for clubbing the FIRs. The clubbing of serious offences into a single FIR is motivated by a desire to subvert the process of justice. The Gulberg massacre was the first recorded incident after the Godhra arson. It began at 7.30 a.m. on February 28, 2002 and continued until at least 6 p.m. The criminal offences in the brutal massacre included mob attack, police complicity, gang rape, arson and killing. Is the filing of one FIR justified? The reasoning advanced by the state of Gujarat – that simply because the place and offence is the same, they have all been clubbed – is woefully inadequate.

While over 70 persons were brutally massacred, there were at least 10-12 cases of brute sexual violence and gang rapes. Clubbing all the crimes committed in this fashion in fact does several things:

(a) reduces the magnitude of the mob attack,

(b) minimises the detailing of individual and collective crimes,

(c) makes difficult the punishment of the guilty thus subverting the criminal justice process itself. It obfuscates the role of each of the accused. Had separate complaints been registered, the degree of involvement of all the accused, in terms of leadership and incitement, committing of criminal acts (burning victims to death, quartering, parading and then killing), role in the gang rapes etc. would have been clearly specified. There is an obvious desire on the part of the investigating agency to violate both the letter and spirit of criminal procedure in giving the go-by to the recording of details of the mass crimes and mob violence. All this amounts to shielding the accused. There is also no desire to fix role and responsibility for the utter and complete breakdown of the rule of law and constitutional governance in the state of Gujarat.

Ahsan Jaffri surrendered himself to the attacking mob at around 2.30 p.m. on the fateful day, once he realised that all his efforts, including 200 telephone calls for help to, among others, then chief minister of the state (Narendra Modi) and Union home minister (LK Advani), had not lessened the fury of the attack. The attack lasted for 10 long hours at the minimum. After Jaffri had surrendered to the mob he was stripped, his body parts were chopped off and he was paraded, half-alive, around the society to terrify the others before he was burnt alive. Do these gruesome incidents and the criminals involved in this specific crime not deserve the registration of a separate FIR?

The state of Gujarat’s response is an attempt to cover up the extent of state connivance and complicity. KG Erda, the inspector of Meghaninagar police station, stood by as the mob attacked. Then commissioner of police, PC Pandey (who has since been rewarded and is now director general of police, Gujarat), visited Gulberg Society around 10.30-10.45 a.m. Phone calls were made seeking help for over seven desperate hours before the mass killings began at 2.30 p.m. Gulberg Society is not that far from Gandhinagar or Shahibaug, the police headquarters in the city. None of this is reflected in the police records of the ghastly incident.

There is no explanation offered by the Gujarat police as to why many of those named by witness survivors as perpetrators of the violence – Dr Atul Vaidya, Pradeep Parmar, Bipin Patel, Arun Patel, Jitu Pratapbhai, Pappu Pratapbhai, Manish Prabhudas Jain, Dinesh Prabhudas Sharma, Dharmesh, Kapil Munnabhai and Bharat Rajput – are missing from the police record of their statements. Similarly, there is no explanation as to why many other accused named in the FIRs – Girish Prabhudas Sharma, Ramesh Pande alias Choti, Ashish Pande – are claimed to be absconding even though it is public knowledge that they roam freely in the Meghaninagar area and for fear of whom the victims dare not return to Meghaninagar.

Naroda Gaon and Patiya massacre

Clubbing of FIRs

The clubbing of FIRs has been the biggest scandal related to investigations into the post-Godhra carnages. Naroda Gaon and Patiya occupy a large geographical area on the outskirts of Ahmedabad city, an area that witnessed several incidents of appalling brutality during the Gujarat carnage. A total of 106 FIRs were registered at the Naroda police station on February 28, 2002. These 106 FIRs have subsequently been shockingly merged into two bulk FIRs relating to the two incidents.

Following this entirely illegal and unlawful clubbing, we are left with just FIR No. 97/2002 and 98/2002 relating to the offences at Naroda Gaon. Similarly, 28 independent FIRs in the killings at Naroda Patiya have been merged into a single FIR No. 100/2002.

The story behind crime report, CR 197/2002 of Naroda police station (Naroda Gaon) is particularly scandalous because the names of elected representatives as well as mastermind Dr Jaideep Patel (general secretary, Gujarat VHP) were mentioned when these FIRs were first recorded. But in the clubbing process, they have been dropped. Thus while Jaideep Patel was named by each of the witnesses and BJP MLAs Ashok and Maya Kotdani by several of them, none of their names figure in the clubbed FIR. The Modi government has maintained a deafening silence on these issues and has simply not responded to repeated complaints, backed by facts, of gross lapses in investigations.

Faulty/Mixed up charge sheets

Two FIRs of the main incident that occurred at Naroda Patiya (100/2002) and Naroda Gaon (98/2002) are registered at the Naroda police station. There is almost a deliberate mixing up of records related to the two charge sheets.

Ø Madinaben Arifbhai Malek’s injury certificate has been wrongly included in the charge sheet related to the Naroda Patiya incident though she is a resident of Naroda Gaon and her case should figure in the other charge sheet.

Ø Sugrabi Shaikh was killed at Naroda Gaon (CR No. 98/2002). However, in a gross discrepancy in investigations, without any application of mind, her post-mortem report is wrongly produced in CR No. 100/2002 while the statements in this regard are produced in CR No. 98/2002 and not in CR No. 100/2002.

Ø Twenty injury certificates issued by the doctor who treated the injured have been attached to the Naroda Patiya case. Of these 20 injured, nine are eyewitnesses. Yet, to date, the police have not recorded their statements in connection with the event.

Ø Witness Mohammed Maruf Rauf Khan Pathan’s statement recorded by the police on March 17, 2002 does not contain the names of the accused. Thereafter, another statement of his was recorded, on May 23, 2002, by the crime branch. This, the second statement, does contain the names of the accused but was not produced in the charge sheet.

Ø Sufiyabano Abdul Majid Shaikh, aged 17, residing at Jawannagar, Naroda Patiya was admitted to hospital on February 28, 2002 with severe burn injuries. Her father, Abdul Majid stated in his police statement dated April 15, 2002 that he met his daughter Sufiyabano in the hospital on March 4, 2002 when she told him she had been raped by Bhawani Chara and his son who is a vakil (lawyer). This fact is recorded in her father's police statement dated April 22, 2002. However, it was only after Sufiya's death on March 7, 2002 and her post-mortem report as well as her dying declaration and police statement dated March 3, 2002 were handed over to her father that it became evident that these records have no mention of rape.

Ø The police have not produced any evidence in any charge sheet related to Naroda Gaon or Patiya regarding the identification of most of the bodies. For example, deceased Kauser Bano whose abdomen was slit open by sword and her foetus thrown into the fire. No evidence has been produced regarding identification of her body.

Ø There are also gross discrepancies in the names and status of the accused between the charge sheet and other documents.

Ø The charge sheet related to the Naroda Patiya incident shows a total of 97 dead bodies. However, in a scandalous lapse of investigation, post-mortem investigation has only been conducted on 59 dead bodies. As for the remaining 38 dead bodies, no post-mortem report is attached nor has any reason for this lapse been offered so far.

Threats and intimidation of witnesses

Witnesses of these incidents were repeatedly threatened and coerced, especially by Accused No. 1 Babu Bajrangi (local unit chief of the Bajrang Dal, who is out on bail) on the premises of the Nanavaty-Shah Commission in August 2004. It was only after CJP’s intervention in the Supreme Court that they were given protection, by way of round the clock protection by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).

Mohammed Sharif Rahim Miyan Malek has stated in his affidavit that when he tried to return to his place of residence, an RSS worker, Pradeep Patel alias Padumal, threatened him. (Patel’s father is named as an accused in the massacre.) He also said, "How much more do you wish to go through before you leave? Next time you will be killed!"

Through the affidavits of Nanubhai Rasool Miya Malek it is clear that this witness who had deposed before the Nanavaty-Shah Commission was booked in a false case of murder of one Ghanshyam Patel and released on bail 10 months later. Similarly, 11 other key witnesses in the Naroda Gaon and Patiya massacres who have named specific persons as accused have been falsely implicated in bogus cases. For example, Bismillah Khan, who gave shelter to many victims and who escaped the mobs that day, has also been in jail on false charges of murder.

None of these serious issues raised by CJP, with facts supporting the contentions and allegations, have been adequately responded to by the state of Gujarat.

Countering the state of Gujarat’s inability to contest bare facts, this writer has pointed out that substantive allegations in affidavits by eyewitnesses are not answered, including those related to state complicity and the fact that names of influential persons were deliberately left out by the police. Allegations of sexual violence and rape crimes have, according to eyewitnesses, been deliberately obscured by the police.

In sum, the entire role of the state of Gujarat in the four years since the genocide of 2002 has been geared to reducing the magnitude of the evidence, reducing the magnitude of the mob attacks, negating the gruesome description of individual and collective crimes and concealing the names of the politically and financially powerful who masterminded and led the attacks. All this with a view to prevent action against the guilty thus subverting the criminal justice system itself.

Sardarpura massacre

The Sardarpura massacre that occurred in Mehsana district on March 1-2, 2002 took place at the Shaikh Mohalla. Witness survivors photographed this spot in June 2006 and the photographs reveal the pitiful condition of houses still in a broken down state. Burnt clothes of victims are in the same condition that they were in March 2002. A Patel from the village has even taken over a shop/booth belonging to a victim and has now set up business there.

Thirty-three persons, mostly women and children, were burnt alive in a small room in Sardarpura village. In all, there are 54 accused and they have all been released on bail through four different applications filed before the additional sessions judge, Mehsana, DR Shah. Between June and October 2002 four applications were filed for cancellation of bail of the accused (including a writ petition alleging mala fide investigations) by Hashim Qureshi, the advocate appearing on behalf of the victims’ families. The PP, surprisingly, did not object to the cancellation of bail. The high court has issued notices in all four of these matters.

The PP in the district court at the time, Dilip Trivedi, is also general secretary of the VHP in Mehsana district. (Trivedi also made an extremely provocative statement to the daily, Sandesh, in the wake of the Godhra train arson on February 28.) It was only after vociferous protests that Trivedi was removed from his post as PP. The state government is completely silent on this.

The four applications for rejection of bail were made on the grounds that even after being released on bail the accused had attacked a mosque in the same Sardarpura area on May 13, 2002. Charge sheets have been filed and charges framed on the basis of faulty FIRs and worse, mala fide and sketchy investigations.

Though FIRs were registered, charges were not framed. Shockingly, one of the cases related to this massacre has been closed as ‘A’ summary. The police have made no efforts to arrest those supposedly absconding. The state government continues to proffer inadequate and erroneous information suggesting utter contempt of the proceedings in which it has been held prima facie guilty of gross unconstitutional conduct.

The first incident at Sardarpura village took place on the night of February 28, 2002 when cabins and hawking pushcarts belonging to the Muslim community were burnt. Though victims sought to register a complaint with PSI Parmar, the police sub-inspector who was on bandobast at the time, he refused to register the complaint.

Between 9.30 and 11.30 p.m. on the night of March 1, 2002, a mob of about 1,000-1,500 persons attacked, looted and burnt down shops, cabins and homes belonging to the Muslim community situated in the Sardarpura bazaar. Some of these details are contained in a complaint that was lodged by PSI Rathod. No names of accused have been mentioned in this complaint though Rathod was present there on bandobast duty. Witness survivors contend that Rathod knew the persons leading the mob by name but due to political pressure on him he deliberately concealed the names of the accused in the complaint.

As far as the massacre of March 1-2, 2002 is concerned, the registration of the complaint and the subsequent investigation into the mass massacre that took place at Shaikh Mohalla have been effected in a partisan manner with a view to underplay the gravity of the crime and to protect the role of rich and politically influential people who participated in it. As a result, the main accused have been acquitted. There are defects in the police statements and therefore also the charge sheets.

The defects in the charge sheet pointed out to the Supreme Court are as follows:

Ø During the violence of March 1, 2002 that engulfed Sardarpura village and surrounding areas of the district, PSI Parmar had brought Muslims from Sundar village to Sardarpura village. Though a large number of people were witness to this, none of their statements were recorded.

Ø Pathan Mohalla lies adjacent to Shaikh Mohalla (where the massacre took place). On the night of March 1, 2002 there were about 200 persons present in Pathan Mohalla, who by their very presence and proximity to the place of tragedy were eyewitnesses who had seen the organised attack, those responsible, the timing and the ferocity etc. However, the police did not record any statements from any of those present in Pathan Mohalla.

Ø A series of incidents took place in the presence of PSIs Parmar and Rathod. However, no witness statement from PSI Parmar has been recorded. No departmental inquiry has been conducted against either or both of them.

Ø The panchas whose signatures were taken on the panchnama are in fact relatives of Accused Nos. 10, 23 and 31. They appear to have been chosen as panchas by the police with a view to withdraw support to the prosecution (and support the accused) at the time of trial.

Ø On the night of the incident recorded in CR 46/2002 i.e. the night of March 1 and 2, 2002, at about 2.30 a.m. deputy superintendent of police, DSP Gehlot came to Sardarpura village and accompanied by persons from Pathan Mohalla went to Shaikh Mohalla from where he transported the dead to the civil hospital and, using two large police vehicles, moved out those Muslim victims who had survived. These facts do not figure in the police investigations and the statements of the persons concerned were not recorded. DSP Gehlot, in fact, revealed details of these events in a statement to the media published in the northern Gujarat edition of Gujarat Samachar dated March 7, 2002.

Ø In the charge sheet filed by the police, no statements from the members of the Harijan community who gave Muslims shelter have been recorded.

Ø The Muslim homes are located adjacent to the scene of the mass murder at Shaikh Mohalla. Adjacent to these are the homes of the accused. The Muslim homes are lower in height than the higher constructions belonging to the accused. The accused threw burning cloth torches from their higher buildings to torch the lives and homes of Muslims of Shaikh Mohalla. These detailed facts about the attack are all missing from the police investigations.

Ø When they sought bail following their arrests, the accused received full support from the state. The sessions court granted them bail subject to the condition that the accused would not enter Sardarpura village. Yet not only do the accused conveniently reside in Sardarpura village in full view of the police and administration but victim survivors and witnesses cannot enter and live in Sardarpura themselves. Though the accused have violated the conditions of bail, the police have not and are not taking any action against them. The state government has taken no steps to ensure that the Muslim victims and eyewitnesses of Sardarpura village are rehabilitated.

Ø In the police statements the accused have not been named, the statements themselves being shoddily recorded. Investigation has been deliberately shoddy so as to shield the accused. There are several contradictions evident in the FIRs, the police statements and the charge sheet.

In its reply before Judge Mehta, the state of Gujarat was silent on the fact that the PP did not oppose bail. Bail was granted on the condition that the accused could not enter Sardarpura village. In fact, the opposite is happening. It is the victim survivors who have been ostracised from their hometown.

Ode massacre

The Ode massacre took place at Ode village, Khambolaj police station/Anand police station, in Anand district. A total of 27 persons were killed on two separate dates, March 1, 2002 and March 2, 2002.

The first FIR 23/2002 and the second FIR 27/2002 relate to the incidents of the first day. To date no FIR has been lodged in the offence of torching alive Ghulam Rasool Miya on March 2, 2002 despite repeated complaints to the police and the trial court.

Both complainants, of FIR 23/2002 (Rafik Khalifa) and FIR 27/2002 (Rehanabehn Vora), have filed affidavits before the Supreme Court. The complainants have said that only four deaths have been confirmed while the bodies of the other victims were disposed of at some unknown location. The FIRs were lodged at the Khambolaj police station and 22 accused were arrested in the two cases.

Bail was granted with unholy haste in this case of carnage as well. Many of the accused listed as absconding are wealthy non-resident Indian Patels who enter and leave the country freely despite having been accused of such a heinous crime. Their passports have not been impounded. Meanwhile, eyewitnesses live outdoors in their fields and dare not return to live in Ode town — a heavy price to pay for their decision to fight for justice.

Shockingly, the judicial magistrate, first class, Umreth, rejected the remand application for the accused even though the crime has been classified as not just grave but heinous. A revision for remand was made by the police before the sessions court, Anand, in both cases. The presiding judge was NM Thakore. During the pendency of the remand revision application, 18 accused were released on interim bail for eight days in 2002 to enable them to celebrate the Shivratri festival! Finally, 16 accused who were members of the unlawful assembly that committed this heinous crime – burning alive 26 persons – were released on regular bail by the sessions court, Anand. This action of the lower judiciary has generated a sense of injustice and outrage. This writer visited Ode in June 2006. Victim survivors cannot live in their ancestral homes. One accused approached us threateningly as we toured the area.

By the state of Gujarat’s own admission, a total of 39 accused were arrested by the police and released on bail. Yet the number of absconding accused shown is as high as 57. Of the 39 accused who were released on bail, five have returned to America.

The state’s latest response before the apex court raises more questions than it answers. The points that need investigation are:

Why were no firefighters able to reach Ode until virtually 24 hours after the attack began?

The state of Gujarat remains dishonest in its claims of having rehabilitated victim survivors. It has been denying the ground reality that none of the victim survivors or eyewitnesses of the Ode massacre can return to their mohalla in Ode. Any rehabilitative measures implemented, such as the rehabilitation of some victims in houses at Anand, have been carried out by private NGOS, not the state. Most victims live in fields outside Ode.

No proper protection has been given to witnesses in Ode (much as in the Sardarpura case) despite Supreme Court orders in this regard. Only cluster protection has been provided by the State Reserve Police under the supervision of the CISF. This is far from satisfactory and there have been numerous complaints lodged with the CISF about intimidation. Even today victim survivors and eyewitnesses live under threat from the rich and politically powerful accused who enjoy the patronage of a local MLA and minister of the ruling party.

The media's role in communalising Karnataka

(Communalism Combat
September 2006)

Hindutva’s vital organs

The media’s role in communalising Karnataka

by Gauri Lankesh

Marshall McLuhan’s theory that ‘the medium is the message’ certainly holds true when it comes to the role of the media in the increasing communalisation of Karnataka. The tragedy is that some leading Kannada language newspapers have made it a habit to publish false stories, baseless theories and imagined facts as scoop stories. For example, Vijaya Karnataka, the largest selling Kannada daily, recently carried a four-column article about ‘coastal Karnataka’s links with the underworld’ in its coastal edition of September 8, 2006.

The article made interesting reading, for it was written with conviction. The gist of the article was how people in the state’s coastal areas have for long had ties with the Mumbai underworld, how these ties have led to the seizure of explosives, AK-47s, seditious literature, etc. in some of the coastal towns, how these seizures have averted major terrorist attacks and so on. Although it did not mention any particular community by name, any layperson reading the article would automatically make the connection between the Muslim community in the coastal areas and the underworld because it made specific mention of Haji Mastan (former Mumbai don) a few times.

But the reality is that the article did not mention any facts nor any instances or any events... no nothing. It would not be wrong to say that the entire article was pure speculation clearly aimed at tarnishing the image of the Muslim community in Karnataka’s coastal areas.

This is one of many such instances where the Kannada media have overtly pushed the Hindutva agenda. And they have taken this to such lengths that while they give substantial coverage to Hindutva forces they deliberately ignore or ban facts provided by secular forces in each and every case.

To cite another example: the Hindutva brigade issued a ‘fatwa’ four years ago that henceforth all publications should use the term ‘Dattatreya Peeta’ instead of the now disputed shrine’s actual name, Bababudangiri. To our amazement we found that most publications followed this diktat. As a fallout of this, in the public mind the name Bababudangiri is gradually being erased and replaced by ‘Dattatreya Peeta’. So much so that when I was to address a student’s programme at a college in Mandya recently, the compère who was introducing me to the audience said, without batting an eyelid, "Gauri Lankesh has been part of the struggle to retain the syncretic culture of Dattatreya Peeta."

Vijaya Karnataka and Udayavani are the two main publications that have been indulging in such saffronisation of the reader’s mind. Both these publications have not only made it a habit to publish baseless stories as fact, they have also taken to editorialising in their news coverage. In the same September 8 edition I referred to earlier, Vijaya Karnataka carried a news report regarding the recitation of Vande Mataram as its main story of the day. A line in the report read: "Arjun Singh, who is at the forefront of appeasing the Muslim community, was present at the function to sing Vande Mataram." To pass off opinions like "appeasement of Muslims" as news is, by any yardstick, a new "standard" being set by such publications.

Ever since Vijaya Karnataka was launched in 1999, the state has witnessed a media war, fought in terms of both price and content. Unfortunately, the idea that the more ‘Hindutva’ the publication the more readers it will gain has spread its tentacles long and deep within the media. Add to this the fact that often the proprietors and the editorial staff are in fact from the Hindutva camp and the combination becomes even more rabid.

Vijaya Karnataka was launched by none other than Vijay Sankeshwar who, when he began the paper, was already a sitting BJP MP. So it was no wonder that after a few trials and errors he picked Vishweshwar Bhat to be his editor. Bhat was a member of the RSS and maintains close ties with the sangh parivar’s many outfits, including the BJP, even today. Once Bhat took over, he brought in various other "writers" from the saffron brigade. One of these is Pratap Simha who usually rants and raves in his weekly column against "pseudo secularists" or anyone opposed to the sangh parivar. It is not surprising that most of Vijaya Karnataka’s reporters and subeditors are pro-right wing. With the editorial team of Vijaya Karnataka appearing to clone a sangh parivar ‘baithak’, is it any wonder that the contents of the newspaper, sometimes overtly, often covertly, push the Hindutva agenda?

Anxious not to be left behind, Udayavani often competes with Vijaya Karnataka, even publishing baseless rumours as news. In one instance of this some years ago, a news report published in Udayavani’s coastal editions said that Muslim traders were pricking Hindu girls with syringes carrying the AIDS virus. Obviously, this had Hindus up in arms against Muslims and they took their revenge by destroying Muslim houses in about half a dozen villages.

What was particularly galling about this report is that neither the reporter nor the editor or anyone from Udayavani had bothered to check their facts. In fact, the actual incident was relatively minor. At a village fair in a coastal town a Muslim trader had used a common needle to prick a few people who had tried to steal some of his wares. This had caused a commotion at the fair and the police had picked up the Muslim vendor. Yet this was enough to start off the rumour that Muslims were injecting Hindu girls with the AIDS virus. And this rumour appeared as front page news in Udayavani. Even after fact-finding teams investigated the matter and revealed the truth, Udayavani insisted on carrying this baseless AIDS story as if it were a terrorist attack on Hindus in the coastal areas.

In Adi Udupi last year two Muslim men, Hajabba and Hasanabba, were stripped, beaten up and paraded naked by members of the sangh parivar, causing an uproar in the state. With the state government doing little to arrest the main accused in this incident, Karnataka’s secular forces organised a massive protest rally at Udupi in which, naturally, a large number of Muslims participated.

But the local media, including Udayavani and Vijaya Karnataka’s local editions, not only overlooked the utter viciousness of the sangh parivar behind the Adi Udupi incident, but their reports on the rally gave it an entirely different twist by claiming that some of the Muslim youth who had participated in the event carried ‘Pakistani flags’. They even published huge photographs of some youth carrying green flags with the caption "Pakistani flags at the rally" while the accompanying news reports claimed that some of the youth had even shouted pro-Pakistan slogans.

To counter such false reportage, the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum had to approach the local superintendent of police, convince him that the triangular green flags with the crescent and star were not Pakistani flags (which are rectangular and have a vertical white stripe on the left) and that no one had shouted pro-Pakistan slogans. Even after these facts were presented to the newspapers, they refused to carry clarifications the next day. Finally we had to persuade the superintendent of police to organise a press conference where he clarified that neither were Pakistani flags carried nor pro-Pakistan slogans shouted. The papers did carry details of this press conference but not on the front page – the report was carried as a small item on their inside pages!

One could go on and on about the media’s role in pushing the Hindutva agenda by printing falsehoods, biases, rumours and pure imagination as fact, but I shall end with just one more example. A few of months ago, Vijaya Karnataka carried an article glorifying Hindutva ideologue Veer Savarkar as a great freedom fighter, patriot and so on, the usual jargon pedalled by the sangh parivar. I was incensed enough to call the publisher, Vijay Sankeshwar (who has since sold his publication to Bennett, Coleman & Co., Ltd. of The Times of India) to say, "May I write a piece containing the actual facts about Savarkar for your publication? I am asking you since I am aware that your editor will definitely throw it into the dustbin." To which Sankeshwar replied: "Why all this controversy? Veer Savarkar was a great patriot who fought for the freedom of our country."

I rest my case.

(Gauri Lankesh is editor of the Kannada weekly magazine, Lankesh, and a member of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum.)

Karnataka is fast emerging as Hindutva's new hate laboratory

(Communalism Combat
September 2006)

Bloody harvest

Karnataka is fast emerging as Hindutva's new hate laboratory

by G. Rajashekhar & K. Phaniraj

We the people of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada, districts on the west coast of Karnataka, boast highly of our accomplishments as highly literate districts, topping in the pass percentage and rank lists of every level of examination conducted in the state, as leaders in the banking and hotel sectors, and more. Now we have one more feather in our caps: we are the districts with the highest rate of violence against minorities, courtesy the sangh parivar. In fact, statistical jargon like the ‘highest rate’ does not provide a complete picture, so let us simplify it – there is one such incident of violence almost every day.

The sangh parivar has had strong roots in these districts ever since the inception of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS, in the 1900s (Gandhians of the ’40s will recall that RSS supporters distributed sweets in Mangalore on hearing of the Mahatma’s assassination in 1948). But the sangh’s political and social reach was still marginal. The rot really set in during the 1990s in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Riding high on the Ram Janmabhoomi wave, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reaped its bloody harvest in Karnataka as a whole.

This is evident from state election results. The party’s vote share throughout the state was 4.7 per cent in 1984 and 2.55 per cent in the 1989 elections. In 1991 this rose to 28.78 per cent. In the 2004 elections the BJP became the single largest party in Karnataka, winning 79 Assembly seats and 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state. At present the sangh parivar’s tentacles have a hold on every section of the people, cutting across caste and class barriers. Hindutva’s canards have now become common sense and the violence driven by it is gaining passive acceptance as violence against perceived enemies of Hindus.

What should horrify anyone striving for harmony anywhere in the country is the fact that this region has been vibrantly multicultural and multilingual, multi-religious and multi-tradition for centuries. That however is little consolation for the nightmares experienced by the districts’ minorities, day in and day out. The violence perpetrated by Hindutva brigades in these two districts is sustained by issues that the sangh parivar has been striving to bring centre stage in India’s social and political life to gain the hegemony necessary to convert India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. We present here some samples of Hindutva violence and the kind of support – active as well as tacit – it receives from the state and from civil society.

AIDS: A campaign with a difference

Asodu is a village in Kundapur taluka of Udupi district. On March 30, 2002 an annual fair was held on the occasion of ‘Gende Seve’ (ritual fire walking) at the village’s Nandikeshwar temple. As per tradition this went on through the night and continued the next day, amidst hundreds of people who had gathered here from neighbouring villages. During this time a rumour was circulated that a Muslim stallholder was spreading AIDS by pricking young girls with an infected needle. Jamedar Altaf, who ran the stall along with two other youth, Abdul Sattar and Tahir, and an old man, Karim saheb, were beaten up and then handed over to the police present there. All materials from the stall, including the suspect needles, were seized. People who had allegedly been pricked by the youth stated in their complaint that "they were pricked by a poisonous needle in an attempt to kill". So the police charged the men under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) with attempt to murder.

Later, blood tests of both the complainants and the accused as well as tests of the so-called infected needles were conducted at the Kundapur government hospital, KMC hospital in Manipal and the National AIDS Research Institute in Pune. All the test results came back negative. According to the wound certificate issued by the Kundapur government hospital, of the six people who had been pricked by the needle, two had no wounds at all, two had faint scabs of dried blood and two persons had very slight swellings or lumps. Following this verification, the accused were then booked under Section 324 of the IPC (attempt to harm using a sharp weapon) and were released after the court granted them bail. The old man, Karim saheb, was admitted to hospital; he took ill while under custody thanks to the trauma he had suffered.

Although the due course of law had been promptly followed in the needle pricking incident, 25 houses belonging to Muslims were attacked in Kundapur at around 8 p.m. on the night of March 31. On a fact-finding visit to Kundapur two days later, we saw that apart from the walls and the roofs everything in the houses had been burnt and destroyed. The little money or jewellery they had in their homes had all been looted. A young girl was wailing frantically that she could not attend her Class X board examinations the next day because all her books had been destroyed in the attack. The residents had lost every item of their belongings and were suddenly faced with impending destitution. Worse still, they were wounded by the fact that the people who attacked them had been neighbours and old acquaintances.

As the AIDS rumour spread throughout Kundapur taluka, Muslim houses in Kundapur town and neighbouring villages were also attacked. Even a week after the incident communal tension still simmered in the area. According to victims, the mobs that attacked them shouted slogans like "Bolo Bharat Mata ki Jai (Say Long Live India)"and "Jai Bajrangbali (Long Live Hanuman)". It was evident that these people belonged to the sangh parivar; the BJP had a strong base in the constituency and had won the local Assembly seat in the last two elections.

Local newspapers played a major role in keeping the flare of violence burning. The leading Kannada daily, Udayavani, reported that the attacks were a result of people’s fear and their anger against Muslims. It did not even attempt or think it necessary to tell readers that AIDS cannot be spread in the manner the rumour suggested. And this is a paper that brings out a weekly supplement on health! These are newspapers that bank on communal hatred in their keen support of Hindutva ideology. A few months later, after people had forgotten about the incident and there was now enough data to question the veracity of the rumour, an utterly dishonest report in Udayavani’s local edition said: "People still live in the grip of fear following the needle pricking incident. The number of people attending temple fairs has reduced considerably." This is a newspaper that reports each and every event organised by the sangh parivar with grandiose and activist zeal. Almost every day a report in the newspaper will tell of how Muslims are involved in illegal cattle slaughter, the circulation of counterfeit currency or assaulting ‘Hindu’ women sexually. For Udayavani, Hindutva’s storm troopers are moral brigades that protect this society. It would not attempt to consider, even briefly, that the violence perpetrated by the sangh parivar was a gross violation of the rule of law and a wonton flouting of democratic norms.

The disregard shown by most people in Kundapur, their indifference to the attacks, only demonstrates how deeply rooted the Hindutva ideology is. Most of those whom we spoke to did not regret the attacks on Muslims. We met two girls who were among the six people who had filed the initial complaint in the so-called AIDS case. Mamta and Lata were both Class IX students. Mamta’s father is a small-scale farmer in Asodu, their house is very near the Nandikeshwar temple. We visited them a year after the incident took place. Mamta was in good health. We asked her mother, Lalita Shedti, if it wasn’t wrong to attack Muslims and loot their houses. She had no such misgivings, "Only then will they learn." But what had the Muslims in Kundapur done to provoke this, how were they connected to the people who had used the needle? "When anything happens to one of them, they get together."

Elsewhere, when we asked the same questions of a tea vendor in Koteshwara, near Kundapur, he said, "What are Muslim terrorists doing in Kashmir?" When we asked him how that had any bearing on the people of Kundapur he replied, "If we hit here, it will hurt them there." And it was not just Mamta’s mother or the man in the tea stall, most people whom we talked to seemed to be of the same opinion. When we posed similar questions to others they countered, "What do you have to say about the attack on Akshardham temple, what about Godhra, the attack on Parliament, Kashmir…" These were questions repeatedly put back to us.

We also visited Lata’s house. Lata’s parents, both daily wage labourers, had a more humane response to events and even condemned the violence. As Lata’s mother said, "There are good people and bad people in all castes. Innocent people should not be targeted because of somebody else’s mistake." An upper caste villager, well respected in Asodu, one who had even contributed for the refurbishment of Nandikeshwar temple, concurred. "All Muslims are not bad; not all Hindus are good. If people were aware of this, such an incident would not have occurred."

A year after the Asodu incident, although the due process of law had been promptly followed and the accused had faced a court trial according to the law of the land, the BJP organised a rally in Kundapur to ‘protest the inaction against the accused in the Asodu incident and the harassment caused to Hindus by arrests of innocents’. Yediyurappa, Ramchandregowda, VS Acharya and other top leaders of the BJP state unit addressed the gathering. They openly targeted the Muslim community and also condemned the police for arresting a few people involved in the violence. Not a word was said about the attacks on Muslims that followed the needle pricking incident.

We met Altaf, the stallholder and prime accused in the needle pricking case. We were naturally curious to find out whether he had really pricked people with a needle and if so, why. Altaf freely admitted that he had done so saying, "I did not target anybody. I had a stall there. I never went and pricked anybody outside my stall. Some people who visit the stalls just keep looking at the items on display, obstructing business. Some of them even steal things from the stalls. At every fair we lose about Rs 200-300 worth of goods this way. To prevent this and drive people out of the stall we use the needle to prick them. Other stallholders also do the same thing. In fact, some vendors even use big sticks to ward off obstructing crowds." We believe he was telling the truth. Two college girls from Kundapur later told us that this was not a new phenomenon. "To keep harassing guys away, girls also use the same technique in theatres and buses."

Altaf is still very young. Terrified to leave his house now, he has stopped putting up his stall at the fairs. He says he is not alone, Muslims stallholders don’t put up their stalls at fairs in and around the Kundapur taluka any more, they are too afraid. Some months after the Asodu incident, terrorists attacked the Akshardham temple in Gujarat. Bajrang Dal activists then spread the rumour that terrorists would attack the Sringeri Sharadamba temple during its annual celebrations. Muslim vendors who have been putting up stalls on such occasions for years were forcibly prevented by the Bajrang Dal to do business that year.

In another incident, two Dalit girls who worked at a small Muslim owned factory happened to fall ill. The factory owner served his workers snacks supplied by a hotel belonging to a Hindu Brahmin. Bajrang Dal activists circulated the rumour that the Muslim owner had attempted to kill his Hindu employees by poisoning them. On this occasion it was the fortunate and timely intervention by local Dalit activists that prevented another cycle of violence against Muslims.

A petty shop located on the Kundapur-Udupi national highway was burnt down overnight in the aftermath of the so-called AIDS incident. The owner, a Muslim, was clueless about the reason behind the attack or its perpetrators. When we asked him why his shop might have been attacked he said, "It is a bad time for Muslims." Muslims have long been silent spectators to the growing incidence of violence against their community.

"Heart of a heartless world": the sangh parivar’s myth of ‘conversion’

In addition to their vicious campaigns and violence against Muslims, the BJP and the sangh parivar have also made Christians a target of their hate campaign in Karnataka. According to the sangh parivar’s ‘nationalist’ ideology, like Muslims, the Christians are also ‘aliens’ to this land, for their ‘religious origins’ and their ‘holy centres’ lie outside India. Hence India is neither their ‘sacred place’ nor their ‘fatherland’. This, as we know, is the fascist concept of ‘nationality’ that is the ideological soul of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ as propagated by the works of Savarkar, Hedgewar and Gowalkar – the founders of the RSS.

Muslims constitute about 15 per cent of India’s population and they are a visible community. Through their persistent propaganda about Muslims in India having a higher growth rate, the sangh parivar has been somewhat successful in fostering a growing insecurity in the minds of Hindus. But the same tactics prove futile against Christians, as they constitute a mere two per cent of the population. The sangh parivar has thus been using the weapon of ‘conversion’ against Christians, accusing them of converting Hindus to Christianity by force and allurement. The BJP has through concerted campaigns been trying to legitimise its pernicious idea that the very act of conversion is a heinous matter. But a little probing into our own history reveals otherwise. Dr Ambedkar himself converted to Buddhism, taking thousands of Harijan Hindus along with him. He did this to overcome the disparity and injustice in the Hindu religion towards the Panchamas. Can such conversion be a heinous act?

By the same coin, belief in Buddhism and Jainism can also be viewed as an act of conversion from Hinduism by Harijans. The sangh parivar adopts tactful strategies to counter this by saying that since both Buddha and Mahavir were Hindus, this conversion was harmless. On the other hand, conversion to Islam or Christianity is intolerable. The BJP ideal of equating a nationality with a single religious affiliation in fact denies a primary truth: that the entire world consists of more than 200 countries most of whose people follow one of four major religions viz. Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Udupi is an important pilgrimage centre for a particular sect of Hindu Brahmins. Apart from a famous Krishna temple, the district also houses ancient mosques and churches. Topographically, these religious centres are located very close to one another yet the area witnessed little communal tension in either the pre- or post-independence eras. The region’s Christians participated actively in the struggle against British rule. But now the BJP has started fomenting communal tension by alleging that Christians are involved in the forcible conversion of Hindus. They argue that since these people were Hindus generations ago (i.e. before their conversion) they must convert back to Hinduism and purify themselves in order to serve the nation.

On September 12, 2004, a Sunday prayer was in progress at the congregation of a Protestant sect called ‘New Life’ in Udupi. Being a Protestant meeting there was no idol worship, nor any such ritual ceremonies. Unlike Catholic churches, these centres do not display pictures or statues of Christ; the church is thus a mere auditorium or a hall for worship. That Sunday mass there were about 100 people present, including women and children, when a group of people from the Hindu Yuva Sena (as reported by the media), around 15 to 20 in number, barged into the meeting and proceeded to destroy the sound system and chairs. They left after the meeting had dispersed.

An evening newspaper published from Mangalore, Karavali Ale, described the incident as an "attack on a conversion centre" in banner headlines on the front page. Other newspapers carried similar reports stating that conversion activities by Christians had come to light in Udupi and such acts must be stopped immediately to maintain peace and tranquillity. The reports flaunted copies of the Bible in Kannada as evidence! Is it a crime to have Kannada Bibles? The Kannada Bible is centuries old. Its appearance marked the beginning of the spread of literacy and the era of modern publishing. The first Kannada-English dictionary, the first Kannada newspaper, the establishment of modern schools and allopathic hospitals, were all pioneering works by Christian missionaries in this region. The social beneficiaries of these philanthropic activities by Christian missionaries are, to a large extent, the Hindu upper castes. Now the ancient Bible has become a symbol of conversion in the region. And thus the sangh parivar manipulates a situation to its advantage to marginalise other religions.

Incidents of this kind have occurred in several places across the Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts. At some places huts belonging to Dalits have been destroyed, photographs of Christ have been burnt and Hindutva activists have attacked prayer meetings, all on the pretext of stopping forcible conversions.

In 2003, a New Life prayer meeting at Alangaru near Karkala in Dakshina Kannada was attacked by a group of 50 Bajrang Dal workers who alleged that two girls from nearby Ajjekaru village had been lured to the meeting for conversion. We met the pastor of the congregation and asked him whether the girls had attended prayers there. He readily acknowledged this, adding that if anyone came to the prayer meetings voluntarily seeking peace of mind he could not turn them away. A mischievous curiosity prompted us to press on, would he convert them if they volunteered? He said there was no such thing as a conversion ritual in his sect. As they believe solely in the Old Testament, they don’t worship the holy cross or statues of Jesus, Mary and so on, no holy water nor baptism. No one who comes to prayer is asked to forego the religious customs or practices they follow. What then constitutes the identity of your sect, we persisted. His answer was simple: congregating at a location and praying together, reciting verses of the Old Testament or New Songs in praise of the lord. It is a comradeship rooted in abstract devotion.

We also met Pankaj Kumar Takoor, additional superintendent of police of the jurisdiction at the time, to ask whether any complaints of coercive conversion had been registered in police stations of the area over the past two or three years. He not only confirmed that no such cases had been registered but also added that if conversion is willingly effected by an individual it is not an offence under the existing law. He told us he had said the same thing to BJP leaders who had come to him urging preventive action against Protestant prayer meetings.

It was now more than apparent that the Hindutva brigade had been adopting terror tactics to prevent Hindus from attending such prayer meetings even when they did so of their own free will. We wanted to find out why these Hindus had chosen to attend a Protestant prayer meeting. At Ajjekaru village we met the two girls (young women, actually, for they were both over 18) who were the focus of the Alangaru incident. We spoke to the younger of the two, Sandhya, and her mother Sumati.

Both young women had passed their SSLC (secondary school leaving certificate) examinations after which they dropped out of school to help support the family. Both are daily wagers at a local cashew nut factory. They belong to the Billava caste, which is at the bottom of the caste ladder. Their father has abandoned his financial responsibilities to the family and the two girls and their mother now struggle to make ends meet. Yes, they go to Alangaru prayer meetings by choice. But why?

Sumati had three daughters. The eldest, Vidya, a business management graduate, was diagnosed with cancer. They tried modern medicine for as long as they could afford it but Vidya’s condition worsened. Somebody then advised them to undertake a pilgrimage to Potta, a famous ‘faith healing centre’ in Kerala. The visit to Potta seemed to lift Vidya’s spirits although her condition did not really improve. She died about six months before the Alangaru incident took place.

Somehow the pilgrimage to Potta and the peace of mind that Vidya attained had a lasting impression on the mother and her two girls even as their financial and emotional ordeals continued. A family acquaintance mentioned the prayer meetings at Alangaru. They went to a meeting and found some mental solace there. The women then continued to attend prayers at Alangaru for the next few weeks when the Bajrang Dal incident occurred. We asked Sandhya whether they would still go to prayer after everything that had happened recently. Her response was unequivocal. "Yes, we will. We had problems and we are finding peace of mind through prayer. It is our own business. I said the same thing quite sternly to a Bajrang Dal activist who had come to threaten us." She was furious with press reports that said girls have shed Hindu customs and are brainwashed into getting converted. "No, nobody is forcing us to convert and no such thing goes on at prayer. We practice our customs and pray there for peace," she said as she showed us a copy of the Kannada Bible she kept at home.

People at prayer meetings in Udupi told us the same thing. Their ordeals seemed similar. And in India people often approach centres of different faiths seeking solace for problems in their daily lives without giving up the faith to which they were born. Many Sufi shrines and churches across the country have attracted people from varied faiths for centuries. To them, they embody the "heart of a heartless world". Now Hindutva wants to shatter that heart as well.

Punish the law-abiding, reward the lawbreakers: Travails of a meat vendor

Another major campaign on the BJP’s agenda is the one against cow slaughter. Contrary to what they aim to project, beef is consumed by not only Muslims and Christians but also by Adivasis and Dalits. Yet the BJP holds only Christians and Muslims responsible for gravely offending Hindu religious sentiments through cow slaughter. In adopting such agendas the BJP has been grossly violating constitutionally guaranteed laws and fundamental rights so as to pursue its designs to ignite Hindu sentiments against fellow beings.

Kasim saheb is a 55-year-old man from Nejaru village in Udupi district. The only profession he knows is the meat trade and his earnings from that feed his large family. Meat trading is a family legacy, being the sole source of livelihood for his father and his grandfather before him. Along with mutton and chicken, Kasim saheb also sells beef. He had a gram panchayat licence permitting this and was careful to adhere to the rules under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act 1964. Such legalities were of course immaterial to the local unit of the Hindu Yuva Sena who launched a campaign against Kasim saheb, registering a complaint against him with the gram panchayat.

We now know how these outfits register their complaints: Organise a fierce, slogan shouting mob and then threaten people to sign on the dotted line or face the consequences. The gram panchayat yielded to these terror tactics and cancelled the licence issued to Kasim saheb in 1988. When Kasim saheb petitioned the higher authorities, the health department made an inspection of his premises and reissued permission. But the gram panchayat refused to budge. So Kasim saheb lodged a complaint with the superintendent of police and district administration who promised to look into the matter. And yet the gram panchayat continued to refuse him permission on the grounds that his profession was "harming people’s sentiments".

Unwilling to be browbeaten by this injustice, Kasim saheb then organised a village petition, which about 550 villagers signed. The petitioners said they were all beef-eaters and they relied on Kasim saheb’s business, they had no complaints against him, and demanded that his business must immediately be given a licence. Most of the petition’s signatories were Hindus and many were Harijans who had no taboos about beef-eating. Who then were the few whose ‘sentiments were harmed’? The Brahmins in Kalyanapura panchayat are very small in number and such inequity could not be allowed for their sake alone.

The slaughter of cows for meat and the sale of such meat is not in itself a crime in many states of India, including Karnataka. The BJP campaign against it is neither in the interest of cows nor Hindu religious sentiments. Their sole motive is to generate communal unrest from time to time and keep the tension alive. The BJP even tried to persuade the former NDA government to enact a law against cow slaughter. The move failed following resistance from several quarters – its own allies, opposition parties and various state governments.

Under Karnataka’s Cow Slaughter Act, any cow that is 12 years and older, does not yield milk or is infertile can be slaughtered with due permission from the gram panchayat or the city municipality. These cows must be otherwise healthy and the slaughter must take place in sanitary conditions. The sangh parivar uses the loopholes in the law not for the cows’ well-being but mainly to jeopardise the livelihoods and lives of people like Kasim saheb.

Notwithstanding the public support he received and in spite of a zilla parishad ruling in his favour, Kasim saheb is yet to get his licence back. This apart, he has also been forced to deal with the police since the sangh parivar frequently lodges complaints against him. On one such occasion when Hindutva outfits complained that he was slaughtering cows illegally the police asked him to go to the Udupi police station, about 10 km from his home, in the morning. He was made to sit at the police station and repeatedly asked just one question – Confess the truth. Each time he denied their accusations he was told to wait a few more hours until finally they let him go at around 10 p.m., long after the last bus to Nejaru had left. Kasim saheb has blood pressure and blood sugar problems, he had had nothing to eat since early that morning, yet he had no option but to walk the 10 km to his home.

On another occasion, the Udupi circle inspector (CI) raided his house one night only to find nothing out of the ordinary. Not satisfied, the CI told Kasim saheb, "Stop doing this business. Otherwise these outfits will lock you up in your house, blast a (gas) cylinder and burn the whole place down as they did in Gujarat."

Kasim saheb looks older than his years. He now makes his living selling chicken but he is still looking for a favourable order from the panchayat. Against this backdrop, his petition to the district collector tells a pitiful story " ...The people (of my village) have neither any objection to nor any intention to obstruct my business. But, sir, to carry out the profession lawfully I need a licence…"

The Hindu Yuva Sena, Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva organisations have been on a continuing rampage across Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. They now threaten and assault people involved in the cow trade. They stop vans that carry cows and manhandle the people in them, assault them physically and force them to flee. Although several people did come together to protest against this goondagiri (thuggery) at a rally in Mangalore, Hindutva’s siege continues unchecked.

Beating, looting and manipulating: Anything for Hindutva

The ‘Saree Palace’ in Mangalore is a cloth store that does reasonably good business. Although the owner of the store is a Muslim, most of the 20-25 people who worked there were Hindus. A few years earlier the owner had instituted the employee friendly practice of arranging an annual picnic for employees of the establishment. Employees and their families all enjoyed the yearly trip. In June 2005 the shop owner organised one such visit to Mysore, hiring a private bus for the trip. The bus left Mangalore at around 9.45 p.m. on the scheduled day.

At around 10 p.m., when the bus reached Pumpwell circle on the outskirts of Mangalore, a group of 50-100 Bajrang Dal activists stopped the bus by blocking its route and forcibly boarded the vehicle. The attackers were armed with lathis and swords. They alleged that the owner, who was in fact travelling with his family, was taking his women employees for ‘illegitimate pleasure-seeking’, his Hindu employees having succumbed to his wiles. They started looting the passengers of their valuables and belongings and attacking them with lathis and swords. It didn’t matter to this Hindutva ‘moral brigade’ that many of the women employees were accompanied by their husbands and children. During their looting spree, these keepers of moral virtue even snatched some women’s mangalsutras. The attack was very well orchestrated, the entire operation taking all of 30 minutes after which the attackers fled with the loot.

While this atrocity was taking place, the cameraman of a local cable TV channel, Namma Kudla ("Our Mangalore" in Tulu, the local vernacular), happened to pass that way, as his office was nearby. Once he saw what was happening his camera started whirring, journalistic instincts intact, as he began to film the attack from outside. Realising that their actions were being recorded, the attackers hounded the cameraman, snatched and smashed his video camera, looted his money, a gold chain and a mobile phone, and beat him black and blue. The mob also damaged the bus.

The next day all newspapers carried the story along with a photograph of the damaged bus. As usual, the general tone of the reports was a tacit acceptance of the attackers’ allegations. But one paper (mentioned earlier for its "committed" journalism in support of the sangh parivar), Udayavani – the paper with the largest mass readership – went one step ahead. If in other papers the name of the bus, ‘Sharada’, was clearly visible, it was missing in the photograph published by Udayavani although the picture had been shot from the same angle as the others. Why? The newspaper’s "committed" staff probably thought the name ‘Sharada’ would indicate that the owner of the bus was a Hindu. If that were to happen then the justification for the attack provided by the sangh parivar’s moral brigade – that the rich Muslim shop owner was taking Hindu women for ‘illegitimate pleasure- seeking’ – loses ground, as they had damaged a Hindu’s bus. So in order to validate the attackers’ intentions, the photograph was computer manipulated to hide the name ‘Sharada’ in the picture Udayavani published. What ingenious journalism!

When we met the victims in hospital, they categorically denied the attackers’ allegations. One woman exclaimed angrily, "If they care about the dignity of Hindu women, why did they snatch my mangalya (mangalsutra)!" Unfortunately, this anger did not reverberate in society at large and the event passed off as just another crime report in local papers.

Murder of a Hindu priest: A new episode in ‘cow protection’ politics

"Let the government issue an order that the Bajrang Dal is the sole law enforcing power in the country and that everybody should obey its commands! Then we’ll shut up and obey them! Who are these people to punish anyone?"

We met Ramesh Rao in his home three days after his father, Patali Krishnayya, was killed in a murderous assault by a mob of Bajrang Dal activists.

We have heard words like these before – words of anguish from a helpless soul – they are an all too familiar refrain from minority victims of Hindutva violence. But this time they came from a Hindu Brahmin. What did 70-year-old Krishnayya do to attract punishment by death from Hindutva’s storm troopers?

Krishnayya lived an honourable life, respected not only by people in his village, Kavadi, but also by people from Kavadi’s 10 neighbouring villages. Krishnayya was a traditional ‘Patali’ at the village Mahalingeshwara temple. (A Patali is a person designated to chant swasti – a special incantation in praise of god to be rhythmically chanted at definite stages of mantra recitation.) He was also a prosperous agriculturist, chairman of the local cooperative bank and chairman of the school committee at Kavadi Higher Primary School which was built under his leadership. But more than this, Krishnayya was a paternal figure whom people always went to when they were in difficulty, for Krishnayya would go the extra mile to lend a helping hand. He was at one with his surroundings and his community.

At around 10 p.m. on May 24, 2006, Krishnayya was attacked and then killed by a group of 10 Bajrang Dal activists – led by Kumara Swamy, head of Bajrang Dal’s Udupi district unit, and Krishna Shanbag, the head of Bajrang Dal’s local area committee – for pursuing an activity that is integral to social life in the coastal region: mediating in the sale of cows. This is such a common practice in coastal society that mediators in the sale of cows even have a traditional name – ‘Pairinavaru’. People who can no longer bear the financial burden of maintaining unproductive cattle, those who need money for weddings and other ceremonies, are often keen to sell off productive cattle for a good price. They approach the mediators who then help them to strike a good deal. In fact, cattle sale mediation is not just a profession; it shows shades of social service.

Krishnayya was only pursuing what he and society around him considered a helpful activity during hard times. But Hindutva politics does not respect such community moorings or practices that are quite at odds with their idea of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Bajrang Dalis, Kumara Swamy and Krishna Shanbag, whose attack would lead to Krishnayya’s death, were no strangers to him. In fact, they were among his caste brethren and family associates. They visited him regularly and attended religious ceremonies at his home. Krishnayya even helped them out with day-to-day problems. But their ideology left no room for community relations. Kumara Swamy and Krishna Shanbag were arrested for murder under Section 302 of the IPC but having managed to secure bail, they now roam free. Free to continue their earlier activities.

At Krishnayya’s house, we were shown the family album filled with pictures of Krishnayya striking poses with his cattle. (He was a champion ‘Kambla’ racer – a local sport in which the competitors drive their cattle in tracks through muddy fields). Pictures of Krishnayya, sporting his big moustache, next to his winning pair, holding the trophy he had won; Krishnayya feeding or petting his cattle. His family members hurried us through the album until we came to one picture in particular. Krishnayya’s grandson dressed as ‘Balagopala’ (baby Krishna) stood beside a calf in a scene, we were told, his grandfather had meticulously scripted.

In that house of mourning, the Kambla trophy occupied pride of place beside a garlanded portrait of Krishnayya. Just as we were about to leave, the telephone rang. Unaware of recent events, the caller wanted to know if Krishnayya could help them sell a cow, as they needed money urgently for a ceremony. The entire tableau seemed incredibly absurd. This is the absurdity of a society in the grip of full-scale Hindutva violence. n

(With translation assistance from Uvaraj and Sushmita.)

(G. Rajashekar is a well-known literary and cultural critic, and a social thinker. K. Phaniraj teaches civil engineering and is a cultural critic. Both work as coordinators of Souharda Vedike, a communal harmony and human rights forum based in Udupi. They have co-authored two books in Kannada on the growth of communalism and write regularly for the Kannada weekly, Lankesh.)

September 25, 2006

A Vicious Cycle - The communal bias of some policemen

(Hindustan Times
September 25, 2006)

A Vicious Cycle

by AG Noorani

‘Though the law itself be fair on its face and impartial in appearance, yet, if it is applied and administered by a public authority with an evil eye and unequal hand, so as practically to make unjust and illegal discrimination, as between persons in similar circumstances material to their rights, the denial of equal justice is still within the prohibition of the Constitution.” The United States Supreme Court delivered this stinging rebuke in 1868 in the celebrated case of Yick Wo vs Hopkins.

Of San Francisco’s 320 laundries, 240 were run by Chinese nationals in buildings constructed of wood, as were nine-tenths of the houses in the city. The country ordained that licences were required “except the same be located in a building constructed either of brick or stone.” All applications for licence by Chinese laundrymen were rejected. All others, bar one, were accepted.

The order was struck down. “The court held that the very idea that one man may be compelled to hold his life, or the means of living, or any material right essential to the enjoyment of life at the mere will be another, seems to be intolerable in any country where freedom prevails, as being the essence of slavery itself.” How much greater should be the outrage if ‘the public authority’ happens to be the police force with wide powers of arrest and detention and extra-legal powers of harassment?

The indiscriminate arrests of Muslims in the wake of the Mumbai blasts of July 11 this year were a repeat of a similar performance by the police after the 1993 blasts. They were grave enough for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ask the Chief Ministers, on September 5, to “embark immediately upon a proactive policy to ensure that a few individual acts do not result in tarnishing the image of an entire community and remove any feelings of persecution and alienation from the minds of the minorities.”

Five days after he spoke, came the Malegaon bombings near a major mosque and a graveyard, on an auspicious day when Muslims throng these places for prayer. It also happened to be a Friday.

People recalled recent events in Maharashtra which had a bearing on Malegaon. At Nanded, on April 6, two Bajrang Dal activists, Naresh Rajkondwar and Himanshu Phanse, were killed while attempting to make a bomb in the former’s house along with three others. The police reportedly recovered a second bomb, timers, switches, detonators and gunpowder, as well as evidence that they had struck before. A diary recovered had pictures of all ex-RSS chiefs and notes on bomb-making techniques. It also had mention of the Bajrang Dal-sponsored camps that Himanshu had attended. Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) Joint Commissioner of Police KP Raghuvanshi told Communalism Combat that the incident could have “frightening repercussions”.

The warning was overdue. Kondwar and Phanse were suspected to be key figures in a bombing incident at Parbhani that very month, in which 25 persons had been injured. It was at a mosque, as were the bombings at Parbhani and Jalna in April 2004, where 18 persons were injured.

These incidents obviously formed a pattern. A reasonable, though not conclusive, presumption arises that Malegaon formed part of this pattern. Pointing fingers while investigations are on is unfair and hazardous. Fingers accustomed to pointing in one direction, however, pointed in the same direction after Malegaon.

From the very next day, ‘sources’ in the police began pouring out pet theories. On September 9, Raghuvanshi of the ATS said “our probe would include not only Simi but consider all other groups that might be involved.” An unattributed source in the ATS said Simi activists committed the crime to create communal tension. This became a running theme in later ‘disclosures’. ‘Police sources’ told the press that “the police are beginning to rule out the possibility of the Bajrang Dal’s involvement in the Malegaon blasts” because “the bombs used in Parbhani were of the crude variety. The Hindutva organisation does not have access to the type of sophisticated bombs and timers used in Malegaon”.

On September 13, two unidentified packages of fake bombs were discovered. The Additional Commissioner of Police, ATS, Subodh Jaiswal, gave the following explanation. “The aim was to unleash panic”. The motive: to create “rage against the police and Hindu residents so that riots could break out”. With equal speed he asserted: “They were planted by the same terror outfit that triggered the Friday blasts.” This gave the game away. By then no ‘outfit’ had been identified officially. Evidence was admittedly scant. The investigators seemed to be groping in the dark. Yet, Subodh Jaiswal was all certitude.

On September 16, the Additional SP, Rajwardhan, attacked the media: “There seems to be a deliberate attempt in a section of the media to pressurise the police into taking a line of investigation — of Hindu fanatics being involved — but we will go by the ground reality and the rule book, and explore all the possibilities.”

Precisely what he had in mind became clear when he added: “But it seems to be the handwork of organised terrorists who want to destabilise the country and incite communal violence.” The patriotic Bajrang Dal was exonerated.

An informed correspondent found, however, that in Maharashtra, “the problem is that the intelligence gathering mechanism is focused on Islamic terrorist outfits. The Maharashtra police have few dossiers on Right-wing Hindu militants”. Despite the arrest of a Bajrang Dal activist, Sanjay Chaudhari, in Nanded for the bomb blast outside the Parbhani mosque, “the probe has not progressed.”

What has ‘progressed’ is the confidence in police assertions. ‘Local police backed by the ATS’ flatly told a noted correspondent that the Malegaon blasts “resemble the handiwork of Islamic terrorist organisations”. According to one correspondent, the Intelligence Bureau is also “working on the theory” that the LeT was behind those blasts and its men were at large

These pronouncements do nothing to narrow the trust deficit. None of the 32 police officers and men named in the Srikrishna report on the 1993 riots in Mumbai has been convicted.

Muslim MPs called on the PM after the Mumbai blasts and on Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh after the Malegaon blasts to represent the community’s grievances. They were entitled to do so and discharged a duty. But they must not stop there.

Every injustice to any group is a deviation from Indian ideals. The communal bias of some policemen is part of a wider problem affecting secular values as well as the probity and effectiveness of the police force. It concerns all Indians.