December 08, 2007

The reporter behind the Tehelka expose of 2002 pogrom, fears for his life

ABC online

Indian reporter fears for life after Muslim massacre expose

Posted Wed Dec 5, 2007 7:27pm AEDT
Updated Wed Dec 5, 2007 7:15pm AEDT

An Indian journalist who secretly filmed right-wing Hindus boasting about the mass murder of Muslims during riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat says he now fears for his life.

Reporter Ashish Khetan is also a "very disappointed" man - saying his sting operation that again highlighted the alleged complicity of state officials in the massacres had failed to result in any action being taken.

In addition, Hindu nationalists linked to the killings look set to cruise to re-election in state elections this month.

"I got them to speak to me, make self-damning revelations, details of the killings and rapes," the 31-year-old, a Hindu, told AFP in an interview.

During a six-month undercover mission, Khetan tracked down more than a dozen hardline Hindu activists belonging to various groups allied to Gujarat's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) administration.

The BJP rules Gujarat, and is India's main opposition party on the national level. It has consistently denied any involvement in the massacres five years ago in which at least 2,000 Muslims were killed.

The expose was published by the weekly news magazine Tehelka in October, and made headlines for barely a week.

"Despite the evidence, the political reaction to the expose has been at best tepid and I feel very, very disappointed. There has been no action," Khetan said.

The rioting broke out after a Muslim mob was accused of torching a train, burning 59 Hindus alive, on February 27, 2002.

An enquiry by the state-run railways later ruled the fire on the train which sparked the riots was an accident.

'Churning with emotion'

The video tapes Khetan filmed showed Hindu zealots apparently boasting of how they took "revenge," and how they allegedly had the backing of BJP officials and state chief minister Narendra Modi, who is widely expected to be re-elected when Gujarat goes to the polls on December 11 and 16.

Khetan stumbled onto the story when he heard a chance remark by a university official in Gujarat that he organised attacks against Muslims and supplied weapons during the riots.

"I was churning with emotion - sheer terror of being found out and hope of uncovering the truth," the reporter said in a telephone interview.

Khetan said he introduced himself to his contacts as a university student researching a paper on Hindu revivalism.

"I said I was a hardcore Hindu who wanted to know what they had done to raise the status and prestige of Hindus," he added.

"There was this sense of gloating, boasting at their sense of achievement at what they had managed to accomplish."

More shocking, he said, was the attitude of ordinary Gujaratis.

"There was no remorse, no shame - just the view that the Muslims had it coming. It shows how much the mind of an average Gujarati has been poisoned," Khetan said.

He said the sting included moments of heart-stopping fear.

"Once I was travelling with one of the men in his car when he got a phone call. After finishing the call, he turned to me and said he had been warned about a Delhi journalist doing a sting operation on the riots," he said.

"I kept a straight face, though I did break into a cold sweat."