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Gujarat Events - A Viewpoint

Hemandra Acharya

Gujarat has been experiencing communal violence for almost two months now, although for last month and a half, it has been restricted primarily to certain areas of Ahemdabad. It is sad to see that several hundred people have been killed or made homeless, strictly on account of the religion they follow.

There was no violence in Gujarat until the torching of Sabarmati Express, on February 27, 2002, in an area of Godhra, which is known to all as Mini Pakistan. From all accounts, the plan was to burn the entire train, but because it was more than 3 hours late, the crowd was smaller, and only three bogeys were torched. The action was clearly pre planned. You cannot get more than 2000 people with stones and petrol cans, at a railway crossing, in less time than it takes the police to respond. Many of the arrested leaders of the Godhra massacre, were former leaders of Godhra Municipal Corporation, elected on Congress party tickets.

Limited news information available here, appears to suggest that all of Gujarat has been experiencing communal violence for last two months, and that the Gujarat Government is either unable to or unwilling to control violence directed against the Muslim community. I was in Gujarat for five weeks and the Sabarmati Express was torched just two days after my reaching India. For first three days, it looked like the whole of Gujarat was experiencing communal violence. However, within 24 hours of the first instance of violence against the Muslims, the Indian Army was called in. The Indian Military was sent to Gujarat from the border areas within 3 days. Most cities in Gujarat were under curfew with Army controlling entry at all the checkpoints. After three or four days, the authorities began to relax curfew in most areas and people began to move around without tension. A week after the Godhra massacre, there was normal movement during daytime, with night time curfew in certain sensitive areas of major cities in Gujarat. The continuing tension in Gujarat is limited only to certain areas in Ahemdabad, and has become a vehicle for criminal gangs to take advantage of the situation and settle old scores. This has always happened during periods of communal tension, everywhere in India.

The coverage of communal violence in Gujarat in the Indian media was very poor, when one compares it with coverage of similar events in American media. The press reports on Gujarat violence were sometimes reports that turned out to be rumors. For example, there were reports two weeks after the Godhra tragedy, that Vadodara Express, travelling from Vadodara to Mumbai, was stopped and stoned. Similarly, there were press reports about bomb blasts in Ahemdabad, similar to the bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993. A day later, both of these reports were dismissed as rumors. There was no investigative reporting from Godhra or Ahemdabad, of the type one saw in America, after the events of September 11. Similarly the violence in Gujarat has not led to any introspection on the part of Indian political leaders, but has just become another vehicle to use to topple the government.

In talking to people, the general feeling was one of frustration at the Govt.'s inability to stop frequent acts of terrorism, to stop infiltration in Gujarat from Pakistan, and the use of Mosque's in Gujarat to store weapons, etc. People were already incensed over the slaughter of more than 300 cows in Surat, just a few days before the Godhra train massacre. What happened in Gujarat is sad and should not have happened. What is regrettable is that the opposition in India and the English media talk only about the Govt.'s inability to control the sporadic violence and not about all the incidents that cumulatively contributed towards this tragedy. There is no sense of national unity for prevention of terrorism, like we saw in the United States after September 11.

It is hard to see how such tragedies can be avoided in future, without honest soul searching and introspection on the part of not only the Indian media, but also Indian political leaders and the intellectuals.

((Hemandra Acharya is very active and senior member of the Indian-American community in New England. )

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