Monday, 5 March 2012

'We want Gandhi's Gujarat, not Modi's Gujarat'

From Rediff
George Joseph in New York
Hundreds of people on Sunday joined the rallies and candle light vigils held in several cities, including New York, Washington, Chicago, Boston, and Tamarac, Florida to mark the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat riots and to pay homage to the victims.
Demanding justice for victims of the riots and chanting against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, participants asked for equal rights and protection for the life and liberty of all people irrespective of their religious beliefs.

In New York, people of different faiths assembled under the banner of Coalition Against Genocide, in front of the Gandhi statue at the Union Square in Manhattan. The CAG is a broad-based alliance, which was instrumental in the revocation of a diplomatic visa for Chief Minister Modi in 2005.

'We want Gandhi's Gujarat, not Modi's Gujarat,' people chanted pointing to the statue of Gandhi.
Opening the event, Rev Mark Lukens, president of the Interfaith Alliance and pastor of the Bethany Congregational Church in East Rockaway, New York, noted that people gathered had there to remember the men, women and children who were so brutally slaughtered 10 years ago, simply because of their faith.
"We will not forget the brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and fathers and mothers who perished at the hands of the mob. We can still hear the echoes of their cries as their lives were torn from them and they were torn from us and that we, as Muslims, as Christians, as Hindus, as Jews, as Sikhs, as Buddhists and Bahai, as children of God and children of this great green earth stand in solidarity with them and their still grieving families.

"We will not stand idly by while the principalities and powers, whether they be a political party in India or the police department in New York or so called Christian politicians right here in the US, abuse the rights and personhood of our neighbours because of the way they chose to worship.
"When anyone persecutes my Muslim, or my Jewish, or my Hindu or my Christian or any of my sisters or brothers, they are persecuting all of us, because we are our brothers' keepers and because like those courageous Hindus 10 years ago who braved the fire to rescue their neighbours from the mobs, my neighbour is the one whose need calls upon me to remember that we are all one, branches of a single vine, children of a God, whose likeness we are made," he said.

Jewish rabbi (priest) Prof Hillel Levine, the founder of Center for International Conciliation prayed for the victims in Hebrew before ending his speech.
He said he knows what a pogrom is. Drawing on the history of Jewish suffering, he criticised the powerful American Jewish Committee's award to LK Advani, a few years ago. Noting that Advani represents the ideology of hate and violence, he asked the AJC to withdraw the award.

When pointed out the good relations between Israel and India and Jews and Hindus, he said the Jews are also friends with the Muslims.
"Just because there is a problem with the Muslims in Palestine, does not mean that Jews consider all Muslims are enemies," he said.

Joe Lombardo, the national co-chair of United National anti-war coalition, pledged to fight the infiltration of Hindutva ideologues in the US power centres. He said the one per cent who rules the earth needs division and fights to keep their power over the majority or the 99 per cent. They will divide the people on the basis of race, religion or any other thing.
"There is lot of oil under the feet of the Muslims," he pointed out the reason for the growing Islamophobia.

Al-Haj Imam Tali Abdur Rashid, an African American imam who heads the umbrella body of New York area Muslims, Islamic Leadership Council, said the movement that killed Gandhi and tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians will not be allowed to flourish in the US.
He drew parallels between the civil rights movement in the US and the movement by Indian minorities and Dalits and predicted that truth shall overcome.

Prof Biju Mathew, one of the founding coordinators of Coalition Against Genocide vowed to continue the struggle till fascism is completely defeated. He pointed out the right of every person to live with dignity.

Dr Shaik Ubaid, another founding coordinator of the CAG pointed out that it is expanding and more interfaith and civil rights groups are supporting it. This will help defeat the Hindutva ideology in the US and offer vital moral support to the pluralist forces in India, he said.

He asked people in the US to abandon their support for Modi and Hindutva and redeem themselves and the image of India. He noted that as long as Modi remains unwelcome in the US, his dream of becoming India's prime minister will remain unfulfilled.

Biju Mathew and Dr Shaik Ubaid were presented with the Lincoln-Gandhi-King Award for their role in launching the CAG
Bhairavi Desai, leader of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, recounted her joyful childhood days in Gujarat. Her father had kept a description of his childhood days and it was read at his funeral in 2008. It vividly portrayed the harmony and good relations existed among all people.
It is a shame that the same Gujarat witnessed senseless killings and other atrocities, she said.

Alex Vilanilam, commissioner of Martin Luther King Commission in New Jersey, said, the Hindutva agenda is to grab power and make India a religious state.
Sunita Vishwanath, founder of Sadhana, a new organisation for progressive Hindus, said the organisation will fight religious extremism. Hinduism is a search for god, without violence was the definition given by Gandhi and it is more relevant nowadays, she said. Her son Akash Mehta, who, as a 11-year-old organised a protest rally against Union Carbide three years ago, was also present.

India still remains as it was because of the wisdom of the founding fathers, Yousef Dadani regional vice president of the Indian American Muslim Council said.
He said the killings were not a natural reaction to the Godhra train massacre. The riots continued for five days. The killers and perpetrators roam freely in Gujarat now, while the victims and their families suffer, he said.

Saeed Patel of Non Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India, Juned Qazi of Indian National Overseas Congress, Shaheen Khateeb of Indian American Muslim Council, Monami Maulik of Desis Rising Up and Moving were among the speakers.
The rally was followed by a candle light vigil, the candles representing the lives of all the victims of Gujarat pogroms that were violently snuffed out.
At the rally in Washington, DC, Najid Hussain, the son-in-law of former MP Ahsan Jafri who was killed in the riots, and his son Tauseef Hussain were noted for their presence. Tauseef, Jafri's grandson, was 13 years old when the latter was killed.

Najid's wife Nishrin was in India in connection with the 10th anniversary.
Recounting her agony all these years, Najid said, "There is nothing that hurts a family more than to see the woman of the house suffer in silence. Nishrin's agony and pain has not reduced one bit in ten years since the killing of her father. Her nightmares are not suppressed one bit. Her tears have not stopped. And that is very painful to my family as a whole, and me in particular."

"There are more than hundred thousand Nishrins and Zakias produced by the Guajrat massacre, who need the balm of justice to begin healing their wounds. Justice is possible in our country only if it is not burdened by the political influences," he said.

"One of the reasons communal violence in India continues unabated is because we do not bring the perpetrators and masterminds of the violence to justice. We politicise the massacre, cite old precedents of violence with impunity, shift blame, and totally ignore the victims. That approach needs to change. The buck must stop here.

"Gujarat was called a model "Hindutva Laboratory". Let Gujarat also be the model to start the process where the architects of the violence -- however powerful, or progressive -- are held accountable and justice served."

Tauseef added: "Ten years after the tragedy, after ignorant carnage, and after blind injustice, it is heartening that so many still come together seeking answers and demanding reconciliation through justice. What we must continue to hold out for is not some emotional salve of vengeance, but a legitimate recognition of the loss of those wronged."
"It is an embarrassment on those representatives charged with protecting the people of Gujarat that a decade has passed without the swift legal retribution Indians should be granted by a functional democracy. As if not enough that contrition has proven so elusive, even simple empathy has been fleeting."

"Our family at least has the privilege of a strong voice and supportive audience, which is more than can be said for the multitude of survivors impacted in so many more ways than us. For those long suffering, and for the sanctity of what our India represents, we must turn catastrophe into a lesson."

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Relocated near garbage dump, survivors still picking up the pieces of their lives

Mandar Chitre , Gopal Kateshiya : Ahmedabad, Tue Feb 28 2012, 05:06 hrs
The dusty colony near Ahmedabad’s garbage dump at Pirana, called “Citizen Nagar” where 183 riot affected families from Naroda Patiya and Gulberg massacre were re-located, wore a deserted look on Monday, with most of its inhabitants away to Gulberg Society to attend a programme to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2002 riots.
In house No. 24, Javed Saiyed, whose mother Noorbano Saiyed is a witness in the Naroda Patiya case, was lying in his bed. Noorbano was among the 50-odd people from the colony who were away to Gulberg. “I also wanted to go but could not since I am down with fever,” 25-year-old Javed said.
Javed’s family of eight - three younger brothers, parents, wife and a two-year-old son - lives in the two-room-kitchen house provided by a Muslim organisation in 2004.
“Luckily, we all survived but that was the day (February 28, 2002) I would not like to remember. I have to take care of my family,” says Javed, who drives a dairy delivery van and an auto-rickshaw for a living.
Though scarred by that day, Javed says he frequently visits his Hindu friends in Kubernagar and Naroda. “Many confess they were instigated and misled by politicians. They regret they did wrong to some,” he says.
Javed’s younger brother Iqbal (18), however, says he still cannot shake off the memories of that fateful day. “I know we have to leave it behind, but how can I forget scenes of children being put to swords, women being molested and the dead bodies in Teesra Kuan! When I remember all this, it causes a lot of heartache,” says the teenager who drives a garbage-collection van for a private firm.
From Indian Express

India: A Decade on, Gujarat Justice Incomplete

New York) – Authorities in India’s Gujarat state are subverting justice, protecting perpetrators, and intimidating those promoting accountability 10 years after the anti-Muslim riots that killed nearly 2,000 people, Human Rights Watch said today. The state government has resisted Supreme Court orders to prosecute those responsible for the carnage and has failed to provide most survivors with compensation.
 The violence in Gujarat started on February 27, 2002, when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob and caught fire, killing 59 people. In a retaliatory spree by Hindu mobs, hundreds of Muslims were slaughtered, tens of thousands were displaced, and countless Muslim homes were destroyed.

“The 2002 violence against Muslims in Gujarat persists as a dark blot on India’s reputation for religious equality,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of prosecuting senior state and police officials implicated in the atrocities, the Gujarat authorities have engaged in denial and obstruction of justice.”

Efforts to investigate and prosecute cases inside Gujarat were stalled and activists and lawyers involved in the cases have been harassed and intimidated, Human Rights Watch found. It has taken repeated interventions by the Supreme Court following appeals by activists and victims’ families to order re-investigations, oversee independent inquiries in some cases, or shift trials out of Gujarat to ensure progress towards justice.

In the past decade, increasing evidence has emerged of the complicity of Gujarat state authorities in the anti-Muslim violence, Human Rights Watch said. In 2002, Human Rights Watch, in its report on the riots, quoted a police officer who said that there were no orders to save Muslims. Human Rights Watch also reported that the government’s political supporters had threatened and intimidated activists campaigning for justice.

While investigations in the Godhra train attack proceeded rapidly, investigations into cases related to the anti-Muslim riots that followed were deliberately slowed down or simply not pursued, Human Rights Watch said. Officials of the Gujarat state government, led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is serving its third term running the state government in Gujarat, failed to conduct serious investigations and obstructed justice. State courts dismissed many cases for lack of evidence after prosecutors effectively acted as defense counsel or witnesses turned hostile after receiving threats.

State police failed to investigate senior BJP leaders despite telephone records proving their presence at the scene of the riots in Naroda Patia and Naroda Gaam, and witness testimony that these senior leaders provided the mob with lethal weapons and instigated attacks on Muslims.

It was only in March 2009, after the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team took over the inquiry, that two leaders, Mayaben Surendrabhai Kodnani, a minister in the state cabinet, and Jaideep Patel, a leader of the Hindu militant group Vishwa Hindu Parishad, were arrested for aiding and abetting a mob that killed 105 people, injured several others, destroyed property, and sexually assaulted women. Both are still on trial.

Strong evidence links the Modi administration in Gujarat to the carefully orchestrated anti-Muslim attacks, Human Rights Watch said. Rioters had detailed lists of Muslim residents and businesses, and violence occurred within view of police stations. An independent media organization, Tehelka, used hidden cameras to capture some of the accused speaking openly of how the attacks had Modi’s blessings.

In August 2011 the Gujarat state government filed charges against a police officer, Rahul Sharma, for passing on Kodnani’s and Patel’s telephone records to the judicial commission inquiring into the violence.

In September, another senior police officer, Sanjiv Bhatt, was arrested after his former driver filed a complaint alleging that Bhatt had threatened him into signing a false affidavit that on February 27, 2002, after the Godhra attack, Chief Minister Modi had, in Bhatt’s presence, instructed the police to “allow the Hindus to vent their anger.” Bhatt alleges that this showed that Modi gave instructions to the police to allow the attacks on Muslims. In 2005, a police officer, R. B. Sreekumar, was denied a promotion because he criticized the Modi government for its failure to order prompt action that could have prevented the riots.

In 2005, the US government denied Modi a visa to visit the United States.

“Modi has acted against whistleblowers while making no effort to prosecute those responsible for the anti-Muslim violence,” said Ganguly. “Where justice has been delivered in Gujarat, it has been in spite of the state government, not because of it.”

The National Human Rights Commission and the Indian Supreme Court have ordered investigations in response to appeals from victims, lawyers, and human rights activists. In 2004, the Supreme Court called for a review of 2,000 cases that had been dismissed due to lack of evidence. After fresh inquiries, the police said they reexamined 1,600 cases, arrested 640 accused, and opened investigations against 40 police officers. However, only a small number of these cases have been brought to court and only a few of these resulted in convictions.

In March 2008, the Supreme Court strongly criticized the Gujarat administration’s attempted cover-up of its role in the massacres and ordered a Special Investigation Team to investigate nine crucial cases under its supervision. The Supreme Court had earlier stayed trials in some of these cases after victims and activists appealed, pointing out that the Gujarat police had failed to carry out proper investigations, and that the accused with connections to the political establishment were granted bail or simply dropped from inquiries.

Two of the Special Investigation Team cases have resulted in convictions: a special court in Gujarat in November 2011 sentenced 31 people to life in prison for the killing of 33 Muslims in the village of Sardarpura in Gujarat’s Mehsana district in March 2002. The case against those who attacked the train in Godhra resulted in 31 convictions and 62 acquittals.

In a landmark case, the Supreme Court intervened to ensure fair trials in what is known as the Best Bakery case. In this case, a mob attacked and burned down the Best Bakery in Vadodara, killing 14 people, including 12 Muslims. In a trial before a “fast-track” court, all 21 accused were acquitted in June 2003 after several witnesses turned hostile, later admitting that they had faced intimidation. Following intervention by the Supreme Court, a retrial in Maharashtra state resulted in convictions in 2006 of nine of the accused, each sentenced to life in prison.

Inone major trial, of those accused of attacking Bilkis Yakub Rasool Patel and her family, the Supreme Court found that intimidation of witnesses and the police bias in favor of the accused were so strong it transferred the case from Gujarat to Maharashtra. In 2008, a Mumbai lower court convicted 12 people in the gang-rape of Bikis Bano and the murder of 14 members of her family.

Another important case concerned the killing of 69 people, including a former Congress Party member of parliament, Ehsan Jafri, at the Gulmarg Society, a Muslim neighborhood. In a petition against Modi and 62 other officials, Jafri’s widow, Zakia Jafri, accused the Modi administration of “inaction” to contain the riots and “various acts of omission and commission.” She alleged that her husband had continuously called and appealed to top officials in the police and the government, including the chief minister, but no one came to the rescue of the people trapped inside the walled residential compound. A local court in February will start hearing a Special Investigation Team report to the Supreme Court after questioning several people, including Modi. The report has not been made public, but Modi’s statement denying any role in the violence has been leaked.

“The Supreme Court has been indispensable in compelling the government to do its job to hold the people responsible for the Gujarat violence accountable,” Ganguly said. “Successful prosecutions of cases moved outside Gujarat show that the government can provide adequate protection to victims and witnesses when it wants to.”

The Gujarat courts, in contrast, reacted slowly to the riots, Human Rights Watch said. However, in February 2012, the Gujarat High Court issued a contempt notice to the Modi government for failing to compensate 56 people whose shops were destroyed during the riots. The High Court also ordered the government to fund the repair of nearly 500 religious buildings that were targeted during the riots, which the court described as "negligence of the state."

New instances of harassment, threats, and intimidation against activists and lawyers involved in 2002 riot cases are being reported, Human Rights Watch said. In a January 27, 2012 affidavit to the Supreme Court, Teesta Setalvad of the Citizens for Justice and Peace alleged continuing legal harassment in which she was accused of manipulating evidence. She said that these attempts were “a sordid sub-text of the struggle for justice that the petitioner and her organization, who have stood by the struggle for ten long years, have had to suffer this indignity of vicious and mala fide allegations.”

On February 21 the Supreme Court criticized the Gujarat government for initiating a probe against Setalvad for her alleged role in a case of illegal exhumation of the bodies of the 2002 riot victims. The court said it was a “100 percent spurious case to victimize" her and that bringing such a case “does no credit to the state of Gujarat in any way.”

“In addition to ensuring that the top officials in the Gujarat state government involved in the riots are brought to justice, Indian courts need to expedite remaining cases and protect activists,” Ganguly said. “Ten years on, India owes it to the victims of the Gujarat riots to end the culture of impunity and prosecute those responsible for this open wound on the country’s reputation.”
From Human Rights Watch

Police arrest ‘dacoits’, find ‘Hindu extremist bombers’

From The Indian Express

Chandigarh Five men arrested last week in Patiala on charges of planning a dacoity have confessed to carrying out at least four bombings targeted at Muslims in Haryana in 2009 and 2010, police in Haryana and Punjab said today.
 The men allegedly belong to a Hindu extremist group called Azad Sangathan, headed by a Jind resident called Azad, also known as Sagar and Kala. Azad was arrested along with his comrades Praveen Sharma, Ram Niwas, Gurnam Singh and Rakesh Kumar at Shambhu barrier in Patiala. All are in Haryana Police custody.

“They have told interrogators that they wanted to spread terror among Muslims and chose Muslim targets for their attacks,” Inspector Rohtash Singh, station house officer of Jind city police station, who is investigating the attacks, said. “They chose a madrasa and a meat factory in Jind district, and a mosque in Mehlab village of Mewat district. They wanted to target Muslim buildings.”

Jind superintendent of police Ashok Kumar said, “So far they have confessed to carrying out blasts at four places. It is a sensitive matter. We are not in a position to divulge many details.”

The Jind-Mewat area was rocked by a series of apparently unexplained blasts in 2009-10. Apart from a madrasa and meat factory, bombs went off in Nuh in Mewat and Safidon in Jind. All were low intensity explosions in which no one was killed, police said. Haryana Police have been treating the madrasa blast, which took place in October 2009, as triggered by a leaking septic tank.

“All the accused are school dropouts and between ages of 22 and 28. Azad is the head who roped in the others. We have so far not found evidence that they were in touch with any other Hindu extremist group,” Inspector Singh said.

He said one of the accused, Rakesh, had come to know of potassium sulphate as an explosive while working as a tractor driver at a mine in Tosham in Haryana’s Bhiwani district.

“He (Rakesh) stole a bag of potash, and the explosive was used by the members of Azad Sangathan to carry out the blasts,” Singh said. The men will be produced in court tomorrow.