AIDWA Delegation second visit to Gujarat

Post state-sponsored communal carnage!
26 May, 2002 Kalindi Deshpande
IMMEDIATELY after the state-sponsored communal carnage began in Gujarat in March, a delegation of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) visited the state and issued a detailed report. Much time has passed since then but the situation is still not under control. Violence has spread to far-away interior villages. Though many independent teams have visited some of the relief camps, there are still some in remote areas where no team has gone. The AIDWA's central executive committee (CEC) decided to send a delegation once again to identify such areas and assess how much damage the vitiating communal atmosphere has done. The AIDWA had also collected some more relief money, nearly one lakh, after the Rs 2.5 lakh distributed by the first AIDWA delegation. The CEC was keen that the second installment should go to the victims in remote areas.
With these priorities in mind, I attended the AIDWA's state committee meeting in Rajkot on May 6, the first state committee meeting after the anti-Muslim violence began. The committee's members narrated some noteworthy experiences.
  1. In Upaleta, where units of the CPI(M) and the mass organizations led by CPI(M) members are strong, not a single incident of violence or threat to minority community occurred. Peace meetings were held immediately and minorities were assured of safety.
  2. A few days after the Godhra incident, Maya Kodanani, notorious BJP MLA from Ahmedabad, held meetings in Rajkot to spread rumors about how Muslims had molested Hindu women and how to teach "them" a lesson in order to protect "our women's dignity."
  3. In Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Sihor and other places, Ramnavmi was utilized to provoke anti-Muslim hatred. As VHP had to retreat from its plan of "asthi-kalash-yatra," it used a huge model of burning rail compartment of Sabarmati Express, with audio recordings of cries, slogans and other sound effects projected through mikes. This model was carried in front of the Ramnavmi Yatra. Holding a march on Ramnavmi is a recent phenomenon. Earlier, there was a procession on Holi and Shivaratri too.
  4. In Rajkot, in a working class area where Hindu workers from UP and Bihar are in a majority, money was forcibly collected for Ramnavmi celebration. Those who refused, were cursed in Ram's name or openly threatened.
  5. In Bhavnagar, AIDWA leaders played a good role by saving people, supporting them and taking on the VHP-Bajrang Dal challenge without fear. They reassured the minorities of their safety. Two senior members from minority community --- Gulshan (state committee member) and Rehmat (former state committee member) --- have suffered loss of property and means of livelihood. Rehmatben's house was burnt. Yet both are firmly attached to the AIDWA. Despite her personal losses, Gulshanben attended the meeting and participated in the proceedings.
  6. In Sihor tehsil of the same district, AIDWA state committee member Vahida, who is an elected member of Sihor Municipal Council, is still braving attacks on her house and the Muslims' residential colony. Yet she has taken a lead in maintaining peace by activating AIDWA and DYFI members and by appealing to people not to get provoked.
  7. In Ahmedabad, AIDWA state committee member Yashoda Koshti is in regular contact with CPI(M) and AIDWA members, though the curfew has affected her mobility.
After attending the state committee meeting, I went to Santrampur in district Panchmahal, with Yashoda Koshti accompanying me. In Santrampur, the CPI(M)'s Mohd Salim and Jivajibhai organised our visit to two relief camps. We also visited camps in Sukhsar and Fatehpura in Dahod district. Some of the important observations are as follows.
A) Hardships Faced by the Victims:
In most areas, people have been living in harmony for many generations, with no history of communal disturbance in the past. As such, the Muslim community was unprepared for the violence. In addition, lack of facilities like quick transport, communication, fire brigade, adequate police force etc in these backward districts added to their sufferings. Apart from old women and small children, even a handicapped young girl had to walk several km on her crutches, without food or water for a number of days, hiding in jungles for safety. More than 1,000 people in Fatehpura were crammed in 3-4 trucks to cross the Rajasthan border, 13 km away. A young girl died of suffocation in this process. In Fatehpura, two brothers were killed and one young married girl was stripped. Though she is tight-lipped about her fate, it is widely believed that she was sexually assaulted.
B) Loss of Property, Livestock and Livelihood: The destruction is complete. In Santrampur, 125 houses were looted, their steel doorframes removed and the houses set on fire. The inmates were labourers and these houses were given to them under Indira Awas Yojana. With no economic back-up whatsoever, it will take enormous time for them to restart their life. In Sant (part of Santrampur), even livestock were burnt alive along with houses. In Sukhsar and Fatehpura, where the victims were economically much better-off than those in Santrampur, no house, shop or workshop was left unburnt. Vehicles like jeeps, cars, tractors, carts, bicycles were gutted. The Masjid and Madrasa were set afire. The VHP call for economic boycott of the Muslims has created uneasiness among both communities. The fear is that this will hamper the process of rehabilitation. In Sukhsar, according to the camp incharge, there was a meeting between the two communities in an effort to create mutual trust, but VHP leaders told Muslims in no uncertain terms that they must not earn more than what is required for their daily needs. 'Subah kamao aur sham ko khatam karo' were the exact words. They were also asked to offer their prayers only in their houses: 'Masjid mein jama hone ki zaroorat nahin hai.'
C) Role of Police and Administration:
Surprisingly the attackers mobilised within a day or two transport for carrying hundreds of people, acid and petrol bombs, swords and other arms. But the police force was neither equipped nor adequate in numbers to cope with the situation when huge mobs gathered to attack the minorities. No action was taken in anticipation. In Sant, when the police was requested to send force for protection after two youths were attacked, the PSI said, "I have only 18 policemen. Make your own arrangement for protection." In Sukhsar, those named in FIRs have not yet been arrested. Though the police was well aware of the persons who looted Muslim houses, no combing operation was immediately done to nab the culprits. In contrast, in Baroda, after some retaliatory violence took place, the police has been conducting combing operations, terrorising, beating and threatening women in Muslim areas in complete violation of law. We met the police commissioner while in Baroda, but he was not at all cooperative.
D) VHP Rumour Mill:
The VHP's malicious campaign has affected the Hindus as well as Adivasis. We realised that in rural areas, where it is comparatively difficult to create distrust amongst people who have lived together for generations, the most effective method is to start rumours about molestation of women. Even Adivasis were taken in by the propaganda that Muslims had assaulted Hindu women in Sabarmati Express and burnt them alive. The news about karsevaks being burnt was put on the backburner and the alleged attack on women became the main issue. It seems the Adivasis have fallen prey to the VHP's move to Hinduise them. The Muslims are going to kill you en masse, was another point. We got one such widely distributed pamphlet. It openly asked the 'Sachha Hindus' to cut the Muslims into pieces or burn them alive.

E) Relief Measures: The condition in the camps we visited is really pathetic. Some people have got initial ex-gratia payment of Rs 1250. The government GR says upto Rs 50,000 may be paid for the loss of a house, and upto Rs 10,000 for the loss of an income generating asset like a shop, a rickshaw, a handcart etc. But a lot depends on the whims and fancies of authorities who are known for their communal prejudices. So far very few have actually got any compensation. Also, the amount declared is meagre compared to the present day rates. The value of assets within a house is not calculated for granting compensation.

In Fatehpura camp, we found that some people had more than one house. Their ownership may be in the name of one person in government records, each house is counted as single unit for house tax and other taxes. However, while granting compensation for loss of house, only one house is considered.

The government is also in a hurry to wind up these camps. At present, there is a heat wave in Gujarat. In June, the rains will begin. As it is, because of lack of resources, camp managers cannot afford even an ordinary tent. Under these adverse weather conditions, it is impossible for the victims to make any arrangement for themselves. The pressure to continue relief camps must be kept up by all means. Also, we must fight for right to information and transparency in relief work.