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Gujarat genocide: The State, law and subversion

Last updated on: February 27, 2012 14:42 IST

The Gujarat genocide in 2002, resulting in the killing of nearly 1500 innocent citizens, mostly from India's major minority community, and the subsequent pervasive subversion of governmental machinery to sabotage justice delivery to riot victims, has to be understood as a man-made disaster, writes RB Sreekumar

The Gujarat genocide in 2002, resulting in the killing of nearly 1500 innocent citizens, mostly from India's major minority community and subsequent pervasive subversion of governmental machinery to sabotage justice delivery to riot victims, has to be understood as a man-made disaster. A disaster brought about by lack of professionalism and lack of integrity and commitment to the letter, spirit and ethos of the Constitution of India, on the part of all officials of the state, from Chief Minister Narendra Modi to the constables.

An analysis of the sequence of events from the time of the gruesome killing of 59 Hindu passengers in the train burning incident on February 27, 2002, to this day, will bring up many unambiguous facts and data on deliberate acts of omission and commission by political leaders, bureaucrats and policemen, aiming at the actualisation of the anti-Muslim carnage in Gujarat in 2002, and since then, the lopsided justice delivery to riot victims.

At the same time, it is evident that many police officers and officials in the executive magistracy managed even under those circumstances to implement the codified administrative wisdom detailed in government regulations, and were thus effective in containing the violence and keeping the human causalities and damage to property on as low a scale as possible.

From the 26 police districts and four commissionerates in Gujarat, in 11 districts there was no death due to riots, and the causalities were negligible (less than the toll in the previous communal violence in these places); namely in Amrel, Narmada, Ahwa-Dang, Jamnagar, Navasari, Porbandar Surat Rural, Valsad, Surendranagar, Rajkot Rural and Kutch- Bhuj.

In five districts, and in the commissionerates of Surat and Rajkot there were between two and five deaths only due to violence. The five districts are Bharuch ( two deaths due to violence), Junagadh (two), Patan (four), Vadodara Rural (four) and Bhavnagar (two). The commissionerate of Rajkot city had four deaths due to violence.

The position of Surat city is quite unique. The city, the second populous city in Gujarat, reported only seven deaths due to violence though in previous communal disturbances, particularly in the 1992 post-Babri Masjid demolition violence, hundreds of citizens were killed. The commendable performance of Surat city commissioner (VK Gupta, IPS 1977) and his team is in contrast to the 326 killings in Ahmedabad city and 32 in Vadodara city in mass violence.

It is relevant to note that unlike in areas of major genocidal violent incidents (Naroda Patia and Gulbarg society in Ahmedabad city, Sardarpura in Mehsana district, Kidiad in Sabrakhanta district, Ode village in Anand district, Best Bakery located in Vadodara city) where large numbers of Muslims were killed in police firing, in Surat city only seven people died in riots, while 10 Hindu and one Muslim offenders were injured in police action.

Indeed, in most of the areas of high voltage anti-minority violence, in police action, overwhelmingly higher number of Muslims were killed. Here is a paradoxical and inexplicably strange phenomenon of about 60 per cent of deaths in police firing and 77 per cent of casualties of mob-violence being drawn from the Muslim community. Does not this fact pose a serious question mark on the professional integrity and the commitment to the rule of law of the officers of police and executive magistracy, in those notorious riot affected areas? 

It is pertinent that in areas of less violence also there were many communally sensitive and volatile localities inhabited by a sizeable number of highly communally charged people.

(The above data on violence is taken from base papers of appendix (v) of R B Sreekumar's second affidavit to the commission dated 06-10-2004)

It is well known that the Gujarat government, true to its motive of portraying the 2002 riots as a spontaneous, uncontrollable articulation of justifiable ire against the community of the alleged perpetrators of Godhra train fire tragedy by the 'victim majority community', has till date, underplayed or belittled the praiseworthy and model performance of law enforcers in the above mentioned areas of nil or negligible violence.

Significantly, practically all police officers who had genuinely enforced the rule of law to ensure security to minorities had incurred the wrath of the Modi government and many of these persons who refused to carry out the covert anti-minority agenda of the CM were punished with disciplinary proceedings, transfers, by-passing in promotion and so on. A few upright officers have to leave the state on deputation.

An examination of the framework of law and governmental directives (standard operational procedure) and regulations, the course of riots and the character of government response to ground situations would reveal the obvious culpable role of government functionaries in the genocide.

Ideally any chief minister committed to his oath to the Constitution of India and canons of ethics would have primarily moved for de-politicisation and de-communalisation of the Godhra train fire incident and thereafter scrupulously implemented the principles of Raj Dharma (Raja word etymologically means a person who keeps amity among people, ie, Sarvey Ranjite Iti Raja).

But the tone, tenor and thrust of the CM's response to the Godhra train fire incident had betrayed a political strategy to project the tragedy at Godhra as an international conspiracy targeted against Hindu community, with an eye on achieving electoral dividends through Hindu communal mobilisation. Calculated acts such as:

1) Handing over dead bodies of Godhra train fire victims to Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders (including those dead bodies of people belonging to places outside Ahmedabad city) in violation of regulations on handing over dead bodies only to the next of kin of the deceased;

2) Delay in the imposition of curfew in Ahmedabad city to facilitate the parading of dead bodies;

3) Delay in requisition of Army from the central government;

4) The CM's illegal directions to officers to allow manifestations of Hindu revengefulness against Muslims, in the meeting held at CM's residence on February 27, 2002, evening;

5) Public announcement by the CM declaring Godhra train fire incident as a pre-planned conspiracy, on February 27, 2002, though there was no such information to the police and confirming entries in the case records till the end of the first fortnight of the investigation;

6) Presenting the anti-minority bloodbath in the media by the CM as operation of Newtonian law of reaction;

7) Refusal to act against the media making false and communally inciting reports (allegedly paid news) despite proposals from the state intelligence branch (SIB);

8) Transfer of officers who checked anti-minority bloodshed by armed Hindu mobs, ie, Rahul Sharma, Vivek Srivastava, MD Antani, Himanshu Bhat, etc in the thick of the riots, though DGP K Chakravorthy had objected their transfers;

9) Refusal to take follow-up action on numerous SIB reports (from April to September 2002) for correcting the anti-minority posture of the government officials, impeding justice delivery to riot victims;

10) Failure to visit areas of major mass killings like Naroda Patia, Gulberg Society (Ahmedabad city), Sardarpura (Mehsana district), Ode Village (SK district), etc, though the CM visited the site of the Godhra train fire incident and met relations of those killed in the train fire;

11) Appointment of pro-VHP advocates (even office-bearers of Sangh Parivar) as public prosecutors in riot cases against those accused of anti-minority crimes;

12) Refusal to transfer officers from important executive posts in areas of high voltage violence, despite SIB recommendations, till the arrival of KPS Gill, former Punjab DGP as advisor to the CM, Gujarat, in May 2002;

13) Failure to maintain minutes of situation review meetings chaired by the CM, making a sham of monitoring exercise, reportedly for avoiding accountability in any subsequent investigation or judicial scrutiny;

14) Placement of two cabinet ministers in the offices of DGP and CP Ahmedabad city, allegedly for restraining the police from blocking anti-minority mob violence;

15) Misusing unabashedly government funds to undermine a PIL before the apex court by Mallika Sarabai asking for a CBI investigation into the riot cases, etc, are clear indications.

With these actions, the CM had palpably violated his responsibility to the basic foundations of the Constitution of India -- secularism and the rule of law. The unprecedented anti-minority massacre in 2002, lopsided justice delivery and negligible ameliorative measures for the riot victim-survivors by the CM and senior officers, who were well-ensconced in their offices, secured by 3-4 layers of impenetrable police cordon, had prompted the apex court to portray those in the Gujarat state administration as modern Neros, in its judgment in April 2002.

Any conscious and patriotic citizen would feel that CM Modi should have taken a series of political and administrative measures to contain and control the riots after Godhra train fire incident and ensure security of the minorities against the unwarranted violence engineered by a section of communal-minded Hindus. This would have elevated him to high pedestals of Indian history by the posterity, almost on par with the former prime minister Chandrashekar. 

It may be recalled that the Chandrashekar government effectively countered any possible revengeful violence against the Tamil community in the country, particularly in New Delhi, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by Tamil militants in Sriperumbudur (1991).

The political measures the CM should have taken would include the following, none of which were in fact carried out:

1) A public announcement disassociating the government with the VHP's state-wide bandh on February 28, 2000, in protest against the Godhra train fire incident, coupled with a strict warning to Sangh Parivar activists to avoid any illegal acts during the bandh, affecting the public order and harmony among the communities;

2) An appeal to the general public to be calm and restrain from any provocative action, cautioning that the strictest measures would be taken against any violators of law;

3) Convene a meeting of the ruling party functionaries and leaders and task them to initiate purposeful actions at the ground level to maintain public order;

4) Ask MLAs, MPs to tour their constituencies, constitute peace committees and implement suggestions in the recommendations of National Integration Council in a given situation (this was not done -- it is relevant here to note that those BJP leaders who refused to carry out the anti-Muslim violence in their areas of influence were ill-treated and sidelined by the CM in the party and most of them has to disappear into political sanyas -- for eg, (ex-CM) Suresh Mehta of Kutch, Kashiram Rana of Surat, Vallabh Katharia of Rajkot and Haran Pandia of Ahmedabad city;

5) Plan and implement meaningful schemes for relief, rehabilitation, reconciliation and resettlement of riot victims.

Administrative proceedings to be taken by the CM should have included:

1) Direction to the chief secretary, home department officials and DGP to implement all regulations for communal peace in order to send a decisive message to potential trouble-makers that the government means business despite the political affiliations of the people;

2) Requisition additional forces from the central government, particularly the central paramilitary forces and army contingents and deploy them to sensitive areas as early as possible (the requisition of central forces was delayed);

3) Entrust dead bodies of Godhra train fire victims to the next of kin for their early funeral with due courtesy and care as envisaged in Hindu dharmasastras and particularly in the stipulations of Agnipurana -- the parading of dead bodies or any misuse of  these other than funeral is sacrilegious and sinful as per all Hindu scriptures;

4) Closely study hourly situation reports (sitreps) from the police and holding review meetings at least twice a day with senior officers and issue suitable instructions and later review implementation of these instructions (essentially minutes of such meetings have to be kept for gauging the depth and extent of actualisation of decisions in the previous meetings);

5) Take action against the media projecting communally inciting illegal reports, in violation of the directions of the Press Council of India and government (this was not done despite proposals from SIB);

6) Reward officers who had done courageous laudable duties to contain and control violence and provided purposeful advance preventive actionable intelligence like Rahul Sharma, Vivek Srivastava, Himansu Bhat, VK Gupta, RB Sreekumar, Sanjeev Bhat etc (practically all of them were punished);

7) Take punitive action against the officers who failed to maintain law and order by implementation of statutory instructions about riot control, in Ahamedabad city, Vadodara city, districts of Godhra, Ahmedabad rural, Mehsana, Kheda, Dahod, Sabarkanta and Anand, ie., officers like PC Pande, DD Tuteja, ND Solenky etc (in fact PC Pande was given post-retirement placement in the post of chairman, Gujarat Police Housing Corporation);

8) Examination of the assessment reports from SIB and central government and implement specific remedial measures suggested for total normalisation of the situation in riot affected areas (the officers who sent 'unpalatable' intelligence assessments were punished);

9) Implement fully the suggestions made by NHRC and other national bodies (the truth is that NHRC had to go to the apex court for justice);

10) Implement standard measures towards adequate relief, actual reconciliation between the riot victims and majority communities, rehabilitation and resettlement of riot victims in their pre-riot positions and areas (now also thousands of riot victims who were forced to migrate from their pre-riot habitats are living in sub-human conditions);

11) Visit sites of major mass murders, ie, Naroda Patia, Sardarpura etc, and hold extensive interactions with riot victims for taking all feasible measures to redress their grievances regarding their complaints and rehabilitation (media reported about he CM congratulating some of the rioters and showing cold shoulder to riot victims; -- victims and NGOs had to go to the apex court for redressal of their complaints about the prejudicial stance of the Gujarat administration);

12) Move for expeditious investigation, prosecution and disposal of major riot related cases by constituting a Special Investigation Team, appointing secular unbiased public prosecutors and establishment of fast track courts (this was not done, hence repeated judicial intervention till this day).

These measures would have convinced the citizens of India that the CM had strictly adhered to the spirit of the Preamble and provisions of the Fundamental Duties in Article 51A of our Constitution. This would have left no ground for India's enemies within and without to exploit the discontentment of the riot victims and their community and endeavour to subvert their patriotic allegiance to their motherland.

We know that in every major explosion, killing innocent citizens allegedly engineered by Islamic jihadists in the country, revenge for the anti-minority violence in Gujarat in 2002 was projected as a reason.

The civil bureaucracy supervising the police force, consisting of the chief secretary, home department officials and executive magistracy are legally bound to implement the government regulations enshrined in the compilation of the Union government, captioned 'communal peace', police acts, CRPC, Gujarat police manual and DGP K V Joseph's pamphlet on 'strategy and approach to communal riots for strict implementation'. 

Strangely, the chief secretary, G Subbarao, who as the secretary of the state cabinet is the bridge between bureaucracy and political leadership in the government, had not submitted any affidavit to the judicial commission enquiring into the role of chief minister and others in the course and aftermath of the 2002 communal holocaust.

Legally obligatory sequentially exigent duties of the bureaucracy, in a sensitive communal situation include:

a) Get well-evaluated intelligence reports from the state and central agencies, examine relevant points, nugget by nugget, hold meetings with relevant officers and issue operational directives to the executive officers for compulsory enforcement (this was not done),

b) Keep point-wise minutes of decisions taken for normalisation of situation -- short term and long term, and monitor their actualisation (this was not done),

c) Monitor the impact of government directives on normalisation through periodical and regular appraisal of feedback from grassroot level functionaries, riot victims, complainants and informants (this was not done),

d) Punish and reward functionaries in tune with the standard and quality of their field work during the riots (performers were punished and collaborators in riots from the chief secretary onwards were rewarded),

e) Rush additional central forces to the troublesome areas (this was not done effectively),

f) Ensure coordination and effective communication among the police, prosecutors, all wings of the criminal justice system, medical department and those deployed for relief and rehabilitation of the riot affected (this was not done).

Narratives from the ground level graphically painted in media reports, litigations by complainants to the judicial bodies and assessment reports from SIB had confirmed that the above detailed obligations were not performed by the bureaucracy and the police. In fact, Ashok Narayanan, the then additional chief secretary-home, in his recorded interaction with a senior police officer frankly depicted the situation during the riot-days as almost inevitable, in these words:

"Now I am telling you the environment at that time…. all vakils on... VHP side, all judges… many of the judges were also on VHP side, right, doctors also did not treat patients because they were Muslims. In that situation, what can be done…tell me. Bail applications neglected… What can we (home department) stay on? What can we say?…. The entire society is like that."

Ashok Narayanan was given post-retirement placement as the state vigilance commissioner for six years.

(See Sreekumar's 9th Affidavit dated 12-01-2012, Annexure B page 10)

The police acts and CrPC bestow direct powers to station house officers (in-charge of police stations) and their linear supervisors up to the DGP and so they are not at all at the mercy of anybody in the registration of offences and investigation as per the procedure established by the law. But clear measures failed to be carried out in most places which witnessed an abominable degree of anti-minority crimes like Ahmedabad city (326 deaths), Godhra district (93), Western Railway (64), Mehsana (61), Ahmedabad rural (33), Sabarkanta (32), Kheda (31), Dahod (24), Banaskanta (20) and Anand (15)

(As per the appendix 5 of the 2nd Affidavit of Sreekumar dated 6-10-2004.) 

Ideally from SHO to DGP, police should have acted in the following way, but not one of these procedures was carried out:

1) Initiate preventive arrests of communal-minded persons figuring in police records on February 27, 2002, after the Godhra incident;

2) Search and recover arms, weapons and explosives from the dens of communal goons;

3) Exercise effective control over Hindu mobs, graduating from violence of lesser dimensions to intense degree, from the morning of bandh day on February 28, 200, -- from blocking traffic and burning tyres in the roads to arson and looting property from houses and shops of the targeted community;

4) Purposeful use of force including firing on militant mobs, as was done in Surat city and other areas where violence was contained decisively;

5) Imposition of curfew and its efficacious execution (note that in Baroda city there was extensive violence during curfew hours like arson in Best Bakery);

6) Videography of rioters for their identification and arrest during investigation;

7) Documentation of the process of commencement, course and aggravation of riots, police action and normalisation of situation -- police station-wise, in the station diary and other imperative police records;

8) Proper recording of FIRs and complaints by riot victims by including the names of all against whom complaints were given -- many Sangh Parivar leaders led marauding armed mobs in many places against the Muslims;

9) Register each incident of violence as a separate offence;

10) Effective investigation by taking the accused in police remand and recovering the property looted and incriminating evidence from them;

11) Strictly opposing the release of those accused of multiple anti-minority grave crimes on bail and so on.

The above brazen display of predisposition against Muslim riot victims by the police had generated a perception in the Muslim community, since 2002, about themselves as a separate section of population left at the total mercy of the radical Hindu communal elements (this was reported to the government as early as April 24, 200, by the SIB -- See Sreekumar's First Affidavit -- Page 7).

Consequently, there was total loss of faith in the criminal justice system among the Muslims, who through NGOs and the NHRC had to approach the apex court for the redressal of their grievances.

The anti-minority prejudice of the administration was graphically brought to the notice of the government by the SIB, but deliberately, no follow-up action was taken, nor did the government question the veracity of the SIB reports. So all those defaulters in the government must be seen as responsible for criminal negligence punishable u/s 166, 186, 187of the  IPC. Unfortunately, the investigators from the Gujarat police and SIT constituted by the apex court, under Dr RK Raghavan, had failed to arrest and prosecute all those officers responsible for culpable acts. 

The approach of the SIT to keep the complicity level of government functionaries as low as possible (so far only two police Inspectors were arrested for their criminal role in riots) had further solidified the sense of immunity from legal action in the minds of delinquent government servants and political leaders. In future, supporting the illegal agenda of any ruling party in a riot will become the most profitable strategy for all self-seeking, corrupt and careerist sycophants in bureaucracy and police.

Many officers became non-performers during riots not for want of skills, human and material resources, legal authority and logistics but on account of lack of motivation, will, courage and moral stamina to swim against the tide of subservience and servitude to a chief minister carrying out an anti-minority agenda, for political capital, at the cost of the rule of law. 

In this context, the explanation of Bheeshma Pithamaha, the grand seer of the epic Mahabharat, would explain the state of mind of deviant officers. Bheeshma, narrating the reasons for his supporting Kauravas to Yudhishtira, who sought his assistance and blessings on the eve of the Mahabharat battle, told him: 'Men are slave to wealth (includes power and status) and I am with Kauravas for this reason -- Arthasya Purushodasah| Dasasthvartho Na Kasyachit Iti Sathyam Maharaja Baddhodsmyarthana Kaurave'.

The implementation of reforms in police and administration in the recommendations of the administrative reforms commission, Padmanabaiah and Ribeiro committee reports and directives of the apex court in the Prakash Singh case will go a long way in remedying the evils of the situation crept into the Indian bureaucracy and police. Media, NGOs, human right activists and vibrant citizens have to further redouble their labours to exorcise black sheep and criminals in the Indian establishment, who are debilitating the system from within, for their unholy selfish interests. There are few achievements in getting unprecedented convictions in the judicial history of India, in anti-minority violence cases, like the Sardarpura case judgment, thanks to the efforts of activists like Teesta Setalvad.

Let us hope that the real sovereigns of our nation, 'We the people' -- (the Preamble) will be eternally Argus-eyed to detect the enemies of social amity, peace, normalcy and syncretic legacy of Indian civilization.

Guest post by R B Sreekumar, former Gujarat director general of police who deposed before the Nanavati Commission. Republished with permission from The original article can be read here

R B Sreekumar