Lessons Not Learned from Gujarat 2002

“With a purified heart, and with proper thinking, go on resolving to do honest work. The only objective of human life is to give up bad deeds and to develop good qualities.”

– Atharvaveda, 5/3/41 

“Oh men! you should not be satisfied with your present situation.
You have to move forward and have to exert with body and soul’s

– Atharvaveda, 8/1/42

“Law is King of Kings;
Nothing is superior to law;
The law aided by the power of the King
Enables the weak to prevail over the strong.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 14-4-2-23


“Even adversity does not prompt men of unswerving purity to do mean things.”                                                                                                                             

Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar, 6543


“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

– Holy Bible, St Matthew, 6/25


“Oh, ye who believe! be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seductive that ye deal not justly.
Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah.
Lo! Allah is informed of what ye do.”   

– Holy Quran, Surah-v-84


“Oh my people! Give full measure and full weight in justice, and wrong not people in respect of their goods. And do not evil in the earth, causing corruption.”                 

 – Holy Quran, Surah-xi-855


 “Lo! Allah enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kins folk and forbideth lewdness and abomination and wickedness.”

– Holy Quran, Surah-xvi-906

Strife in society is the outcome of inadequate amity and mutual trust among people and the resultant dispute coupled with denial of justice to individuals or groups by the elite wielding power at social, economic, political, religious, cultural and administrative realms. A healthy society is always successful in localising, containing and solving disputes germinated over private or public issues. Modern Nation States have evolved institutions, human resources, tools and procedures for smooth maintenance of the rule of law, prompt delivery of justice to the aggrieved and sound relief, reconciliation, rehabilitation and resettlement of victims of natural or man-made calamities. Segments of any vibrant society like NGOs, local residential groups, professional fraternal associations (including caste-centric groups in India), media, welfare organizations, trade, religious, commercial, political, and cultural bodies and so on, propelled by the consensus of public opinion, do effectively respond to any major threat or danger to social harmony and public order. Simultaneously, structurally organized components of the State – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, instantly initiate interventionist purposeful action through enabling authority for realization of tasks assigned.
Mainstream Gujarati society and wings of the State (Legislature and Executive) did not rise to the level of expectation of citizens, during and after the prolonged communal disturbances, thanks to the impact of majoritarian communal campaigns and government’s covert connivance with inflicters of savagery on their targets.
History of communal clashes in Gujarat, particularly in Ahmedabad city had started from AD 1714 and major riots took place in 1969 (600 deaths), 1985, and in 1992 but the prolonged riots in 2002 with the unprecedented highest casualty of nearly 1500 killings (including missing persons), were notorious for the criminal collaborative role of the State functionaries (Neros according to the Supreme Court) in the anti-minority pogrom with pronounced ingredients of a genocide as defined in United Nations Covenant on Genocide 1948. To illustrate, large scale killing of a specific group (761 in riots – 177 Hindus and 584 Muslims; 200 in police firing, 83 Hindus and 117 Muslims and physical destruction of socio-cultural and religious symbols of a targeted group – 302 Dargahs, 209 Mosques, 113 Madrasas, 30 temples and 3 churches; total property lost to Muslims comes to 244 crore and 31 crore to Hindus[1]).
The societal movement against riots in general was lukewarm, nominal and that too limited to cities and regional pockets and thus ineffective and directionless, though, some aid has come for organizing relief camps for the displaced, but action to reactivate the subverted Criminal Justice System (CJS), manipulating available channels of grievance redressal to the disadvantage of the riot victims, was grossly inadequate.
Except a few NGOs like Citizen for Justice and Peace (CJP), led by Teesta Setalvad and a few others like reputed artist Mallika Sarabhai, no well focused moves to depute advocates to take up major carnage cases were visible. Effective microlevel monitoring of investigation and prosecution of major carnage cases by CJP could get 120 rioters[2] – including a former state minister – (direct perpetrators of violence) convicted with life imprisonment – an unprecedented achievement for human rights activists, in history of anti-minority riots in India since 1947.
Most gruesome manslaughters took place in Godhra railway station (59 deaths), and places like Naroda Patiya (96) 190 and Gulbarg Society (69) – both in Ahmedabad city, Sardarpura (33) and Deepada Darwaja (11) – both in Mehsana district, Best bakery in Baroda city (14), Ode village (27) in Anand district and Kidiad (23) in Sabarkantha district. Thousands of internally displaced housed in relief camps were brutally driven out by the State administration in June/July 2002, to project a false picture of normalcy before the Central Election Commission, under pressure from Modi government to hold early assembly election, ostensibly to cash on the anti-minority impulse and communal consolidation of Hindus for Sangh Parivar, allegedly the main architect of genocide.
Limited protests by socio-religious, cultural and commercial organizations did not create any discernable impact, so Vajpayee government after condemnation of riots initially through public statements, had endorsed the Sangh Parivar’s stand on riots as genuine and legitimate expression of anger by majority community on the community responsible for ‘conspiring and killing Ram Bhaktas’ at Godhra railway station on 27th February 2002. The octogenarian Sanskrit scholar KK Shastri had even eulogized tormentors of Muslims, by calling them Tigers – “waghri wagh thai gai” (Waghiri – Backward community – became tigers). Gandhians also did not resort to Mahatma’s methodology of Satyagraha or fasting to generate
nationwide moral pressure on Central Government to make a leadership change in Gujarat and to correct malady in the State administration.
Pertinently most of the religious leaders of the Muslims were paralysed by fear complex and Modiphobia. Deplorably, many of the Hindu religious congregations had exhibited a mind set of deeming the anti-Muslim blood-bath as a spontaneous, uncontrollable upsurge against the community responsible for killing Ram Bhaktas at Godhra Railway Station. Corporate units owned by Muslims also did not come with any decisive, well-directed and consistent measures for ensuring effective justice delivery and substantial relief, reconciliation, rehabilitation and resettlement schemes for the riot victim survivors.
A major silver lining is the role of media, both Print and Electronic, particularly the National English Press and channels, who had graphically brought out practically all nuances of the genesis, course and aftermath of the communal holocaust. Another redeeming feature was the initiative by numerous Hindus who offered shelter, security, relief and rehabilitation to Muslims targeted by marauding Hindu brigands, even risking their lives.
Most of them are averse to any recognition or publicity for their philanthropic services lest they would incur the wrath of radical Hindus and Sangh Parivar. Society for Promoting Rationality (SPRAT) led by Hassan M Johar, risked his life and moved through rioting areas and distributed food and relief materials. Activists like Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, Shabanam Hashmi, Harsh Mander, Jagen Sethi, have also been doing a lot of ameliorative service to the riot affected.
Some miscreants, brain-washed to nurture deep-rooted hatred against Muslims, through prolonged indoctrination had acted like programmed robots butchering and plundering their ‘enemy community’. Extremists among Muslims have also been equally devilish. This was possible due to long inertia of the secular civil population whose socio-religious, political and cultural bodies remained sluggish and unresponsive to the trends of de-spiritualisation and politicisation of Hindu- Muslim religious institutions.
This gave fillip to the process of saffronisation and exclusivism of Hindus, Jihadism and Arabisation of Muslims. Through well-designed deliberate actions, areas of cooperation and collective joint activities between Hindus and Muslims were increasingly brought down by radical sectarian activists in both communities. Alienation of Muslims from local culture, conventions, customs and costumes, etc, in the name of assertion of Islamic identity to counter alleged danger to Islamic way of life, has adverse impact on social amity and fraternity between communities. Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Advani’s Rath Yatra, mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley (5 lakh – largest migration from ones native place since Partition), demolition of Babri Masjid and subsequent riots, rise of terrorizing Muslim underworld under the political and police patronage in Gujarat cities like Abdul Latif in Ahmedabad city, etc, have pushed sizable number of traditional secularists to the camp of Hindu majoritarianism.
Renaming places with Hindu names, installation of images of Hindu deities in government premises, identification of Muslim trade and commercial establishments for targeted attack during communal riots (exemplified by the destruction of showrooms of Bata, Pantloons, Metro Shoes, hotels bearing Hindu names but owned by Muslims in 2002 riots), government servants participating in Sangh Parivar sponsored programmes for their ‘career advancement’ and so on, became quite prominent since late 1990s. Why did secular sections not take any pro-active, counter active or remedial measures at suitable time and place against the divisive trends in the society? No demonstrative action by secular groups – sociopolitical and cultural – and even Hindu bodies like Ramkrishna Mission with its clear image of equal respect to all religions – Sarva Dharma Samabhavna, took any substantial action against communal movements. Gradually most facets of community life came under the grip of dominant sectarian groups in both communities. Should we learn anything from this suicidal indifference of civil society during the long gestation period in the pre-riot era, duration of riots and post riot days in Gujarat?
The secular political elite at national level also did not launch convincing campaigns exposing the Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s grave omissions like,
1. Not disassociating his government from VHP sponsored bandh in Gujarat on 28/2/2002,
2. Not warning of strict actions against all bandh enthusiasts,
3. Tasking ruling party leaders (MLA, MP) to initiate action at grass root level to maintain public order and normalcy by touring in their areas of influence,
4. Discouraging bureaucrats and police from implementing government regulations for achieving normalcy, and
5. Slackness to plan and implement meaningful schemes for relief, rehabilitation, reconciliation and resettlement of riot victims in the pre-riots ambience.
Significantly, local political leaders who refused to actively support the anti-Muslim agenda of CM like Suresh Mehta of Kutch, Kashiram Rana of Surat, Vallabh Kataria of Rajkot and Haren Pandya of Ahmedabad city (who was later killed in suspicious circumstances), were ill-treated, cold shouldered and all had gradually disappeared into political wilderness.
Of the three wings of the State, the Legislature and the Executive had failed to become an effective fortress for the targeted citizens, for saving them from the rioters. No legislator had mobilized their supporters in the party in favour of the Muslims. The Executive component consisting of the police, the executive magistracy and many in statutorily empowered government departments to maintain public order, take ameliorative measures after any disaster, etc, had unabashedly betrayed criminal negligence culpable under Sections 166, 186 and 187 IPC, by not implementing architecture of SOP designed by Central and State Governments. As narrated earlier, most of the facilitators of targeted violence were rewarded and intrinsic law enforcers were punished.
Higher judiciary had shown clear indications about their displeasure on Modi administration through many observations and orders.
The solution lies in implementation of police reforms in the recommendations of Padmanabhaiah and Ribeiro committees and the Supreme Court orders in Prakash Singh’s case. Creation of bodies suggested by the court could have resulted in their effective intervention to prevent officers from becoming collaborators to rioters, through acts of omission and commission. This would have prevented the democratically elected State Government from carrying out its covert illegal anti-minority agenda through mobocracy. Concept of command responsibility of senior officers up to the Chief Secretary has to be enshrined in the administrative jurisprudence urgently.
The area of discretion to the field officers in implementing statutory directives on prevention, control and containment of riots should be reduced to the minimum. The exact operational role of each police officer and the Executive Magistrate at different rungs of hierarchy, viz DGP to
Constable and Home Secretary to Mamlatdar, in handling disturbances, have to be standardized and compiled on the pattern of the much admired ‘Blue Book’ on VIP security. This should contain unambiguous Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for each officer and specific drill manuals, with situation wise directives. Intentional non-implementation and serious acts of omission and commission vis-a-vis SOP be made punishable acts of crime as in the case of Civil rights Act and Prevention of Atrocity on SC/ST Act.
India is yet to establish sacrosanct conventions of ethical norms like political executive demitting office whenever serious allegations are made against him, as in matured western democracies. The danger of crookish Indian elite at the helm of affairs devising ingenious contrivances to bypass any well-designed legal and administrative structures cannot be discounted.
Strangely, many in the State administration, since 1990s have deviated from their constitutional obligations and acted as part of the collateral wing of the Sangh Parivar to get favours from the government and for career advancement. Thus during 2002 riots in areas of genocidal mass violence, government officers did not adequately respond to distress calls from the minorities under brutal assault by armed Hindu communal gangs.
Finally, the civil society has to plan and implement area-specific and issue based schemes to arrest the debilitating trends of de-spiritualisation and politicisation of religious bodies, and the communalisation of all facets of public life. Any act of government functionary going against the
requirements of the rule of law, democracy and secularism, from the highest to the grass root level, be checked and corrected through legal channels and collective public action. All available fora – administrative, legal, political, social and cultural – be moved to make persons in authority, accountable, perform and deliver, as per the concept of command responsibility. Indian civilization, having a heritage of 5,000 years, has vitality, inner strength to withstand any crisis. Many would be unobtrusively endeavouring for achieving the ideals in the inspiring last hymn from the Rigveda,7 burning high with flame of a unified and collective aspiration.
“Come together, all of you, speak in one voice, know with one mind, even like the Gods, who, of yore, knew with one mind and together had their share of enjoyment.
 “Together may they utter the mantra, may they unite together, may their mind be one, their consciousness mingle. I utter the same mantra with you all, with you all equally I make the offering:.
“May your yearning be one, may your hearts be one, may your mind be one, so that your union may be perfect.”
Lessons of Gujarat riots are quite loud and clear. Will we go down in history as people endowed with knowledge but bereft of wisdom and will power to correct our course of action?
Panchatantra, the ancient compendium of aphorisms exhorted thus –
“Wisdom shows herself in actions;
A Minister’s in forging friendships;
A physician’s in heeling life threatening illness.
Who is not wise when everything goes right.”
– Panchatantra, Chapter 1, 968
Rigveda (1500 BC) is the most enlighteningly ennobling component of earliest Indian heritage. Let us hope that God Almighty will respond to the following Rigvedic Prayer:
“Resplendent God, let the deceitful and tyrannous people be defeated by honest people through their clever strategy. May they (virtuous and honest) be rewarded by you with abundant wealth and food.” – Rigveda, 1-11-79
(This appears as CHAPTER 12, Lessons of 2002 Gujarat Riots, Gujarat, Behind the Curtain https://sabrangindia.in/readings/gujarat-behind-curtain)
1. Vedamurti Taponishtha Pandit Sreeram Sharma Acharya, Divine Message of Vedas, published by Yug Nirman Yojna (Mathura), p 270.
2. Ibid, p 72.
3. VR Ramachandra Dikshitar (Eng trans), Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar, Adayar Library, Chennai, p 135.
4. Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthall (trans), The Holy Quran, Madhur Sandesh Sangam, p 97.
5. Ibid, p 171.
6. Ibid, p 201.
7. Sampat and Vijay (eds), The Wonder that is Sanskrit, Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, p 118.
8. Chandra Rajan (trans), Panchatantra, Penguin Books, p 37.
9. Swami Satya Prakash Saraswati and Satyam Vidyalankra (Eng trans), Rigveda Samhita, Veda Pratishthana, New Delhi, p 31.


[1] These figures are only the official ones collated in 2002; they have been since revised
[2] A total of 137 convictions to life imprisonment has been assured in the cases where CJP has helped with legal assistance to the survivors



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