A day-long public hearing on the plight of the victims five years after the infamous violence in Gujarat was organised on December 20 at the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi by the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT). It was joined by 25 victim survivors, including 13 women from Gujarat. Prominent among those present on the occasion were National Commission for Minorities chairman Hamid Ansari; NCM member, journalist and chairman of Asia-Pacific Communication Associates Dileep Padgaonkar; Members of Parliament Madhusudan Mistri (Congress), Hannan Mullah (CPI), and Sitaram Yechury (CPM).
The general complain in the public hearing was: The victim survivors of the 2002 Gujarat violence, especially those committed to their struggle for justice have been reduced to a life of every day terror and harassment. Five years later, people at Shaikh Mohalla in Sardarpura village of Mehsana district, Gulberg society in Ahmedabad, Ode village in Anand district and other areas had to live as internally displaced refugees without bare civic rights like ration cards, BPL cards, electricity and water. Victims of the Ode massacre still looked in vain for the lost ones’ missing bodies and their repeated inquiries with the police faced a cold response.
Hannan Moollah, MP (CPI) said that it was now five years since the pogrom occurred in Gujarat but it is still fresh to our minds. He averred that the role of an elected government in Gujarat was condemnable. But it was sad that the voice against it was not raised to the extent it deserved, he said.
The need of the hour was that the much talked about law to deal with the communal disturbances should come as soon as possible into being in an effective way so that the guilty could be punished.
Sitaram Yechury, MP (CPM) was of the view that in the present situation there was no way out other than coming out on the road to fight for justice as suggested by Teesta. He said that it was promised in the National Common Minimum Programme to probe the 2002 violence in Gujarat by the CBI but this promise still remained unfulfilled. According to him, the NCMP agenda was not only to fight for Secularism but end injustice whether it be in Gujarat or elsewhere.
Madhusudan Mistry, MP (Congress) from Sabarkanta (Gujarat) said the indifferent attitude of the state government was due to the fact that the victim survivors belonged to a particular community. “That’s why the state chief minister didn’t want to take interest in them as a whole,” he opined.
According to him, a CBI enquiry into the pogrom was a must so that truth might come out and it could help in ensuring justice there. He said the state government was not fulfilling its Constitutional responsibilities with respect to the victim survivors.
Madhusudan Mistry said unfortunately, he was a witness to all the disturbances in Gujarat since 1969.
It is to recall when the Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan came to India in 1969 and reached Ahmedabad in the wake of the communal riots and sat on indefinite fast on the Gandhian line in the affected areas, he was by his side along with the then deputy law minister late Mohammed Yunus Saleem.
Madhusudan Mistry was one of the 9-member delegation of MPs belonging to different political parties that visited on November 30, 2006 different affected areas and studied the situation prevailing there. Other members of the delegation were i. Rashid Alvi from Congress; ii. Basudeb Acharia and iii. Mohammed Salim from CPM; iv. Chandrappan from CPI; v. Subrata Bose from Forward Bloc; vi. Ramjilal Suman from Samajwadi Party (SP); vii..Suraj Singh from Lok Janshakti Party (LJP); and viii. Alok Kumar Mehta from Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD).
According to him, the aim was to see the rehabilitation of the riot-affected people of the riots of 2002 in Gujarat as complaints were received regularly from the victims of the riots about the physical condition of rehabilitation. The delegation found the condition of rehabilitation in the riot-affected areas very appalling.
The delegation prepared a 6-page report based on its study. The report that included 8-point observation and another 8-point recommendation was submitted to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on December 19 and Home Minister Shivraj Patil on December 20.
Recommendations of 9-Member Delegation of MPs
The 8-point recommendation was: 1. More financial assistance should be given to the riot-affected people on the line of the package declare for the victims of riots in Delhi riots of 1984 and elsewhere; 2. Any such package declared by the government barring compensation to the families, the money meant for building and infrastructure should be given to any central agency like HUDCO, from the package declared which can provide the infrastructure; 3. In any case, the government of Gujarat should not be provided any money for this purpose further; 4. A special survey should be carried out by any central agency or commission, may be National Commission for Minorities, to rehabilitate these families economically, thereby finding out potential employment for them; 5. We feel there is adequate evidence of discriminating the victims of minority community, who are citizens of this country. The discriminatory attitude and action taken by the government against these victims is only because they belong to a particular religion. This is an example of the ’polity of exclusion’ being followed by the Modi government in Gujarat; 6. The Central government must ensure that the victims get justice. All culprits must be brought to book and all cases, including the cases of missing persons must be investigated by the CBI; 7. We suggest to the Union government that the Gujarat government may be dismissed forthwith as it failed to discharge its constitutional duties and obligations in safeguarding and protecting the lives of its citizens and providing them the adequate rehabilitation; and 8. The land possession of which has been taken over by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders should be returned to their owners.
Teesta Setalvad’s Observation
While conducting the public hearing, social activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad said that social exclusion, ghettoisation and intimidation to those victims who have the courage to fight for justice was an every day story in the state of Gujarat. She said members of not just the minority community but every right thinking, peace-loving and justice-loving citizen of the state has been intimidated into silence. “The political opposition is weak and scattered and Gujarat State in 2006 December is an example of lived fascism,” opined Teesta, who has become a symbol in the struggle for survival of the 2002 Gujarat violence victims.
Teesta Setalvad averred that the bitter reality of Gujarat was not simply the functioning of the Gujarat government but the ambivalent position of the opposition in the state, the dominant partner in the UPA coalition at the Centre. The promise of CBI inquiry into the major carnage cases was pre-election hype that has not materialised into a real promise. Even today while the state government continued with a regime of low intensity terror all over the state, the Centre’s UPA was a mute opposition and spectator.
According to Teesta, in 2002 the then NDA government had given Rs 200 crores rehab package to Gujarat. In March 2003, one year later, the Gujarat government returned about Rs 116 crores to the Centre claiming that no more relief needed to be done.
Dwelling in detail, she said the state of Gujarat has paid compensation of only Rs 1.5 lakhs (Rs 90,000 in cash and Rs.60,000 in Narmada Bonds) to the next of kin of those killed in the rioting. This amount was totally inadequate and arbitrary and mounted to a failure on the part of the state to fulfill its constitutional obligation of compensation.
According to her, significantly, Delhi High Court had in 1996, six years earlier, directed the payment of compensation of Rs. 2 lakhs and interest from 1984 (aggregating to Rs. 3.5 lakhs) to those killed in the 1984 anti- Sikh riots. On that basis and allowing even for a 7 per cent annual rate of inflation from 1996 to 2002, the amount of compensation would be required to be approximately Rs 3.00 lakhs (40% increase on 2 lakhs) and interest on this amount from 2002 to 2007 at 8 per cent per annum: an additional Rs. 1 lakh = 4.00 lakhs !. Compensation for injuries/ disabilities sustained should be pro rata to this amount that is Rs 7 lakhs per loss of life.
She said after announcing a Rehab Package of Rs 7 lakh per loss of life in 2002, the Centre appeared to have had a re-think. The same man, Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal, who made the initial announcement of the package, in a reply to an un-starred question (number 2486) in the Lok Sabha on December 12, surprised everyone by saying that “the Centre has not taken a final decision” on the package.
“The position of compensation of houses was even worse. The state of Gujarat had fixed an arbitrary and irrational ceiling of Rs. 50,000 as compensation for the destruction of houses and in most cases has paid only a pittance. The Women’s Parliamentary Committee in its Aug 2002 Report had recorded that it had been informed that 18924 houses had been partially damaged (11,199 urban & 7095 rural) and for which Rs. 15.55 crores had been paid as compensation. This worked out to an average of only Rs. 870 per house. In fact, the committee noted that a number of persons / recipients had shown them cheques of as little as Rs 40 to Rs 200.”
“Amounts paid so far to the relatives of those killed and those whose houses were destroyed and damaged, was totally inadequate and at times even illusory. Moreover, no compensation has been provided to the women who were raped/ molested/ attacked although the Respondents Home Dept had informed the Women’s Parliamentary Committee in August 2002 that there had been 185 attacks on women and at least 11 cases of rape. In fact rape/ molestation was more pervasive but a number of the victims were killed/ burnt and others have been unwilling to file complaints with the police due to their partisan and callous responses,” she added.
Expressing her views, she said: “Therefore, constitutional obligations required that at least a compensation of Rs 3 lakhs and interest from 2002 (Rs 1.5 lakhs) be paid to the relatives of those killed. That amounts pro rata be paid for disabilities and serious injuries. Women who were raped and molested should be given compensation equal to that awarded for persons who were killed. The ceiling amount for house compensation should be raised to Rs 1.5 lakhs in the rural area and Rs 3 lakhs in the urban areas and compensation based on fair assessment of data and records, including the Panchnamas contemporaneously recorded be paid along with interest from 2002.”
Sheeba, a social activist, said that while criminals responsible for mass crimes have been granted bail by the high and low courts in Gujarat, 84 accused of the Godhra mass arson wilted in jail having been refused bail for four years.
She informed: “Victim survivors of the Pandharwada massacre, who identified the location of the mass graves, were in vain trying to get a CBI probe into the scandalous dumping of the remains of Pandharwada and other massacres in the Panam River off Lunawada town, despite the existence of a large graveyard but instead face intimidation and threat of arrest from the police. Of the 413 officially declared misisng persons, bodies of 228 were still not discovered pointing to the large-scale illegal dumping of bodies. The NHRC has been appealed to institute an all-Gujarat inquiry into this.”
She alleged that the Modi government was trying to use fraudulent BPL card holdings, ostensibly given to minority victims of the genocide, as a pre-election sop to grant cheap housing. In fact, the BPL lists needed to be scrutinised and examined. Ghettoisation and segregation in Gujarat has reached unprecedented levels with even the jails being communalised in the state.
It is to point out that the National Human Rights Commission after considering the responses of the Government of Gujarat to its preliminary Reports/ findings had concluded in its Report/ Proceedings of 31st May 2002: “There was a comprehensive failure of the state to protect the Constitutional rights of the people of Gujarat.”
Victim Survivors’ Horror Tales of Gujarat Riots
There had come 25 victim survivors, including 13 women, from Gujarat. Saeed Bhai from Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad narrated how rioters entered their complex and set it afire. He said: “68 persons, including 10 members of my family, were killed as Police kept watching. Our entire complex was gutted in the fire. The place is in a shambles today. We had our own houses earlier and today we live in rented accommodation “He disclosed: “During riots we took refuge in the house of Ehsan Jaffry, former Congress MP who was later killed brutally in front of us.”
Jannat Bi from Naroda Patia is a woman who has lost her nephew. Alleging that the perpetrators of the violence were “roaming free”, she said: “I had named many people in FIR. Some of them were political leaders too. But none was punished.”
Zohra Bi from Pandharwada said how Police threatened her family when they began exhuming bodies allegedly dumped in a riverbed.
Shabana Bondubhai turned emotional as she recounted how her beloved mother and younger sister were burnt to death by a mob in front of her. She said: “It was a huge mob. They were brandishing swords, and attacking our village in Naoda-Gam-Patia. We complained to the Police but to no avail.”
Mona Sheikh and Rupa Behan who lost her sons too narrated the horror tales.