New Internationalist

Scarred: Experiments with violence in Gujarat

Issue 394

In February 2002, a train compartment went up in flames in Godhra, in the Indian state of Gujarat, burning alive 59 people. They were Hindu hardliners returning from performing religious ceremonies and had violently provoked Muslim hawkers on Godhra station. But they were people first. The story goes that the carriage was surrounded by a roused Muslim mob who poured fuel into it and set it alight.

The next day, wave upon wave of state-orchestrated violence swept up minority Muslims in Gujarat. Attacks of such sickening, methodical barbarity that the descriptions become almost too painful to assimilate. The police were entirely complicit, local media (controlled by Hindu oligarchs) whipped up the frenzy, and the notorious state minister Narendra Modi, who had unleashed the ‘revenge’, probably basked in the knowledge that the next election was in the bag. A thousand people were slaughtered and a further 150,000 driven from their homes. They, too, were people first.

Dionne Bunsha, a frequent NI contributor, starts from the violence and exposes the nauseating political machination behind the events. She talks to people from all sides: Muslims still huddled in camps and deprived of jobs and justice, Hindus fearful of the ‘Muslim threat’, politicians and hardliners only too eager to air their murderous views. She unpeels the onion layers of history, politics and social manipulation behind these events and has created a document that no-one should ignore, especially as Modi woos big business investment in Gujarat and international media attention has ‘moved on’. After the appearance of this book, evidence has emerged casting doubt on the accepted version of why that carriage went up in flames. There can be little doubt over the planning involved in the carnage that followed.

Dinyar Godrej

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