Report Released on Gujarat Massacres

Effects are still being felt ten years after the massacres.

A report detailing an extensive investigation into the 2002 Gujarat massacres was presented to a magistrate in India in March, ten years after the brutal murder of at least 1,000 Muslims by angry mobs comprised of the region’s Hindu majority.

The Supreme Court of India commissioned a Special Investigations Team (SIT) to examine the Gulberg Society riots in Ahmedebad, and the team was ordered to turn over all related documents and evidence about the investigation as part of a court proceeding initiated by Zakia Jafr, widow of Congress MP Ehsan Jaffr, who was killed in the attacks.

The massacre began after a dispute at a Gohdra train station on February 27, 2002. A mob of Muslims attacked a train carrying hundreds of Hindu activists returning from the holy city of Ayodhya. They set fire to the cars and 58 people were burned alive. Though at the time, Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi called the attacks a planned act of terrorism, it wasn’t until 2011 that the police investigation yielded any charges. Ninety people were charged with planning and setting the fire, of which 31 were convicted, 11 of them sentenced to death.

In retaliation for the train station fire, members of the Hindu majority descended on the Muslim area of Ahmedebad known as the Gulberg Society, a walled community of 29 middle-class bungalows and apartments. The inhabitants were slaughtered, some chopped to pieces, and the whole compound was set on fire.

The official death toll in the Gujarat massacres was 1,000 though unofficial estimates suggest the actual figure could be twice that.

Muslims make up just nine percent of Gujarat’s population, and those who survived the massacre were left with a devastated community. Rioters destroyed 5,000 homes, 500 places of worship, 10,000 shops, and displaced tens of thousands of people.

In her court case, Ms. Jafr accused 64 senior politicians, bureaucrats, and police officers of committing crimes during the riots. Efforts to stop the rioters took so long, there were allegations the authorities sympathized with the rioters and were complicit in the violence. The Economist recently reported that last year a policeman alleged that Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi himself declared that Hindus should be allowed to “vent their anger”.

The legal system has also been slow to prosecute those responsible for the riots and killings. A decade later, only two cases have resulted in convictions, though neither can be credited to the judiciary and prosecutors in Gujarat. One conviction happened in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra and the other came only after the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after initial acquittals.

Though the SIT report is 20,000 pages long, investigators found no “prosecutable” evidence against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. There is therefore little chance Modi will even be charged with wrongdoing in his handling of the Gujarat massacres, but the issue will plague this Prime Minister-hopeful in his aspirations for greater things in his political career.

Much of the credit for Gujarat being India’s fastest-growing state goes to Modi’s efficient leadership. He is seen as one of the most charismatic figures in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which represents India’s Hindu-nationalist movement. He has populist appeal beyond Gujarat, but will certainly face questions about the massacre if he is to seek higher office.

Accusations of his complicity in the massacre may make him unpalatable in the international community. Most notably, the United States declined a tourist visa to Modi in 2005 and again in 2008 because of his alleged abetting of human rights violations during the massacre. Despite his ambition to become India’s next Prime Minister, Narendra Modi may never be accepted as a world leader as long as the perception exists that he has blood on his hands.

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