Historical Background

        In 1947, the British Empire oversaw the partition of India and the newly created state of Pakistan.   India was to be a secular state while Pakistan would be an Islamic one. Partition forced millions of people to migrate from their homeland in an attempt to separate Hindu and Muslim populations, but a large number of Muslims remained in India.  India’s tense relations with Pakistan and its perceived threat, affect interaction between Hindus and Muslims, especially in border areas.

Situated on the southern Pakistani border, Gujarat is a state located on India’s northwestern coast with a population of around fifty million (Census of India, 2001).   Of this population, roughly 88 percent of the population is Hindu while nine percent are followers of Islam (Gujarat Directorate of Census Operations, 1991).   Though these population demographics are similar to the national figures, Gujarat has experienced a disproportionate amount of inter-religious community violence.  In 1969, the first major post-partition communal violence occurred in Gujarat leaving 2,500 dead (BBC News, 25 September 2002).  The pattern of communal violence has continued into the present day.  During the latter half of the 1980s an estimated 1000 communal incidents occurred taking the life of nearly 1300 (Desai, “Driving the Wedge,” 3 March 2002).  

The emergence of a coordinated movement by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organization, to re-erect the Ram temple in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya has been flashpoint for communal violence throughout India and especially Gujarat.  The Babri mosque, built by Islamic conquerors during the sixteenth century, stood on the site of what many Hindus consider to be the sacred birthplace of the god Ram.  Riots erupted, in 1992, after Hindu extremist groups razed the mosque, leaving a reported 2000 dead nationwide (BBC News, “Timeline: Ayodhya,” 27 Feb 2002).  In the beginning of 2002, the VHP declared that it would begin building a temple in Ayodhya on March 15, 2002 and hundreds of volunteers had begun to converge on the site (BBC News, “Timeline: Ayodhya,” 27 Feb 2002).  


Present Situation

On February 27, 2002, Hindu nationalist volunteers en route to Ahmedabad, Gujarat from Ayodhya were involved in a series of altercations at successive train stops with Muslims communities.  When the train arrived in the Muslim majority community of Godhra, the pattern of Hindu heckling and violent gesturing directed at Muslims continued.   When Hindu train passengers refused to pay Muslim vendors for their services, stone throwing ensued between groups, and escalated into the eventual fire bombing of two train cars by a Muslim mob, killing 58 Hindus, most of whom were women and children (Human Rights Watch, “ We Have No Orders to Save You,” April 2002).   After the Godhra incident, a huge communal backlash by Hindus occurred, immediately leaving hundreds of Muslims dead and thousands more internally displaced (Human Rights Watch, April 2002).  The state and national government came under extreme scrutiny from domestic and international human rights organizations for their inaction in the face of communal violence.  The National Human Rights Commission sent by New Delhi to report on the Gujarat tragedy noted that, “there was a comprehensive failure of the State to protect the Constitutional rights of the people of Gujarat, starting with the tragedy in Godhra on 27 February 2002 and continuing with the violence that ensued in the weeks that followed”  (NHRC, Final Order on Gujarat, 31 May 2002).  

In June, fearing a repeat of the post-Godhra violence in response to the Gaurav Yatra (a statewide Hindu religious procession), the national government sent Police Chief KPS Gill, a Sikh, to oversee statewide security.  He heavily increased the police presence in the state, which successfully guarded against an escalation of inter-community violence during the procession.  Recently on September 24, two Muslim men stormed the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, killing 31 people, mostly Hindus.   Unlike February, backup forces were immediately deployed throughout the state to potential hotspots in order to prevent a communal flare-up  (Indian Express, “Temple vs. Godhra,” 25 September 2002).  Furthermore, the national government took an active role by sending 3,000 extra troops to supplement state police (BBC News, “Indian Troops Head Off,” 26 September 2002).  

There is fear that the state elections scheduled for December 12, 2002 will be a catalyst for a new round of ethnic violence.  Taking an active role, the Central Election Committee, with the support of Prime Minister Vajpayee, disallowed a yatra (a religious procession) proposed by the VHP fearing that it would incite communal violence.   The CEC has promised to bring an additional 40,000 supplementary police to ensure safety during the election period (AFP, “Two dead in Gujarat,” 11 November 2002).  The ban of the yatra and the supplementary forces demonstrate a concerted effort by the Indian government to prevent large-scale inter-religious communal violence.

With tensions extremely high between Hindu and Muslim communities, small-scale violence is extremely difficult to predict.  Riots can occur at any time for a myriad of reasons. An independent fact finding mission, commissioned in response to the recent massacres, estimates that between 1987 and 1991 some 106 major riots took place in Gujarat.  Of those riots, 40 percent were triggered by “political rivalry” and conflicts during elections; 22 percent, by the “religious processions;” and others, by “personal ill-feelings, cricket matches, sudden quarrels, and love affairs between Hindu girls and Muslim boys and vice versa (Gujarat Carnage 2002: A Report to the Nation, 10 April 2002).”  Even with increased security and police forces in the region, sporadic incidents of communal violence continue to occur throughout Gujarat, though increased security has proven to be an effective deterrent in several pivotal situations.


Key Players

 Sangh Parivar

            Sangh Parivar is the collective name used to represent a family of powerful Hindu nationalist organizations.  The most influential groups in the Parivar are the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal (a youth branch of the VHP), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). What binds these organizations, is Hindutva (“Hinduness”), an ideology that stresses the cultural importance of Hindu civilization to India and the need for India to be a Hindu state.  In a nation where the overwhelming majority of the population is Hindu, the Sangh Parivar urges Hindus to remember and revere their culture and history.  Opposition political parties and human rights groups claim that Hindutva exacerbates communal violence among Hindus and minority groups.  The Sangh Parivar has been at the forefront of the Ayodhya temple issue deeming its construction a matter of Hindu pride and necessity.   Rising as an opposition to the long dominant Congress party, which was widely viewed as corrupt, Sangh Parivar has emerged as a leading national political and ideological coalition (India Abroad, “The wages of Faith,” 15 March 2002).  By not recognizing the caste system as part of its ideology, it discards an issue that has always divided Hindus (, Organization, 19 November 2002).  With Hindus of all socio-economic levels unified, it leaves members of other religious minorities in a particularly weak position. 

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – “National Service Society”)

The RSS is one of India’s most important social service organizations with an estimated 300,000 branches nationwide (Tamminen, Hindu Revivalism, 5 November 2002).  As the one of the first major Hindu nationalist organizations, the RSS  served as a patron for financial and electoral support base for the rest of the Sangh Parivar organizations.  Formed in 1925, the main objective of the RSS is the formation of a Hindu state.  The RSS felt that the independence movement failed to frame the nation around Hindu culture.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad  (VHP – “World Hindu Council”)

The VHP is a populist Hindu organization that seeks to unite Hindus all over the world in order to protect the Hindu culture from outside influence and threats.  Founded in 1964, The VHP works closely with the RSS.  The main objectives of the VHP are to consolidate, strengthen, and make Hindu society “invincible” by protecting the human rights of the “national mainstream” from hostile outside forces.  (, Agenda and Objectives, 29 October 2002)   The VHP is a strong proponent of a Hindu state, as opposed to the current secular Indian state.  The VHP speaks of Hindus as the oppressed nation surrounded by foreign invaders, particularly Muslim, who threaten Hindu civilization.  The VHP is known for provoking religious tensions and violence, and in 1992, its supporters led the successful campaign to destroy the Babri mosque in Ayodhya (BBC News, “Timeline: Ayodhya Crisis,” 27 February 2002).      

Of Gujarat’s 18,000 villages, the VHP is known to have offices in 5000 (India Abroad, “The wages of Faith,” 15 March 2002).  Many mob leaders involved in the February-March massacres were reported to be activists from the VHP and Bajrang Dal (VHP’s youth wing).  First Information Reports (FIR) taken by the police condemned VHP officials of leading the riots against Muslims in Ahmedabad in post-Godhra backlash (BBC News, “Hindu hardliners,” 6 March 2002).  After the Godhra train bombing the VHP called a bandh (a strike) the following day in order to protest the attack.  During the strikes, VHP members disseminated pamphlets, wherein they called on Hindus to boycott Muslims socially and economically in order to drive Muslims from Gujarat (Gujarat Carnage 2002: A Report to the Nation, 10 April 2002).   Organization leaders in Gujarat have admitted to compiling voter registration lists the morning of February 28 to provide rioters with detailed information on the whereabouts of Muslim homes and businesses (India Abroad, “Hate and Despair,” 17 May 2002).  The VHP has also been known to arm its cadres with trishuls (swords), which many witnesses report as one of the most prominent weapons during the deadly rioting (India Abroad, “Hate and Despair,” 17 May 2002).    VHP president Ashok Singhal has called the post-Godhra events a “successful experiment” in raising the consciousness of Hindus nationwide and of “emptying” a whole area of Islam.  (Indian Express, 3 September 2002)    Statements like this illustrate a clearly anti-Muslim policy in VHP leadership. 

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP- “Indian People’s Party”)

The BJP represents the political wing of the Sangh Parivar.  Its policy follows the Hindutva ideology of the Sangh Parivar.   Currently, the BJP leads the coalition National Democratic Alliance that controls the Indian Parliament.  In 1998, the BJP gained control of the National government ending the single party dominance of the Congress Party.    Members of the RSS and VHP form a large lobbying network and voting base for the BJP, which must rely on the ballot, and therefore the RSS and VHP for its power.  As the leader of the National Democratic Alliance coalition government, the BJP has had to restrain the Hindutva agenda, which at times frustrates the VHP.    In Gujarat, however, the BJP has been able to stick more closely to Hindutva by filling positions with VHP and RSS members or those sympathetic to the Sangh Parivar cause.  

An excellent example of this is Chief Minister Narendra Modi who became a prominent figure after the February riots.  Modi claimed to have done his best to keep the violence under control, and was lauded by the VHP for the way he handled the Godhra aftermath (BBC News, Hindu hardliners, 6 March 2002).   Narendra Modi began his career with the Sangh Parivar as a member of the RSS.   In the mid-1980s RSS leadership dispatched Modi to join the BJP in Gujarat.  When the BJP came to power in the late 1990s, Modi gained a prominent status within the Gujarati government.  As the current Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi has received much criticism for his handling of the February-March riots.    His and the BJP’s support of the post Godhra bandh gave the VHP total freedom of action throughout the state, which allowed mass mobilization of Hindu mobs (HRW, “We Have No Orders to Save You,” April 2002).  He defended that all steps necessary to prevent violence were taken and that the Hindu backlash against Muslims was a reaction, in which “the people of Gujarat showed in incredible restraint under grave provocation” (HRW, “We Have No Orders to Save You,” April 2002). According to the NHRC, the BJP-led State government failed to protect its citizens during the February-March violence.  

After receiving such criticism at home and abroad for the post-Godhra violence, the National BJP has acted forcefully to prevent a large-scale flare-up of violence.  As the ruling party in the national government, they have the power to allocate the resources necessary to diffuse potential sparks among religious communities. 

Gujarati Hindus and Muslims

            Similar to the population demographics of India as a whole, in Gujarat, Hindus comprise a majority, with Muslims accounting for less the ten percent of the total population.   As minority in a state where the Sangh Parivar dominates the government, the Muslim community lacks true representation in state apparatus.  Although Muslims are not completely innocent of wrongdoing, they have suffered the majority of the abuse.  Muslims suffered systematic attacks on their homes, businesses, and places of worship in the weeks following the Godhra incident.  Unofficial estimates assert that at least 2,000 perished in the aftermath, most of whom where Muslim, and that upwards of 100,000 Muslims were living in NGO-administered refugee camps  (Testimony of Kamal Mitra Chenoy to USCIRF, 10 June 2002).  Currently, in the town of Vadodara, Muslims and Hindus have marked their separate territories by flying flags above their neighborhoods hoping to prevent violence and also to clearly establish safe-zones for their communities (Indian Express, 2 October 2002).  Many Muslims from the Naroda Patiya district outside of Ahmedadbad  have feared returning to their homes after the brutal massacre that occurred in late February.  Successive incidences of communal violence has led to a ghettoization of Muslim communities, who have left property alongside Hindus to seek safety in numbers (HRW, “We Have No Orders to Save You,” April 2002).  India’s relationship with Pakistan presents a complicating factor by exacerbating the difficulties the Indian Islamic community faces.   The VHP and the rest of the Parivar often portray the Muslim violence against Hindus as Pakistani sponsored or terrorist while the Hindu violence against Muslims is portrayed as natural reaction to communal tensions.   The anti-Pakistan rhetoric effectively causes Hindus to fear Muslims as terrorists or subversives.     Both communities have been left to fear each other, helping to polarize the situation. 


Nature of the Abuse

In 2002, numerous atrocities have occurred throughout Gujarat.  With an official death toll under1000 and the unofficial death toll over 2000, the violence of 2002 was the worst since the 1992 outbreak in response to the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.   The violence that occurred during the fire bombing at Godhra train station on February 27, 2002 and its immediate aftermath were by far the most brutal, but with tensions high between communities smaller scale violence has continued to the present.  The large scale communal violence that in occurred immediately after the Godhra incident could have been quelled but the state government failed to prevent a backlash from Hindus. By 4 March , Five hundred eighty people were officially confirmed dead in Gujarat during just over five days of communal violence; of that number ninety one are claimed by police forces who had been given shoot-on-sight orders to prevent further arson and looting  (AFP, “India unrest death toll tops 580,” 4 March 2002).  The communal rioting has continued to occur even with tightened security at the state level.  Without proper management the communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims are likely to explode once again.


Massacres and Communal Violence

 Muslim Violence Against Hindus

Date: February 27, 2002

Where:  Godhra Train Station

Victims:  58 dead

After altercations between the Muslim community and train passengers, Muslins mobs fire bombed a two cars of the Sabarmati Express bound for Ahmedabad killing Hindu nationalist volunteers returning from Ayohya many of whom were women and children (HRW, We Have No Orders to Save You, April 2002).


Hindu Violence Against Muslims

During the post-Godhra rioting, Hindu mobs perpetrated well-organized violence against Muslims and entire Muslim communities.   Within a matter of a few days the death toll rose into the hundreds.  The following are examples of particularly brutal attacks where Hindus directed violence explicitly at Muslims and their property. 

Date: February 28, 2002
Where: The Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon districts in the outskirts of Ahmedabad
Victims:  over 200 dead

Mobs of over 15,000 Hindus descend on the area and selectively destroyed Muslim homes and businesses, murdered  people of all ages, and publicly raped women and girls   (Human Rights Watch, “We Have No Orders to Save You”, April 2002 and Indian Express,  Naroda Gov’t Slip, 31 August 2002).


Date: February 28, 2002
Where: Gulbarg Society in Meghaninagar
Victims:  at least 39 dead

Mobs of twenty thousand Hindus gather around this Muslim community with the purpose of revenging the Godhra attack.  Thirty-nine people were burnt alive, including former Congressman Ehsan Jafri (Indian Express, “Jafri Blamed,” 4 June 2002).


Date: March 1, 2002
Where: Panchamahal district
Victims: 30 dead

 Thirty Muslims are burnt alive in Gujarat’s Panchamahal district by what witnesses described as a Hindu mob (AFP, “30 people burned alive in riot-hit western India,” 1 March 2002).


Date:  March 11, 2002
Where: Rajipipla, southern Gujarat
Victims: 1 dead

A Muslim man was attacked and stabbed to death by a Hindu mob for plucking flowers off a tree on a Hindu’s property.  In Karwant police evacuated much of citizenry fearing that the violence would spread to this remote Gujarati village (AFP, “Two killed as Hindus attack Muslims,” 11 March 2002).


Date: March 12, 2002
Where: southern Gujarat
Victims:  casualties unknown

Hindu mobs looted and burned Muslim homes and shops in the southern villages of Karwant, Panvad and Rajpipla.  Most of the Muslims had already fled to safer areas

(AP Worldstream, “Hindus attack Muslim homes and shops,” 12 March 2002).


Date: March 14, 2002
Where: Kavant village in Vadodara district
Victims: no casualties reported

A group of 2000 Hindu tribesmen attacked Muslim village of Kavant.  Witnesses reported the mobs to have been armed with bows and arrows while looting a burning homes. Many of the Muslim families had already fled the area and no casualties were reported by the police (AFP, “Troops deployed,” 14 March 2002).


Date: March 21, 2002
Where: Ahmedabad
Victims: 5 dead, 19 wounded

Four Muslims were killed, two by police firing and two by gunfire within a Hindu mob during rioting in the streets of Ahmedabad.  Also, Hindus burned down at least 50 Muslim owned shops in a city marketplace (AP Worldstream, “Five killed in fresh religious rioting,”  21 March 2002).


Date: April 3, 2002
Where: Ahmedabad
Victims:  8 dead

Firefighters discovered the bodies of five Muslims after putting out a blaze.  The attack took place the night before when mobs set fire to three houses in the Abasna village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.  Two more reported dead as a result of police firing into mob (AFP, “Five people burnt to death” and “Eight People die,” 3 April 2002).


Date:  May 7, 2002
Victims:  14 dead

Rioting erupted after a Muslim schoolteacher was pulled from his scooter and burned alive in the city’s Sarkhej district.  Police attempting to control mobs killed three when live rounds were fired into the crowd (AFP, “Fifteen dead as Gujarat burns anew,” 8 May 2002).


Date:  July 5, 2002
Where:  Vadodara
Victims: 2 dead

 Two minority community members returning to their homes after months in refugee camps were beaten to death (, The Gujarat Riots, 10 October 2002).


Violence and Destruction Stemming from Communal Rioting

Violence continued well in the spring and summer with death tolls mostly under ten caused by police firing into rioting mobs and smaller scale mob conflict.   The government had brought the large-scale communal violence under control, but with communal tensions very high small scale rioting was common and extremely unpredictable.  In many cases the ethnic and religious background of the victims was unreported.  Police forces often issued curfews that helped to curb the violence, yet when curfews were lifted, the violence returned.  

Date: March 1, 2002
Where: Ahmedabad
Victims: at least 13 dead and 75 wounded

Mobs, of what witnesses claimed to number around two thousand, clashed in the city’s Babunagar district.  Hindus converged from all parts of the city chanting slogans and wielding sticks and knives.  A police force of only thirty was completely overwhelmed by the mass rioting.  Rioting ensued after a policeman was pulled from his motorcycle and beaten to death.  Doctors confirmed at least 13 dead the day of the incident with wounds ranging from gunshots and stabbings to burns from poisonous chemicals (AFP, “Thousands in clash in Hindu-Muslim Violence,” 1March 2002).


Date: March 15, 2002
Where: Ahmedabad
Victims: at least one dead

Muslims exiting mosques clash with Hindus celebrating a ritual dedicated to the god Ram and the Ayodya temple.  Mobs of more than one hundred people torch a bus in one part of the city, while stone throwing occurred throughout Ahmedabad.  A Muslim youth is stabbed to death by Hindu mobs, and his father escaped serious injuries.  Forty huts belonging to Muslims in the shantytown of Chandola Talao near Ahmedabad were torched, yet no casualties were reported (AFP, “One dead amid arson and riots in Gujarat city after Ayodhya ritual,” 15 September 2002).


Date: March 20, 2002
Victims: 2 dead 

Two were killed from police firing into a mob hurling stones and crude bombs at the opposing communities and police forces.  Violence also erupts in Himmatnagar as rumors spread that Muslims had abducted a Hindu youth (AFP, “Police kill two as mobs go on rampage,” 20 March 2002).



Date: March 22, 2002
Where: Ahmedabad
Victims: 2 dead

Two people were stabbed to death during mob rioting (AFP, “Two killed in Fresh Violence,” 22 March 2002).


Date: March 24, 2002
Where:  Vejalpur area of Ahmedabab
Victims:  One dead , one injured

Mobs attack two people on scooter, cornering the woman passenger, stripping her, then stabbing her to death.  The man on the scooter escaped with serious injuries (AFP, Woman killed as communal violence continues, 24 March 2002).


Date: March 26, 2002
Where:  Ahmedabad
Victims:  One dead, one injured

Police firing into rioting mobs kill one man and injure another.  In unrelated rioting in the Ramol area in the outskirts of  Ahmedabad 10 homes were burnt down (AFP, “One killed, one injured in sectarian violence,”  26 April 2002)


Date:  March 31, 2002
Where: Throughout Gujarat, also in Maharastra state
Victims: 10 dead

Six people are killed in overnight rioting.  One Muslim man murdered in central Gujarati town of Khambhat during rioting, looting, fire starting by Hindu mobs.   Two are killed in police firing on crowds in Gomtipur.  A Muslim and a Hindu are killed in central Gujarati town of Petlad, the first by police fire and the second stabbed to death in city center.  Also, communal violence spilled into the neighboring Maharastra state resulting in the death of four (AFP, Six die as Hindu-Muslim clashes erupt, 31 March 2002).


Date:  April 6, 2002
Where: Ahmedabad
Victims: 4 dead and 20 injured

All of the injuries resulted from police firing on rioting mobs.  The rioting is reported to have started because police had arrested several Muslims and brought them to the police station, triggering rumors that a Muslim mob was coming to attack local Hindu residents.
While threatening the police station, one Hindu was slain by police bullets (Associated Press Worldstream, “4 killed in overnight violence,” 6 April 2002).


Date:  April 21- April 23, 2002
Where:  Ahmedabad and its outskirts
Victims:  17 – 30 dead and 91 seriously injured

Rioting mobs of Hindus and Muslims clash in the streets of Ahmedabad. Two Hindus were killed during rioting.  A policeman was stabbed to death by rioters.  Police firing into mobs hoping to stem the rioting killed at least three (The Australian, “Religious rioting spirals,” 23 April 2002 and AFP, “7 Killed in India’s Gujarat State,” 23 April 2002).


Date:  May 10, 2002
Where: Ahmedabad
Victims:  5 dead

Mobs of Hindus and Muslims clashed along the Sabarmati River wielding sword and throwing stones.   Five reported dead and least 40 injured.  Fires were seen but firefighters refused to respond after injuries sustained the night before during attempts to quell communal violence.  Rioting in different parts of city left 30 dead and many more injured during the week (AFP, “Gujarat police chief transferred,” 10 May 2002).


Date: May 8, 2000
  Maninagar area of Ahmedabad
Victims:  9 dead

Police trying to break up a riot fired into crowds killing five and injuring 13 as a bomb blast causes communal panic.  Police arrested 33 and confiscated pistols, swords, and homemade bombs (, The Gujarat Riots, 10 October 2002).


Date: June 9, 2000
Where: Ahmedabad
Victims: One dead and 20 injured

Five hundred angry Muslims attacked a police station with stones and crude bombs after two Muslims were arrested in connection with earlier communal violence.   Unable to prevent the stoning to death of a Hindu rickshaw driver, five police were injured trying to disperse the mob (AFP, “One dead, 20 injured in fresh communal violence,” 9 June 2002).



Date:  July 7, 2002
Where:  near Ahmedabad
Victims: 1 dead and 3 injured

Mobs of around 150 Muslims and Hindus rioted after an argument escalated into communal violence.   Thirty shops were burnt down before police could disperse the rioters by firing into the mob.  Police firing was responsible for the death and injuries  (AFP, “One dead and three injured,” 7 July 2002).


Date: July 20, 2002
Where: Virangam town of Ahmedabad
2 dead and 8 injured

Stone pelting begun between communities after a small robbery.  Police fired into crowd to gain control of the mob and were believed responsible for the casualties (BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 20 July 2002).


Date:  September 17, 2002
Where:  Borsad town of Annand district
Victims:  1 dead and twenty injured

Rioting erupts between two communities after a Muslim motorcyclist runs into a Hindu boy causing the police to burst tear gas and fire rounds into the mob.  Sixteen shops and fifteen vehicles are also burned (, The Gujarat Riots, 5 November 2002 and AFP, “One Killed in Fresh Hindu Muslim Clashes,” 17 September 2002).


Date:  November 11, 2002
Where:  Kheda
Victims:  2 dead

Two Hindus were stabbed after a campaign rally for Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Kheda.   Violence is reported throughout Gujarat with tension increased due to the state assembly campaign (AFP, “Two dead,” 11 November 2002).


Selective Destruction of Property and Sacred Sites

The post-Godhra violence witnessed numerous well-coordinated attacks focused on the destruction of minority-owned property.   Witnesses interviewed by HRW state that rioters arrived in busses wearing the typical uniform of Hindutva groups, carrying address lists of Muslim businesses and residences, wielding weapons, and chanting anti-Muslim slogans (HRW, “We Have No Orders to Save You,” April 2002).  Communalism Combat compiled a list of 230 religious shrines, which were razed, some by bulldozers and cranes, within 72 hours of the Godra incident (Communalism Combat: Genocide: Religious and Cultural Desecration, March-April 2002).


Vilification of Muslims by the Gujarati Media

In the hours and days immediately following the Godhra train attack, certain Gujarati sources printed inflammatory and in specific cases all together false reports which caused widespread Hindu outrage against Muslims (HRW, “We Have No Orders to Save You”, April 2002).  The Gujarati daily, Sandesh, ran headlines calling revenge attacks in combination with pictures of the charred bodies of the Godhra victims, reported the location of Muslim communities it that it deemed “dangerous,” and intentionally used specific words and phrases that would further the communalization of Hindus and Muslims.  (PUCL, Role of Newspapers in the Gujarat Carnage, April 5, 2002)  Specific headlines include, “Avenge Blood with Blood,” “Hindus Beware: Haj Pilgrims Return with Deadly Plands to Attack,”Fanatic Mob of Muslims from Bawamanpura tried to burn  Harish Petrol Pump(PUCL, Role of Newspapers in the Gujarat Carnage, April 5, 2002).   The PUCL report concludes that there was an obvious anti-minority slant in the news reporting, the photography was meant to incite hatred, and that news items were composed in a way that justified the post-Godhra violence (PUCL, Role of Newspapers in the Gujarat Carnage, April 5, 2002).  


Government Inaction

The influence of Sangh Parivar policy on the national and Gujarati state government made it difficult for the inter-religious communal violence to be dealt with impartially.  Although it is difficult to prove direct top to bottom orchestration of the post Godhra backlash, it cannot be argued that the Sangh Parivar’s, especially the VHP’s and the Bajrang Dal’s, interests focus on protecting the “national mainstream” affect the safety of the Muslim community during times chaos (, Agenda and Objectives, 29 October 2002).  The partnership with the BJP gives these groups and their members leverage within the government and permits them actions that would not be permitted to other groups.   On May 3, 2001, the Indian government using the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act banned the Muslim group Deendar Anjuman claiming that they “fomented communal violence” and committed acts “prejudicial to India’s security” (State Department Report on Religious Freedom: India, Ooctober 2002).    The VHP has been implicated in Police First Information Reports for leading mobs, admitted to compiling lists of Muslim residences and business, and passed out inflammatory pamphlets, yet it remains untouched by the Indian government. 

The Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) condemned the state of Gujarat for its inaction in stemming the post-Godhra violence and its inability to control non-state actors within its jurisdiction (NHRC, Final Order on Gujarat, 31 May 2002).  Modi’s government waited to call the army, and once it arrived he did not deploy troops until 50 hours after Godhra incident (Times of India, “Fernandes briefs PM on Gujarat,” 3 March 2002).  Within this time period, the most brutal violence occurred at Gulbarg Society and Naroda Patiya.  In a report to the NHRC, the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties reports many instances of police not answering emergency calls, being accessories to crime and lootings, sexual and gender related violence, and communal bias in arrests (PUCL, An Interim Report to the NHRC, 21 March 2002).  The NHRC cited that as of May 10, 2002 that a disproportionate amount of Muslims remained in police custody weeks after their arrest (NHRC, Final Order on Gujarat, 31 May 02).   The Godhra train burning and the violence that ensued in its aftermath put in to question the ability or the desire of the state to control its citizens and further put into question the control the national government has over the states.  


Attempts by Political Parties to Polarize Hindu-Muslim Relations

The upcoming elections for the State Assembly in Gujarat are mired in political posturing and are increasing the Hindu-Muslim divide.  Many Muslims and representative groups are advocating that Muslims use their votes to oust the BJP from office.  The BJP is accusing its rival Congress Party, the dynastic party of Indian politics, of appeasing the minority while the BJP continues to pronounce its Hindutva ideology.  Specifically, BJP candidates are going to villages and showing images of the Godhra train car fire and openly making anti-minority speeches, to gain the Hindu vote and further polarizing Hindu-Muslim relations. (Indian Express, “Last Lap,” 10 December 2002)  Congress frames its political objectives in terms of seeking to protect minorities, however, Congress is mostly interested garnering the Muslim vote by capitalizing on the anti-BJP sentiment among Muslims.  Although the Central Election Committee has attempted to restrict election propaganda which plays on the February-March violence, the major political parties have made religion the primary issue.  As of the date of this printing, the elections had not yet been held.


Applicability of 1948 Convention on Genocide

Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (1948) defines genocide as,

… any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

In 2002, the violence that has occurred between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat does not amount to genocide, but certain genocidal characteristics are visible.  Although an event, like the torching of Sarbarmati Express in Godhra, has the potential to spiral into large scale deadly violence, the majority of the aggression that occurs between the two communities is more often related to small scale inter-group rivalries.  Nonetheless, there are attempts to marginalize the Muslim community by certain elements in Gujarat. The fact that Muslims are part of a minority puts them in danger, especially when the VHP, Bajrang Dal, and RSS and media sources are effective in exciting the Hindu populace.  The influence of the rest of the Sangh Parivar on the ruling BJP inhibits the fair treatment of minorities by the government in Gujarat.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has deliberately inflicted conditions which have damaged the Muslim community in Gujarat.  The VHP demonstrate a clear anti-Muslim policy by their actions: compiling lists of businesses and homes to burn, leading deadly riots, and making statements praising death and destruction in the aftermath of Godhra, and attempting to communalize Hindus against Muslims for election purposes.  Although not directly responsible in all cases, the VHP has phyiscally and mentally armed the Hindu population against Muslims.

Absent a clear intent to destroy the Muslims by the overall Hindu population, there are several sections referred to in the Convention on Genocide, which apply to the treatment of Muslims in Gujarat. Specifically, sections (a),  (b), and (c)  are realized in the state, where over the past year, in excess of 1,000 people died as a consequence of communal violence. The majority of the dead were Muslim. In a report to the NHRC the Gujarati government admitted that there were “assaults on the dignity and worth of the human person,” and that “many were deprived of their livelihood and capacity to sustain themselves with dignity” (NHRC, Final Order on Gujarat, 31 May 2002). Anti-Muslim propaganda from the media and Hindu nationalist groups, the burning of homes, businesses, and mosques, and the systematic raping of women, all present a threat to Gujarati Muslims. These acts diminish the quality of life and cause mental harm to the Muslim community as a whole.



During the Godhra incident and the immediate aftermath, large scale deadly violence was explicitly directed at members of opposing communities.   If violence of this nature had continued to occur completely unchecked, it would have had clear genocidal implications.  The Indian government came under intense scrutiny from international governments, NGOs, and media sources for its failure and apparent lack of desire to control the explosion of communal violence, but since then, the national government has taken a more active role in preventing possibly volatile inter-religious violence.  Specifically New Delhi took proactive preventative measures during the July yatra in Ahmedabad, after the temple attack in Gandhinagar, and during the current state assembly election campaign.  Communal violence is not a new phenomenon in India. Since the failure of the state to protect its citizens during the Godhra fire bombing and its aftermath, the national governments led by the BJP has taken an active role by increasing security measures to deter outbreaks of communal violence and their terrible consequences.