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A report by Genocide Watch

August, 2023

Survivors look at the pictures of the Gujarat riots victims at a photo exhibition held to commemorate its 10th anniversary in Ahmedabad in February 2012. Photograph: Reuters

In 2002, anti-Muslim carnage engulfed the Indian state of Gujarat, killing at least 1,000 people. Most of the victims were Muslims. The Chief Minister of Gujarat was Narendra Modi, a lifelong member of the Hindu extremist RSS. He ordered police not to stop the massacres.

What led to the 2002 Gujarat massacres?

On February 27, 2002, Sabarmati Express, a train carrying Hindu kar sevaks (pilgrims) returning from the site of the demolished Babri Masjid, was attacked. 59 people lost their lives in a fire that broke out in one of the train cars just outside the station of Godhra.

The cause of the fire is still the subject of contention. In 2008, the Gujarat government-appointed Nanavati-Mehta Commission concluded that local Muslims had set the train on fire. The Justice Bannerjee Committee, established by the Indian government's railway minister in 2005, reached the opposite conclusion, concluding that the fire was accidental.

The death of 59 Hindu passengers was instantly exploited by Hindu extremist groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and Bajrang Dal to incite Hindu hysteria, incite the genocidal massacres, and claim they were in self-defence against Muslim terrorism. Hindu mobs, unrestrained by state police and encouraged by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, launched a state-wide campaign of retaliation against Muslims.

Should the massacres be considered Genocide?

Genocide is defined 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: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; or imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

Genocide Watch and many genocide scholars contend that the massacres in Gujarat between February and March 2002 meet the definition of genocide. The Gujarat massacres included four of the acts of genocide enumerated in the Genocide Convention.

a) Killing members of the group

A Hindu mob faces off with a Muslim mob during during Gujarat’s 2002 riots. Photograph: AFP

By the afternoon of February 27, retaliatory attacks had already begun. Donning the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) uniform of khaki shorts and a saffron headband, the mobs carried out attacks in a highly coordinated manner. Armed with a list of Muslim homes and businesses, they arrived in Muslim neighbourhoods by truckloads carrying swords, metal pipes, and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders. The rampaging mob stormed into the housing complex of Ehsan Jafri, a former highly regarded Muslim member of the Indian parliament. The mob murdered Ehsan Jafri and 68 other Muslims who had sought refuge in his house.

Jafri had desperately tried to contact the police commissioner and the office of chief minister Modi but never got through.

Investigative journalist Ashish Khetan secretly taped conversations with the three Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists Mangilal Jain, Prahaladji Asori, and Madanlal Raval, who described the events surrounding Eshan Jafri's murder. They confirmed to Khetan that Jafri had made desperate phone calls to police officers and political leaders.

According to the three men, the police not only gave them unfettered freedom but also encouraged the rioters to kill Muslims. They claimed that the rioters were given three to four hours to carry out the killings by the police inspector in charge of Meghaninagar police station, KG Erda. These secretly taped conversations, however, were ignored by the Supreme Court of India's Special Investigation Team.

During the massacres, at least 250 women and girls were gang-raped before being burned to death. A mob of 5,000 people set fire to houses of Muslims in Ahmedabad's Naroda Patia neighbourhood, resulting in the death of at least 65 people. Before being burned and hacked to death, women and girls were gang-raped in public. Their male family members were forced to watch the rapes and then were killed.

Hina Kausar from Naroda Patiya was pregnant when she was raped. Several eyewitnesses testified that she was raped and tortured and that her womb was slit open with a sword to extract the foetus, which was then hacked to pieces and burned alive alongside the mother.

Bilkis Yakoob Rasool was five months pregnant when she was gang-raped. Fourteen members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, were murdered in front of her eyes.

The Gujarat government has now granted early release to all eleven of her convicted rapists.

A mass grave in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in which sixty-one bodies — thirty-four of women and twenty-seven of children — are buried. Since February 27, 2002, more than 850 people have been killed in communal violence in the state of Gujarat, most of them Muslims. Unofficial estimates put the death toll as high as 2,000. The attacks against Muslims in Gujarat have been actively supported by state government officials and by the police. Police told Muslims, "We don't have any orders to save you." Photograph: Human Rights Watch

A mass grave was discovered in Ahmedabad in January 2004 by a group of medical professionals and forensic specialists. 46 of the 96 bodies were of females. Most of the bodies showed evidence of torture, mutilation, and burning. The female bodies had burns from cigarettes on their bottoms and breasts. Sharp objects had been inserted inside their damaged, cut-open genitalia.

b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group

The young women and girls who were raped and killed, as well as the male family members who were made to witness it, suffered irreparable mental harm. Parents were forced to watch their children being murdered.

A child injured in the 2002 riots sits inside an Ahmedabad mosque after his father took shelter there.

Photograph: Reuters

Children who survived, the vast majority of whom were orphaned, have been severely harmed and traumatised by the violence. They witnessed the rape, mutilation, murder, and burning of family members. Surviving family members had to fend for themselves in recovering and identifying their loved ones' bodies, which added to their trauma.

c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

Gujarat state police stood by and refused to assist Muslims fleeing from Hindu mobs. Muslim NGOs were left with the responsibility to provide relief and rehabilitation.

A policeman watches on as fire ravages shops at the entrance to a mosque in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, following an attack by Hindu activists in February 2002. Photograph: AFP

The Muslim community of Gujarat experienced the carefully planned destruction of their homes, businesses, and property.

d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

Hundreds of Muslim girls and women were raped, mutilated, and burned to death in Gujarat. Many of the women interviewed in relief camps were victims of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, and insertion of objects into their bodies.

International law in cases in the ICTR and other courts recognise that the use of sexualised violence in genocide is a method of preventing births by causing serious physical and mental harm to the women and by knowingly degrading and stigmatising them, rendering women either unable or ineligible to participate voluntarily in the reproductive life of the community.

The State's Complicity and Intent

Many attacks on Muslims took place within view of police posts and police stations. However, the first police and troops did not arrive where mobs struck before March 1, three days after the massacres began.

The mobs carried the voter lists and lists of all Muslim-owned businesses. According to an Outlook magazine report, attempts to pinpoint the exact location of Muslim businesses began months before the attacks. Politicians at the local and state levels were spotted directing the violent mobs, controlling the police, and organising the distribution of weapons.

Gujarat's then-home minister, Haren Pandya, claimed Modi convened a meeting on February 27, 2002, in the aftermath of the Godhra train fire. According to Pandya, Modi instructed the police officers not to interfere with "the Hindu backlash". Pandya was later assassinated and therefore unable to testify before commissions of inquiry.

Similar allegations were made in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court of India by ex-India Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt. According to Bhatt, during his meeting on February 27, 2002, Modi asked police officials to allow Hindus to "vent out their anger" against Muslims.

Genocide Watch recommends:
  • The Indian Supreme Court should reverse the Gujarat government's release of 11 rape and murder convicts in the Bilkis Yakoob Rasool case.

  • A fact-finding commission should be appointed by an independent organization such as the International Commission of Jurists or the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal to review the facts about the 2002 Gujarat massacres and determine whether then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was complicit in their perpetration.


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