The following is a press release by Alliance to Save and Protect America from Infiltration by Religious Extremists (ASPAIRE). It has been edited for clarity.
The Alliance to Save and Protect America from Infiltration by Religious Extremists (ASPAIRE) held its third part of a series of discussions on “Resisting the Assault on Democracies in India and the US” on February 28, 2021. The focus was on revisiting the 2002 Gujarat massacre, which had seized the national and international media’s attention, with prominent activists who had been closely associated with the riots participating in this webinar.
The speakers included: Dr. Shaik Ubaid (co-chair of ASPAIRE), Vijaylakshmi Nadar (investigative journalist and Bureau Chief of The India Observer, New Jersey), Nishrin Jafri (daughter of Congress Minister Ahsan Jafri, who was brutally killed in the Gujarat riots), Father Cedric Prakash (Jesuit priest and an activist who headed the Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) which documented and presented citizens report on the Gujarat riots), and Shabnam Hashmi (an activist who also helped document the detailed accounts of the 38 gang-rape victims of the Gujarat riots).
It must be noted here that ASPAIRE was instrumental in getting the U.S. travel visa of Narendra Modi banned for more than a decade, after the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, in India. Over 2,000 people were killed in this pogrom, one of the most brutal and violent targeting of the minority Muslim community.
ASPAIRE webinars promise to be action-oriented, with information on how to mobilize local inter-faith and human rights groups, how to inform the local media, how to lobby the members of the congress, on the growing menace of the Hindutva supremacy in the US and the human rights and freedom of religion violations in India, under the present ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – a political arm of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS). These webinars have in the past helped expose congressional candidates like Sri Preston Kulkarni, Houston, who was being funded heavily by the Hindu SwayamSevak Sangh (HSS), the international wing of the RSS.
During the webinar, Ubaid said that it was evident that the 2002 Gujarat pogrom was planned for a long time. Before the pogrom, there was a shortage in the supply of cooking gas cylinders (propane tanks). On the day of the pogrom, thousands of these gas cylinders were rolled out to blow up RCC cement structures, houses and businesses. More than 2000 people were burnt alive, butchered; pregnant women had their bellies ripped open. Thousands of victims haven’t got their homes back. Thousands are still awaiting justice as well.
After the holocaust in 1945, the world had promised to ensure that it is not repeated and yet we repeated it. We watched as it unfolded in Bosnia, in Congo, Burma, and several times in India. It happened in the 1983 Nellie massacre in Assam, the 1984 Sikh genocide in Delhi, massacres all over the country after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 in Uttar Pradesh, and then the 2002 Gujarat riots. The violent cycle was again repeated in Delhi and Assam last year.
This webinar is to remind the world that ‘never again’ should be for all the people at all times. After the Gujarat pogrom, the Indian Muslims Advocacy network (IMAN net) was formed, now called the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).
Whenever fascism has taken root in a country, it is challenging to defeat it without outside influence.
Fascism is a human rights issue. India has always spoken out against apartheid in South Africa and on the Palestinians and the Vietnamese. So, when India is suffering, the world, especially the UN has the right and the obligation to speak out too.
Justice is finally being served in Bosnia to some extent, and a person involved in terrible crimes in Syria is now undergoing trial in Germany. Burma too is being held accountable in the world International court. This struggle will continue,
We live in the most powerful country in the world and we need to use that advantage to educate the world that the land of Gandhi is under assault from fascist forces.
Here are excerpts of what the experts said in the webinar.
Vijaylakshmi Nadar :
Two very obvious aspects are common in almost all pogroms, or state-sponsored riots, which is what the 1984 Sikh genocide and 2002 Gujarat riots and now the most recent Delhi riots are. First is that the police made no efforts to protect the victims and, in many cases in both Gujarat and both times in Delhi, joined the mobs attacking the minority victims.
Secondly, the leaders and activists associated with the ruling party played a big role in spreading the hate and instigating violence, whether in 1984, 2002, or 2020.
What is scary is that while the other leaders try to bury the carnages’ memories unleashed by them, after reaping the benefit of it politically, Narendra Modi has fine-tuned it, incessantly feeding the hate of the majority against the minority for decades. To use it as ammunition to unleash a pogrom anywhere, anytime he needs it to perk up his shaky political ground.
Before the pogrom, Narendra Modi had declared that the attack at Godhra, on the train bringing back Hindu Kar Sevaks from Ayodhya, which triggered the pogrom, had been an act of terrorism and not an incident of communal violence. When he was informed of the death of the Kar Sevaks, he called not the Director General of Police, but the general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Jaideep Patel to rush to the spot. The post mortem of the bodies was conducted in the open to trigger more outrage.
The local newspapers and members of the state government used the statement to incite violence against the Muslim community by claiming, without proof, that Pakistan’s intelligence agency carried out the attack on the train and that local Muslims had conspired with them to attack Hindus in the state. False stories were also printed by local newspapers, which claimed that Muslim people had kidnapped and raped Hindu women.
In 2002, When my brother Tanvir Jafri found out that my father Ahsan Jafri and 160 women and children had been massacred in Gulberg society, the property destroyed, people burned and cut into pieces, he decided that he will not rest till they get justice.
In the city of Ahmedabad, a community of 600 Muslim people lived in a majority Hindu community together for 30-35 years. On a terrifying day, in broad daylight, with the biggest Asian hospital, just three miles from our house, the military base just a couple of miles from our home, and the police commissioner’s office minutes away too, a 10,000 strong mob armed with cylinders, acids, firearms, Trishul, swords, surrounded these people taking refuge in my father’s home and massacred them.
The ruling political party of the state had planned this pogrom and put the police, control room and the military all on standby, as the mob went into a frenzy cutting off heads of the women, raping young girls, dousing young children with kerosene, and petrol and setting them on fire.
Just close your eyes and imagine the pain of the women survivors today who have lost their husbands, children, brothers, and sisters and how they are forced to live now, recalling the horror stories with the slightest trigger.
I salute all the people who are fighting to get justice.
I didn’t quite understand back then when Teesta Setalvad, fighting the victims’ legal battle, had said that this is a long, lonely road to justice. But I believe that justice will prevail. Hopefully, the survivors will live long enough to witness it.
The world needs to be told that the women who suffered in 2002 had suffered in 1969 too—most, including my family. We had lost property even then when we resided in the same area in Chamanpura. And I had experienced life as a refugee kid when I was just five.
The tremendous hatred against Muslims that I have seen in Ahmedabad needs to be addressed. The victims need to speak up. I keep reminding people how much damage hate can do, leaving behind long-lasting pain.
Father Cedric Prakash:
On March 1, 2002, I went to Gulberg society searching for my dear friend Ahsan Jafri, and he was not to be found.
Even today, Rupa and Dara Moody are awaiting their son Azad Mody’s return, who disappeared on the day of the mayhem, not to return ever, inspiring a Bollywood movie ‘Parzania’.
Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992, by a bunch of goons, following the Hindutva ideologue, by fundamentalists, by fascists, and without any evidence that there was even a Hindu temple there. The temple being built there today is very symptomatic of what is happening to our judiciary.
On February 27, 2002, when the train entered Godhra station, there was a fire in the S6 compartment where, unfortunately, 59 people, many of them RSS karsevaks, returning from Ayodhya, burned to death after a fire accident in the compartment.
Nothing happened till that night when in a meeting between the then chief minister Narendra Modi and several high-ranking police and government officials, it was instructed that none of them were to interfere in what was to follow.
And this has been well documented by a former IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhat, and BJP leader Haren Pandya who was later killed mysteriously after they testified to the CCT
What happened in Gujarat is not merely a blot, an aberration, or a stain; it was one of the biggest tragedies of independent India. It was not just an isolated event. It was symptomatic of a society that has become highly polarized. The hate speech, the venom leading to divisiveness and discrimination has become the rule, rather than the exception.
The pogrom was a result of the anti-nationals’ ideology, Vinayak Savarkar, KB Hedgewar, and M S Golwalkar, whose ‘Bunch of thoughts’ talks about the need for a Hindu State.
If I want to marry someone of my choice if I want to practice the religion of my choice, how can the state dictate to me matters of my conscience? Why are we even allowing this to happen to India, to see it being torn asunder, to allow Muslims and Christians to be denigrated and demonized?
Shabnam Hashmi :
About two lakh people were rendered homeless during the Gujarat riots, and about 35,000-45,000 of them have not yet been able to return to their original villages.
One of the things which we did was travel across ten villages to find women who were gang-raped and ended up documenting 38 gang-rape survivors. I considered myself strong, but back then I would come back at midnight and cry for hours, shaken by their stories.
In 2002, nothing happened on Feb. 27, but the next day all hell broke loose.
My understanding is that even if the train had not been burnt, gas cylinders had already disappeared days before that. So, either they were waiting for something to happen or the pogrom was planned. If Muslims and ISI planned it, as alleged by the government, then how come so many Hindus were prepared for the pogrom?
Even in remote villages and in many other districts, where women were still cooking with cow dung cakes, their houses, the mosques, and dargahs were all blown apart because the gas cylinders had reached everywhere.
The Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) and the Sangh Parivar had made Gujarat the laboratory of their Hindu Rashtra program. They perfected every little detail, which they later exported across India.
There were very few takers then for the idea of the rest of India turning into Gujarat. Most had dismissed Gujarat as an aberration. But subsequent developments have proved otherwise.
Whether it is love jihad, or cow vigilantism, dismantling the underlying democratic system. It has systematically been experimented with in Gujarat. During Narendra Modi’s tenure as chief minister, the state assembly worked for only 30-33 days in a year. And today, assembly sessions in parliament are being dropped or curtailed.
The way vast amounts of land are being given away to Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani today started in Gujarat. I still remember in 2012, when the district magistrate could only decide on a certain size of land. So, a big chunk of land was cut up only on paper, into 30 smaller lands, so the magistrate could rule on all the 30 different applications in just two days after which the land was given to Adani, news primarily ignored by the media.
BJP/RSS controlled the judiciary but not entirely, and that is why many sound judgments came out, but many also had to be transferred out of state.
The fight has become much more difficult now. In 2002, Journalists from all over the country and the world had rushed to Gujarat. This is the only pogrom, where over 31 citizen committee reports were filed. Even in the 1984 riots, or the Muzzaffar Nagar riots, there were not so many fact findings.
India responded to the massacre in Gujarat, because it was so brutal, shaking many.
There is a lot of resistance happening in India against the government. Though it is not easy to say whether this will convert into votes, people won’t give up easily. Lakhs of us may be jailed or killed but will continue to fight till our last breath.
The farmer’s protests fill me with hope; Lakhs of farmers are still sitting at the borders, despite the barbed wires, the nails, despite maligning them and jailing them.
The farmers’ protests are not just getting rid of the three agriculture bills. They are also talking about the idea of India and about talking about safeguarding the constitution.
Today the situation in the country has progressed much beyond communalism. We are facing a fascist onslaught on even the Dalits, Adivasis, artists, and intellectuals.
India is in a precarious position. And there is a need to plan the resistance nationally and internationally.
After all, if India, which makes up for 1/5th of the world, goes fascist, it will affect the rest of the world too.