The Gujarat state government website features a smiling Chief Minister Narendra Modi touting how “life itself is a celebration” in his state. Wow, this sounds to me like a swell time to be had by all in Gujarat! But I guess someone forgot to tell that to the thousands whose lives were irreparably harmed during the pogroms against Muslims in the state in late February and early March 2002. Exactly 8 years ago.
This is the first posting in the Desi Spotlight Series, a series of blogs that will spotlight organizations and individuals of South Asian origin living in the United States that are making a difference in human rights in South Asia.
For the interview with the President of the Indian Muslim Council – USA, Mr Rasheed Ahmed, see full entry.
Desi is a term used by South Asians in this country to refer to themselves and means roughly, people. For example, I would say that I am a desi, albeit born and raised in the United States. The first organization profiled is the Indian Muslim Council – USA, a desi group based in the United States and made up of Americans of Indian origin dedicated to seeing a pluralistic India.
Over 17 years ago, on December 6, 1992, at the culmination of a decade long campaign by the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s main opposition party and ruling party from 1998 to 2004, kar sevaks ignored an order from the Indian Supreme Court and began to tear down the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, a holy city in India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh. Several days of sectarian violence left thousands dead and the inept government of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao tottering towards defeat in the 1996 elections. This inept handling of the violence perpetuated by Hindu nationalists groups and subsequent defeat of the government at the elections no doubt led to the horrors of early 2002 in Gujarat.
On February 27, 2002, 56 kar sevaks were killed when the rail carriage they were in caught on fire, trapping the victims. Blame fell on Muslim shopkeepers in the Godhra Railway Station in the eastern part of Gujarat, despite little or no evidence. Immediately, politicians in the state where these murders occurred, Gujarat, began whipping up their supporters to attack specific Muslim neighborhoods and specific people living in those neighborhoods. The whole state was soon consumed in an orgy of violence that was only stopped a few days later when the Indian Army was deployed in the worst hit areas. Thousands of Muslims were forced into so-called “relief camps”. Thousands more met a worse fate, killed, raped, or traumatized. Nearly seven years later, some of the people most closely implicated in the violence, particularly Chief Minister Narendra Modi, are not only free and not facing charges, but are also still holding the levers of power.