IFOR in Action Special Issue

May 2002

INTRODUCTION

In this Special Issue of IFOR in Action, we have chosen to highlight the work of the IFOR movement in areas where violent conflict is currently taking place. This includes conflict areas where IFOR member organizations are already extremely active as well as areas where there is an urgent plea for IFOR and other international support. Specifically, the report covers activities in Israel-Palestine, Gujarat in India, and Colombia.

Please send comments and reports to office@ifor.org

~ ~ ~

Conflict in Gujarat, India

INTRODUCTION

Since 27 February, violence between Hindus and Moslems has left more than 800 dead in the Indian state of Gujarat. Anti-Muslim riots began when Muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindus who were planning to build a temple on the site of a mosque; the mosque was built on a Hindu holy site. Hindus set fire to Muslim homes and burnt people alive. While violence is now more sporadic, Muslims in the region continue to suffer. Many have fled their homes for refugee camps. There are accusations that the Gujarat police allowed this to happen and that the local government=s inaction, particularly about the refugees= plight, is increasing the suffering.

Gandhian groups in Gujarat and other parts of India, as well as local human rights NGOs, have worked hard but have been unable to stop the cycle of violence. Daniel Mazgaonkar from the IFOR Affiliate, the Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Centre, has been providing the IFOR Secretariat with regular reports on both the violence, the atmosphere of hatred, and the courageous efforts of local peace groups. Below, we have tried to summarize this information for you.

Indian groups are appealing to IFOR member groups and other peace networks to help bring international attention to this conflict. While the earthquake in Gujarat attracted great attention and concern around the world, the current violent inter-religious conflict is given little coverage in the world media. Attention from international peace groups is urgently needed. Please do what you can. Daniel can be reached directly at danielm@vsnl.com

BACKGROUND TO THE CONFLICT.

A short summary by Daniel Mazgaonkar

Ten years ago, the fundamentalist Hindus demolished a 16th century mosque which was built in Ayodhya town of Uttar Pradesh state of India. This mosque was supposed to have been constructed by demolishing a temple there called temple of God Ram (God Ram is believed to have been born in Ayodhya).

The question about the mosques had laid low for the last 50 years. Some noises about it were made by Hindu fundamentalists were made but they did not have any upper hand in the political context at the time. Leaders such Jawaharlal Nehru, (the first Prime Minister) and many others who were ruling the country were secular, open minded and believed in and respected all religious faiths.

When all these leaders who influenced the public attitude were gone, the view began being spread that India should belong to Hindus and that all other religions should stay/survive/exist under the protection of the Hindu religion.

To spread such a narrow, sectarian ideology has been extremely harmful to the age-old image of India as a country where all peoples belonging to all religions are welcome. This picture of people receiving equal treatment and having equal opportunities to preach and propagate one's own religion was tarnished.

This narrow view was given a boost by the present Home Minister of India, Mr. Lal Krishna Advanic, who went round in a so-called chariot (as it is supposed that former kings and Gods went in chariots!), and created an atmosphere of hatred and ill-will by speaking about creating a Hindu temple at Ayodhya. This, of course, had nothing to do with the real Hindu Dharma (Religion), but was used as a political tool to win/capture votes and come to power. Which he did, but with great difficulty. The fundamentalist political party called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not get a majority. (This Party is actually the creation of a rank fundamentalist organisation called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, - Community of Nationalist Volunteers).

In the state of Gujarat, however, they do have the majority and thus complete political control. Thus, Gujarat is considered to be a laboratory, an experimental State where they can try to establish the Hindu agenda firmly and treat all other religions and peoples as subordinate.

From Gujarat, then, hundreds of Kar Sevaks (religious volunteers) had travelled to Ayodhya to have a religious Puja (ceremony) for the stones of the temple to be created at the site where the Mosque was. While they were returning, a violent incident occurred: the coach of the train they were travelling in was burned. There are reports that at Godhra Railway station, the Hindus created a scene and harassed a Muslim tea-stall owner and started to beat him up. His 16 year old daughter intervened; and the karsevaks apparently lifted her and took her to their coach and shut the door.


A REPORT ON THE CARNAGE

The following descriptions come from a report by Harsh Mander, Country Director of ActionAid India and an officer in the IAS, who visited the region on 17 March

As you walk through the camps of riot survivors in Ahmadabad, in which an estimated 53,000 women, men, and children are huddled in 29 temporary settlements, displays of overt grief are unusual. But once you sit anywhere in these camps, people begin to speak... The horrors that they speak of are so macabre, that my pen falters in the writing. The pitiless brutality against women and small children by organised bands of armed young men is more savage than anything witnessed in the riots that have shamed this nation from time to time during the past century.

Everyone spoke of the pillage and plunder, being organised like a military operation against an external armed enemy. First a truck would arrive broadcasting inflammatory slogans, soon followed by more trucks which disgorged young men, mostly in khaki shorts and saffron sashes. They were armed with sophisticated explosive materials, country weapons, daggers and trishuls. They also carried water bottles, to sustain them in their exertions. The leaders were seen communicating on mobile telephones from the riot venues, receiving instructions from and reporting back to a coordinating centre. Some were seen with documents and computer sheets listing Muslim families and their properties.

The police are known to have misguided people straight into the hands of rioting mobs. They provided protective shields to crowds bent on pillage, arson, rape and murder, and were deaf to the pleas of the desperate Muslim victims, many of them women and childrenYAs one who has served in the Indian Administrative Service for over two decades, I feel great shame at the abdication of duty of my peers in the civil and police administration. The law did not require any of them to await orders from their political supervisors before they organised the decisive use of force to prevent the brutal escalation of violence

Where also, amidst this savagery, injustice, and human suffering is the 'civil society', the Gandhians, the development workers, the NGOs, the fabled spontaneous Gujarathi philanthropy which was so much in evidence in the earthquake in Kutch and Ahmedabad? . . . Which Gandhian leaders, or NGO managers, staked their lives to halt the death-dealing throngs? It is one more shame that we as citizens of this country must carry on our already burdened backs, that the camps for the Muslim riot victims in Ahmedabad are being run almost exclusively by Muslim organisations. . .the state, which bears the primary responsibility to extend both protection and relief to its vulnerable citizens, was nowhere in evidence in any of the camps,YThe only passing moments of pride and hope that I experienced in Gujarat, were when I saw men like Mujid Ahmed and women like Roshan Bahen who served in these camps with tireless, dogged humanism amidst the ruins around them.

As I walked through the camps, I wondered what Gandhiji would have done in these dark hours. I recall the story of the Calcutta riots, when Gandhi was fasting for peace. A Hindu man came to him, to speak of his young boy who had been killed by Muslim mobs, and of the depth of his anger and longing for revenge. And Gandhi is said to have replied: If you really wish to overcome your pain, find a young boy, just as young as your son, a Muslim boy whose parents have been killed by Hindu mobs. Bring up that boy like you would your own son, but bring him up with the Muslim faith to which he was born. Only then will you find that you can heal your pain, your anger, and your longing for retribution.

There are no voices like Gandhi's that we hear today. Only discourses on Newtonian physics, to justify vengeance on innocents. We need to find these voices within our own hearts, we need to believe enough in justice, love, tolerance.

Harsh Mander=s full article can be found on the web at
http://www.indianest.com/analysis/013.htm


VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

On 27 March, a six-member team of women from Delhi, Bangalore, Tamil Nadu and Ahmedabad undertook a five-day fact-finding mission to assess the impact of the continuing violence on minority women in Gujarat. Below is a summary of their report.

Other fact-finding teams have also visited Gujar after the Godhra train attack. However, given the particular targeting of women in this carnage, there was an urgent need for an investigation into how women in particular have been affected. The objective of the fact-finding was to determine the nature and extent of the crimes against women; find evidence of the role played by the police and other state institutions in protecting women; determine new elements in the current spate of violence that distinguish it from previous rounds of communal violence in Gujarat; determine the role of organizations like the VHP and Bajrang Dal in both the build-up to the current carnage as well as in actually unleashing the violence.

The team visited seven relief camps in both rural and urban areas and spoke to a large number of women survivors. Ensuring that women=s voices are heard was a matter of priority for the entire team. The team also spoke to intellectuals, activists, members of the media, administration, and leaders from the BJP. ..The fact-finding was conducted under conditions of continuing violence and curfew in many parts of the State.

We have been shaken and numbed by the scale and brutality of the violence that is still continuing in Gujarat. Despite reading news reports, we were unprepared for what we saw and heard; for fear in the eyes and anguish in the words of ordinary women whose basic human right to live a life of dignity has been snatched away from them.

Main Findings:

1. The pattern of violence does not indicate spontaneous action. There was pre-planning, organization, and precision in the targeting.
2. There is compelling evidence of sexual violence against women. These crimes against women have been grossly underreported and the exact extent of these crimes in rural and urban areas demands further investigation. Among the women surviving in relief camps, are many who have suffered the most bestial forms of sexual violence including rape, gang rape, mass rape, stripping, insertion of objects into their body, stripping, molestations. A majority of rape victims have been burnt alive.
3. There is evidence of State and Police complicity in perpetuating crimes against women. No effort was made to protect women. No Mahila Police was deployed. State and Police complicity in these crimes is continuing, as women survivors continue to be denied the right to file FIRs (charges).. There is no existing institutional mechanism in Gujarat through which women can seek justice. The impact on women has been physical, economic and psychological. On all three fronts there is no evidence of State efforts to help them.
4. The state of the relief camps, as mothers struggle to keep their children alive in the most appalling physical conditions, is indicative of the continued abdication of the States responsibilities.
5. Rural women have been affected by communal violence on this scale for the first time. There is a need for further investigation into the role played by particular castes/communities in rural Gujarat in unleashing violence.
6. There is evidence that the current carnage was preceded by an escalation of tension and build-up by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.
7. There is an alarming trend towards ghettoization of the Muslim community in rural areas for the first time.
8. Sections of the Gujarati press played a dangerous and criminal role in promoting the violence, particularly in provoking sexual violence.

Contact: A complete copy of the report can be found as a special report on the web site of the Hindustan Times. Website
http://167.216.192.97/gujarat/survivorspeak.shtml


GOVERNMENT COMPLICITY
For those who would like to know more about the government=s role in the violence, the US human rights research organization, Human Rights Watch, has just issued a report with the title, AWe Have No Orders To Save You: State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat. According to Human Rights Watch, state officials in Gujarat were directly involved in the killings of hundreds of Muslims since February 27 and are now engineering a massive cover-up of the state's role in the violence. The direct implication of the police is also documented. In some cases they were merely passive observers, but in many instances, police officials led the charge of murderous mobs, aiming and firing at Muslims who got in the way. Under the guise of offering assistance, some police officers led the victims directly into the hands of their killers. Panicked phone calls made to the police, fire brigades, and even ambulance services generally proved futile. Several witnesses reported being told by police: "We have no orders to save you."

Human Rights Watch web site http://www.hrw.org

PEACE MOVEMENT ACTIVITIES

Peace and human rights groups in India did try to build an effective response to the violence. In March, there were peace marches and various other protests in many Indian cities. In some parts of Gujarat, inter-religious peace committees and networks to halt rumors were set up.

On the 8 March, International Women's Day, 250 women and men participated in a demonstration in the Gujarat city of Baroda, on the twin themes of women's rights and peace and inter-community harmony. A participant reported that the program was short but moving , with women, children and men across community and class lines coming together. They sang, raised slogans, performed a street-play, formed a human chain and pledged to work for peace and harmony.

A peace committee consisting of various citizens, NGOs, women's groups was created which tried to coordinate with citizens groups throughout the region. Various groups have undertaken to visit different affected and vulnerable areas and to assure people that help was at hand and that many citizens disapproved of all that had taken place. Leaflets calling for peace and information for victims about help centers have been prepared. Fact finding teams (such as the women=s commission reported above) have been organised to undertake surveys and record information that can be presented before any commission of inquiry. Victims are being helped to lodge formal complaints, record details of how they were attacked, name names where possible, record the extent of damage, file affidavits etc.

In early April, a multi-religious Pilgrimage of Compassion was organized to help heal the wounds of the people of Gujarat. It included Swami Agnivesh,, Nirmala Deshpande (an ex-MP), and a multi-religious group of 70 other activists. Participants gathered in Godhra on April 2, 2002, welcomed by members of the local Peace Committee of over 50 religious groups and secular organizations that had been working together since the initial outbreak of violence. After meetings with many community groups, the pilgrimage moved on to the riot-ravaged areas in Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Baroda, and Bharuch. Their goal was to raise compassion among people towards the victims of the tragedy and to promote good-will among religious communities.

Such voices of peace have not had an easy time. In some places the Pilgrimage of Compassion was greeted with stones and had to shift their lodging because of threats. In another situation, the fundamentalist organization VHP prevented a peace march and a meeting of people from various communities in Kevadia Colony, a small Gujarat town. In Ahmedabad, peace message posters put up by the local Citizen's Council were removed.

WHAT ROLE FOR THE GANDHIAN MOVEMENT?

Daniel Mazgoankar reports that discussion took place in late April among Gandhians about what they could do as a group of Gandhians/Sarvodaya/Shantisena people.

Those present felt that the Hindu nationalist groups like VHP and RSS, want to establish as fact that that there is no one who will dare to speak about Peace, Sisterhood, Brotherhood, communal harmony, or Indian culture as it was viewed and expressed by Gandhi. They seem to say that only one voice must be heard, and that is the voice of hatred for Muslims: saying to kill them, remove them from the state, let them go anywhere, they are not wanted in Gujarat. This may not always be said out loud, but it is what is actually happening. They have expressed that Gandhi was a blot on Hindus. Under such conditions, anyone who speaks out for peace is likely to be mistreated and maybe even killed, if the top bosses allow it.

Daniel expresses the view that Gandhians should go in the midst of affected people and tell them that India is not only for Hindus, it is for all religions. Every citizen of India has a place in India and Gujarat. In the present situation, this is what Sarvodaya, Gandhians, all likeminded organizations, and those who believe in the composite culture of India must do.


PROPOSAL FOR AN INTERNATIONAL PEACE PILGRIMAGE

Daniel and other Gandhians feel that the message of Peace must be delivered in Gujarat but it will be listened to with greater seriousness if it is an international voice. To this end, Daniel and his Gandhian colleagues are seeking public participation and support in a peace pilgrimage in Gujarat from well-known international figures, such as Nobel Peace Prize winners, and other international peace activists. The program would be for at least 10 days and participants would need to be aware of the risks.

The international participants would join Indian activists to jointly tour the affected areas of Gujarat. The participants would speak in meetings and in individual conversations and sing songs in public gatherings. The goal would be to try to bring the non-sectarian Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsses, Jews, and Dalits together, to give them the encouragement and support to work together.

What is needed for such a project is for a few organizations to be willing to take on the costs and the international organizing tasks. Are there member of organizations of IFOR who can work together on such an effort? If your group and members are interested in this, please contact Daniel Mazgaonkar and let him know how you can be involved.

Contact: Daniel Mazgaonkar, Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Centre, Email:
danielm@vsnl.com

FOR GERMANY APPEALS TO GERMAN GOVERNMENT

At its annual meeting, the German Branch of FOR agreed to send a letter to the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, and other government officials, asking that they give serious attention to the situation in Gujarat and assist with nonviolent efforts to end violence.

FOR Germany, Email: versoehnungsbund@t-online.de

~ ~ ~