A word of warning: if you are an adherent of the Hindutva philosophy espoused by the Bharatiya Janata Party in India, the following review will disturb you.
The book: “Gujarat – Irakalkku Vendi Oru Porattam” (“Gujarat – a Fight for the Victims”) should be read by all secular Indians to learn how government machinery and police were ruthlessly used for ethnic cleansing – written by a former Police Chief himself.
On 27 February, 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from the city of Ayodhya was allegedly set alight by Muslim rioters in the Godhra railway station in Gujarat state in western India, resulting in the death of 59 people. Over the next three days, crazed mobs of Hindu right-wing fanatics went on a rampage all over Gujarat, mainly the city of Ahmedabad. The police stood by impotently while Muslims were slaughtered mercilessly. It was the vilest incident of a sectarian attack, after the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984.
R. B. Sreekumar was Additional Director General of Police in Gujarat at the time. In this book, he comes up with the shocking revelation that the riots were systematically engineered by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the hard-core Hindu component of the BJP, and they were blessed and abetted by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who allegedly told the police chiefs that “there would be Hindu backlash, and they were not to interfere”.
The carnage that followed boggles the mind. From Wikipedia:
It is estimated that at least 250 girls and women had been gang raped and then burned to death. Children were killed by being burnt alive and those digging mass graves described the bodies as “burned and butchered beyond recognition”. Children were force fed petrol and then set on fire, pregnant women were gutted and their unborn child’s body then shown to the women. In the Naroda Patiya mass grave of 96 bodies 46 were women. The murderers also flooded homes and electrocuted entire families inside. Violence against women also included their being stripped naked, objects being forced into their bodies and then their being killed. According to Kalpana Kannabiran the rapes were part of a well organized, deliberate and pre-planned strategy, and that this puts the violence in the area of a political pogrom and genocide. Other acts of violence against women were acid attacks, beatings and the killing of women who were pregnant. Children were also killed in front of their parents…
…Children and infants were speared and held aloft before being thrown into fires. Describing the sexual violence perpetrated against Muslim women and girls, Renu Khanna writes that the survivors reported “that sexual violence consisted of forced nudity, mass rapes, gang-rapes, mutilation, insertion of objects into bodies, cutting of breasts, slitting the stomach and reproductive organs, and carving of Hindu religious symbols on women’s body parts…
…Dionne Bunsha, writing on the Gulbarg Society massacre and murder of Ehsan Jafri, has said that Jafri begged the crowd to spare the women, he was dragged into the street and forced to parade naked for refusing to say “Jai Shri Ram”. He was then beheaded and thrown onto a fire, following this the rioters returned and burned Jafri’s family, including two small boys, to death. After the massacre Gulbarg burned for a week.
Sreekumar also had to stand by while the violence went on – he could not intervene without instructions from his superiors – but later on, he decided to go on a one-man mission to see that justice was done. Against the advice of his colleagues and superiors, he began filing honest reports. When the Justice Nanavati commission was set up to probe the riots, Sreekumar submitted an affidavit which proved to be political dynamite. The commission published the report. The Gujarat government tried to pressurise Sreekumar into disowning it. He refused, and submitted a second affidavit.
However, even with all this activism, nothing happened – the UPA government (whose main component was the Indian National Congress) at the centre, even though theoretically in the opposite camp of the BJP, was hesitant to take decisive action. The reaction of the Gujarat government was as expected: Sreekumar was harassed and punished – transferred to a sinecure post and his deserved promotion denied. But he did not stop, and along with the help of human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, succeeded in bringing many of the perpetrators of violence to justice: but due to interference from the state government (controlled by Modi) and lack of will-power of the Central Government, only the lowest level of the criminals – the one who actually carried out the rape, murder and pillage – were brought to justice. Those who gave the orders at the top could use their clout to escape.
The picture Sreekumar paints of Gujarat is less than edifying, to say the least. Government machinery is used regularly to destroy evidence and subvert justice. The cops who side with the government – even convicted and jailed in some cases – are regularly rewarded, while the honest ones are punished mercilessly. Muslims are forced to live in abject terror as second-class citizens. Muslim youth are regularly done away with in “police encounters” which are little more than cold-blooded murders. The government – any government – is powerless as all the key posts in the bureaucracy are filled with Hindu right-wing sympathisers.
The million-dollar question: is it a true memoir, or is the author a paid lackey of the opposition Indian National Congress as the BJP alleges?
As far as I am concerned, the book absolutely exudes honesty. Also, if Sreekumar is a Congress lackey as the BJP portrays him to be, why was he not “blessed” by the powers that be who was in power at the centre from 2004 to 2014? His battles seem to be lone affairs, with help from only a group of mavericks like himself.
I do not know whether Modi is the veritable monster that Sreekumar makes him out to be – we are all human, and there can be prejudices – but there is no doubt that his government stood by and allowed Hindu fanatics to murder Muslims. In my book, this indictment of Narendra Modi is enough.
Well, that person has gone through and image makeover and is currently the Prime Minister of India. Promising good governance, Modi seems to be subdued nowadays on the Hindutva (hard-core Hindu right wing) rhetoric. He has made all the right moves since occupying the highest seat in the Indian polity. But the experience of history teaches us that the tiger does not change his stripes.
I am keeping my fingers crossed.