Genocide was swift and total in Naroda Patiya. So was its cover-up. The perpetrators remain unpunished and unabashed
IN WITHIN HOURS of the tragedy on board the Sabarmati Express, the BJP and its affiliates — the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bajrang Dal — started preparations for one of the worst acts of genocide in the history of this country. On February 28, 2002, a day after the Sabarmati Express fire, Ahmedabad witnessed mass killings of the most horrific nature. Armed saffron cadres roamed the streets, burning, looting, raping and killing Muslims at will. The neighbourhood that bled most was Naroda, a locality on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, with a mixed population of Hindus and Muslims.
In a most systematic manner, the BJP, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal formed an execution squad that carried out a pogrom from 10 in the morning of February 28 till after well past dark. Apart from firearms, tridents and swords, everything that could conceivably be turned into a weapon at short notice — from bricks to gas cylinders to diesel tankers — was unleashed on an entire neighbourhood of Muslims. Most victims were burnt alive. Before being set on fire, many were stabbed, raped and hacked apart.
Right through the massacre, the cellphones of the rioters were ringing constantly, with death scores being shared at regular intervals. By sundown, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon, the Muslim neighbourhoods in the area, had been reduced to a vast wasteland of death. Sliced up like vegetables, burnt like charcoal and, bearing the testimony of slaughter at its crudest, corpses lay scattered across what had been a lively human settlement barely a few hours before.
Naroda was no nondescript, out-of the-way place. It was just five km from the local police control room and less than four km from Shahibaug, the Ahmedabad Police headquarters. A mob armed with lethal weapons went on a killing spree for over 10 hours, yet nothing moved in the administration, no reinforcements were dispatched, no effort was made to disperse the mob. Civil society has had no doubt that it was Chief Minister Narendra Modi who was to blame for the genocide. Survivors have alleged that the police played partisan. The police have retorted that it was a riot and they were outnumbered. The government has denied any acts of omission or commission on its part. Five years on, the trial for the carnage in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon is yet to start.
For the last three years, the Supreme Court has been sitting on a petition filed by the National Human Rights Commission and a few NGOs to have the case reinvestigated and transferred out of Gujarat. The accused are out on bail. Narendra Modi has won a landslide electoral victory and is preparing for another. Most survivors have shifted to ghettoes on Ahmedabad’s outskirts; the few who returned to their previous homes are living a marginalised life, under economic and social boycott by their Hindu neighbours.
NARODA: LAYOUT AND DEMOGRAPHY
About 15km from the centre of Ahmedabad city, Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya were once home to around 2,000 daily wage-earning Muslims, a majority of them migrants from Karnataka and Maharashtra. The area lies along a highway stretch just outside the city. Across the road from it is the State Transport warehouse; nearby are the Hindu-dominated Gopinath and Gangotri housing societies. Both Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya are over 70 years old and are typical urban slums; both come under the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The distance between the two is not more than a kilometre or so. While Naroda Gaon is relatively smaller, Naroda Patiya is a labyrinth of narrow lanes, flanked by close-packed, unsightly concrete structures, few of them higher than two storeys, inhabited by Muslims. Across the road from Naroda Patiya is Chharanagar, a large settlement of Chharas, a denotified tribe commonly deemed criminal and involved primarily in bootlegging and gambling. Though Hindu, Chharas are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy.
WHO WERE THE ACCUSED?
Two separate FIRs were registered for the Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya incidents. While only eight people were recorded as killed at Naroda Gaon, eyewitness accounts put the toll at Naroda Patiya in the hundreds. Nobody, however, knows exactly how many Muslims were killed at Naroda that day. Nobody, except, perhaps, the killers.
Among the dozens of Sangh Parivar cadres whom survivors identified as their attackers, the names of BJP MLA Mayaben Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi came up repeatedly as having led the mob. When filing the chargesheet, however, the police refused to prosecute Kodnani, citing lack of evidence. Bajrangi was chargesheeted along with a few BJP and VHP workers and a couple of dozen Chharas. In all, the police named 49 people as accused in the Naroda Patiya incident, and the same number were accused for Naroda Gaon as well. There are many names in common between the two lists, among them Bajrangi’s. After absconding for over three months, Bajrangi was arrested amid high drama. Five months after his arrest, the Gujarat High Court granted him bail.