Source: Human Rights Watch
(New York, May 4, 2006) � The possibility of a return to massive sectarian violence in Gujarat must be forestalled with prompt action by government authorities, Human Rights Watch said today. Recent anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat have left six dead and have coincided with violence in Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, where militant groups massacred at least 35 Hindus on April 30 and May 1. Human Rights Watch urged the Indian government, the state governments of Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir, and the Pakistani government to take all steps possible to protect religious minorities in the two regions.
"These incidents show the extreme vulnerability of religious minorities in different parts of India," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of allowing this violence to deepen religious hatred, the authorities should launch an immediate, thorough and transparent investigation to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted and punished."
Human Rights Watch said the police and prosecutors at the national and state levels should launch criminal investigations and initiate appropriate prosecutions against the perpetrators and organizers of the attacks in Gujarat. The National Human Rights Commission should launch its own, independent investigations. The same steps should be taken to address the massacres in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan should also investigate the possible responsibility of militant groups operating from its territory.
In Gujarat, violence in Vadodara began with the demolition on May 1 of an ancient Muslim shrine by municipal authorities. Riots broke out as Muslims protested the demolition. At least five people died, including a Muslim and a Hindu, who were killed by police who shot at rioters. Tension built up over the following day and, during the night of May 2, avenging Hindu mobs, often led by members of the fundamentalist Hindu groups Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), surrounded and threatened Muslim neighborhoods. One Muslim man was burnt alive in his car. In other areas of the city, there were incidents of arson. The situation is still tense and Muslim residents are terrified, fearing a repeat of the 2002 state-backed riots. The army has been called in to prevent an escalation of violence.
The violence follows the 2002 communal violence which swept Gujarat after 59 Hindus died in Godhra when their train carriage caught fire. Blaming their deaths on Muslims, Hindu mobs slaughtered hundreds of Muslims. Tens of thousands were displaced and their property destroyed. The police stood by, refusing to act against a mob which had the protection of the state government. There are allegations that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government under Chief Minister Narandra Modi was involved in planning and carrying out the attacks. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly noted the failure of the authorities to identify and prosecute those who planned and executed the attacks. In cases where witnesses and their lawyers have pursued justice, they have received anonymous threats from supporters of the VHP, RSS, and the Bajrang Dal, and have been persecuted by the state administration. Four years later, many Muslims still live in fear because the attackers remain free and continue to make threats, particularly against those involved in prosecutions. Instead of pursuing the perpetrators of violence, the state government has nurtured a climate of fear.
"In light of the 2002 violence which was sanctioned by some officials, the Gujarat government must be vigilant against extremist violence against helpless civilians," said Adams. "Arresting the perpetrators and bringing them to a speedy and fair trial would allow the BJP to show that it is willing to act against its political allies when they break the law."
In Jammu and Kashmir, horrific recent attacks by militant groups left as many as 35 Hindus in Udhampur and Doda districts dead on April 30 and May 1. According to the police, during the night of May 1, at least 10 heavily armed members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, some dressed in army uniforms, ordered villagers out of their homes in Doda district and then shot them at close range, killing 22. Several others were injured. Earlier, police recovered the bodies of 13 Hindus who had been abducted by militants in Udhampur district; some are still missing. The killings have been condemned by all political, nationalist and separatist leaders in Kashmir, as well as by some Kashmiri militant groups in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba, who say they are not involved.
"A transparent and credible investigation is crucial to identify those responsible for the killings in Jammu and Kashmir," said Adams. "All too often, the security forces and the militant groups blame each other, while justice eludes the victims."
Human Rights Watch called upon the Indian and Pakistani governments to bring to account all those responsible for orchestrating violence against religious and ethnic minorities, whether militants in Jammu and Kashmir or members of the VHP and RSS in Gujarat. At the same time, the national and state governments should launch a high-profile media campaign that includes public service announcements aimed at raising awareness of minority rights and unequivocally condemning religious violence and extremism of all stripes.