Militants Bully Tribes

Published on Apr 09, 2002 by Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos

Filed under: India

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Social activists turn up evidence that reveals Hindu groups coerced marginalized people

AHMEDABAD, INDIA: Hindu fundamentalist organizations in the state of Gujarat, where ethnic cleansing has been going on for over a month, have, for the first time, used intimidation to recruit marginalized tribal people to drive more than 10,000 Muslims out of their homes in an eastern corridor of the state, says a team of human rights and anti-poverty researchers.

Supported by the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), representing more than 400 social action groups across the country, the team of seven has been visiting refugee camps and villages with minority Muslim populations in areas where tribal people predominate.

The team released its findings at Prashant, a center for human rights, justice and peace run by Jesuit Cedric Prakash who is closely monitoring the systematized slaughter of more than 1300 Muslims in Ahmedabad city where more than 75,000 are now living in refugee camps.

“In contrast to the Hindu mobs,“ said Wilfred Decosta, a member of the team, and national coordinator of INSAF, “the tribal people informed the Muslims in advance that they would be forced to leave, and refused to engage in killing or the torture and rape of women.”

Called Adivasi, tribal people in the state account for about 6.3 million people in Gujarat which has an overall population of about 50 million, five million of them Muslims.

Another team member, Chittaranjan Singh, head of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties in the state of Uttar Pradesh, said that Adivasi were given money and alcohol by militarist Hindu fundamentalist organizations and forced to engage in arson.

“An Adivasi school teacher in a village near Chotaudepur told us that the Adivasi were drunk and acting on instructions. He described what he saw this way: ‘The Muslims who were fleeing were stopped and the trucks carrying their belongings were burnt by the mob. We later spoke to the Adivasi who took part. They said they had been used. There were young boys and men. No women. The women stood and wept silently, watching the destruction.’“

The team also investigated an area called Panchmahal outside the tribal belt where 4,000 Muslim refugees are living in a girls high school in the town of Godhra, site of the beginning of the violence.

At the end of February, 58 Hindu pilgrims were burned to death outside this town after Muslims tossed fire into the car of a train returning from the controversial temple city of Ayodhya where Hindu fundamentalist groups threatened to start building a temple on the ruins of a mosque destroyed by Hindus in l992. According to several reports, at several railway stations along the route, Muslims were attacked by the Hindu pilgrims.

In the aftermath, in four villages in the Panchmahal area, one thousand Muslims died, says the report. Members of the investigative team said that the Hindu mobs killed, tortured and raped women, mirroring the assaults in the city of Ahmedabad -- in sharp contrast to the Tribal mobs in the Tribal belt who restricted their activities to looting and arson.

Kalpana Kannabiran, a law professor from Hyderabad in the state of Andra Pradesh, said that the Muslim refugees they met in refugee camps in the Tribal areas did not hold the Adivasi responsible.

“It was clear to them that they had been paid and used for the job by more powerful political forces. They also recognized that the Adivasi did not really have the choice of refusing.” This information, she said, was in several instances given to the displaced people by the Adivasi themselves.

Wilfred Decosta pointed out that the nature of the village hierarchy in the tribal belt complicates matters. The Adivasi live in the most disadvantaged sections, while the Muslims, who are money lenders traders and small and medium businessmen, are better off.

“The Adivasi,” he said, “have been dependent on the Muslims, and the goodwill between the two groups has been largely one of patron-client going back several decades. The involvement of the Adivasi was limited to economic crime – looting and arson.”

Members of the fact-finding team working in Gujarat said they were outraged by the violence which they fear could infect the rest of the nation. They are determined to support victims by using the legal system.

But law professor Kalpana Kannabiran believes they must go further.“We must show the world that this isn’t just communal violence, but a clear case of genocide sponsored by fundamentalist Hindu groups supported by the state of Gujarat. And we must use the genocide convention to deal with these crimes against humanity.”

This article was originally published in the Montreal Gazette on April 9, 2002.