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Gujarat's Muslims live in terror


By Jill McGivering BBC South Asia correspondent

BBC on line:

It is now more than two months since the Indian state of Gujarat erupted in bitter religious violence.

Unofficial figures say more than 2,000 people have died, the vast majority Muslims killed by Hindus who constitute more than 80% of the state's population.

Independent reports accuse hardline Hindu organisations of orchestrating the violence with the support of India's ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

Fresh deaths are still being reported almost every day and an estimated 150,000 Muslims are still sheltering in relief camps.


In a mosque turned relief camp in the city of Ahmedabad, 16,000 Muslims are crammed together inside the walls of the compound in fear of their lives.

The men were shouting: 'Who do you Muslims think you are? Kill them!'

It is more than two months since these people were forced out of Hindu-dominated neighbourhoods - they still feel unsafe.

While we were there, chaos broke out - news of shootings nearby and injured Muslims were rushed to the camp for help before being taken to hospital.

Some of the injured were treated at the camp.

Nassir, whose hand was badly burnt, told us what happened.

"The mob came with police - they started setting fire to our shops and houses - when we tried to come out, the police opened fire."

Looking the other way

A short drive from the camp, we found the riots still raging, and a group of police officers standing by watching but doing nothing to stop the violence.

Just yards from where the police were standing, we passed the blood-stained bodies of two Muslim men in the road - one dead, one still dying.

Officials later said the riot started when some Muslim families tried to go back to their homes from relief camps and were set upon by Hindus.

Most of those sheltering in the camps fled from Hindu-dominated areas and local Hindus still seem determined to stop them returning.

In other camps, we met Muslims who had had the same experience.

Abdul Jabar has visible head and face wounds. He says six local men beat him up - the police did nothing to stop them.

"The men were shouting: 'Who do you Muslims think you are? Kill them!' There was a police post at the corner and I screamed for help. I said to the mob, the police are right there! They said: 'We don't care - they're on our side.'"

Bias charge

From the beginning, Muslims have accused the police, overwhelmingly Hindu, of deliberately standing by and failing to protect them.

This was confirmed by an independent report by British officials.

Now more than two months later, Muslims say it is still the case.

But it is hard to know if this is still the result of direct orders from political leaders or a symptom of the general collapse of law and order.

RK Mishra of The Pioneer newspaper is a veteran investigative journalist. He says the authorities have simply lost control.

"It's developed momentum of its own. When you send a signal down the law and order machinery saying you have to look the other way, it starts looking the other way."

Hindu hardline drive

But while some see the continuing violence as a lack of control - others see something far more sinister.

Many say privately that the violence is part of a careful plan by Hindu hardliners supported by the BJP, to drive Muslims out of mainstream areas.

At night there's a lot of activity in all-Muslim areas so we're frightened

Hindu resident
"Today there's no place for Muslims, Christians in the state have already been bashed up several times, there are moves to remove the Christians too.

"Soon it will be the other minorities... Exactly what [happened] in Nazi Germany."

A minister in the Gujarat state government, Ashok Bhatt, explained to me the BJP's view that Muslims, not Hindus, are causing the violence.

He thinks they are in league with the ISI, the intelligence agency of Pakistan, India's perceived enemy.

That paranoia about a Muslim plot runs through many Hindu neighbourhoods. We visited an area which used to be peacefully integrated - pre-dominantly Hindu but with a Muslim minority.

Now though, all the Muslims have fled and the Hindu residents here seem convinced that local Muslims are now being armed by Pakistan and preparing to attack.

"We don't know exactly how they're getting arms but at night there's a lot of activity in all-Muslim areas so we're frightened," said one man.

But despite the fact many Hindus seem convinced of this, no-one can produce any evidence at all that it is actually happening.

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