Shailendra Marathe
Gujarat 2002: Riots or “Genocide”?
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Any question around Narendra Modi’s complicity in the Gujarat 2002 riots is best left to the judiciary, precisely, to the Supreme Court appointed SIT (Special Investigation Team). The judicial battle to prove or disprove Modi’s complicity in the Gujarat 2002 riots has been fought like none other, hence only the most biased mind will blame the judiciary in case Modi is finally acquitted. However there is a huge army of intellectuals, media anchors, editors, activists, academics, etc. who are not agreeable to the judicial verdicts that may in future possibly exonerate Modi. This small but vocal community of agenda driven intellectuals and social scientists have continued with their claims of Modi’s complicity in the “genocide” or “pogrom” of Gujarat 2002. Hence, while leaving the judgment of culpability to the courts, it becomes imperative that we challenge the usage of terms “genocide” or “pogrom” that are being deployed to describe the Gujarat riots of 2002, in the light of this being potentially the top strategy of the “secular” political parties in the upcoming general and State level elections.

Any attempt at putting the Gujarat 2002 riots in the correct perspective is met with the cries of the activists and the “liberals” who accuse the proponent of playing “your riots versus my riots” game. Moving on, you are immediately categorized as “Hindutva- vadi”, “Islamophobic” and declared untouchable.Recent attempts at vilification of Madhu Kishwar by public figures like Shabana Azmi (and many others) are just one example that highlights how deep the fault-lines run. Riots are riots, and any attempt at justifying or glorifying them deserves utmost contempt.

But, likewise, any attempts at using memories of riots and twisting facts for rousing passions, deepening and widening religious fault-lines, politicizing communal divide and discrediting opposing point of view also deserves equal, if not more, contempt. And, this is precisely what, the activists and others who call Gujarat 2002 riots as “genocide” or “pogrom” frequently resort to. Hence, we must evaluate the Gujarat 2002 riots to see whether it’s correctly described as “genocide”, by using widely accepted definition. While there are various definitions of the term, almost all international bodies of law officially adjudicate the crime of genocide pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UN CPPCG). We will therefore use the UN CPPCG definition for reference.


What is “genocide”?

The legal definition of “Genocide” is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to preventbirths within the group; [and] (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

(Emphasis supplied)

 We will stick to the legal definition of “genocide” as adapted by UN CPPCG. Let’s dissect the UN CPPCG definition and explore whether riots of 2002 in Gujarat could be classified as “genocide” accordingly.Key words in the definition are highlighted in bold above, and explored in detail below.


Keywords:”any of the following acts committed…”

The definition is wide enough to say that “any” of the acts committed as listed qualifies as “genocide”. Thus, it is not necessary that the religious conversion of children of one group to another must take place in every case for the violence to be classified as “genocide”. Likewise, imposition of measures to prevent births within group is also not a mandatory condition. The reason for listing these two conditions (namely, religious conversions of children, and prevention of births) here is that these can be ruled out altogether in Gujarat 2002 context, while the others have to be discussed elaborately.


Keywords: “..with the intention to destroy in whole or part…”

The definition however, qualifies in the beginning itself that the acts should be “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part…a religious group”. Thus, it’s clear that the “intent” to destroy is mandatory condition along with the actions enumerated in the definition and therefore both must exist. E.g., a fight between a Christian and a Muslim due to a dispute related to land ownership, if escalated into a communal riot in the village with attendant deaths, may not be classified as “genocide”. It may display all the characteristics of a riot between two religious groups, with killings, and the Christians in the village could have come together on one side, and Muslims on the other; but still using the term “genocide” for the riot in question will amount to a politico- religious propaganda with ulterior motives. Alternative definitions of Genocide are generally regarded by the genocide scholars to also have “intent to destroy” as a requirement for any act to be labeled as “genocide”.


Keywords: “..national, ethnical, racial or religious group…”

At the cost of stating the obvious, it must be recorded here that the riots of 2002 in Gujarat did not involve “national, ethnical, or racial groups”. The Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat, as in all parts of India, are of the same nationality, ethnicity and race. There could be minor exceptions on ethnicity and race here and there, but they are not relevant to Gujarat 2002. Hence religious identity is the only relevant factor here (Hindus and Muslims).


Keywords: Gujarat 2002 and “intent to destroy…a religious group”

While “intention to destroy” and involvement of two “religious groups” are indisputably involved in every religious riot in India including Gujarat 2002, what needs a serious debate is, whether Gujarat riots of 2002 were planned with intent to destroy a religious group. The activists who advocate that Gujarat 2002 was “genocide” will naturally question why the word “planned” is being introduced in the debate. The plain answer is that, without making this as a part implicit in the UN definition, each and every riot in India (or elsewhere), including those not between people of religious groups, will automatically be covered as “genocide”. Such wide import can’t obviously be the intention of UN CPPCG. Likewise, if you refer to the instances of genocides on which there is a wide consensus of the classification as such, those definitely have a “planning” element implicit in the destruction.

In the initial days of propaganda, it was claimed that the “Sangh Parivar” had planned the riots (or genocide) and with that objective, Sangh Parivar organizations themselves organized the burning of the train compartment S-6 at Godhra on 27 February 2002. And that the subsequent riots were well- planned in advance and that the “Sangh Parivar” and related organizations were well- prepared for the subsequent riots of an unprecedented scale. The subsequent investigations by the Supreme Court (SC) appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) has gone through voluminous evidence, heard a number of depositions, cross- examined a number of witnesses including the activists (most of who were not present in Gujarat on those fateful days, but were sure of what happened!). The SIT furnished the report on the basis of which the court convicted 31 people includingconspirators Haji Bilal, Abdul RazakKurkur, Jabir Behra, SalimZarda and MehbubHasan alias Latiko. The court upheld that there was a conspiracy behind the attack on the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express.

A number of attempts have been made to portray this heinous act as an accident, or as an act which took place due to negligence of the people inside the train compartment. Several attempts were made to portray that the “alleged” burning of the train never took place, or that the Hindus traveling in the train “invited” violence by provoking innocent bystanders (incidentally, Muslims), or that the accident was purposely used to instigate the large-scale violence. All of these have been proven by the SIT and the Court to be baseless arguments.

What subsequently followed were riots on a scale which were not new to Gujarat or to other states in India. Gujarat has a history of communal violence and there were large- scale Hindu- Muslim riots in 1969, 1980, 1982, 1985, and 1990-92. Official figures of the number of deaths in 1969 riots between Hindus and Muslims indicate a total of 512 dead, of which 430 Muslims. None of these earlier riots involve a provocation as big as the Godhra train burning incident, which was on a massive scale (59 deaths). Recent riots in Assam (2012) lasted for a long time and have led to 77 deaths, but we have not heard anyone claiming that these are “genocide”. Likewise Nellie riots of 1983(2,191 deaths, all Muslims), which lasted only six hours of a morning of 18 February, indicating these were indeed pre-planned, are not described as “genocide” by activists or political parties.

It would be foolish to argue that the rioting mobs of Hindus or Muslims that attacked the residences and shops of the other community did not “intend” to destroy the other community. However, it is another matter altogether to insinuate that the riots were plannedwith the intent to destroy another community. And, if it is so presumed, all the riots in Gujarat pre- and post- independence must also be classified as “genocide” because they also involved “intent” to destroy! But none of the activists appear to be arguing that the riots between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat and in other parts of India prior to 2002 or later were “genocides”. At the cost of repetition, specific mention must be made of the Gujarat (1969) and Nellie (1983) riots in this connection.Any attempts to paint 2002 riots in Gujarat as “genocide” without corresponding accusation of genocide against Congress governments is a pure politically motivated propaganda by people who have scant regard for the human life, and deserves to be called out for what it is.


Keywords: Killing or serious bodily or mental harm

Saying that the riots of 2002 in Gujarat did not cause “killing members of the group”, or “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” would be one of the most atrocious statements of the millennium. It would probably rank on par with those statements of the activists and politicians which implied that the Hindus in the S-6 compartment “invited” death by being burnt alive, by going peacefully to Ayodhya for the pilgrimage. Hence I have no intention of deliberating more on this. The number of deaths accepted by the Supreme Court appointed SIT, at 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, is evidence enough that there indeed was “killing” of members of the group, and “a serious bodily harm”. It’s only logical to accept without further argument that there must have been attendant mental harm.


Q. “Intent to destroy” which religious group?

What must be discussed, however, is which is the “group” in question, whose members suffered from the killings and harm. The riots started with a Muslim mob attacking a train compartment in which 59 Hindus were trapped. The attack was planned well in advance. The ground – work for attack as well as the necessary fuel for burning of the compartment was readily available with the rioting mob. The attack did not involve even slightest of the provocation from the Hindus inside the train compartment. This is not to imply that “provocation” could justify a burning of 59 innocent people, as most of the activists have suggested over last few years. The riots as such were definitely started with”intent” to destroy members of the Hindu group.

The situation escalated in the following days and weeks leading to a large scale destruction of the lives as well as properties ofboth Hindus and Muslims.As compared to the 1984 Delhi riots in which only Sikhs were killed (more than 4,000 in Delhi alone), or 1983 Nelli riots in which only Muslims were killed (more than 2,000), in the Gujarat 2002 riots there was an uncontrollable eruption of violence that led to unfortunate deaths of both the communities. Every death is condemnable; however, the limited point that we must acknowledge here is that, the deaths did not occur only in the Muslim community. The rioters killed in police and military action also involved members of both the communities, indicating there was violence and rioting from both the communities. Thus, this does not amount to the “killing or bodily or mental harm” to members of a specific community (of Muslims, as alleged). And this is a crucial factor that separates a riot from “genocide”.

If every riot leading to a killing of members of one community regardless of the context were to be treated as “genocide”, the UN would not have gone through the motions of arriving at a precise definition of the “genocide”. Likewise, if there was no political leverage in using the term “genocide” when unwarranted, the activists and “secular” politicians would not have used the term “genocide” for Gujarat 2002, at the exclusion of the other riots.


Keywords: ..”conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction…”

The definition of “genocide” under UN CPPCG was agreed after exhaustive review of the genocides known to the historians. Therefore apart from killings and bodily harm which are involved in any form of violence between communities, additionally, the UN included “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” as amounting to genocide. It must be understood that such “inflicting on the group conditions of life” does not take place within days, weeks or months. Such actions take place over a longer period of time, and usually transcend generations.


The riots of 2002 in Gujarat could not by themselves be the cause of “conditions of life” inflicted on Muslims to bring about physical destruction. If there is indeed such an action, the blame must be shared by the successive Governments in Gujarat over decades. It should be noted that Congress party has been in power for a number of years since independence, much longer than BJP, and except for the 2002 riots, all other riots have taken place under Congress rule. The activists who portray 2002 riots as “genocide, however, do not ever accuse Congress governments of perpetuating such “conditions of life” on Muslims in Gujarat. Likewise, this logic is never extended to include the plight of Muslims in other states including Paschim Banga, UP and Bihar, which has been documented by the Sachar committee, as worse than in Gujarat. Muslims in Gujarat, were indicated to be better off in terms of Education and Economic well-being than the national average. Even in terms of employment Gujarat had a better share of Muslims in government jobs (5.4%) than compared to states like West Bengal (2.1%) and New Delhi (3.2%).


If Muslims in Gujarat have been subjected to such “conditions of life”, the same argument could be made for Maharashtra (which was a part of Mumbai state, from which Gujarat is separated), which has seen as many riots as Gujarat. The “condition of life” of Muslims in Maharashtra is not substantially different from Gujarat. In fact based on different voices that are emerging from Gujarat and Sachar committee, “conditions of life” of Muslims in Gujarat appear to be better than the condition in the rest of India. Much has been said on this subject in recent months; hence this does not need too much elaboration. This factor therefore does not apply to Gujarat 2002 riots in isolation, unless we extend it to include earlier riots in non – BJP regimes, and also logically extend this argument to other States including Maharashtra.


Keywords: “..preventing births and forcibly transferring children…”

While the activists and “secular” politicians have not resorted to this allegation so far, it must be still recorded that there is no attempt by Gujarat government of “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”. In fact, after Congress party sponsored forced birth control during emergency years, the backlash after emergency ensured that the State’s involvement in family planning is reduced to near zero. We have not heard of any complaints about forcibly transferring children of the group to another group, which typically happens in a classic example of a genocide where the adult population (mainly male) is the target of killing and bodily harm, slave- trade or forcible religious conversions, and female population and children are taken “hostage” through conversions and forcible marriages. Therefore riots of 2002 in Gujarat can’t be classified as “genocide” by this criterion.


Propaganda of “genocide” and Gujarat 2002

The above analysis of the Gujarat 2002 riots on the parameters laid down by the UN CPPCG clearly indicates that the riots were not by any stretch of imagination “genocide”.

However, if you view any debate on this subject, it indicates that, sub-consciously we have accepted the terms “genocide” or “pogrom” as apt description of Gujarat 2002 riots. In fact, any attempt to question their usage is viewed as un-necessary or at worse, an act of condoning of the violence. Those who advocate that the Gujarat 2002 riots were a “pogrom” or “genocide” do not appear to think it is necessary to define a framework for what should or should not qualify those descriptions. A few of the attempts at justifying the usage of terms is noted below.


A group “Coalition Against Genocide” deals with Gujarat 2002 in various papers published by them, notable ones being (1) Genocide in Gujarat- The Sangh Parivar, Narendra Modi, and the Government of Gujarat, March 2005, (2) Threatened Existence: A Feminist Analysis of the Genocide in Gujarat, December 2003, and (3) The Next Generation: In the Wake of the Genocide- A Report on the Impact of the Gujarat Pogrom on Children and the Young, Un-dated. These reports appear to be a result of exhaustive ground-work by many activists, who have painstakingly documented various atrocities committed in the riots and in the following months. On expected lines, these reports avoid mention of Godhra train burning event, as also of any riots and atrocities against Hindus.


While I would like to give full benefit of doubt and not challenge the motives of the activists, it must be mentioned that the organization named “Coalition Against Genocide” has not made any sincere attempt to hold Gujarat 2002 riots to scrutiny against the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). The paper “Genocide in Gujarat- The Sangh Parivar, Narendra Modi, and the Government of Gujarat, March 2005” quotes the UN CPPCG definition and decrees that the Gujarat 2002 riots fulfill the criteria outlined in the UN CPPCG for “genocide”. The only justification cited is that as per “independent human rights observers, the events that transpired in Gujarat between February 28 and March 02 conform to the specifications of genocide”! It also mentions that “In Gujarat, as the International Initiative for Justice identified, the (first) four of the above criteria were met” for classifying the riots as “genocide”. Out of a total of few hundred pages of reports published, this is probably the only serious attempt by “Coalition Against Genocide” at subjecting the riots to the scrutiny of definition as per UN CPPCG!


The “International Initiative for Justice“, has three publications are available on the website: (1) The International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat: An Interim Report, by Panel for the International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat, March, 2004, (2) The Gujarat Pogrom of 2002, by Paul Brass, March, 2004, and (3) Understanding Gujarat Violence, by Ashutosh Varshney, March 2004. All these publications are dated March 26, 2004. None of these papers attempt to justify the usage of term “genocide” for Gujarat 2002.


Ashutosh Varshney’s paper however, does make an attempt to justify why Gujarat 2002 is a “pogrom”; the paper does not term Gujarat 2002 as “genocide” even once, but sticks to the term “pogrom”. Sanjay Chetia, in his March 2012 article “Anatomy of a Pogrom“, reviewed riots of Nellie (1983), Delhi (1984), Bhagalpur (1989), Jammu and Kashmir (1985-1989),Mumbai (1992), and Gujarat (2002). Sanjay uses a commonly agreed definition, whereby “for a riot to be described as a pogrom, it should meet at least the following criteria: (a) Proven inaction by Police, (b) Hush-hush inquiry following the incident and a report that never sees the light of the day, (c) Active media’s connivance in burying the news and is never mentioned after a while, (d) No demand from the so called civil society and intelligentsia for prosecution & conviction, (e) Little or no conviction rate by judicial process. He reaches a conclusion that Gujarat riots of 2002 can’t be “categorized as a Pogrom by any objective standards.


A lay man whether Hindu or Muslim must be forgiven for using such terms interchangeably and the emotions that lead to usage of such terms is understandable. However, the usage of such terms for riots of 2002 in Gujarat by those who claim to have studied social sciences, history, literature, mass communications, or journalism deserves close scrutiny, since the statements by these people are accepted by all and sundry as gospel truth. Any usage of such terms without thorough examination against widely accepted definition such as UN CPPCG should be immediately challenged since the politically motivated activists, media barons and politicians make their subsequent arguments with expectation that they will be challenged to prove those as well.