[Vision2020] India's Kristallnacht: Hindu Attacks on Muslims in Gujurat

Nicholas Gier ngier006 at gmail.com
Mon Nov 18 14:38:15 PST 2013

Dear Visionaries,

Here is another column out of my forthcoming book "The Origins of Religious
Violence: An Asian Perspective" (Lexington Books, 2015).  A longer version
is attached.

May religious and national identities never be fused,


*India’s Kristallnacht:*

*Hindu Attacks on Muslims in Gujurat*

 *These Muslims do not allow the Rama*

*temple at Ayodhya. They should be killed.*

—A Hindu Nationalist Official

            In early 2002 the Indian state of Gujurat experienced extensive
sectarian violence in which upwards of 2,000—mostly Muslims—suffered deaths
by burning, hacking, and occasional gun fire.  Many of the Hindu
nationalists who instigated these attacks admire Hilter and Mussolini, so a
comparison to a Nazi pogrom against Jews is relevant here.

On November 9, 2013, the world acknowledged the 75th anniversary of
*Kristallnacht*, the “Night of Broken Glass” in 1938 Germany.  While police
and citizens stood by passively, Nazi Storm Troopers destroyed over 1,000
synagogues and about 7,000 Jewish businesses.

There is now solid evidence that as early as November 2001 various Hindu
nationalist organizations, related to the BJP political party, distributed
weapons (mainly swords and spears) to thousands of people for a campaign to
protect Hindus from Muslim “terrorists.”

On February 26, 2002, the Sabarmati Express departed for Gujurat from the
north, and it contained Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya.  A temporary
temple to the Hindu god Rāma had been set up there after the Babri Mosque
was destroyed on December 6, 1992.

The next morning the train arrived at the Godhra station in Gujurat’s Dahod
district. A press report relates that at the station, “a Muslim girl was
molested and an attempt made to pull her into the train. A Muslim tea
vendor. . . was insulted and sent out of the coach by the rowdy elements,
some of whom climbed onto the roof of the train and made obscene gestures
at Muslim women.”

As the train pulled out it stopped as an intense fire broke out in one of
the coaches. The corpses were essentially incinerated, but the assumption
is that most the 94 people burned alive were Hindu pilgrims. Hindu
nationalists claim that Muslims set the fire, but every single
investigation, except one done by the state BJP government, concluded that
the fire was an accident caused by a stove on one the coach. Nevertheless,
in February 2013, 31 Muslims were convicted in a Gujarati court for setting
the fire and 11 of them are due to be executed.

After the train fire, the Hindu nationalist plan was executed all over
Gujarat; and Chief Minister Narendra Modi, according one of his own cabinet
members, told his police force to allow the pogrom against Muslims to run
its course. Hindu-instigated violence was state-wide, comprising 21 cities
and 68 provinces, and even extended into rural areas where there had never
been any sectarian conflict.

The pogrom continued for several months and the official death count was
822 (mostly Muslims), although unofficial sources put the final toll at
over 2,000 killed.  About 250 mosques were destroyed along with hundreds of
Muslim homes. Damage to Muslim businesses was estimated at $152 million.

The Indian Commission on Human Rights found that there was “premeditation
in the killing of non-Hindus [and] complicity by Gujarati state government
officials.” A chilling reminder is that the main inspiration for one of the
main BJP organizations was Mussolini’s Brown Shirts.

            Gujarat is Gandhi’s home state, and in 1917 he established an
ashram on Sabarmati River. He and his disciples called it home until the
British confiscated it in 1933.  It is, therefore, sadly ironic that Lal
Krishna Advani, who was BJP’s prime minister candidate in the 2009
election, represents the Sabarmati area in the Indian Parliament.

            Modi is now being touted as the prime minister candidate in
federal elections late this year. The fact that Modi may well be facing
criminal charges for his role in the pogrom against Muslims does not appear
to deter his supporters. Modi’s BJP party once led a conservative coalition
government from 1998-2004, and I hope that Indira Gandhi’s current fragile
left-center coalition can continue to rule this sometimes politically
unruly nation.

Nick Gier taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31
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