The 2002 communal riots in Gujarat may well go down as the darkest chapter in the first decade of 21st century India. An estimated two thousand Muslims were murdered, many burned alive. But what makes this a particularly dark event is the fact that it was methodically planned ahead and actively supported by the state government of the Hindu nationalist party BJP, led by Narendra Modi, still popular and in command in Gujarat. As this Human Rights Watch report, published a month later, notes:
Between February 28 and March 2 the attackers descended with militia-like precision on Ahmedabad by the thousands, arriving in trucks and clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu nationalist-Hindutva-groups. Chanting slogans of incitement to kill, they came armed with swords, trishuls (three-pronged spears associated with Hindu mythology), sophisticated explosives, and gas cylinders. They were guided by computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their properties, information obtained from the Ahmedabad municipal corporation among other sources, and embarked on a murderous rampage confident that the police was with them. In many cases, the police led the charge, using gunfire to kill Muslims who got in the mobs' way. A key BJP state minister is reported to have taken over police control rooms in Ahmedabad on the first day of the carnage, issuing orders to disregard pleas for assistance from Muslims. Portions of the Gujarati language press meanwhile printed fabricated stories and statements openly calling on Hindus to avenge the Godhra attacks.
In almost all of the incidents documented by Human Rights Watch the police were directly implicated in the attacks. At best they were passive observers, and at worse they acted in concert with murderous mobs and participated directly in the burning and looting of Muslim shops and homes and the killing and mutilation of Muslims. In many cases, under the guise of offering assistance, the police led the victims directly into the hands of their killers. Many of the attacks on Muslim homes and places of business also took place in close proximity to police posts. Panicked phone calls made to the police, fire brigades, and even ambulance services generally proved futile. Many witnesses testified that their calls either went unanswered or that they were met with responses such as: "We don't have any orders to save you"; "We cannot help you, we have orders from above"; "If you wish to live in Hindustan, learn to protect yourself"; "How come you are alive? You should have died too"; "Whose house is on fire? Hindus' or Muslims'?" In some cases phone lines were eventually cut to make it impossible to call for help.
I had long heard of Rakesh Sharma's Final Solution, the acclaimed documentary film about the riots. A few months ago I found it online and I can't praise it enough. It is an outstanding record that expanded my understanding of the riots—from the political rallies before the riots, to the minds of the Hindutva ideologues, to their many grassroots organizations in the Sangh Parivar. Using eyewitness accounts, Sharma reveals how the events then unfolded, how the madness spread, and the stories of the people caught in its wheels. A must see for anyone interested in the politics of hate that grips humanity from time to time (duration: 150 mins).