By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 26, 2007
NEW DELHI, Oct. 25 -- Five years after one of India's worst episodes of Hindu-Muslim violence, a series of videotaped confessions released Thursday showed Hindu activists acknowledging their roles in the killings and detailing blatant state collusion.
In the video footage, recorded as part of an undercover expos¿ by a New Delhi-based weekly magazine called Tehelka, Hindu activists and politicians bragged about hacking Muslims to death and burning their bodies. One assailant said he slit open a pregnant woman's stomach.
The violence began in February 2002 when a Muslim mob torched a train in India's western Gujarat state, killing 58 Hindu passengers. Angry Hindu groups launched a wave of reprisal killings and set fire to Muslim homes and shops across the region. In all, an estimated 1,000 people died.
Human rights groups in India and the United States have charged that Gujarat's ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, tacitly supported the mob violence against Muslims. Several thousand cases related to the riots are still pending in Indian courts and state inquiry committees.
At a packed news conference on Thursday, the editor of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, released the magazine's forthcoming issue, which contains 106 pages of coverage on the killings. Two national television channels broadcast images that had been taken as part of the expos¿. In some parts of Gujarat's capital, Ahmedabad, where the issue of the riots remains sensitive, cable operators reportedly switched off their service to block stories on the subject.
"It is a very disturbing story; it is not a story you can take joy from," Tejpal told reporters. "There is a complete absence of remorse in these confessions. The perpetrators of the violence have themselves confessed to the crime. It is a story that makes me worry about the kind of India we are living in."
The video footage, by Ashish Khetan, a reporter for the magazine, showed Hindu activists confessing to dousing petrified Muslims in kerosene and burning them alive. The footage also showed a Hindu nationalist politician saying that the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, had "given us three days time to do whatever we could. After three days, he asked to stop and everything came to a halt."
Modi has previously said the Hindu violence was a spontaneous reaction to the attack on the trains.
A Hindu religious activist who has been accused of slitting open a pregnant woman's stomach said he showed Muslims "what kind of revenge we can take if our people are killed."
The disclosures come in the run-up to a December state election in Gujarat, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is still in power. The party's spokesman in New Delhi, Prakash Javdekar, dismissed the Tehelka story as a political conspiracy by the opposition Congress party.
For many Muslim leaders, the video footage released Thursday did not come as a surprise.
"None of these confessions are new to us. We have experienced all this firsthand," said Shakeel Ahmed, a legal activist in Gujarat and a member of the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights. An application for a new investigation into the violence has been pending in the Supreme Court for the past two years.
"But this will mount enormous moral pressure on the state government, because the perpetrators themselves are admitting to the heinous crimes," Ahmed said. "Whether it will bring justice depends on political will. Many of the accused are our rulers today. Who will investigate them?"