Godhra: the True Story
Godhra: the True Story is a paper by Nicole Elfi about the Godhra train burning.
Godhra, a city of the Indian State of Gujarat, was the lead story in all Indian newspapers on February 27th-28th, 2002. A shattering piece of news: 58 Hindu pilgrims had been burned alive in a train. “57 die in ghastly attack on train” ran the Times of India’s headline; “Mob targets Ramsevaks [Devotees of Rama] returning from Ayodhya”; “58 killed in attack on train with Karsevaks [volunteers]” (The Indian Express); “1500-strong mob butcher 57 Ramsevaks on Sabarmati Express” (The Asian Age). But the BBC’s announcement had a very different tone: “58 Hindu ‘extremists’ burned to death” … or Agence France Press on March 2nd: “A train full of Hindu ‘extremists’ was burnt.”
A deluge of anguished news followed about a “Muslim genocide”: “Mass killings of Muslims in reprisal riots” (NYT, March 5th), “The authorities … share the prejudices of the Hindu gangs who have been busy pulping their Muslim neighbours” (The Observer, March 4th). We were told that Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, intended to eradicate Muslims from the State — more than 9% of Gujarat’s population, in other words five million people. We read that the police was conniving in the mass slaughter and did nothing to prevent it. Narendra Modi was compared to Hitler, or Nero. We shuddered reading the reports describing rapes and various horrors, supposedly inflicted on Muslims by Hindus.
Today, six years later, with the noises and cries of the wounds having fallen silent, what emerges from those events? What are the facts?
At 7:43 A.M. on February 27th, 2002, the Sabarmati Express rolled into the Godhra station, fortunately with a four-hour delay, in broad daylight. This train transported more than 2,000 people, mainly karsewaks on their way back to Ahmedabad after participating in the Poorna Ahuti Yagya at Ayodhya, a ritual at the traditional birthplace of Rama.
As it pulled out of the station, the train was pelted with stones and bricks, and passengers from several bogeys were forced to bring down their windows to protect themselves. Someone pulled the emergency chain: the train came to a halt about 100 metres away from the platform, surrounded by a large crowd of Muslims. The railway police managed to disperse the crowd, and the train resumed its journey.
Within minutes, the emergency chain was simultaneously pulled again, from several coaches. It halted at about 700 metres from the station. A crowd of over 1,000 surrounded the train, pelting it with bricks, stones, then burning missiles and acid bulbs, especially on the S-5, S-6 and S-7 coaches.
The vacuum pipe between coaches S-6 and S-7 was cut, thereby preventing any further movement of the train. The doors were locked from outside. A fire started in coach S-7, which the passengers were able to extinguish. But the attack intensified and coach S-6 caught fire and minutes later, was in flames. Passengers who managed to get out of the burning compartment were attacked with sharp weapons, and stoned. They received serious injuries, some were killed. Others got out through the windows and took shelter below the coach.
Fifty eight pilgrims were burned alive, including twenty-seven women and ten children. The whole attack lasted 20-25 minutes.
What transpired then, in the Indian press? Let’s imagine a coach of French pilgrims coming back from Lourdes, burned alive.
Strangely, instead of clearly, straightforwardly condemning the act, the Indian English-language press tried to justify it: “Pilgrims provoked by chanting pro-Hindu slogans” (they were not slogans but bhajans, or devotional songs, ending with “Jai Sri Ram” (Victory to Sri Rama). “It’s because they were returning from Ayodhya, where they asked for the reconstruction of a temple at the traditional birth place of Rama; this offends the feelings of the Muslims.” In sum, the victims, roasted alive, were guilty.
- The Godhra Riots Postscript: The Masterminds
- The Godhra Riots:Sifting Fact from Fiction