Prelude to the Carnage Documenting the communal buildup to the Gujarat carnage of 2002

21, Feb 2022 | CJP Team

The 2002 Gujarat Genocide may not have been as “spontaneous” as some would have us believe. The Hindutva machinery had been hard at work creating discord and spreading hate for weeks, months, even years before the actual Gujarat violence of February 2002. Communalism Combat had been tracking these developments. Here are a few select instances documented by the magazine.


All stories before and after the Gujarat carnage of 2002, that were published in Communalism Combat, were the result of intrepid reporting and painstaking research by Teesta Setalvad. She has been covering Gujarat since the mid 1980s for various Indian publications, and for Communalism Combat since 1998. Given the wide network she had as a journalist, she was at the forefront of the coverage of the Gujarat genocidal carnage in 2002. Here, in the Prelude, are excerpts from cover stories authored by her in  Communalism Combat. Setalvad visited the various sites of carnage as well as the shelter camps and spoke to survivors and the families of victims. She often had limited or no resources compared to other reporters from mainstream media, and yet Setalvad managed to get some of the most stark and heart-rending stories from one of the darkest periods in Indian history.

Communal build-up in Gujarat in 1998

In the October 1998 edition, CC published the findings of a fact-finding mission undertaken by independent journalists and street-theatre activists from Delhi, who toured the region — from Zankhvav to Bardoli to Vadodara to Ahmedabad to Saurashtra — from August 23 to 29, 1998.

They began their journey from Surat where Muslim autorikshaw drivers plying autos at night had been targeted, robbed and physically assaulted. The team also came across posters saying “Vishwa Hindu Parishad welcomes you to Hindu Rashtra’s village” in villages along the way.

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In the three preceding months incidents of communal violence sparked by interfaith marriages had been coming in regularly from Bardoli. On June 20, about 300 copies of the New Testament were burnt by a crowd of over 150 persons, inside the I.P. Girls Senior Secondary School — a 103–year–old Christian Missionary institution in Rajkot.

The team also reported another chilling incident that occurred just a few days before their visit, “In Sanjeli, we found that on August 15 – Independence Day– more than 35 shops of Muslims were looted. Their houses were destroyed and stoned. A Father from the town church tried to stop the attack. His intervention earned him the wrath of the culprits. They also destroyed a statue of Mother Mary in the church.” In all the places the team visited, they found an active circulation of literature announcing, “When Hindus Rise, Christians run away”. They gathered several leaflets and hand–outs saying, “Jai Shri Ram. We all are Hindus. Let us unite and stop the bloody tendencies of the Christians”. There is no dearth of such literature against Muslims, too. The entire report as published originally may be read here.

Trishul distribution in Rajasthan in 2001

The November 2001 edition of CC documented the various Trishul Diksha Samarohs (Trident distribution ceremonies) that took place in Rajasthan. But the Trishuls were actually carefully disguised Rampuri knives!

“Of immediate concern is the systematic distribution of a few hundred thousand ‘trishuls’ — cleverly disguised Rampuri knives, six–eight inches long and sharp enough to kill —, delivering the lethal instrument to ‘every Hindu household’ in villages where the Trishul Diksha Samaroh is conducted. As we go to press, over seven districts in Rajasthan have had active ‘trishul’ distribution programmes. Raipur, Kotda, Jaipur and Asind are only some of the places around which the campaign was being carried out. Most others have also been covered in this brazen attempt to militarise society in the garb of a religious programme,” CC had reported at the time. At the time of publishing that piece, over 40 lakh such weapons may have been distributed nationwide.

It further explained, “The trishul, like the kirpan, is exempt from the provisions of Indian law on the ground that it is a religious symbol,” asking, “But when a weapon, specifically because of it’s religious symbolism, is used to arm persons already charged with hatred against other sections of society and is likely to be used as a terror tool, is such an exemption justified? Is this not tantamount to violating tenets of the Indian Constitution and the Indian Arms Act that are based on principles of a non–violent and non–armed civil society?”

The entire original piece may be read here.

Imposition of Hindu deities on Adivasis in Maharashtra

The December 2001 edition of CC carried a special report about how Hindutva groups were strengthening their foothold in Jowhar, Mukhoda and Vikramgarh talukas by attempting to conflate the Adivasi identity with Vanvasi or forest-dwellers, thereby subtly bringing them within the Hindutva fold.

“A Rath yatra was taken through Adivasi villages in Nandurbar district last year (2000), proclaiming that Jagadamba (a Hindu goddess) was Deo Mogra, the Bitta Bhill Adivasi goddess. It has also published and distributed, free of cost, a booklet entitled, ‘Adivasi Hinduch Ahe’ (‘Adivasis are Hindus’) in large numbers,” reported CC.

It is well known that a vast section of Adivasis do not identify as Hindu and have been practicing their own religions. But given how many of these religions have some common elements with Hinduism, for example ancestor worship, animist, nature worship etc., the Hindutva groups have been trying to peddle the narrative that Adivasis are Hindu, with the broader objective of not only erasing their own unique identity, but also do away with the need for reservations for Scheduled Tribes (ST).

The Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) was at the forefront of this Hindutva campaign. “The Nasik centre of the VKA has distributed in thousands a portrait in colour of ‘Birsa wearing a sacred thread’ along with a short biography portraying him as a militant defender of Hinduism who fought against the church and missionaries. It has also distributed a fabricated biographical booklet on Birsa among Adivasis with the same intent,” reported CC. The entire piece as published originally in CC may be read here.

Communal build-up before the carnage

In the weeks preceding the carnage, several right-wing leaders had made a series of communally chared statements. Here are a few examples culled from media reports at that time and that were published in the March-April 2002 edition of CC:

February 7: “The speedy construction of the Ram temple is the only befitting reply to Islamic terrorism which has shaken the pillars of even the Indian Parliament,” he said. Togadia said it was high time the government banned the madrassas in the country as they had been converted into factories manufacturing Islamic militants.”
Pravin Togadia, VHP international general secretary, in The Times of India

February 7: “I told you, we have had an overdose of these pseudos whom you so fondly call secularists. These self-appointed secularists can no longer fool the Hindus who are aware of the elaborate plan to damage our religion and religious beliefs. Take it from me that our level of tolerance can be stretched no more. And those who come in our way will be pulverised.”
Acharya Giriraj Kishore, VHP senior vice-president, in an interview to

February 7: “We wouldn’t want to sacrifice the present BJP-led Centre that is sympathetic to our cause. But if it has to go at some stage in the cause of Ram temple construction, we can’t help it.”
Ashok Singhal, VHP international president,The Indian Express.

February 7: “It will either have to be Pakistan or the mandir. The mosque constructed by Babur at Ayodhya 450 years ago by destroying the Ram temple and the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre are symbols of Islamic jihad. It is necessary for India, Jews and the Western world to come together and fight Islamic militants.”
Pravin Togadia, VHP, at a press conference in Mumbai, The Asian Age.

February 7: “If our government is ready to finish Pakistan, we are ready to wait. However, our two demands are, take over Pakistan and allow the temple construction. If one is not happening, the other will. Therefore, we have given time to the government till March 12.”
Pravin Togadia, VHP, at a press conference in Mumbai, The Times of India.

February 11: “Solution to the Kashmir problem lies through Ayodhya…. The jehadi mindset has to be defeated at all costs.”
Pravin Togadia, VHP, at a news conference in Bhubaneshwar, PTI.

February 11:“Besides contesting the legal action, VHP can go to the people and say that matters of faith cannot be decided by court. They can cite a precedent. The Muslims did not accept the Supreme Court verdict in Shah Bano case and at that time, Congress had brought in a legislation to change that verdict.”
Jana Krishnamurthy, BJP president, in an interview in the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya, quoted in The Times of India.

February 11: “We are ready to face anything and even to face the bullets when it’s a question of faith.”
Acharya Giriraj Kishore, VHP, at a press conference in Coimbatore, PTI.

February 12: “We are everything. BJP, VHP, RSS. So where is the question of a fight?”
Ambika Nishad, a BJP member of the nagar panchayat, Ayodhya, in The Times of India.

February 14:“We cannot wait for the judiciary to decide the faith of a particular community.”
— Pravin Togadia, VHP, at a press conference in Vijaywada, Newstime.

February 14: “Today a situation has come when no railway station or bus station is safe from the threat of attack from Islamic terrorists. The only option left before the country is to declare a full-fledged war against Islamic militants and defeat it, roundly and squarely.”
Pravin Togadia, VHP, at a press conference in Vijaywada, Deccan Herald.

February 17:“The statements of sants and sadhus never hurt me.”
Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the VHP castigating his government’s stand on Ayodhya, at a poll campaign press conference in Lucknow, in The Times of India.

February 19: “The jehadi mentality that led Babar to destroy the Ram temple at Ayodhya more than 400 years ago was the same mentality that led to partition of the country in 1947, attack on the World Trade Center at New York on September 11 last year and attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001.”
— Pravin Togadia, at a press conference in Bhopal, PTI.

February 19:“No court in the world has the right, moral or legal, to adjudicate on a matter of faith. The birthplace of Lord Ram is a matter of faith just as Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ was of great significance to the Christians. There is no question of shifting the location of the temple, no matter who had ownership rights to the land.”
Pravin Togadia, at a press conference in Bhopal, The Times of India.

February 21: NEW DELHI: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad today warned of a “Hindu backlash” against those daring to oppose the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya on March 15, even as it made it clear that nothing would now delay the project even for a day. Several VHP leaders spoke simultaneously from different parts of the country — Ashok Singhal and Acharya Giriraj Kishore here, Pravin Togadia from Jaipur and Sadanand Kakade from Kochi – as if to hammer home the point that they are determined to start gathering the crowds of kar sevaks (voluntary workers) at Ayodhya from this weekend to get a 10 lakh strong crowd by March 15 when construction would begin at the pravesh dwar (entrance of the temple), where shilanyas was performed in the late Eighties.
Ashok Singhal, VHP,inThe Hindu.

February 21:“If a masjid has to be constructed, it should be done outside the 84 acre area and at a distance which would not lead to any confrontation.”
Ashok Singhal, poohpoohing an RSS suggestion that a mosque be constructed on the Saryu river banks in Ayodhya, in an interview to a private TV channel, quoted in The Times of India.

February 21: “When we say clearly there was a temple and it is the birth place of Ram, the Muslims refuse to discuss the matter.”
Ashok Singhal, VHP, responding to the suggestion of a negotiated settlement over Ayodhya, The Times of India.

February 22: The sant who has been the spearhead of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and a major Hindutva protagonist has given a call for arming all Hindus “if India was to be saved from disintegration.” Ramchandra Paramhans, who heads the powerful Digamabar Akhara in Ayodhya, feels it was high time India discarded the ‘Soft State’ tag.

In an exclusive interview to The Pioneer, Paramhans argued that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was also aimed at elimination of terror and in these disquiet times, all Hindus should be given arms. He asserted, “Even we are ready to suspend the temple movement and engage ourselves in the protection of our borders.”
— Ramchandra Paramhans, chairman, Digamabar Akhara in Ayodhya, The Pioneer.

February 22: “BJP does not need Muslims to form government in UP.”
— Atal Behari Vajpayee, PM, at an election rally in Varanasi, The Asian Age.

February 23: (Bajrang Dal national convenor) SK Jain said 20 lakh Dal activists carrying the “trishul” would march to Ayodhya, adding, “they are ready to face any situation.” The Dal leader said: “If any Muslim organisation makes an attempt to rebuild the Babri masjid at Ayodhya, the Bajrang Dal would chant Hanuman Chalisa at Delhi’s Jama Masjid.”

The Dal had drawn up a list of 3,000 mosques across the country that were built after demolishing temples, Jain said. If Muslims did not respect the sentiments of millions of Hindus, the Dal would not be able to stop a “massive upsurge” against these mosques, he said at the VHP office.
SK Jain, Bajrang Dal national convenor, The Telegraph.

February 23:VADODARA: An altercation between people and VHP supporters in Tankaria village, Bharuch, over an alleged incident of cow slaughter turned violent when a man died in police firing. Trouble started when some VHP men, led by Vadodara-based advocate Jatin Vyas, went to Tankaria around 12 noon to record on camera what he said was large-scale cow slaughter. ‘‘Last year, too, our men with the help of the police seized some cow-laden trucks near the village. Along with some VHP men, I went to the village to film the slaughter,’’ Vyas said. He sought police intervention to stop the alleged slaughter.
Jatin Vyas, VHP leader.

February 26:NEW DELHI: A defiant VHP on Tuesday night said it was determined to go ahead with the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya from March 15 “at all costs”… “We will go ahead with the process of construction from March 15 as announced earlier. We are ready to face bullets or go to jail.”
— Acharya Giriraj Kishore, VHP, PTI.

The following morning, i.e on February 27, 2002, the Godhra train burning incident took place and in its aftermath, targeted communal violence broke out across Gujarat, the flames of which were later found to have been fanned by groups closely associated with the ideological parent organisation of the political party in power, the state administration itself often complicit via a possibility deliberate failure to control the situation.



Welcome to Hindu Rashtra

Rajasthan: Attempting a replication

Adivasis against Hindutva



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