Friday, May 21, 2004

Ethnic Violence in an Indian State

In my first substantial post I dealt with a book on ethnic conflict in the states of India. The new prime minister of India is stirring up controversy as a member of an ethnic minority in a state rife with ethnic conflict. A Sikh, Manmohan Singh will be India's first minority prime minister (only days after India nearly had a foreign-born PM).

Map from Maps of India

In 2002 one thousand Muslims were killed by Hindu
The Gujarat riots were some of the worst sectarian violence in the history of independent India, which is mostly Hindu but where about 12 percent of the population is Muslim and about 2 percent Sikh. After 59 Hindu activists were burned to death in a train that had been surrounded by a Muslim mob, vengeful Hindus rioted for weeks, killing, raping and driving Muslims from their homes. The state government, which was controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., did not stop the attacks. The central government, also led by the party then, took no action against the state's chief minister, Narendra Modi, did nothing to ensure that Muslims received relief, and looked away - until the Supreme Court intervened - as the state failed to punish Hindu rioters.

Although his party did not hold the premiership at the time, Singh admits that his own party (Indian National Congress) has not done enough to stop outbreaks of violence when they occur. But Muslims in Gujarat are not satisfied: they are looking for more accounting of these massacres and for the central government to do more to prevent discrimination against Muslims. One activist, Shakeel Ahamad, expressed caution:
Certainly and naturally I feel very good [about the prime minister's remarks]. But I want to listen something from Manmohan about what he is doing for Gujarat now. What about the trials? What about Modi? What about the structural violence, the harassment of Muslims? There is still harassment going on.


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