On 27 February 2002, an angry mob in the state of Gujarat allegedly attacked a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, killing dozens and triggering retaliatory attacks that left 1,000 people dead, mainly Muslims.
A large Muslim mob allegedly set fire to the Sabarmati Express on 27. February, 2002. The train was carrying Hindu pilgrims who were returning from Ayodhya, where 10 years before Hindu nationalists had destroyed the centuries-old Babri Mosque.
Then the whole state went up in flames as Hindu extremists took their revenge. Some 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed in retaliatory attacks. The killing only died down several days later when the army was called in.
But the fire continues to smolder 10 years on. None of the commissions set up by the government has come up with conclusive findings. One theory says the train fire could have been triggered by a short circuit.
The hatred, anger and cruelty that were unleashed during the riots have left their mark on a society that is traumatized. "Society is first lamed by such as shock," explains Aruna Bruta, a psychologist in New Delhi.
"When it tries to get back to every day life, the depression looming over everything becomes clear. The anger spreads like an epidemic, like flu. First one person gets it and then the next. Some say the Muslims are bad, then someone says the Sikhs are bad and on it goes."
One problem she adds is that not all those responsible have been brought to justice. Survivors cannot blame the will of the gods or fate, as they could with a natural disaster such as a tsunami or earthquake. The result is depression, fear, sleeplessness, and all kinds of physical ailments. The number of suicides rose dramatically after the riots.
Lack of sense of wrongdoing
Julia Eckert is an anthropologist at Bern University in Switzerland who has conducted research into the violence in Gujarat. She is shocked that there is very little sense of wrong having been done among the majority Hindu population. She says she has met people over and over who even felt they had achieved some kind of victory.
This belies the multi-cultural, multi-religious image that the Indian state likes to present. Eckert has found that much of the communal violence in India is inextricably linked to politics.
There is a construed hostility between Hindus and Muslims, she says, which cannot be separated from political parties that orchestrate it in their favor. Whereas conflicts that are small and originate in local tensions are often settled, "the bigger pogroms and riots show that political organizations play a very major role."
The Gujarat riots played into the hands of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which actively depicted the Muslims as enemies and pandered to Hindu voters. The role of the BJP's Narendra Modi, who was chief minister at the time and still is, has yet to be clarified. He has been accused of ordering police not to intervene.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress Party tried to come across as the savior of the Muslims.
Aruna Bruta is worried about the long-term radicalization of the next generation, the children who survived but saw relatives murdered. "Children are not yet intelligent or experienced enough that they can differentiate, can see who is behind the events, whether political violence is in play. They just feel the pain that their father, mother was killed, their sister raped."
They just know that members of another religious community committed these crimes and sometimes such anger develops that cannot always be eradicated by education.
Bruta and other experts say that there have to be more awareness campaigns, more counseling for traumatized children and adults, and in particular more attempts on the part of politicians to strive for a multi-religious, multi-ethnic India, if such excesses of violence are to be avoided in future.
Author: Priya Esselborn / act
Editor: Sarah Berning