India and Day 26 – Part 2: Turmoil in Gujarat


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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January 26, 2001 – The Gujarat Earthquake

Earthquake in Gujarat on January 26, 2001 (Source: academic.emporia.edu)
Earthquake in Gujarat on January 26, 2001 (Source: academic.emporia.edu)

On January 26, 2001, a strong earthquake struck the Kutch area in Gujarat at 8:46 AM local time (3:16 UTC) and lasted for over two minutes.

The earthquake had a magnitude between 7.6 and 7.7 on the moment magnitude  (Mw) scale and had a maximum felt intensity of X (Intense) on the Modified Mercalli (MM) Intensity Scale. The epicentre was about 9 km south-southwest of the village of Chobari in Bhachau Taluka of Kutch District of Gujarat, India.

Base of this statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Gandhidham disintegrated during the January 26, 2001 Bhuj earthquake. (Source: ceenve.calpoly.edu)
Base of this statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Gandhidham disintegrated during the January 26, 2001 Bhuj earthquake. (Source: ceenve.calpoly.edu)

The January 26, 2001 Gujarat earthquake, the most damaging to strike India in the last five decades, led to a large loss of life and property.

The earthquake turned the cities of Bhuj, Anjar, Bhachau, Gandhidham, Kottar, Kukuma, Lodai and Ratnar, along with nearby villages to ruins in less than two minutes.

The city of Ahmedabad lies about 300 km east of the epicenter in the village of Chobari and falls in the seismic Zone III (IS: 1893-1976) of India. Many mid to high-rise residential buildings pancaked on their lower levels and collapsed, leading to several hundred causalities and significant financial loss.

The quake though equal in intensity to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (which had a death toll of 3,425) killed around 20,000 people in Gujarat, wounded another 167,000 and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes. The estimated economic loss was reported to be about US $5 billion.

February 26, 2002 – Pogrom in Gujarat

On February 26, 2002, the Sabarmati Express left Ayodhya. Several passengers travelling on that train were Hindu pilgrims, returning from Ayodhya after a religious ceremony at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. The following morning, someone stopped the train when it neared the Godhra station by pulling the emergency chain.

Dousing the flames at Godhra set ablaze by a mob on the Sabarmati Express that left Aodhya on February 26, 2002. (Source: indyas.hpage.co.in)
Dousing the flames at Godhra set ablaze by a mob on the Sabarmati Express that left Aodhya on February 26, 2002. (Source: indyas.hpage.co.in)

Under controversial circumstances, four coaches of the train caught fire. Many people were trapped inside the train. In the resulting conflagration, 59 people, including 25 women and 25 children, were burned to death.

In 2005, retired Supreme Court judge Umesh Chandra Banerjee, served as chairman of the committee constituted by the Government of India to probe the fire in the Sabarmati Express at Godhra. He found that the coach fire was not deliberately started, but was accidental and not started by the Muslim mob. Later, when an Ahmedabad court ruled that there was a conspiracy to set the train on fire, Justice Banerjee stood by his findings and said it was an accidental fire as there was evidence to suggest the blaze began inside the train and that it was not firebombed.

Nevertheless, it has been alleged that a large mob attacked the train and four coaches were burned as the result of a conspiracy hatched by local Muslims.

After the burning of the train the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) called for a statewide bandh (strike), even after the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional and illegal. The bandh was followed by three days of inter-communal bloodbath in Godhra as well as the rest of Gujarat. The state government headed by Narendra Modi did not take any action to prevent the strike, or stop the violence. Independent reports indicate that Rajendrasinh Ghanshyamsinh Rana, the former VHP president, had endorsed the strike, and that he and Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, used inflammatory language to worsen the situation.

Gujarat riots (Source: frontline.in)
Gujarat riots (Source: frontline.in)

According to the official figures, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus died; 2,500 people were non-fatally injured, and 223 more were reported missing. However, other sources estimate that up to 2,000 Muslims died. There were instances of rape, children being burned alive, and widespread looting and destruction of property.

The skyline of Ahmedabad filled with smoke as buildings and shops are set on fire by rioting mobs. (Photo credit: Aksi grea)
The skyline of Ahmedabad filled with smoke as buildings and shops are set on fire by rioting mobs. (Photo credit: Aksi grea)

Narendra Modi has been accused of initiating and condoning the violence. Also, it has been alleged that police and government officials orchestrated the violence by directing the rioters by giving them lists of Muslim-owned properties.

In 2012, the Muslim community reacted with anger and disbelief when a Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India cleared Modi of complicity in the violence. In July 2013, allegations were made that the SIT had suppressed evidence. That December, an Indian court upheld the SIT report and rejected a petition seeking Modi’s prosecution. In April 2014, the Supreme Court expressed satisfaction over the SIT’s investigations in nine cases related to the violence, and rejected a plea contesting the SIT report as baseless.

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 Previous ~ India and Day 26 – Part 1: India’s Independence Day and Republic Day 

Next  India and Day 26 – Part 3: The Devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami

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7 thoughts on “India and Day 26 – Part 2: Turmoil in Gujarat”

  1. Hello Sir,

    Could write a short story about the Boat mail murder case, which involves the devakottai banker and un named famous actor cum signer of Tamil cinema, who escaped the crime scene. (and this murder case was closely related to the Lakshmikanthan murder case)

    Like

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