People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 29

July 22, 2012


Gujarat: Court Exposes Hindutva Politics of Cultural Exclusion


Archana Prasad


ON February 8, 2012, the Gujarat High Court directed the state government to carry out the restoration of places of religious worship that were destroyed or damaged in the Gujarat riots of 2002. It directed the state government to furnish a list of religious places affected and take steps to restore them as well as compensate the people affected by them. In response the Modi government approached the Supreme Court for a review of this petition. On July 9, 2012, the apex court upheld the judgement and directed Modi’s government to meet its constitutional obligations, provide a list of religious shrines that had been destroyed, and file a status report on the compensation paid to the affected people.


This is a positive step in the direction of ensuring that the state government meets its constitutional obligations. It is no doubt a setback for Narendra Modi and has exposed his real intention of ignoring the religious sentiments and rights of the minorities in the state. It has also put the spotlight back on the claims of Modi who has time and again stated that his model of development is ‘secular’ in character and knows no caste and religion. Interestingly, these are the very arguments that the state government used in order to circumvent its constitutional obligations to ensure that Gujarat’s minorities could exercise their religious freedom.




A record of the places of religious worship and cultural places systematically destroyed and desecrated during the riots of 2002 clearly indicates a planned strategy of dominant caste Hindu social groups to impose their cultural domination in the state. In an affidavit to the High Court, the Gujarat government had itself admitted that over 500 religious shrines and places of worship were destroyed by mobs of rioters. The petition in the case recorded that over 270 mosques and dargahs were destroyed within the first 72 hours of rioting. In many cases Jai Shri Ram was written all over the desecrated sites and many idols of hulladiya hanuman (rioting Hanuman) were put. More despicable practices like urinating on the Koran or implanting a saffron flag as a sign of victory over the Muslims was evident to several fact finding teams, like the one of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, and have formed the basis for the petition then submitted to the High Court.


Further, it must be noted that the destruction of the sites is not merely a matter of hurting religious sentiments, but also of destroying the rich pluralistic cultural heritage of the state. The most prominent example of this has been the desecration of the tomb of Wali Gujarati who has been known as the founder of Urdu poetry. This tomb was torn down barely ten metres away from the police commissioner’s office with the implicit support of the ministers of the government, on the night of March 2, 2002. A day after it, a 400 years old mosque was broken down in the presence of Amit Shah and Haren Pandya, both ministers in the government. Similarly, protected monuments of the Archaeological Survey of India (such as the medieval mosque of Malik Asin) were attacked and destroyed. This clearly shows that the state government, which failed to protect these monuments from the Hindutva brigades, had scant regard for the rich history and the cultural heritage of the state.




In the process, the Modi government not only violated the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution but also the UN conventions for protection of cultural heritage and the rights of religious minorities, to which India is a signatory. This was clearly outlined in the Gujarat High Court’s judgement of February 8, 2012, which clearly held that the state government was bound in its duty to protect and rebuild the places of religious worship. In response, the state government contended that though it was committed to rehabilitation and resettlement of the riot victims in order to ‘restore normal life,’ it did not want to spend the money of the public exchequer to rebuild the places of religious worship. It was contended that such an act would be against the tenants of a secular state, and that, instead, it would assist religious trusts and organisations to restore these structures. This logic of the government was rejected by the court, given the “enormity of the situation where more the 500 religious places of a single community were destroyed.”


The court further stated that the state could not “shirk its responsibility by asserting that it had no negligence or inaction in protecting the life and property of the citizen.” Having pointed to the inaction of the state government the judges said that they were “forced to conclude that it is the duty of the state government to restore all those religious places irrespective of religion….” Providing evidence for this, the court stated that the government’s intentions were clear from its failure to fulfil the assurances that it had provided to the National Human Rights Commission in 2005 with respect the repair and building of these shrines.


In response to this observation, the state government has argued that 294 of the 535 shrines identified by it have already been rebuilt and repaired by individuals, trusts and organisations. This proved that the state only needed to play a facilitating role in the restoration and repair of religious shrines. However, the judges were quick to contest this argument and ordered the state to pay compensation to organisations and individuals who had used their own resources for this purpose. It observed that this was necessary as the state had failed to protect the religious sentiments and rights of the minorities. Further, the beneficiaries and the persons in charge of the management of such religious institutions belonged to the socio-economically disadvantaged sections and needed state support.


Another aspect which the judgement of the High Court highlights is the failure of the state to file complaints against the mobs that destroyed these shrines, clearly alluding to the complicity and designs of the government.




These arguments of the High Court seem to have been ratified by the Supreme Court which has refused to grant relief to the government. Instead, it has placed the ordered the government to provide a list of these shrines --- an information that the state government had refused to give even to the lower court. The order of the apex court also implies that it largely agrees with the analysis of the High Court which has clearly shown that the negligence of the state government is intentional and by design. So far the state government has used fallacious arguments to ensure that these symbols of pluralism do not reappear to challenge the cultural dominance of the Hindutva forces. This effort of the government has received a setback in the courts. By the same measure, the recent orders can also be used as instruments by democratic and secular forces to intensify the fight for the protection of the secular fabric and the rights of the religious minorities in the state.


[Documents and sources courtesy Communalism Combat and Teesta Setelvad for]


Number of Religious Places and Shrines of Social and Historical Importance Destroyed and Desecrated in Different Districts in 2002 Gujarat Riots

·        Ahmedabad Town and District: 55

·        Amreli Town: 1

·        Baruch Town and District: 10

·        Bhavnagar Town and District: 2

·        Dahod Town and District: 13

·        Gandhi Nagar Town: 5

·        Godhra and Panchmahal District: 19

·        Kheda Town and District: 14

·        Junagadh Town: 2

·        Mehsana District: 18

·        Narmada District: 1

·        Palanpur and Banaskantha District: 2

·        Rajkot Town and District: 3

·        Surat Town: 3

·        Sabarkantha District: 13