Gujarat - In his last hour, witnesses say, Ahsan Jafri
knew he would not leave his house alive and so he delivered
himself to the mob.
houses all around his bungalow were in flames.
this city's 74-year-old Muslim statesman, had provided
refuge inside his two-story residence to more than 150
of his Muslim neighbors. When the Hindu mob turned violent,
the Muslims had taken cover inside, thinking no harm
would come to a retired member of the Indian parliament
- even if he was a Muslim.
was Feb. 28, 2002, a day after Muslims armed with stones
and kerosene set four train cars on fire in Godhra,
trapping the passengers inside. Fifty-eight Hindus were
burned alive, including more than a dozen children.
Dozens of others were horribly scarred.
train was carrying hundreds of Hindu activists returning
from a pilgrimage to the city of Ayodhya, where in 1992,
hard-line Hindus tore down a 475-year-old Muslim mosque,
claiming it stood on the birthplace of the god Ram.
relief workers gingerly untangled the limbs of the charred
bodies on that February day, Hindu mobs erupted in a
frenzy of vengeance.
reportedly 10,000 circled Jafri's home, chanting his
name. When repeated calls to the police brought no help,
some who survived said, Jafri decided to sacrifice himself
in the hope others would be spared.
walked onto his doorstep. The mob demanded he say "Jai
Shri Ram," or "Victory to Lord Ram,"
one of the gods in the Hindu pantheon.
he refused, they cut off his hands.
Survivors said the attackers wore saffron bandanas,
the signature orange color of Hindu nationalism, which
holds that because most Indians are Hindu, India should
be a Hindu nation. They carried tridents, the three-pronged
weapon of Shiva, the god of destruction.
mob asked Jafri again to honor their god. Again he refused,
and they cut off his legs.
he declined a third time, the mob cut him down his middle
and dragged his body into the street.
they set him on fire on a road 10 miles from the ashram
where half a century ago, Mohandas K. Gandhi perfected
his doctrine of non-violence.
killing Jafri, the mob set fire to his house. At least
40 Muslims died.
Jafri has become the icon of the three-day rampage in
which at least 2,000 Muslims were killed while another
100,000 became homeless, according to the U.S. State
Department's 2002 human rights report on India. About
20,000 Muslim businesses were destroyed, said India's
Concerned Citizen's Tribunal.
the Godhra murders, which a Human Rights Watch investigation
said appeared to be spontaneous violence, there was
evidence the three-day attack on Muslims was premeditated,
the report said. That opinion was echoed by India's
National Human Rights Commission and the Concerned Citizen's
Tribunal, the latter a commission of mostly retired
organized into "militia-like units," fanned
out across the state, carrying printouts identifying
addresses of Muslim homes and businesses, researchers
Smita Narula, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch
and a Hindu, believes the violence against Muslims was
masterminded by a family of Hindu nationalist organizations,
including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which all fall
under the umbrella of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,
or RSS. The National Human Rights Commission concurs.
outrage over the Gujarat violence was swift. In the
United States, a federal agency commissioned by Congress
recommended India be placed on the list of Countries
of Particular Concern.
scholars and non-nationalist Hindus in the United States
increasingly are concerned about the proliferation of
RSS branches in this country, known here as the HSS,
called shakhas. In 1991, there were just three shakhas
in the United States; now, there are more than 50, according
to the HSS web site.
is no evidence that connects the nationalist movement
in the United States with the violence in Gujarat. But
scholars, many of them Hindu, say local nationalists
help support an atmosphere of hate - both ideologically
and financially - in the mother country.
local shakhas meet weekly in Schaumburg and Wheeling
while a third Chicago-area one is being formed, organizers
Hindu Students Council, the HSS student wing, holds
meetings at Northwestern University and the Illinois
Institute of Technology. Their foremost symbol is the
saffron flag, posted at every meeting.
the Ahmedabad mob dispersed, it planted a saffron flag
in the courtyard of Gulbarg Society, the subdivision
that Ahsan Jafri had built as a refuge for Muslims everywhere.
seeing it fills you with joy," said Vasant Pandav,
59, president of the Chicago-area HSS, referring to
the orange-hued flag that has just been posted on a
portable stand inside the Schaumburg Park District Community
early on a Sunday morning, and 19 members of the local
HSS, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, are playing a traditional
game called kabbadi, which resembles team tag.
flag is orange, Pandav said, because that is the color
of the sun at dawn. It is a symbol of Hinduism meant
to dispel ignorance, just as the morning sun dispels
the darkness of night.
like Shridhar Damle reject the idea that they promote
an atmosphere of hate. Damle, of Villa Park, is a member
of the local HSS and co-author of an authoritative account
of the organization, "The Brotherhood in Saffron."
function is to organize Hindu society in America,"
Damle said. "We do not have time or energy to think
about other things.
motto is 'The whole universe is one family,' so there
is no room for hating each other."
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the "National Volunteer
Corps," was founded in India in 1925, two decades
before India won independence from Britain. India is
a secular state, but the RSS holds that Hindus, 81 percent
of India's 1 billion population, are the rightful heirs
of the subcontinent.
India, young men meet daily in the early hours before
dawn for shakha. They salute the saffron flag. They
partake in games, drills and discussions.
this Sunday in Schaumburg, families are nearing the
end of a 1 1/2 hour session. They gather in a half-moon
on the floor.
all of history, Hindus have been kicked around and bullied,"
Pandav said, opening the discussion. "We need to
unite so no one can beat us around. What are the latest
examples of this?"
group mentions Maxim, the men's magazine that ridiculed
Gandhi in a recent cartoon. It sparked an online campaign,
forcing the editors to apologize. There's also the Seattle
manufacturer who made a line of toilet seats embellished
with Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction.
we take this kind of insult lying down? No!" said
Pandav. "A thousand protest e-mails were sent.
This is what we can do if there is unity."
who immigrated to Illinois in 1965 and lives in Downers
Grove, says the suburban shakhas promote Hindu unity
and pride in their heritage. Most of the attendees say
they joined to reconnect with the homeland they miss.
is the language of instruction in India. I grew up reading
the Hardy Boys," said Saurabh Jang, 29, a former
member of the Schaumburg shakha who came to Hoffman
Estates in 1996. "I always felt that I didn't have
a firm enough grounding in my own culture."
members like Ami Soni, 16, who was born in Libertyville,
see it as a kind of Hindu Sunday school.
a lot of things I didn't know, like why does Ganesh
have a trunk? Or why does Hanuman have the face of a
monkey?" the Mundelein High School junior said.
the world's third largest religion with 900 million
practitioners, is a polytheistic faith with several
thousand gods. It has no single sacred text, nor does
it prescribe a single moral way of life. "Just
as all rivers lead to the sea, eventually all paths
lead to God" is a common Hindu saying that implies
it is among the world's most tolerant religions.
scholars in the United States say the Hindu nationalist
groups, however benign they may seem, support bigotry.
should be concerned. Any religious organization that
promotes what could be construed as bigotry is undesirable
in this country," said Sumit Ganguly, a professor
at the University of Texas and a Hindu. "They seem
benign, but they're not. They extol Hindu virtues in
a way which denigrates other faiths."
of Hindu nationalism in the Chicago area are only a
fraction of the nearly 125,000 Indian immigrants living
here. According to Pandav, the greater Chicago HSS chapter
has 50 active members and 3,000 supporters.
Hindu immigrants are suspicious of nationalist groups,
said Padma Rangaswamy of Clarendon Hills, author of
"Namaste America." One local temple declined
to host a VHP function, she said.
of the established religious institutions here want
to separate themselves from extremist elements,"
she said. "The majority of Indians here don't even
know they hold shakhas."
scholar Lise McKean, author of "Divine Enterprise,
Gurus and the Hindu Nationalist Movement," said
she fears the Hindu nationalists in this country "are
creating another generation led to think that being
Hindu somehow means that you're against Muslims."
said, however, there is growing concern within the Indian
community about the rise of a Muslim-backed insurgency
in Kashmir, where a reported 34,000 people have been
killed since 1989.
recent spurt in shakhas goes hand-in-hand with the beginning
of this conflict and the post-1990 wave of immigrants
who came here to work in the tech industry, she said.
things simmer down at home," she said, "these
kinds of organizations would not have a breeding ground
said the real issue is the general victimization of
Hindus, like the 58 Hindus killed in Godhra.
retaliatory attack against Muslims, Pandav said, was
a reaction to years of pent-up pain. He denies it was
organized or that the RSS played a role.
meanwhile, said it is possible some fringe nationalists
may have been involved, but said that should not reflect
on the Hindu nationalist movement.
you're a member of a church, and you kill someone, does
that mean that the whole church should be blamed?"
what happened in Godhra and what happened in Ahmedabad
is to be condemned, it was a 'mobocracy,'" he added.
"But when somebody tries to attack me or my society,
then it's my right to defend myself."
the Schaumburg shakha, there is another component besides
games and talk. As the group discussion wraps up, one
member calls, "Takhsat!" - Sanskrit for "Attention!"
the 19 men and women form a single-file line in front
of the saffron flag.
stand alert, military-like. Their hands are clenched
at their sides. On cue, they pivot. One by one, they
march forward and salute the flag, hands raised to their
photography is allowed.
Jan. 30, 1948, Mohandas K. Gandhi was killed in New
Delhi with three pistol shots to the chest.
had enraged Hindu nationalists by reluctantly supporting
the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which
was carved out of India in 1947.
killer, Nathuram Godse, was a former member of the RSS.
As India grieved for Gandhi, the government banned the
RSS for 18 months. Hindu nationalism instantly became
a pariah movement.
say the dangers of the movement were evident long before
1948. The RSS was founded with the explicit aim of creating
a Hindu rashtra, or Hindu nation, McKean said.
ideology of the RSS is fascist. It explicitly modeled
itself after Mussolini and Hitler. There's plenty of
scholarship to back that up," McKean said. "So
when one uses the term, it's not some kind of name-calling."
nearly half a century on the fringe, RSS fortunes changed
dramatically in the late 1980s when the Congress Party,
which had governed India since independence, fell into
disarray amid charges of corruption. In 1998, the Bharatiya
Janata Party, which many contend is the RSS's political
arm, won the general election.
was once a fringe movement became politically mainstream,"
said Ashutosh Varshney, director of the Center for South
Asian Studies at the University of Michigan and a Hindu.
year later, India tested nuclear weapons in a show of
military might against Pakistan. Elementary school textbooks
began to reflect a history that portrayed Muslims as
aggressors, Varshney said.
State Department says that since the BJP's rise to power,
some government bureaucrats began to enforce laws selectively
to the detriment of religious minorities. The "Hinduization"
of education and the revision of history books included
hate propaganda against Muslims and Christians.
the BJP never had a secure grip. In Gujarat in the months
preceding last year's violence, the BJP was losing ground,
when they can be blamed on Muslims, help the Hindu nationalist
parties," said Varshney. The districts hardest
hit by anti-Muslim violence last February voted overwhelmingly
for the BJP, he said.
Modi, the BJP-backed chief minister of Gujarat, was
easily re-elected. In December, more than 120,000 people
dressed in saffron crowded into the Ahmedabad stadium
to bless Modi's inauguration. One young man held up
a sign: "Narendra Modi = Chief Minister = Prime
Minister = Hindu Rashtra."
academics in the United States have voiced concerns
about money raised here and sent to support Hindu nationalist
activities in India.
India Development and Relief Fund, based in Maryland,
says it serves economically disadvantaged people in
India. It raised more than $10 million since its inception
in 1989, according to the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate,
a group of Indian academics and activists in the U.S.
The campaign says 82 percent of the money went to projects
managed by groups that are explicitly part of the RSS
RSS has undertaken thousands of development projects,
medical clinics, orphanages and schools in India.
they're not exactly the Salvation Army," said Stephen
P. Cohen of the Brookings Institute. He argues the majority
of the relief work comes with an ideological price tag.
"Foreign Exchange of Hate," a report written
by the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, claims the money
went to RSS-affiliated charities that helped create
the ideological environment that allowed the Gujarat
violence to occur.
the report was released in November, 320 academics in
the U.S. who specialize in South Asian studies independently
circulated a petition supporting the conclusions.
software engineer and former shakha member Jang, for
instance, designates a portion of his $29.58 a month
IDRF contribution to Ekal Vidyalayal, the "One
they run educational institutions that teach arithmetic
and reading," said Shalini Gera of the Campaign
to Stop Funding Hate and herself a Hindu. "But
these schools, under the cover of relief work, are also
teaching that Muslims and Christians are foreigners.
It teaches them to hate."
Children in a youth shakha march in a local gymnasium.
Jang argues that Hindu schools merely counter what Christian
missionaries already have been doing in India's tribal
districts. "Christian missionaries never give something
for nothing," he said, remembering the day Jehovah's
Witnesses showed up at his mother's doorstep.
1999, the State Department documented a wave of apparently
organized attacks against Christians in the tribal belt
of Gujarat, including forced conversions to Hinduism.
A report released this March said Hindu nationalists
in 2002 "began an ideological campaign to limit
access to Christian institutions and discourage or,
in some cases, prohibit conversions to Christianity."
recently, employees at Sun Microsystems, Oracle and
CISCO could donate to IDRF through payroll deductions
matched by company donations. Oracle and Cisco halted
matching contributions following the release of the
"Foreign Exchange of Hate" report. Sun Microsystems
is investigating, but has kept the charity on its payrolls.
Illinois chapter of the IDRF is run out of the Bloomington
home of Shrinarayan Chandak. He said the IDRF "rejects
violence of any kind" and described the foreign
exchange report as "totally false" and "Hindu
is disturbed by the allegations and says they are false.
I thought that the IDRF had anything to do with the
riots, I would not give to them," he said. "If
I thought the RSS had anything to do with it, I would
stop being a member."
the outskirts of Bombay, in the district of Thane, is
the Hindusthani Suicide Squad training ground.
is nothing secret about what we are doing," said
Col. Jayantrao Chitale, the founder of the camp that
opened last fall. "A thousand years ago, we fought
with sticks and stones. Then we fought with tanks. Now
the new war is terrorism, and we plan to fight terrorism
target is not Gujarat's Muslims. It is Pakistan.
decades, Hindu nationalism has been fueled by Pakistan's
aggression in Kashmir and acts of terrorism within India,
such as the attack on the Indian Parliament in December
2001 and on New Delhi's Red Fort in December 2000.
far, Chitale said, 40 young men have signed the "suicide
bond" that binds them to give their life for Mother
camp once was closed by the Maharashtra state government.
It was quietly allowed to reopen. Chitale said he is
informing every member of the Lok Sabha, India's parliament,
that he intends to train the suicide squad and keep
it ready. It will only be deployed, he said, with government
was a very weak person," said Chitale, "and
Indian people are like cattle. You drive them and they
will be driven. We need to send the message to Pakistan
that if you blow off one bus, we'll blow off five."
were bodies in every single room," said Tanveer
Jafri, 40, Ahsan Jafri's eldest son and the first family
member to get to the house after the massacre.
The first floor of Ahsan Jafri's house, with its bare
cement and exposed wires, now is a dormitory for India's
Central Reserve Police Force. Police were sent here
last December to "protect minorities," 10
months after the riots.
2002 State Department report said that during the Gujarat
riots, the police reportedly told frantic Muslim callers,
"We don't have orders to save you."
we called for them, they wouldn't come," Tanveer
Jafri said. "Now that we don't need them, they
second floor of Jafri's house withstood the burning.
More than 70 women and children, including Jafri's wife,
huddled there in terror, waiting for it to end even
as the walls became so hot that posters began to warp.
dozen crumpled Indian flags are buried in the rubble
here, under a heavy coat of soot. The flags are relics
from Ahsan Jafri's days as a leader of Gujarat's Congress
Jafri bent down to inspect a flag that, by a dark coincidence,
had crumpled into a shape like the outline of the subcontinent.
year later, no one has been convicted in connection
with the deaths of the Muslims in Gujarat, said Human
Rights Watch's Smita Narula. Tanveer Jafri collected
22 signed affidavits from the survivors of Gulbarg Society,
naming specific attackers. All are out on bail, Jafri
taking testimony from survivors of the massacre, including
Ahsan Jafri's daughter Nishrin Hussain, the U.S. Commission
on International Religious Freedom recommended India
be placed on the list of Countries of Particular Concern.
The Bush administration responded this spring with "no."
commission was deeply disappointed," Commission
Chair Felice D. Gaer said. "There is credible evidence
that orders were given to police not to interfere. Muslim
homes were singled out for death and destruction."
the violence also gave birth to activism, including
the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate. In the Chicago suburbs,
a group of Muslim and Hindu residents began meeting
at the Darien Public Library, forming the Coalition
for a Secular and Democratic India.
Indian Muslim Council also was formed. In March, it
sponsored Nishrin Hussain, Jafri's daughter, to speak
to the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park on the anniversary
of the riots.
spoke to a packed hall, many of them members of the
Gujarati Muslim community. About 2,000 Gujarati Muslims
live in the Chicago area, said Akhtar Sadiq, president
of the Gujarati Muslim Association of America, headquartered
in Downers Grove.
Villa Park, the crowd surrounding Hussain supported
her as she struggled at the podium, clasping a poem
written by her father. It compares India to a beautiful
woman whose hair was trimmed by a Hindu saint, whose
form was called out by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism,
and whose vibrant garments were painted by Buddha and
an Islamic poet.
broke down and couldn't read the final line.
is my land," says the English translation. "This
is my land. This is my land."
Damle's house is just three minutes from the Islamic
Foundation. On a side table in his living room is a
tiny saffron flag - a 2-inch version of the one ceremoniously
installed each week in Schaumburg, in 50 shakhas nationwide
and in 25,000 shakhas around the globe.
is the pilot light of a movement.
you went in Gujarat, there were saffron flags,"
said Smita Narula. "You were literally tripping
Damle, it stands for Hindu pride.
Hussain, it might be the last color her father saw.