Dr. Ashu Kumar, MD
“What did actually happen in Godhra on February 27, 2002 morning on railway station, that led to religious riots in Gujarat?”
Pretext: This article is representing an analysis out of reconstruction of available information on the Internet and isn’t intended to insult any community or ideology., in fact, any such description which may indict any of them, has been avoided purposefully in favor of the communal harmony; and readers are free to make out inferences of their own.
Rather than putting any new evidence, this article presents a new theory, analyzing available information on the issue and has come forth with a unique view to look into the Godhra train burning mystery, that, how did it evolve from the trivial incidents and result into a disaster.
You rather need not to believe this story blindly, and should research it out itself. Try to go through available information and digital evidences on the Internet and use some science with common sense. If you don’t maintain an inherent bias for a particular religion , caste, region, country or specific ideology, you may probably feel the truth filtering out of your analysis, but again it’s hard to get it confirmed, with all humanity you can understand it only, but that too may be an eye opening in mystery of the incident and may work as the prevention for the further incidences.
Initially, there was a quarrel with vendors at platform, who entered into the train to sell their items, due to some alleged misbehavior by Karsevaks or vice versa, and that evolved to a bigger scuffle soon. The Karsevaks then allegedly beaten up the vendors and later tried to pull into the train a girl waiting on the platform to ride another train. So this was the beginning of the incident. As Karsevaks were outnumbering hugely and so could overcome the vendors easily; some vendors went up to call and gather local population residing by the railway station. There was a rumor that Karsevaks have pulled up some females on the platform into the running train.
The Sabarmati Express which was carrying at least thrice of normal capacity that included hundreds of Karsevaks returning from Ayodhya along with normal passengers, arrived 4-5 hours late at Godhra. The train started moving within 20-25 minutes of standing at platform amidst scuffle which had arrived 4-5 hours late at morning 7.30 AM. But it stopped twice, once at platform only by pulling of chain by passengers because some couldn’t ride the train busy in the scuffle and second time till it could reach out of yard, near the signal crossing, that also probably by chain pulling by some protesters who ride in the running train to let not it go. A rapidly increasing mob was waiting the train to block it there.
Passengers in the train got apprehensive of the situation and doors and windows in all compartment were getting closed due to fear of the mob, who gathered protesting alleged misbehavior of Karsevaks and were mostly from population residing by the platform, who were probably stoning and shouting, but were in number of hundreds rather than thousands, as claimed by the police, and gathering was spontaneous rather than planned but increasing rapidly. They mob was asking for the girl who was allegedly molested by Karsevaks at platform and since then missing. It was conceived that girl is abducted and kept inside the train. The girl has been later reported hiding herself in station master’s office.
There was continuing resistance in form of stoning or striking closed doors and windows and passengers including Karsevaks, kept themselves closed inside the train gripped with the fear. Suddenly S-6 started fuming amid scuffle, people tried to open the closed doors, but there was huge panic and suffocation by fume coming out of burning of plastic material in seats of the births. It was not amazing that doors could not be open because dozens were forcing against each closed door in stampede and trying to come out at a time, while getting suffocated by poisonous smoke, and the doors were just now jammed with luggage and bolted with all efforts to prevent outside raging people entering into the couch. Most of the windows were too closed to get saved from stoning.
Until one door could be opened and one side in a few windows bars broken, many people collapsed due to suffocation, that were mostly women, children and old aged. Many also could come out of opened door and survived. Now hardly any one was resisting them outside as they apprehended, as raged mob was not focused at S-6 only as Karsevaks were riding in all couches and protesters probably also realized the gravity of the situation after S- 6 started fuming and started escaping from there. But many, who collapsed inside the couch due to suffocation, were not cared by fleeing mass or people in the nearby couches who still bolted themselves inside and many in distant couches couldn’t make out actually, what was happening in S-6. There was a mass hysteria like situation and mass stranding.
Smoke turned into huge fire gradually but all took few minutes. Unconscious people got churned in spreading fire. People, who died, were not Karsevaks only, but mostly were common men going to their destinations; those had nothing to do with the issue. But how did fire actually start couldn’t be make out, that was either by a fire ball entered through an open window or had been created inside, is not clear. But it was very much evident that unsocial behavior and inhuman response by the miscreants from both sides contributed to this disaster.
We all are aware that rescue and guarding systems work how much slow, and unwillingly in our country. Till fire brigade and police could reach, huge flames were coming out of S-6, although few railway police were present since beginning. In reverse of the police claim that rioting mob has hindered the rescue work and blocked fire preventing operation, no one was there to object it, all protesting mass had escaped from the site, sensing severity of the situation and legal obligations after it.
The plastic seats and luggage are not less than petrol in burning and indeed petrol was not used to fuel the fire, in fact spread of fire was gradual. The luminous fire initially , once it got the flame, it had many things to burn, as plastic material in births, luggage, cloth and human flesh, so it took a dangerous form soon; flames leaping out of the windows and one of the doors which could be opened in life saving attempt by passengers or were remained open, and the clefts.
But fire couldn’t spread to other couches, as there was nothing much to feed the fire in connecting vestibular area between the compartments, but smoke definitely spread to nearby coaches and passengers shifted laterally and forced by necessity to open the doors and windows and get down, although apprehended of being attacked by the mob outside, but hardly got any resistance , once it was clear in outsiders that one of the compartment has caught fire, the crowd started escaping, but few were still scuffling here and there with getting down passengers, but they too left the site soon as mentioned earlier. The people in S-6 were caught in smoke and fire exclusively, as they were near the origin of fire. The poisonous smoke let not seconds many to get collapsed. If there were sense of order and humanity, many people could be saved with immediate efforts, but why would then, the problem begun at all!
After all, the incident doesn’t look per-planned rather it appeared, resulting out of scuffle that evolved into disaster, and the burning of the train was not intended well before. And also, the scuffle was not a religious riot in full definition, but was an irrational and exaggerated response to the alleged misbehavior by some unsocial elements. You can regard it a psycho-social accident, which initiated with trivial inflictions and got fueled by the crude mentality of the mob, unique informatics of rumors and instinctive mass behavior.
But who ever had put the fire in the couch should have sensed that, they committed a crime against humanity. Their irresponsible behavior had killed innocent ones, and mostly the neutral passengers. At the same time followers of the Rama had to keep with moral values and hadn’t to play with communal harmony and honor of the local woman, if such claims by many were true. But even if the claims were true, was it justified to burn them to death?
Although, there was an apparent difference of religion between the population residing near the platform and riding the train, but it was not absolute, as train was not devoted to the Karsevaks only and it didn’t carry the passengers with a mark of religion, and vice versa, it can’t be told that all who were protesting, they did it against a religion purposefully and there was no cause of resistance at all. But how do such a heinous crime of putting the fire in the train can be supported at all, if some of them really do it?
In the whole incidence it was very clear that, scuffling people from both side lacked needed responsible behavior to live in harmony, and the sense of honor for human life and prestige. And that was also evident in religious riots in Gujarat following the Godhra incident. When we would identify ourselves first as a human being in common, rather than anything else, we might then understand well, what were the real bases of these incidents!
(Author is currently working as a senior demonstrator in a teaching department of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. The scenarios presented in this article are his personal interpretation of the available facts that can vary with the individual and readers are free to dissent with it.)