Religious Clashes in Gujarat, India
Delivered in Plenary - 16th May 2002
We are here to express our concern at the recent outbreak of intercommunal violence that has erupted in the Indian state of Gujarat, violence which has claimed hundreds of lives and left thousands homeless and destitute. I am sure that the Parliament will join me in expressing my deepest condolence and sympathy to the members of both communities who have suffered loss and bereavement, including relatives of my London Constituents.
There is some history to intercommunal violence in Gujarat, including, it must be said, persecution of Christians by Hindu extremists. The latest outbreak began after Muslim extremists killed 58 Hindu pilgrims on a train near Godrha, a deeply callous act which unleashed a round of reprisals and counter-reprisals. This chain of events has generated considerable soul-searching in India itself, a country founded on the rule of law and secular democracy, with accusations that the state authorities did not react quickly enough to the scale of events.
No system of government is perfect, but since the army was called-in already 30,000 arrests have been made - with eighty percent of those arrested being Hindus. In addition, it is significant that the violence did not spread to other parts of India, while large areas of Gujarat remained calm. In the Indian Parliament, the government accepted the Congress Party opposition's motion as the basis for discussion, with cross party support reaffirming its belief in democratic pluralism and respect for minorities in a giant country of over a billion people of diverse background and faiths, and the Independent Justice Verma Commission is reporting back to the Government.
Clearly, lessons have to be learned, but we should not forget that India is currently reeling from a series of atrocious terrorists attacks by Islamic Jihadi extremists, most recently the killing of 30 people including women and children and scores of wounded on the outskirts of Jammu, an attack which makes the dangerous threat of war more likely between nuclear armed India and Pakistan, which till recently actively supported Islamic terrorists. The international community must urgently do everything possible to prevent any further escalation of violence which might threaten global peace.