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CHE: Fears for Democracy in India

Author: Martha C. Nussbaum
May 18, 2007



"On February 27, 2002, the Sabarmati express train arrived in the station of Godhra, in the state of Gujarat, bearing a large group of Hindu pilgrims who were returning from a trip to the purported birthplace of the god Rama at Ayodhya (where, some years earlier, angry Hindu mobs had destroyed the Babri mosque, which they claimed was on top of the remains of Rama's birthplace). The pilgrimage, like many others in recent times, aimed at forcibly constructing a temple over the disputed site, and the mood of the returning passengers, frustrated in their aims by the government and the courts, was angrily emotional. When the train stopped at the station, the Hindu passengers got into arguments with Muslim passengers and vendors. At least one Muslim vendor was beaten up when he refused to say Jai Sri Ram ("Hail Rama"). As the train left the station, stones were thrown at it, apparently by Muslims.

Fifteen minutes later, one car of the train erupted in flames. Fifty-eight men, women, and children died in the fire. Most of the dead were Hindus. Because the area adjacent to the tracks was made up of Muslim dwellings, and because a Muslim mob had gathered in the region to protest the treatment of Muslims on the train platform, blame was immediately put on Muslims. Many people were arrested, and some of those are still in detention without charge — despite the fact that two independent inquiries have established through careful sifting of the forensic evidence that the fire was most probably a tragic accident, caused by combustion from cookstoves carried on by the passengers and stored under the seats of the train."

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