A conference was held in Kirklees over the weekend marking the 20th anniversary of the murder of three Muslim men from Batley in the Gujarat Riots.
The conference, organised by Mufti Imam Pandor at the Indian Muslim Welfare Society (IMWS) at the Hikmah Centre in Batley, also discussed the current threats Muslims in India are facing under prime minister Modi’s rule and what Indian Muslims in the UK can do to help.
Political leaders Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (Con) and Kim Leadbeater, MP for Batley and Spen (Lab), have also spoken on the issue in parliament to request the repatriation of the men’s bodies after two decades of anguish from their families.
Imran Dawood, who was just 18 at the time, was travelling in a minibus from New Delhi to Lajpur with his uncles, Saeed Dawood and Sakil Dawood, and their close friend, Mohammed Aswat Nallabhai when they were attacked by a violent mob near Himmatnagar, about 100 miles from Gujarat’s biggest city, Ahmedabad.
Imran Dawood made it out of the attacks along with the minibus driver but sadly the three other men had lost their lives.
The men were caught up in the riots which erupted following the deaths of 58 Hindu pilgrims on a bus returning from Ayodhya, a city situated on the banks of the holy river Saryu in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. With unsuccessful petitions over the years to repatriate them, their bodies are still in India.
Prime minister Narendra Modi, who was the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, was accused of condoning the violence, as were police and government officials who allegedly directed the rioters and gave them lists of Muslim-owned properties.
According to official statistics released by the Indian government, 1044 people died in the riots, 223 people were reported missing and 2500 people were injured. Of the dead, 790 were Muslim and 254 were Hindu.
However, many suspect the number of deaths was much higher, with academic Christophe Jaffrelot estimating that the death toll was “in excess of 2000”.
Today, people are concerned that “what happened in Gujarat in 2002” will happen again, with many suggesting that Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are already facing violence due to their religion in the country.
In response to the growing crisis, people from across the UK came together in a conference to raise awareness about what is happening to religious minorities in India and to discuss what individuals and organisations in the UK can do to help.
Several speakers from India appeared at the conference via video link, including an attorney called Abdullah Azzam. He said: “In Modi’s India now you don’t need a narrative, if you are a Muslim, you are vulnerable to be lynched and targeted.”
The organiser of the event, Mufti Imam Pandor of the Peace Institute, said: “Organisations from across the UK from the Indian Muslim diaspora came together to raise awareness for the impending genocide of Muslims in India.
“The conference aimed to raise awareness of the situation currently in India and about what Indian Muslim diaspora can do in the UK. We believe the conference was highly successful, participants and a sub-committee provided many useful suggestions to take forward the work.”
One of the attendees, Asiya, who wears a hijab and niqab told the audience: “I have a Hindu friend we are close, the only time there was an issue was when her siblings came from London, we stayed away from each other. I didn’t understand it at the time, but now I do.”
She questioned the crowd: “What is happening in India, is impacting relationships between Hindus and Muslims here in the UK.”
At the House of Lords, Baroness Warsi mentioned that prime minister Modi was directly responsible for the violence in 2002 and warned that Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and people from Dalit communities are having their homes burnt down and being murdered and raped for being a religious minority.
Speaking last week, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, said: “A leaked report at the time by the British high commission in New Delhi specifically blamed the violence on Chief Minister Modi and his government.
“It led to Narendra Modi being described as the ‘Butcher of Gujarat’.
“What we saw play out in Gujarat in 2002 under Chief Minister Modi, we are now, tragically, seeing play out across India under Prime Minister Modi.
“From lynching to burnings of homes, lootings to rape, the ideology of Hindutva and its promoters have attracted widespread criticism from Indian civil society, which is committed to a secular state as enshrined in the Indian constitution.
“Discrimination and harassment of Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Dalit communities, attacks on those in interfaith marriages, the passing of anti-conversion and citizenship amendment laws, targeted killings, burning and bulldozing of minority homes, desecrations of places of worship, boycotts of businesses based on religion and even citing Mother Teresa and her work as a “Christian conspiracy” are now mainstream.”
MP for Batley and Spen, Kim Leadbeater (Lab), said: “On 28 February 2002, my constituent, Imran Dawood, was one of four young British Muslim tourists on their way back from the Taj Mahal when they were caught up in the Gujarat Riots. Mr Dawood was the only one of the party to survive after they were set upon by a crowd demanding to know their religion.
“Mr Dawood’s uncles, Sakil and Saeed, and their childhood friend were all murdered. Nothing that is said or done today can bring Sakil, Saeed or Mohammed back. But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done to give some comfort to the Dawood family. It causes them enormous hurt that the remains of the three young men have never been returned to them.”