The state of Gujarat is situated on the west coast of India and is home to the Gujarati speaking population of India. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of our nation who organised a non-violent freedom struggle against the mighty British Empire, hailed from the state of Porbander which popularized Gujarat as the site of some of the most revolutionary uprisings against the British Empire, exemplified by the ‘Dandi March’ commonly known as the Salt Satyagraha. The State of Gujarat has the fastest growing economy in India and the Forbes list of the world’s fastest growing economies has positioned the city of Ahmedabad at number three. Thus, the state of Gujarat has served as the epicenter of numerous historic and economic activities that have contributed to shaping modern India.

The population of Gujarat as per the most recent 2001 census is 50,671,017 people, with an 89.1% Hindu population and a 9.1% Muslim population. It is this majority Hindu and minority Muslim population in the state of Gujarat, who have perpetuated a long history of widespread communal tension. The friction between these two religious communities, specifically in Gujarat, dates back to the medieval times and this lies at the roots of trying to comprehend the unprecedented scale of violence in the largest communal carnage this nation has ever seen.

The scale of violence witnessed in Gujarat can be traced back to the ‘Ayodhya dispute’, an extremely vulnerable cause of socio-religious friction in India. The city of Ayodhya is revered by the Hindus as the Rama Janma Bhoomi (birth place of God Rama) but a mosque called the ‘Babri Masjid’ was built in this holy city in the 1500’s by the Mughal emperor Barbar. This mosque became the largest one in the state of Uttar Pradesh, home to over a 30 million Muslims. The first record of communal clashes over the validity of the structure built by the Mughals was in 1853. The site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya has served as the bone of contention to an already precarious Hindu-Muslim fraternity in India. In 1992, the Hindu Karsevaks demolished the Babri Masjid and this led to communal riots in many major cities in India.

To put into perspective the information in this website, it is important to bear in mind the political structure in the state of Gujarat as well as the center, back in 2002. The political party in power in Gujarat was the ruling party of the time, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) under the leadership of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Modi continues to serve as the Chief Minister of Gujarat even today, although at the center, the BJP is now the leader of the opposition and the Congress serves as the ruling party under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Over the past two decades, India has witnessed the rise of a political group called the ‘Sangh Parivar’ (the collective Hindu family) which includes the BJP and numerous other Indian political and religious organisations.  The Sangh Parivar is united by its common rightist political ideology of ‘Hindutva’. The Ayodhaya dispute and subsequent clashes arising out of it have essentially shaped the agenda of right wing politics in India.

The 2002 communal riots although fought solely in the state of Gujarat, were powerful enough to change the political landscape of India as a whole. What essentially enlarged the communal riots in Gujarat to make it the most horrific episode of recent history is the tendency of warring religious communities to justify their barbaric atrocities by employing a similar rhetoric of hate, despair and destruction.  The turn of events in 2002, brought us to face some of the most uncomfortable questions relating to the structure of modern India, the independence of our judiciary and the nature of individual freedom in our country.