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25 Mar 2003 : Column 262—continued


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 18(1)(a)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Question agreed to.

Sittings of the House



25 Mar 2003 : Column 263

Sectarian Violence (Gujarat)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Charlotte Atkins.]

6.57 pm

Mr. Mike Wood (Batley and Spen): I want to raise two issues relating to the communal and religious violence that swept through large parts of Gujarat in northern India just over 12 months ago. My interest was centred initially on the fact that four of my constituents were caught up in the violence, with devastating consequences for them, their families and for the wider constituency community, especially in the Batley area where I have 6,500 Muslim constituents, of whom 6,000 were either born in Gujarat or have parents who were born there.

I shall briefly recount the details of the incident. On 28 February 2002, four of my constituents, all British-born Muslims, were nearing the end of a holiday in India. At least one of them had never been to India before. They had been sightseeing to the Taj Mahal, which is not unusual on a visit to India, and they had visited many of their relatives in the state. However, as they returned to hotel on that fateful date and while driving along the main highway from Jaipur to Surat, their car was stopped by a mob, the vehicle was set on fire and they were dragged out.

The local Muslim driver and one of my constituents, Mr. Aswat Nallabhai, were killed on the spot. The youngest member of the party, Imran Dawood, was beaten and left for dead, but fortunately he survived and is recovering slowly in this country with his family. The other two of my constituents, cousins Sakil and Saeed Dawood, are still missing and, although the families find that impossible to accept—

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Charlotte Atkins.]

Mr. Wood: Although the families find it impossible to accept that Sakil and Saeed are still missing, we have to assume that they, too, fell victim to that terrible crime. Some remains of one of those men were found soon after the event, close by, by a relative who went to search for them, but, 12 months later, because of the poor forensic facilities in Gujarat, the family do not know which of those two men those remains are from and, of course, they have no news whatever of their other relative.

The House will understand that such factors make that dreadful event even more impossible for the families to put behind them. In total, if we assume that both Sakil and Saeed are dead, nine children have been orphaned by that event. Those young men, enjoying a relaxed and informative holiday, were innocently caught up in violence that claimed up to 3,000 lives in a matter of days. Of course, we shall never know the actual number of dead because of the anarchy that reigned for days, until the army was brought in to restore order.

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As I said, it will not be difficult for the House to understand that those events have had a devastating effect on two families and a wider community, but that has been greatly exacerbated by their perception of the very poor quality of the police investigation at the time of the riots, which now leaves them with so many unanswered questions and, more importantly, makes it look increasingly unlikely that any individual or even organisation will be brought to book for those murders. Justice is being denied to those families, to add to their other injuries.

I wish to press the Minister tonight to give a commitment that his Department will renew its efforts to convince the Indian Government of their responsibility to mount, even at this late stage, a full and proper investigation into the deaths of those British subjects and, for that matter, the deaths of so many of their own subjects, too. May I further request that that approach should also involve again offering the services of British police officers and resources to help in that exercise if that would help to expedite matters?

I know of the considerable departmental contacts that have been made with the Indian authorities with regard to that case. In particular, the Foreign Secretary has met me three times—once during the week that his own father sadly died. He has met representatives of both families, and he has taken up the matter personally with the Indian Prime Minister and his own counterpart. I understand that the families believe that more could have been done. Having suffered such trauma, how could they believe anything else? However, I should like to place on record my thanks for the efforts of the Department, its Ministers and, not least, the Secretary of State himself.

Time has moved on—as I have said, we are just beyond the first anniversary of those events—and so I would make a plea that those matters should be revisited; we owe those families nothing less.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I am sure that the House will join my hon. Friend in extending its sympathy to his constituents' families. Will he also join me in expressing the horror of the House not only about the communal violence to which he refers, but about the later attack on the Akshardham at Gandhinagar, in which one of the sadhus, who used to be at the Neasden temple in north-west London in my constituency, was also killed? The communal violence in Gujarat last year is a real scar on the face of Indian democracy, and we must do all that we can to ensure that it does not happen again and that it is certainly never allowed to affect politics and community relations in this country.

Mr. Wood: Of course, I am pleased to identify with the points raised by my hon. Friend. That leads me to the second, more wide-ranging issue that I wish to raise with the Minister.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East): I have listened carefully to the concerns and deep feelings that my hon. Friend has expressed about his constituents. As a Hindu, and as someone who was born in India, my heart goes out to his constituents and their families, given the pain and suffering that they have experienced. Given that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) said, this

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matter is a blot on Indian post-independence, may I also make my hon. Friend aware that it was utterly condemned by the Indian Deputy Prime Minister when he visited the UK last year? The Indian Prime Minister has described the incident as,

The whole House condemns what happened in that spirit.

Mr. Wood: Again, I hear what my hon. Friend says, although in many ways words are cheap. In the face of the violence that we saw, and the causes of it, actions would speak considerably louder. As I develop my second point, perhaps he will understand where I am coming from.

I share the view of many reputable commentators that the secular India that we have known since independence is under threat. Nowhere is that more true, if it is true at all, than in Gujarat. Indeed, many believe that Gujarat is being used as a test bed for sectarian politics, which, if replicated throughout the country, will have far-reaching and long-standing implications, not just for that region but globally and, more importantly and immediately, for the many minority communities in India. I believe that nationalism is being fostered through antipathy to minorities.

Britain, as the ex-colonial power, has both the opportunity and the duty to monitor the situation and to raise it with the Indian authorities before even greater sectarian violence occurs. Clear commitments are needed to the principles of democracy and inclusion, which have been the hallmark of the India to which my hon. Friend has just referred: the India that we have known for the past 50 years.

One year after the violence that appears to have taken the lives of three of my constituents and many thousands of others, tens of thousands, largely Muslims, are eking out an existence in temporary camps, unable or unwilling to return to their burnt homes and ruined businesses. Many of those homes, of course, were burned to the ground and their occupants murdered while the local sectarian police force stood and watched. A flashpoint such as Ayodhya and partisan administration of justice such as that will provide just the spark needed to make the unrest of the last 12 months seem as nothing unless action is taken urgently.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will assure me, and all those who have the best interests of India at heart, that the Government will play their full part, alongside our allies, the United Nations and the rest, in ensuring that our worst fears are not realised.

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