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Indian Supreme Court Orders Re-Examination of Anti-Muslim Riots - 2004-08-17


India's Supreme Court has ordered 2,000 cases stemming from Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat state two years ago be reinvestigated because of possible anti-Muslim bias on the part of the state authorities. The decision was hailed by human rights workers, who say the state's Hindu-nationalist government was complicit in the deaths of hundreds of Muslims.

India's Supreme Court ordered Gujarat's state government to create a high-level police committee to re-investigate human rights cases that were closed two years ago, because police said they could not find the suspects.

Up to 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, died in a wave of rioting in Gujarat in 2002. The rioting was a reaction to the deaths of more than 50 Hindus on a train in the town of Godhra, in an attack and fire blamed on a Muslim mob.

Human rights groups charge that the Hindu-nationalist government of Gujarat instigated the rioting and then blocked attempts to investigate those responsible for the killings.

Father Cedric Prakash is director of Prashant, a human rights group based in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad, which has been lobbying for the re-opening of the Gujarat cases. He says he is delighted with the Supreme Court's decision.

"It definitely warms the heart and it provides the several hundreds and thousands of victims of the Guj carnage with a hope, a hope that one day they will be vindicated," he said.

The international group Human Rights Watch charges that senior members of Gujarat's state government, including its chief minister, orchestrated the attacks against the Muslim community and prevented police from protecting Muslims from Hindu mobs.

Despite his elation at the court ruling, Father Prakash says he is not convinced the new investigations will not encounter interference from the same political forces.

"I am hopeful," said Father Prakash. "I cannot say that I am fully confident because there are moves at any time by any of those people who try to sabotage the whole process of justice. We have seen it happening before."

Gujarati officials affected by the Supreme Court decision had no immediate comment.

The ruling was the latest of several from the Supreme Court critical of the way the aftermath of the riots was handled.

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