Ordeal by Fire in the Killing Fields of Gujarat
Editors Guild of India Fact-Finding Mission Report
As Gujarat erupted on February 27, there were those who blamed the print and electronic media for aggravating tensions and inflaming passions by their graphic or sensational coverage. While some thought it fit to shoot the messenger, there were voices from the media alleging impediments, threats and attacks to thwart their independent and objective functioning. Responding to these very divergent points of view, the Editors Guild of India Executive, with its President, Mr Mammen Mathew, Editor of the Malayala Manorama, in the chair, decided to depute a fact-finding mission to Gujarat to report on the situation.
A three-member team was appointed consisting of Dileep Padgonkar, Executive Managing Editor of the Times of India, Aakar Patel, Editor of Mid-Day, Mumbai, and B.G.Verghese, columnist.
The Team decided to and go to Gujarat after Holi and other up-coming festivals. The visit was actually undertaken between March 31 and April 6, 2002.
It visited Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Anand, Godhra and Vadodara and met the Chief Minister and his senior officials as well as district officials, both civil and police, and the Railway’s Station Superintendent at Godhra. We were able to obtain copies of official documents through the good offices of Information Department and other officials. We met a whole range of non-officials, jointly and severally, including media representatives, academics, writers and cultural workers, NGOs, social workers, judges, Gandhians, community leaders, ranking politicians, senior VHP officials, business representatives from the small scale and market sectors and the chamber of commerce, members of the minority community and dalits. Many offered moving personal narratives, representations and memoranda, much documentation and analysis of events, media monitoring reports, newspaper clippings, copies of pamphlets and handbills and other background material.
We were, however, unable to meet the Governor, the Gujarat DGP and the DC and Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad from whom we had sought separate appointments.
We are grateful to all those individuals and associations, named and unnamed, who took the time and trouble to meet us. In Delhi, Aruna Patel and Juhi Sharma kindly helped translate material from Gujarati and Hindi into English. Kusum Malik assisted with computer glitches and formatting. Other individuals and associations readily provided material at their disposal or assisted us in procuring various references. We owe them all thanks for their presentations, the valuable data they provided and unfailing support.
Alok Mehta and Sumit Chakravartty, Secretary-General and Treasurer of the Guild respectively, helped with logistical and other support. The Times of India, Ahmedabad and the Guild office in Delhi provided staff support. Our thanks to them.
Some critics felt or implied that Dileep Padgaonkar’s presence on the Fact-Finding Team was inhibiting as his paper, the Times of India Ahmedabad edition in particular, was also under scrutiny. Mr Padgaonkar, however, made it clear to all interlocutors that while he may have a personal point of view as Executive Managing Editor of his paper, this would in no wise colour his objectivity as a member of the Team. The members of the Team approached their task with an open mind, exercising the best professional judgement they could individually and collectively summon.