Gujarat riots were not spontaneous but orchestrated: Sanjiv Bhatt's daughter urges US media to speak up
The BBC documentary is only the tip of the iceberg, said Aakashi Bhatt during a panel discussion in Washington
Aakashi Bhatt, the daughter of the former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and incarcerated whistleblower of the 2002 Gujarat riots, Sanjiv Bhatt, urged American journalists to speak out against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they "can freely speak out about Modi without fear of imprisonment or getting killed."
Speaking at the panel event on the recent BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question" organised by the National Press Club in association with the Indian American Muslim Council in Washington, Bhatt said: "American journalists can freely speak out about Modi without fear of imprisonment or getting killed. They must speak out against Modi. The same goes for the American government. Why is Modi being welcomed with a state visit?"
According to Reuters Modi is expected to visit the White House later this year. "The Biden administration is in talks with Indian officials over a possible White House visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this year," reported Reuters on Feburary 4.
The panel discussion was preceded by a truncated screening of the BBC documentry "India: The Modi Question" which deep-dives into Modi's role in the Gujarat riots when he was chief minister of Gujarat.
Banned in India, the documentary, through portraying lived experiences of survivors and others involved, reveals how the Indian PM was "directly responsible" for enabling the impunity of riots.
Sanjiv Bhatt came out as a whistleblower after he filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court of India alleging Modi's "direct involvement" in steering the killings.
Bhatt, who was a top police official alleged that Modi ordered senior bureaucrats and police officials to not intervene when Hindu mobs attacked Muslims. In 2019, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in a 30-year-old case of custodial death.
Medical surgeon and researcher Aakashi claimed that Gujarat riots were not "spontaneous but orchestrated killings."
"The BBC documentary is only the tip of the iceberg. These were not spontaneous but orchestrated killings. The riots lasted for three months, not three days. The police had no remorse for lives lost. Police not only stood down but in fact aided and abetted the rioters as they killed and raped Muslims. It was due to one man's political ambition: Narendra Modi," she said at the panel event.
Asserting that her father's arrest is a "complete sham", she said: "My father was arrested for the death in custody of a man he never met. He was 1000s of kilometers away while the man died in custody."
"My father is the sole surviving witness to Modi's complicity in the Gujarat Pogrom. After 2002 a special investigation team was set up to investigate Modi's role. Everyone else invited to testify feigned amnesia. My father was the only one with the courage to speak. There have been constant vindictive attacks from the regime against my father. All he had to do was keep quiet but he kept fighting. This is an unending lonely battle. Thousands of victims were not given justice and the battle had to be carried forward," Aakashi said, stating that the judicial system has been "sold" to the Modi regime.
"Some still think the Indian Judiciary is still functional. It's not. It has been completely dismantled and made to serve the interests of the Modi regime," she added.
Along with Aakashi, the panel also featured Imran Dawood and his uncle Yusuf Dawood. 18-years-old at the time, Imran witnessed the lynching of his family members and survived solely because the attackers presumed he was dead.
The BBC documentary traces Imran and Yusuf's 20-year-long fight for justice. "This was a targeted attack on Muslims. They used the same tactics and rhetoric as in Nazi Germany. We must oppose the BJP's ongoing destructive bulldozer policies," said Imran.
Speaking on his long-fight for his family, Yusuf said: "Being from the UK and part of the Indian community, we needed to find justice for our family. There was a deliberate effort by the police to lie to us, to tell us our family was missing, not murdered. There's been so much gaslighting from the Indian government."
Highlighting the impact of the BBC documentary on Indians as well as the diaspora, all three panelists said that it revived the memories of the "horror" of the 2002 Gujarat riots and that it made people "question Modi's motives."
"There was a boomerang effect [of the documentary]. More people cared than before," said Yusuf. "But we must also look at how Elon Musk and others in his billionaires club caved in to Modi's demand for censorship. They are catering to the whims of an authoritarian leader. The desire of the US and UK to make money has led to a deliberate suppression of truth," he added, alleging the US media has been "complacent" in furthering Modi's silencing tactics.
"I'm gonna call a spade a spade. At the moment the US is making money from the India relationship at the expense of human rights," said Yusuf attacking Modi's upcoming visit to the US. "I was very surprised the documentary even came out at all considering how much domestic US and UK politicians benefit from appearing with Modi," he added.
Soon after the documentary was released, the Indian government banned it from being aired in the country. The Centre also ordered Twitter and YouTube to block the documentary in India.