57 killed as mob torches train in Gujarat

February 28, 2002 12:00 am | Updated 12:00 am IST - GANDHINAGAR

Bodies of those killed in the attack on the Sabarmati Express kept near a burnt coach in Godhra on Wednesday. - Reuters

Bodies of those killed in the attack on the Sabarmati Express kept near a burnt coach in Godhra on Wednesday. - Reuters

GANDHINAGAR, FEB. 27. Fifty-seven persons, mostly women and children, were killed and 43 sustained burn injuries when a coach of the Faizabad-Ahmedabad Sabarmati Express carrying `Ram sevaks' was set afire by a group of people on the outskirts of the Godhra railway station, about 200 km from here, this morning. The `Ram sevaks' were returning from Ayodhya.

The incident led to tension in other parts of the State as a relief train, carrying passengers of the affected train, reached these stations on the way to Ahmedabad. At least two persons were stabbed to death in the Anand and Baroda railway stations, from where three more incidents were reported. Two incidents of stabbing were reported in the Ahmedabad railway station and in the Meghaninagar locality despite heavy police bandobust. A municipal bus was set afire in the labour-dominated Bapunagar locality of Ahmedabad. A dozen cases of arson were also reported from here.

VHP calls for bandh

An indefinite curfew has been clamped in Godhra town and a ``shoot at sight'' order issued following the incident. The authorities are keeping their fingers crossed in view of a call by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its sister organisations for a `Gujarat Bandh' tomorrow to protest against the ``ghastly'' incident. The State Government has appealed to the people to maintain peace.

The Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, who rushed to the spot along with the Minister of State for Home, Gordhan Jhadaphiya, and the Health Minister, Ashok Bhatt, said the Government had ordered a ``high-level inquiry''.

Making a brief statement in the Assembly, which is holding its budget session, Mr. Modi condemned the incident and said he had spoken with the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee. He also announced an immediate compensation of Rs. 2 lakhs to the next of kin of the deceased.

Attack was planned?

Mr. Modi hinted at the possibility of the attack being a ``planned'' one, pointing out that the train was ``attacked'' at the Godhra railway platform, where it halts for only about three minutes.

Even as conflicting reports about the sequence of events kept pouring in, the Home Secretary, K. Nityanandam, said a group of people had thrown stones at the train as soon as it halted at Godhra, forcing the passengers to bolt the doors from inside. As soon as the train left the platform, it stopped in the yard, which the railway authorities said was because someone had pulled the chain. It was not clear who pulled the chain, but someone from the attackers having climbed into the train before it left the platform is not ruled out.

As the train stopped, the miscreants virtually gheraoed the train and a flurry of stones poured in on the passengers. One of the coaches was doused with petrol and kerosene brought from a nearby petrol pump and set on fire. Also, burning rags were thrown in through the windows. The fire soon spread to at least four contiguous coaches, forcing many passengers to jump out. Those who could not - some 25 women and 15 children - perished in the fire.

Eyewitnesses said that about 1,200 `Ram sevaks' were travelling in the train. The local people in the Muslim-dominated Godhra town had been ``irritated'' by the ``abusive language'' used by the `Ram sevaks' while they were going to Ayodhya by the same train a few days ago. They had reportedly raised slogans as the train approached Godhra on the return journey this morning.

Senior police and railway officials, who rushed to the spot, found it difficult to recover the bodies, most of which were charred beyond recognition. The authorities said they had estimated the number of dead by merely counting the bones, adding that the exact number was not known immediately.

A relief train was sent from Ahmedabad and the State Government arranged for 30 State buses to carry the stranded passengers to their destinations. The Home Minister said the Government was taking necessary steps to ensure that the disturbances did not spread during the bandh tomorrow.

PTI reports:

Among the injured in the attack were 31 men, nine women and three children. Of them, 20 passengers, who sustained serious burns were admitted to a hospital at Godhra, Mr. Nityanandam said.

One of the coaches of the 18-bogie train was completely gutted. Two coaches were detached at the Godhra station while the train with the rest of the coaches arrived at Ahmedabad.

Mr. Vajpayee, who spoke with Mr. Modi over phone from New Delhi, has asked him to firmly deal with the situation arising out of the attack. The Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani, has also spoken to Mr. Modi.

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