When the world seems to be inexorably hurtling towards some kind of multi-dimensional disaster, when the all-consuming passion of humanity appears equally divided between amassing of material comforts and hatred of the ‘other’, there seems to be little point in arguing for the saving grace of poetry.
Perhaps, after one of the worst massacres in human history, Gujarat is still lucky to have its fair share of committed activists working relentlessly towards peace and justice. A state ripped down the middle by none other than the state itself is celebrating poetry because there are people who have the courage and conviction to stand up for democratic values and human dignity after facing perhaps one of the worst instances of organised violence in modern India, the night of long knives. That night did not end with February and March of 2002.
Twenty-four months have passed, and injustice continues and so does partisan treatment and de-recognition of Muslims as legitimate citizens of the land. The ghastly communal violence of Gujarat, which started in February 2002, is still manifesting itself in the plight and faces of the more than 200,000 internally displaced Muslims. The scar on the psyche of the community runs deep, having been so effectively marginalised, terrorised, stigmatised, ghettoised and immobilised. The government and establishment have been gloriously ineffective in reaching out to the victims with a healing touch. Relief and rehabilitation has been a far cry; compensation has been embarrassingly inadequate. As if apathy was not bad enough, the state-engineered violence against the minorities continues - the basic ‘right to life with dignity’ has in a way been taken away from the entire community.
Can there be a rights discourse when the state is indulging in subversion of the rights of its own citizens?
Civic amenities, law and the minorities
It should not be shocking that victimisation is a common everyday occurrence. The Ahmedabad Electricity Corporation’s refuses to provide electricity connections to the houses and business establishments of the victimised Muslims, demanding innumerable proofs where people have nothing but charred remains of their property. For a state which claims 24 hours uninterrupted power supply, the Gujarat Electricity Board continues to inflict power cuts on Signal Falia (an area besides the Godhra railway station) and Godhra town on some pretext or other. That these areas are dominated by the Muslims should not be seen as coincidence.
The Godhra investigation has resulted in nearly 100 arrests, of which 53 are extremely poor people. It seems ‘action-taken’ is a bid to satisfy the numbers game as the shoddy and biased investigations have come under the scanner of the apex court of India. The draconian provisions of POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002, updated version of ‘TADA’) have also been imposed upon them, with disastrous consequences such as further impoverishment and social ostracisation of the victims’ families. Maulana Umarji, the alleged chief conspirator of the Godhra incident, who is in fact a social activist and leader of the community, has been targeted in order to terrorise the community into silence and submission.
The alacrity which is so all-pervasive in the investigative conduct seems to be in short supply when it comes to dealing with the numerous cases of mass murders in the post-Godhra violence, memorialised by names such as Best Bakery, Sardarpura, Chamanpura, Naroda Patia... In these cases, one is suddenly confronted with the sudden unavailability of public prosecutors, disappearance of witnesses, an ‘overstretched’ crime branch, and selective amnesia regarding invocation of POTA. Given all this, the state surely deserves credit that only 2107 of the 4252 cases of violence against the minority community have been summarily disposed off.
Every time a public mishap has happened, from the Akshardham temple massacre in September 2002 to former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya’s murder in March 2003, the state government has been more than eager to introduce the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) conspiracy angle. In fact, even before preliminary investigations start, the police, under obvious instructions from the State Home Ministry, have been keen to flash some Urdu script sourced to the accused. They colour any and every incident with the conspiracy brush and end up drawing an ISI linkage no matter what. However, the non-invocation of POTA for any of the accused of the mass-murders that followed Godhra point to a deliberate government scheme. In Gujarat today, you can still find the accused sipping chai and relishing golas (syrup-flavoured ice) under the ‘ever-vigilant eyes’ of the police.
These are times even worse than a state of emergency, because under the veneer of normalcy some of the worst crimes against humanity are being committed by none other than the state. This is also the view of Harsh Mander, social activist and country director of the group ActionAid India. The hype that surround the celebration of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, ‘Nav Ratri’ and ‘Patang Utsav’ (kite festival) only showcase ‘wooden’ pride meant to hide official cynicism.
In the last one year alone, 240 persons belonging to the minority community have been booked under POTA for allegations such as waging war against the country, conspiring to kill important leaders of the ruling party, and participating in ISI’s plans of destabilisation. Of the 240 POTA accused in Gujarat, 239 are Muslims and the remaining one is a Sikh. The modus operandi is to illegally detain individuals, torture them, threaten them with the use of POTA and extort a ‘confession’. The accompanying box provides details of four such cases in the past one year, illustrating the systematic method of creating a ‘terrorist’ in Gujarat.
The case details indicate that from end-November 2002 onwards the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB), having its office at the Gaikwad Haveli police station in Ahmedabad, has ‘detected’ around 120 ‘terrorists’. The entries in the column on offences reveal a remarkable similarity of charges in all the four cases -- criminal conspiracy, waging war against the state and, of course, offences under POTA. The Column 4 entries indicate that most of the accused were first detained illegally prior to their official arrest. An independent investigation reveals that almost all ‘terrorists’ were tortured and terrorised during the period of illegal detention to extract confessions. It was also found that the women relatives of the accused were illegally detained to pressurise the male members to ‘confess’. Almost none of the arrested persons had a criminal record and most belonged to educated middle-class Muslim families of Ahmedabad. All the first information reports (FIRs) have almost the same recitation, including the allegation:
“The accused being aggrieved by the killings of Muslims in the post-Godhra riots have decided to take revenge by killing important members of the ruling party and trying to destabilise the state”.
The price of return
Muslims are not the only ones being targeted systematically. Activists and members of the media who speak out against the abuse of power are also being targeted.
The aim of the state from all such actions is a single-minded effort to generate suspicion between the Hindus and Muslims, by projecting the former as vulnerable targets for Islamic ‘terrorists’ and the ISI; and to ultimately extract political mileage by playing the role of the sole saviour. Illegal detentions, misuse of POTA and intimidation of social activists are not mere abuse of the criminal law system, but are in complete violation of the basic tenets of democracy and against the rights guaranteed under the articles 14, 21, 22 and 39A of the Indian Constitution all amounting to an undeclared ‘emergency’ with suspension of the fundamental rights of a section of the citizenry.
The state also selectively targets Muslim moderates, peace activists and social workers at the forefront of relief and rehabilitation efforts. They are being harassed, threatened and sometimes arrested on alleged ‘hawala’ money-laundering links. Overall, the government strategy is to try and effectively silence moderates and progressives among both Hindus and Muslims.
Rashidabano Yusufkhan Pathan, a resident of Shahpur, was witness to the brutal attack on her husband whose only crime was that he raised his voice against the police inaction when a riotous mob went on rampage. The police took him away and thrashed him in front of his wife. He died later the same day. Not only were Rashidabano’s attempts to register the FIR thwarted, there were attempts to gag her subsequently through threats. After a year and half of attempting to be heard, Rashidabano finally did get a chance to depose in front of the Nanavati and Shah Commission, set up to inquire into Godhra and its aftermath. However, even the honourable members of the Commission, instead of recording her deposition verbatim tried to delete the most crucial parts of her testimony regarding police actions.
In the rural Gujarat region of Himmatnagar, Muslims driven out of their villages during the riots are being forced into a ‘compromise’ by withdrawing their cases -- the price of return. The gram panchayats, the much-touted symbol of grassroots democracy, are also being bullied to be made part of the conspiracy. The victims have felt safest when they have wilfully resisted the attempts of state incursion. “We did not allow the state to enter and that is why there is peace… everywhere the state came, it came with the Hindu fundamentalists like the Bajrang Dal or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad who indulged in loot and murder. We took a conscious decision to keep the state out, that is why there is peace here in spite of Popatpura being surrounded by 14 Hindu villages”, says Yasmeen, a 30 year old mother of three, whose father and brother were arrested under false charges of rioting in Godhra town.
The Muslim ghetto
A series of state government orders following the violence, issued as a result of public pressure, have set guidelines for compensation for injury and loss of life, property, employment or livelihood. By and large, however, victims received paltry sums as compensation for their losses -- ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand rupees. 60-year-old R Bibi, former resident of Naroda Patia, says that the government demanded proof that her son was killed before she could receive compensation: "They want proof, where am I going to go to get proof? My life was taken away when they shot my son. Everything has been taken away and now they want evidence, where will I get the body from? I was not even able to see his body".
Of the dozens of people interviewed, none had been compensated for injury or loss of employment or livelihood. Independent non-governmental groups estimate that as a result of the large-scale destruction of homes, properties and businesses in Gujarat, the Muslim community has suffered an economic loss totalling INR 3,800 crores (USD 760 million). The prolonged closure of shops, industries, and commercial establishments in Gujarat has also hurt the economy as a whole and added to soaring unemployment rates.
Muslims in Gujarat, already among the poorest communities in the state, have been further economically marginalised through ongoing economic boycotts instituted by Hindu nationalist leaders with the support of local officials. Many remain unable to farm their fields, sell their wares, return to their businesses, operate commercial vehicles, or retain their jobs, including in the public sector. Muslims cannot work, reside, or send their children to schools in Hindu dominated localities. As the segregation continues, hopes for community dialogue or reconciliation have dissipated. All this has contributed to the community´s ‘ghettoisation’.
In Pavagadh, a taluka in Panchmahals district, 22 families have been displaced, their property and land impounded. They have been forced to go live in a nearby town. The same is the case in Popatpura taluka, whose Muslims have been forced to live elsewhere after being repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to return to Vejalpur village, four kilometres from Godhra township. From Mehsana to Ahmedabad, Sabarkantha to Panchmahals - the story is same.
Teesta Setalvad, the well-known activist responsible for getting the Best Bakery case re-opened, is getting threatening calls and so is her associate Raiskhan Pathan. Sishu Milap, an NGO working with street and working children in Vadodara, has stopped getting government grants because of its association with the Vadodara branch of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL). SAHR WARU, a group working with the rape victims of the carnage, trying to rehabilitate them with livelihood options and providing protection at the trial stage, is subjected middle-of-the-night checks from the Intelligence Bureau.
Mukul Sinha, trade-unionist and senior advocate in the Gujarat High Court, highlights his association with the enquiry commission: “While the Nanavati and Shah Commission had been written off as partisan and the entire exercise an eye-wash, we have persisted with them. In choosing to continue as the cross-examiner in the Commission, we managed to facilitate the fearful witnesses to come and depose in front of the Commission. When I have that quantum of evidence but I do not produce them because I believe the Commission is partisan then I am choosing not to utilise the democratic space provided by the process of an enquiry commission”. On the cross examination of the witnesses in Godhra during the hearing of the Commission, Sinha says, “We need to be aware of the fact that this Commission report is not just for this carnage but has historical importance and when we produce evidence and such powerful evidence, and if the Commission ignores them, then it will be at the peril of its own credibility. All the evidence is being recorded and we owe it to the times that this be done”.
Salim Sheikh, resident of Naroda Patia and an important witness, was brought forward by Aman Pathiks (community volunteers, many of whom are the victims of the carnage itself) to depose in front of the Nanavati Commission. On coming to know about this, the Crime Branch of the Gujarat Police picked-up Sheikh’s son on the night before deposition which was to be on 26 August 2003. Meanwhile, they summoned Salim to the Kagdapeeth Police Station on 27 August at 10:30 am, coinciding with the time of the hearing. However, Salim was at the Commission of Enquiry venue at 10:30 am defying the Gujarat Police orders. This is the power of the witness protection programme of Aman Pathiks, where even spending time with them gives the targeted persons hope and courage to defy the police.
Many civil rights groups and other support organisations are working on witness protection programmes, which will be very important when the trials begin and the witnesses come forward to give evidence. Mukul Sinha is waiting for the Ahmedabad trials to begin so that the laboriously protected witnesses can come out and depose at the trial stage. That is the only way to prevent another ‘Best Bakery’.
Not only has state inaction in Gujarat served as a severe test case of the criminal justice system of India as a whole, it has resulted in judicial and civil liberties communities the world over to focus attention on Gujarat. Such international attention and the Supreme Court of India’s orders, even though late, can only bring fruitful results, says Achyut Yagnik, social activist and director of SETU, an NGO working on rehabilitating earthquake victims. “When a Human Rights Watch comes out with a report on the subversion of justice in Gujarat or Amnesty International writes about the massive illegal detention of members of the minority community, it ensures that the public memory and attention, which is criminally short, gets re-focussed on the silent and sophisticated victimisation of the Muslims”.
Fifteen months after the Gujarat carnage, in July 2003, the US-based Human Rights Watch came out with a seventy-page detailed report on the plight of Gujarat’s Muslims. Amnesty International, headquartered in London, also published a report on the illegal detention of Muslims. The two organisations have been constantly putting out appeals and updates on the situation in Gujarat. However, one wonders why the United Nations mechanisms were not invoked during the pogrom and why they are still not being invoked. For example, why were the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Convention Against Torture (CAT) not sought to be applied? Even though India has not ratified CAT, Gujarat would have been good reason to put pressure for ratification. To repeat, it is surprising that the United Nations system as a whole has remained so conspicuous by its absence in the Gujarat massacres and their continuing fallout.
Justice needs to be seen to be done in Gujarat, for not only was the violence suffered by the victims here, it was seen by countless millions in their living rooms through live broadcasts -- in Shillong, Kanpur, Cuttack, Kochi, Nasik and New Delhi. Those affected therefore are not limited to the geographical spaces of Gujarat, but also to the mind space of ‘India’, the larger subcontinent, and the world.
In any rights discourse, the government is the most important reference point. Even for the inalienable first generation civil and political rights, the state is the sole guarantor, and it cannot abdicate the moral and legal responsibility and the trust that has been vested in it by the citizens. The state is a multi-headed institution, manifesting itself through different units, and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), fortunately, is one of them. The NHRC has done an exemplary job in the context of Gujarat. Not only have they given a very scathing report on the state’s role in Gujarat but they have also moved the Supreme Court in both the Best Bakery and the Bilkees Banu cases. In fact, the Commission’s recommendation of handing over ten cases of mass-murder to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for investigation and trial outside Gujarat is finally proceeding ahead with the recent Supreme Court indictments against the Gujarat government. The appointment of the lawyer Harish Salve as the Amicus Curiae (friend-of-the-court) on the riots cases can be directly attributed to the stand taken by NHRC chairman, Justice AS Anand.
Despite valiant efforts by civil society groups and the NHRC, the question remains whether there can be any hope when the state itself becomes the prime violator of rights. Yes, feels Mukul Sinha, “but it requires concerted effort, planning and strategising”. One such initiative for strategising is the Citizen’s Initiative, a conglomerate of 38 NGOs and activists who came together during the carnage. After innumerable debates, they were the first ones to declare the incidents following the Godhra train killings as ‘pogroms’ and ‘genocide’.
Aman Samudaya was one Citizen’s Initiative effort to spread the word of peace, reconciliation, hope and to provide the much-needed healing touch to people devastated by the riots. Spread over the most ravaged parts of Ahmedabad, Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gam, Vatva, Juhapura, Berhampura, Gomtipur, Bapu Nagar, Darya Khan Gummat, the Aman Samudaya has grown from a project to a movement, an effective attempt to challenge the fascism exhibited by the state. The Aman Samudaya has taken a decided political stance, and been a passionate votary of peace and religious harmony in a state where concepts like governance, constitution and citizen’s rights would seem to have been cremated.
The conspiracy of silence, the abnormality of maintaining the business-as-usual attitude, has been taken on frontally by the Aman Samudaya. Working with the victims in relief camps, providing the traumatised women and children much-needed psycho-social counselling, livelihood support to the ravaged families, legal support to the citizens whose right to life has been violated by the state, accompanying the victims to different fora to make their voices of anguish heard – the Aman Pathiks have done it all. They have pitched in to rebuild lives, hope and trust. (Aman = Peace)
“After witnessing the relentless state fascism, we took a conscious decision of focusing on building peace cadres, building Aman Parivaars, creating democratic and humanitarian spaces”, says Amarjyoti Naik, team-leader of the Aman Samudaya. “We operate on the premise that this is a campaign of the people and, rightfully, it should be owned by the people. No intervention will be sustainable if peace does not prevail. Organisations will continue providing relief and rehabilitation and Hindu nationalists will continue indulging in violence with impunity, destroying what has been achieved. Such interventions are not sustainable without peace and security and that will not take off without justice. Justice needs to prevail for lives to be lived, hence all such attempts of subversion of justice, including by the state, have to be challenged”.
The Aman Samudaya not only rebuilds houses of the Muslims, it has also supported the Hindus, Dalits and Chamar ‘outcastes’ when they are confronted with challenges, such as when they lost their dwellings to the fierce monsoon of 2003. It mobilised residents when an eviction-cum-resettlement drive was undertaken by the Ahmedabad Municipality Corporation on the banks of the Sabarmati river for the much touted River Front Development Project, a beautification drive for the rich and the mighty being carried out without a thought spared for the slum-dwellers. Members of both Hindu and Muslim communities have come together to form the Rehthaan Aadhikaar Manch (Right to Shelter Campaign). When development and economic well-being take priority, people suo moto disown the communal card, says social activist and Jesuit priest Cedric Prakash of ‘Prashant’, a centre for human rights, justice and peace which works with the minority community members and the slum dwellers in Ahmedabad.
While the Ahmedabad chapter of Aman Samudaya was thus engaged in building peace cadre and community mobilisation, the Godhra chapter was started in April 2003. “Godhra was a mine-field of state terrorism. When we entered, we thought our primary job would be to tackle the systematic communal propaganda, but we soon realised the levels of destitution, the depth of mistrust, the absolute misery of the families who had their loved ones booked under POTA. The level of desperation hit us. We were not prepared for such hopelessness”, says Bahadur, Programme Manager, of Godhra Aman Samudaya. Aman Samudaya started work among the psychologically polarised population, seeking to provide the much-needed healing touch through relief, rehabilitation and legal aid. It also then took up individual cases, and made socio-economic profiles of each of the POTA accused families. After eight months of intervention, the business community of Godhra is now bearing the economic cost of the riots and is working hand in hand-to-ward off future incidents that could once again tear the town apart.
‘Godhra Gaurav’ is another initiative involved in activities ranging from providing relief to the families pushed into destitution because the prime bread-winners are behind bars under POTA, to doing detailed village surveys to identify needy families, celebrating Raksha Bandhan between Muslims and Hindus, and carrying out a campaign of peaceful protests. A body of 17 activist groups, Godhra Gaurav brings out rallies where people come in large numbers to be counted for peace. A calculation with figures from the income tax, sales tax and revenue department revealed that not less than USD 125,000 of business was being lost daily in Godhra town. “This study of the daily cost of riot was a major factor in bringing people together”, say Sujaat Vali and Nimesh Shah, leading peace activists and members of Godhra Gaurav.
Popatpura, the Muslim village of 200-plus families surrounded by 14 Hindu villages that has managed to survive harmoniously, has become a refuge for many Muslims driven out from other villages. Popatpura has a space called the Aman Chowraha (peace and justice centre), which all the villagers treat as ‘supreme court’, a place to resolve disputes in lieu of even the Godhra Sessions Court and the Gujarat High Court.
ANHAD, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, has also been active in combating communalism through cultural programmes, intensive political training of local activists, and peace festivals. It is a body formed by activists Shabnam Hashmi and Harsh Mander, along with singer Shubha Mudgal and academician Biju Mathew. “We need to act now before its too late, because if we lose our civil and political rights, there would not be any democracy left to defend”, says Hashmi. The fusion band Indian Ocean, prominent theatre activists Haren Gandhi and Soumya Joshi have also joined forces with the ever-increasing efforts for challenging the conscious inertia of the disinterested middle class.
Rohit Prajapati, trade unionist and leading member of the Vadodara PUCL, speaks of the need to stop the working class movement from being sabotaged by Hindu nationalists and associated organisations. Spelling out the dangers of majoritarian nationalism, which could take on the colours of fascism in no time, Prajapati says, “The Gujarat government’s labour policies hurt the interests of the Hindu workforce as well, even though the Modi government was elected on the Hindutva mandate. We try to expose the lack of commitment of this government even to the Hindu public. We will continue to raise the question of increasing unemployment and the rising penury among the working classes of all communities at a time when both the federal and the state governments are claiming economic prosperity”.
Indeed, the much-touted economic development has only meant jobless growth. In the changing political economy, the balance of social forces has been altered with the traditional working classes being reduced to the pauperised informal sector category. This trend, tied to the corresponding rise of a wealthy middle class which constitutes the base of Hindutva, will continue to give rise to may more ‘Gujarats’ in the future, here and elsewhere. Hence, there is an important need to recognise the convergence of the two agendas: the neo-liberal paradigm with its thrust on integration into an essentially unequal capitalist world system whose aim is to dispense with the ‘bottom 30 percent’, and the agenda of Hindutva which has no place for the diversities and the pluralities of India and certainly not for shudras, ati-shudras (extreme outcastes’), Muslims and women.
Power of confession
The Gujarat Harmony Project, an initiative of the organisation CARE, has been working extensively on the issue of creating lost livelihoods. It has been providing micro-finance support through group-lending schemes through its partner Samarth, where it encourages the groups to include members from both the communities. Similarly, Meera Malek and Rafiq Zakaria’s Centre for Development Education has been working with Hindu and Muslim youth. Interestingly, some of the former have confessed their guilt in the killings and the arson and looting that followed. Such confessional sessions have resulted in bringing the youth of both the communities together.
When Martin Macwan of Navsarjan takes out a rally for assertion of Dalit human rights through the villages of Gujarat, he gives a clarion call for the downtrodden to refuse the ill-treatment and the structural violence that they are subjected to through the brahminical ideology of karma and caste. He calls out for resisting every symbol of such violence and exploitation, like Ram Patra (separate cups for Dalits in which tea is served in local shops and houses) and accepting all symbols of equality like the Bhim Patra (the plate/saucer in which a Dalit generally drinks tea). Also in such rallies he spells out the contribution of Muslims towards the Dalit struggle – “Muslims were the first teachers of the Dalits in the pre-independence era. Even BR Ambedkar has been taught by a Muslim teacher”. Concurs activist Shakeel Ahmed, “Dalits converted to Islam to put an end to the indignities that the Brahminical order was imposing on them”. Ahmed is chief administrator of Islamic Relief Committee, which has been working for the rehabilitation of the Muslim victims of the Gujarat carnage.
However, with such seemingly natural reasons for alliance existing between the Dalits and the Muslims, the fact that Dalits have been used in large numbers to participate in the Gujarat pogroms is baffling, to say the least. It seems concerted efforts will be required to reverse the process of ‘brahminisation’ of Dalits and their progressively being used as canon fodder by ‘Hindu Rashtra’ fanatics. The trend of tribals in many states voting for the Hindu nationalist party is also a signal of dangerous trends.
Majoritarian nationalism is nothing but the underbelly of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism and the violence it engenders is neither the pathology, nor the anti-thesis of nationalism. Rather it is the dark side that refuses to go away. Trade-unionist and peace activist Ashim Roy says of this dangerous agenda of nationalism: “It is the congenital trait of the Sangh Parivar to think, prepare and plan communal violence. The evidence is so incontrovertible that the riots and the Sangh Parivar appear like Siamese twins. It is in these riots, when people suffer and die, that the Sangh Parivar celebrates. In the frenzy of burning and destruction, the macabre logic of violence, the raping of women and the mutilation of bodies, the ideals of the democracy die and the Hindu nation arrives”.
It is this idea of the Hindu nation, which has to be combated. But while strategising the battle plan, like always, it is important to recognise the strength of the enemy. One has to be careful of engaging the masses in a discourse where the terms are decided by the Hindu nationalists. Thus far, the mainstream secular activists and political workers have abjectly failed in their attempts to set the terms of the debate. In fact, the complete absence of political opposition in Gujarat is appalling. The Congress party has capsized and resigned to reactionary politics. Its leadership is devoid of original thinking. The party’s dilemma is understandable, with the 1975 state of emergency and the 1984 riots still fresh in the memory of many. And less said the better about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance. But what about the Left parties? The discourse from their side has been mostly in terms of rebuttals, refutations and reactions. We must recognise that the communal players have had a head-start over the secularists.
The secularists also need to recognise that the message of democracy need not be conveyed in an irreligious or irreverent manner - because no human rights action can happen by stripping the intervention off humanity. If you cannot give Siddharth / Iqbal a secure job or a better future, then it would be naïve to expect him to give up Ram / Allah! Hence the discourse on democracy has to be in terms which recognise and respect the sentiments of the masses. Hence, the need is to highlight syncretism in religious traditions, even visible in Gujarat if one looks for it.
One of the problems with multi-level struggles required of the NGOs of present-day Gujarat is that their focus on target groups and focus-issues results in micro-interventions. For example, an NGO working on mother and child health with tribal women would only restrict itself to that sphere and not to the patriarchy prevailing in the tribal community, which is what has resulted in poor health indicators. Similarly, many groups with focus on action-based intervention such as rehabilitation, and job creation will not challenge the structural violence of the brahminical order. It has taken killing of the scale of Gujarat 2002 to bring all the groups together.
Says trade unionist Rohit Prajapati: “When the dice is so heavily loaded against the victims and almost the entire legal fraternity at the local level, right from the public prosecutor, police investigator to the MLA, are involved, the only way justice could be meted out is if the media plays a bigger role. The media needs to own-up the story. It needs to be the democratic watchdog and create public pressure and maintain it through regular follow-ups”.
Prajapati sees no alternative to public pressure. He feels that if the media tempo could be maintained, then judges, bureaucrats, politicians would all be forced to be more circumspect when dealing with the horrors of communal violence. While the Best Bakery case did manage to get media attention and stir the national psyche, there are many more cases in rural Godhra (such as in Pawagarh, Kinjiri, Lunawada), and Ramol in suburban Ahmedabad which have gone unreported and unnoticed. Under such circumstances, it is important to travel to the interiors, capture unheard voices of victims of violence so that others can go about building alliances, working out a single strategy and fighting to create a ‘collective conscience’ which will never forget the gravity of the injustice meted out in Gujarat 2002.
Moreover, the media should go even deeper and further in focusing on the real stories. The recent riots in Dariyapur and Viramgam, which happened on the basis of mere rumours, would not have happened if the rumours had not been debunked by the media through independent fact-finding. The journalists should also look into the incidents of ‘secondary victimisation’ through illegal detention of the youth of the community. The battle at hand is enormous, but the press tends to respond with conspicuous silence in exposing polarisation attempts by the candidates from the ruling party who are contesting the upcoming general elections. This must be considered tantamount to colluding with those with the communal agenda. Abnormal situations require extraordinary, super-human and persistent responses, and thus far the media has not shown itself to be entirely reliable.
In such times when hope does tend to become a dead letter, making the victims re-visit their pain and remember the details of the violence may be considered harsh and inhumane. While time would attempt the healing, on the other hand, it is important to remember not to forget, even at a price to the emotional wellbeing of the victims and the larger population. Remove the painful details and you create a permanent wedge between ‘Best Bakery’ and justice. It is these details that the perpetrators fear most, and so to maintain the social pressure, the activists must do all they can to aid the victims to remember the details of atrocity. The memory of the victims will be the first weapon in the battle that is ahead, which is to start the trials for all riot-related cases, barring none. Time, which heals, is also the time which denies justice. Time can trivialise pain and cleanse the guilty. That will not be allowed to happen in Gujarat.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
The archive: 25 years of Southasia
Old Faces, New Precedents
On 11 May 2013, Pakistan went to the polls in a general election that will transfer power democratically for the first time in the nation's history. Nawaz Sharif has claimed victory for the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
From our archive:
Mehreen Zahra-Malik discusses novel means of holding corrupt officials to account in 'A coup by other means?' (July 2012)
Shamshad Ahmad on praetorian irony, Machiavelli's prince, and Pakistan's fight for constitutional primacy. (January 2008)
Zia Mian and A H Nayyar write about Pakistan's coup culture and Nawaz Sharif's 'absolutist sense of power.' (November 1999)