By Asghar Ali Engineer, The Milli Gazette Online
4 March 2006
The situation in Gujarat is afar from normal even more than three years after carnage of 2002. The situation, particularly in rural areas is as Harsh Mandar, former IAS officer and prominent activist for communal harmony in Gujarat put it “they (i.e. Hindus) hate us and we (i.e. Muslims) fear them. As any psychologist will know hate and fear are not normal human situations. Hindus, particularly, those of Sangh Parivar, hate Muslims and Muslims, particularly those who suffered in 2002 carnage, fear the Hindus.
The Gujarat carnage was unprecedented in the history of communal riots in independent India. Never such communal violence took place with so much active collaboration of the state. There never was so much hate campaign against minorities in the history of Independent India as in Gujarat. There is no let up in the hate propaganda even now. The prophet of hate Pravin Togadia is spearheading this campaign.
Generally the guilty of communal violence are not punished but the Gujarat Government has broken all records in this respect also. They closed down all the cases; soon after the carnage saying no evidence is available. It was only after the intervention of the Supreme Court that these cases were reopened, more than 2000 of them. The police are generally partial but in Gujarat it acted almost like a Hindutva force. It openly took part in killing and looting though there were some honest and committed officers who were rendered ineffective by transferring them to administrative posts or to those areas where there was no rioting.
All this is history now. The present situation is no less worrisome. Harsh Mandar and some of us sat together to evolve a strategy for effective intervention. More than 50% refugees are still unable to return to their villages. Many of these refugees are rotting in ghettoes created after the carnage. They want to return to their villages but are afraid to go back. They are threatened or blackmailed to withdraw the cases.
There are heart- rending stories. Those who have returned live in fear and total isolation. No one talks to them, no one invites them, no one even looks at them. So scorned they find it difficult to live there. Villages are small units of population and quite interdependent. In big cities one can live in such situation but not in small villages. These victims say we can live even with economic boycott but not when everyone hates us or neglects us.
All this is due to hate campaign going on by VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres. Other political parties just do not exist including the Congress. Even if it does, it dare not speak up. There is no effective intervention by social activists. The NGOs are as much polluted by communal poison. They either hate Muslims or are totally indifferent to their fate. Harsh Mandar wants to develop some module of active intervention to bring Muslims into village mainstream again.
The Congress at the Centre is not bothered. The Congress workers at the state level are more in sympathy to the BJP than to minorities. Some NGOs working in cities like Ahmedabad may have sympathy for Muslims but not those working in rural areas. We put our heads together and try to evolve some ways to effectively intervene to bring about some interaction between Hindus and Muslims.
The Hindus are not real obstacle in general, but militant Hindu organisations. They have acquired high stake in hate politics. They collect money in the name of protecting and promoting Hinduism (read Hindutva). They bring money for ‘welfare’ of Dalits and tribals and use it for hate campaign among them and for Hinduising dalits and tribals. Thus these weaker sections of Hindu society also have become part of Hndutva campaign.
These dalits and tribals, even when not in agreement with Hindutva campaign cannot speak out as they also have to live in the same village. They cannot afford to earn hostility of upper caste Hindus. Thus Muslims are totally isolated.
Harsh Mandar tells us that Mrs. Malika Sarabhai has agreed to develop a cultural package for rural areas. She will give cultural performances with message of peace and harmony, with no overt propaganda. Malika Sarabhai had taken very bold stand against Narendra Modi and Narendra Modi left no stone unturned to harass her. But she stood up courageously.
This will be followed up by screening the Film Gandhi to further consolidate the message of peace and non-violence. This could be followed by inter-community dialogue after carefully selecting villages, which are more prone to the message of peace. It is undoubtedly a slow process but there is no short -cuts in such matters. Hate and suspicion are easy to create but difficult to remove.
Also, there are thousands who have not been able to re-enter their villages after the carnage. What about them? This is even more challenging. Either they are not being allowed to enter or they are allowed conditionally – withdraw the cases in the court. Thus it becomes question of justice and survival. If they want justice – and it would be long to come by, if at all it is delivered – or their immediate survival. They have to choose between the two.
Many are inclined to choose the later – survival, but many are determined to get justice. Either way it is very challenging. Unless state helps nothing can be done. As pointed out state itself is involved in perpetrating injustice. A booklet recently published by Yusuf Meherally Centre and Aman Biradari, states, under the subtitle “Planned Subversion of Justice in Gujarat”, “There has been injustice and partisanship by state authorities in India in communal situations in the past. But never in independent India have state authorities treated a segment of its citizens with such open consistent and elaborate structured discrimination, as has been observed during the state sponsored pogrom of 2002 and its aftermath, in defiance of every civilised principle of justice and the rule of law.” (p-9)
The logic of this situation is simple. If the state thinks of giving justice (which it will never) it will go against itself. Because it is state, which is primarily responsible for whatever has happened in Gujarat. And state will never go against itself. It will be totally discredited politically. Modi still indulges in clever attacks on Muslims of Gujarat. When some babies were born to women in refugee camps he had said satirically in one of his speeches that I cannot run baby producing factories for them (i.e. for Muslims).
And recently, a month ago, again he observed, while launching a health camp that what happens to these Muslim women’s purdah (veil) while going for easing themselves in the morning (outside their houses). He basically considers Muslims as enemies, not citizens of his state. It has been well known that even in Ahmedabad in Juhapura Muslim area, no buses stop, no bank and school facilities are available. Even foreigners are treated with more respect.
Thus as long as Narendra Modi is in command and BJP is in power, one cannot expect justice for Muslims and even for Christians at the hands of the state. And the civil society in Gujarat less we speak better it is. To the civil society of Gujarat the words of Martin Luther King Jr. (quoted by the said booklet) are quite apt: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The deafening silence of Gujarat civil society is more conspicuous by its presence.
And irony of the situation is that there is no other way but to rely on some civil institutions – whatever available – for promoting awareness for justice for the victims of the Gujarat carnage. In many ways the present post-carnage situation is worse than when violence was taking place. It was visible and people from o
ther parts of Gujarat could protest and pressurise.
Today these injustices are quite invisible and intolerable. It requires constant campaigning to make these injustices visible. As it falls with the state subject one cannot even ask the Central Government to intervene. Judiciary can and did. But there is limit to what the judiciary can do. The whole administration is in the grip of the Modi government. Civil servants or bureaucracy also cannot be expected to move.
Thus some NGOs like Aman Biradari are campaigning for justice. They are training what they call nyay pathiks i.e. barefoot justice activists who are being imparted paralegal training to work among the victims of 2002 carnage. These nyaya pathiks are drawn from amongst men and women of different castes and communities. They will be mostly from working class and farming communities.
Some nyay pathiks may work full time and may be given some monetary compensation but most will work part time and on voluntary basis. Also there will be need for students and youth and other activists for engaging with the campaign for peace and harmony. There is also need to bring about reconciliation in the spirit of forgiveness. The majority community should be brought about to say sorry for what happened and victims should show generosity to forgive. That perhaps will show the path for long -term peace in Gujarat.