//Life For Muslims : Nalini Taneja

Life For Muslims : Nalini Taneja

People's Democracy , 3 Dec 2006

Nalini Taneja

THE UPA government has not bothered much with Gujarat. Life remains bleak for the Muslims and the tribal Christians of Gujarat. One cannot say justice has been achieved for the victims of communal killings and one cannot say that fear no more resides in the hearts of the Muslims and tribal Christians in the state.

Narendra Modi, the architect and chief organiser of the 2002 genocide of Muslims in Gujarat continues as chief minister with popular sanction having won elections legitimately and with the complicity of the ruling classes and the political leadership of the mainstream bourgeois political parties. It is of course clear that one who has been elected through a democratic political process cannot be summarily dismissed, but justice through due process of law can certainly achieve the same. That it has not happened yet, and may never happen at all, if we are to go by our experience of the fate of all commissions of inquiries on communal killings since 1947, is more than likely.

Only the people of Gujarat can defeat Modi: but people have been communalised in the state through systematic propaganda and building of organisational networks by the Hindutva forces almost without let up since independence, and the Congress in the state has simply not posed any alternatives. The Gandhian institutions which have had a social base and alternative networks have been largely co-opted into the Hindutva project, as 2002 clearly showed.

It is not surprising then that the minorities, who have a very personal stake in secular alternatives and could have been a strong force in the democratic movement, have been pushed to the wall, and the left parties and the secular intelligentsia are fighting a brave, but much more unequal, battle in Gujarat than in any other state. One should not get led away by statistics on the status of Muslims in service provided by the Gujarat government: it reflects the over all prosperity, nature of economy and wealth and education in the state as compared to many other regions and the acceptance of an unequal situation where Muslims have had to comply with the prerogatives of the regime even when in positions of some kind of authority. What could these Muslim officers, in police administration and the judiciary, do or achieve in 2002? They were rendered not just helpless, but were at the receiving end of the violence perpetrated as much as any ordinary Muslim. We know that very well.

Moreover, through the 2002 genocide the Hindutva forces achieved for the Hindu ruling classes and for the Hindu lower middle classes, the complete elimination of anything that can be called as competition or ‘free play’ of market forces. Just as imperialism ensures that market operates in favour of globalised capital, and destroys what comes in its way, so also has the BJP government in Gujarat ensured that prosperous and ‘shining’ Gujarat does not share anything of its prosperity with Muslims any more. Small scale production and businesses are a hindrance in themselves, as is their ownership by Muslims.The genocide of 2002 and its aftermath represent the communalism of the era of neo-liberalism as much as the invasion and aftermath in Iraq represent the civilisational goals of the imperialist forces in the 21st century.

Despite the change in the central government, and claims of adherence to the common minimum programme, the assault on secular democracy continues in Gujarat. The cynical and reckless policies that engineer a communal divide also continue. The campaigns that today dominate political life in the state and have neatly hegemonised social and intellectual discourse centre around the issues brought to the fore by the Sangh Parivar. The entire Muslim community has been systematically demonised, especially in the hearts and minds of the middle classes, as unpatriotic, regressive, unreliable and violent. The manufacture of hatred has extended in tribal areas to include Christians. The consequences of communalised textbooks and popular cultural forms, and proliferation of religious organisations, can be gauged from the hold that communal, patriarchal and inegalitarian ideas have in the minds of the people.

In many ways the spread of backward ideas is stronger today than in the days immediately following independence when some of the inspiration of the freedom movement was still intact. Hindutva organisations are making greater inroads into the social life of women, adivasis and dalits, which is reflected in the increasing activism of these sections around issues crucial to the Hindutva agenda and on behalf of the Sangh Parivar outfits. Population myths, conversions, myths of foreigners and original inhabitants, appeasement of minorities, the justification of righting historical wrongs, and the anti-national character of minorities form the subjects that use up much newspaper space, pamphleteering, speeches, and discussions in ‘social’ networks.

As most reports by secular organisations like Communalism Combat and ANHAD show, there has been little attempt at healing and certainly no justice for the survivors. The high profile media coverage on the Best Bakery trial involving Zahira Sheikh has obscured the fact that to date there is no effective rehabilitation package for the survivors, or any measures to ensure independent investigation, prosecution and trial. The state government has not changed its stance in the least. Legal justice is openly being subverted and economic boycott of the Muslims continues. POTA was allowed to die, but all those who were arrested and charged under it, and continue to be in jail, and the Modi government continues to arrest Muslims under various pretexts.

As Teesta Setalvad has pointed out in a special report in Communalism Combat (September 2006), “What somehow escapes public attention is the extraordinary scale and extent of state complicity in the carnage of citizens in 2002 and therefore the unrelenting efforts to shield its perpetrators.” Numerous cases are not being allowed to proceed along lines that may ensure justice: the Gulberg Society massacre, the mass killings in Naroda Patiya, Ode and Sardarpura and the Godhra trial to name a few. Justice is being subverted through various means. Lawyers who had appeared for the accused have been appointed as public prosecutors, many of whom are clearly linked, ideologically and organisationally with the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Following petitions from activist organisations and the subsequent decision of the Supreme Court on July 11, 2006, the Gujarat government was compelled to appoint new public prosecutors for re investigation of some cases. Shockingly again among those appointed were RSS activists, including Vinod D. Gajjar, who had already earlier appeared for 23 accused in the Gulberg Society massacre (Communalism Combat, Sept. 2006). Particularly with regard to the Godhra trial, the Gujarat government has been quite obnoxious. Innocents have been arrested, those accused of mass murders roam scot free and have been granted anticipatory bail by the Gujarat High Court, evidences have been tampered with or not recorded, FIRs have been resisted, witnesses are being routinely intimidated, information is concealed even from the Supreme Court. In short, justice is nowhere in sight, and the UPA government at the centre has no policy or will to do anything about it.

As far as rehabilitation is concerned, there are thousands of survivors who have not been able to return to their original villages and places of residence. In Naroda Gaon and Patiya sites of mass killings, only a few have been able to return although it is well over four years now. The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) after a five-day visit to 17 of the 46 camps that are now the makeshift homes of the families, has said in its report that over 5,000 displaced famili
es continue to live in camps in "sub-human conditions" because the Gujarat government "is not fulfilling its constitutional responsibility" to create an atmosphere that would enable them to return home. While the state government stated that the inmates of the camps were living there voluntarily, the NCM in its report said: "In view of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Commission finds this viewpoint untenable and evasive of a government's basic responsibility." As reported in The Hindu, people continue to live without the most rudimentary civic amenities like potable water, sanitation, streetlights, schools, primary health centres and approach roads. Besides, "an overwhelming" number of families did not have ration cards. Requests for below poverty line cards have been repeatedly turned down. As a result, many families are unable to obtain food grains, cereals and kerosene at subsidised rates. The Commission found this had increased their hardship, as most displaced families were reduced to working for daily wages after losing their means of livelihood.

The Gujarat government on its part has sent back Rs 19 crore to the Centre, saying that all relief work is complete.

It should be noted that the camps are located on land bought by NGOs or donated by wealthy Muslims. Many inmates were key witnesses in major legal cases. Denial of basic rights to them is, therefore, also a way of intimidating them.

According to NCM member Zoya Hasan, the abdication of state responsibility in the post-violence situation is just as bad if not worse than what the state did during the carnage in 2002. "While the Gujarat government is refusing to recognise their displacement, it also seems that the nation has forgotten what happened in 2002." (The Hindu, October 24, 2006).

The NCM has now advocated a new rehabilitation package — on the model of the one extended to the 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims — for Gujarat’s displaced Muslims. “There should be a monitoring mechanism for implementation of rehabilitation measures as many among those residing in camps have no faith in the local administration.” In response to this the prime minister has belatedly announced a rehabilitation package of Rs 7 lakh to each family, although it remains to be seen whether it actually materialises. Narenda Modi has already protested on it.

Meanwhile, a Hard News report (October 2006) shows how Gujarat 2006 is deadlier than 2002. It refers to the alienation, helplessness and anger of Muslims. Across the state they say: There is no one who speaks for us…It is their government…What do we do? As one Muslim put it: “Our crime is we pray to Allah.” On the other side, the mindset of a very large number o Hindus is reflected in the sentiment: “The government is ours.” There is pride about what happened in 2002, the toofan (hurricane)and often remarks such as: we taught them a lesson; the world should learn how to deal with miyas from us.

Most cities and towns in the state are divided into Hindu ad Muslim areas, there are fewer schools with mixed students i.e. Hindu and Muslim, there are organisations whose sole task is to ‘punish’ and break attempts of Hindu-Muslim marriages, to ensure that segregation remains in all spheres of life. It was difficult enough for Muslims to find houses in Hindu areas; after 2002 it is impossible.

It is a deeply polarised, divided society in which prejudices abound and are entrenched, and communalism has become common sense. As the report clearly states: in the Gujarat of today violence is invisible. It operates systematically, as well as subtly, at the establishment and social level…and…the Gujarat government has seceded from the Indian constitution. Many of those arrested under POTA were those active in organising relief camps, and there is a conscious policy to break those emerging as leaders who want to fight politically, constitutionally and legally. Muslims are being pushed to the wall, to a state of desperation.

Discrimination is rampant. There is no question of equal citizenship rights here. What the Hindutva ideologues said about Muslims, that if they want to stay in India they have to do so as second class citizens, on terms dictated by the “majority”, is a reality here. Right to free speech, residence, work and livelihood, education are all denied. Thousands of students have not been able to get back to schools because schools where they were earlier studying will not take them back once they ‘missed’ school for so many days in 2002, or because the Muslims have not been able to return to original places of residence, or because they have become destitute. The atmosphere in the schools is not conducive to presence of minorities, and there is discrimination and hostility to Muslim children. The curriculum is in any case communal, especially the social science textbooks, and Vande Mataram, Gayatri mantra, and various rituals are common and compulsory in schools.

Economic boycott continues in many areas and in many forms; businesses, shops, workshops, closed down or destroyed have not been able to re start. Those who lost employment have in majority of the cases not been able to regain it; where employers are willing to take back Muslim employees they are prevented from doing so by Hindutva cadres. We carried a report a few months back on the rampant discrimination against Muslims in allowing them work under the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. There is discrimination in getting loans from banks.

OBC communities among Muslims find it difficult to get certain certificates, and the saffronisation of bureaucracy and local power structures has meant that panchayats, co-operatives, agrarian produce markets and government schemes have become sites for discrimination against Muslims (Hard News, October 2006).