Because Human spirit refuses to be vanquished,
Because hope is still not a dead letter. . . . . . .
In this report, the authors, Ms Biraj Swain & Mr Somnath Vatsa, trace the concerted, all encompassing State terrorism & different forms of violence being meted out to the members of the minority community in Gujarat 2 years after the carnage. They also map the civil society reaction to counter the same in various forms of peace & justice interventions. However, they raise questions about the reactive responses of the long operating civil society bodies & the secular activists & make an argument for the stake-holders to be more pro-active & concerted in their responses & the imminent need for a more humane response & a new discourse.
What is poetry that does not save nations or peoples? At best, it is a collusion with official lies.
Gujarat: 23 months after the carnage
When the world seems to be inexorably hurtling towards some kind of multi-dimensional disaster, when the all-consuming passion of humanity appear equally divided between the 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 & 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 & human dignity after facing perhaps one of the worst violence in living memory, the night of long knives. The night of long knives did not end with February & March 2002, it still continues in different forms & different ways throughout Gujarat, 22 months after the Godhara train carnage & the pogrom that followed suit, aided & abetted by the State.
Twenty-three months have passed & injustice continuesÖÖÖÖ.The ghastly communal violence of Gujarat, which started in February 2002, is still manifesting its ugly reminder in the plight & faces of 200,000+ internally displaced Muslims. The State has been gloriously ineffective in reaching out to the victims with the healing touch. Relief & rehabilitation has been a far cry. Compensation has been too few & too inadequate. Newtonian inertia seems to be the order of the day!
As if, the State apathy wasnít bad enough, the State engineered violence against the Minorities continues in various forms. Every step that the State has taken has been perpetuation of the injustice, partisan treatment & de-recognition of Muslims as legitimate citizens of India.
Can there be a rights discourse where the State is indulging in subversion of rights of its own citizens?
Civic Amenities for minorities: You must be kidding!
The discriminatory, slow & measly compensation in all its forms provided by the State, Ahmedabad Electricity Corporationís refusal to provide electricity connection to the houses and business establishments of the minorities, demanding innumerable proofs where people have nothing but charred remains as proof of their claims, is nothing but manifestation of Stateís intention of secondary victimization of the victims of violence. The Gujarat Electricity Boardís persistent power cuts in Signal Falia, an area besides the Godhara Railway Station, Godhara town on some or other pretext still continues. The only reason why such areas are having more than fair share of blackouts in a state which claims 24 hours uninterrupted power supply- these areas are dominated by the Muslim minority.
POTA: Preventing terrorism or Promoting State Terrorism?
The Godhara investigation has resulted in nearly 100 arrests of which 53 are extremely poor people that too only to satisfy the numbers game and after an extremely shoddy and biased investigation. The draconian provisions of POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act, new improved version of TADA) has also been imposed upon them. This has had disastrous consequences leading to further impoverishment and social ostracisation of their families forcing them into starvation. Maulana Umarji, the alleged chief conspirator, is in fact a, social activist & leader of the community, hence, as per their concerted strategy, the State government has targeted him, in order to terrorize the entire community strangulating it even further into silence & submission.
The alacrity which is so all pervasive in the investigative conduct seems to be in short supply when it comes to dealing with numerous mass murders like Best Bakery, Sardarpura, Chamanpura, Naroda Patia and so many similar cases. One also sees sudden unavailability of Public Prosecutor, disappearance of witnesses, the crime branch being over-stretched and selective amnesia as regards invocation of POTA. Given all this, the state surely deserves credit that only 2107 of the 4252 cases have been summarily disposed off!!
Everytime a mishap has happened, be it the Akshardham massacre, Haren Pandyaís murder, the tiffin bomb blast the State government has been more than eager to slap the ISI conspiracy angle. In fact before the preliminary investigations start the police, under obvious instructions from the State Home Ministry, has been keen to flash some Urdu script from the accused & colour any incident with the Conspiracy brush and draw the ISI linkage to the entire issue. However, the heightened partisanship of Government gets manifested in the non-invocation of POTA for any of the accused of the mass-murders that followed Godhra. You can still find them sipping chai & relishing golas under the ìever-vigilant eyesî of the cops!
These are times even worse than emergency, because under the veneer of normalcy some of the worst crimes against humanity are being committed by none other than the State, says Harsh Mander, social activist and country director ActionAid India. The cynicism of the State gets heightened when in such circumstances, they celebrate Vibrant Gujarat, Nav Ratri, Patang Utsav et al
In the last one year, 240 persons belonging to the minority community have been booked under POTA for such allegations like waging war against the country, conspiring to kill important leaders of the ruling party and participating in ISI plans to destabilize the country etc. It is pertinent to note that of the 240 POTA accused in the state of Gujarat 239 are Muslims & 1 is a Sikh & none from the majority community! The modus operandi is to illegally detain any number of Muslims, torture them, threaten them with the use of POTA and extort a "confession" from the hapless person. A few details of four such cases in the past one year would illustrate the systematic methodology of creating "terrorist" in Gujarat:
FIR No. Date and Police station
Number of accused
Date of Official Arrest
Days of illegal detention prior to arrest
DCB I FIR No.23/2002; 30th Nov. 2002 at Gaikewad Haveli Police Station
11 arrested. 6 of them detained for 4 to 6 days
122 .IPC + Ö
DCB I FIR No. 6/2003; 4th April, 2003 at Gaikwad Haveli Police Station
44 arrested. Detained between 15 to 30 days
122.IPC + POTA
DCB I FIR No. 11/2003; 5th Nov. 2003
at Gaikwad Haveli Police Station
4 arrested. Two Detained for 3 months
122..IPC + POTA
DCB I FIR No. 16/2003; 11 Dec. 2003
at Gaikwad Haveli Police Station <>
5 detained between 2 to 5 days.
122..IPC + POTA
It can be noticed from the above details that from the end of November, 2002, the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) having its office at Gaikwad Haveli Police Station have "detected" around 120 "terrorists" and the entry of column (5) would show the remarkable similarity of charges in all the four cases. Criminal conspiracy, Waging war against the State and of course offences under POTA. The entry of column (4) indicates that most of the accused are first illegally detained prior to their official arrest. On enquiry it is found that almost all "terrorists" have been tortured and terrorized during the period of illegal detention and confessions extracted from them. It is also found that the women relatives of the accused were also illegally detained to pressurize the male relatives to "confess". On enquiry it is further found that almost none of the arrested persons have any past criminal records and are mostly belonging to educated middle class Muslim families of Ahmedabad. On reading the four FIRs, it can be seen that all the FIRs have almost the same recitation, which includes the allegation that 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 destabilize the state. It may be recalled that after the Godhra incident, the FIRs lodged by the police in relation to the killings of the minorities also had a similar recitation to the effect that the mobs being infuriated by the killings of Hindu karsevaks at Godhra had resorted to revenge killings! Strangely however, at that time no one accused the perpetrators of the post Godhara carnage as "terrorist".
Criminal Injustice System !
While on one hand, the minorities are being targeted systematically, the activists or the members of the media who speak out against such abuse of power, are also being targeted. Three cases would suffice to illustrate:
FIR and Date
Name of Accused
ICR No. 627/2003
1. Nafisa Ali Sodhi
2. Reporter/Editor Indian Express.
Sec. 153 A (a) & 114 of IPC
ICR No. 159/2003
1. Nafisa Ali Sodhi
2. Publisher/Editor of Divya Bhaskar
Sec. 153 A (a) & 114 of IPC
ICR No. 229/2003;
1. Prabal Pratap Singh, Sr.Sp. Cor. AajTak
2. Dhimant Purohit, Sp. Cor. AajTak.
3. Uday Shankar, News Director, AajTak.
Sec. 124-A of IPC.
NOTE: (i) The Gujarat High Court has stayed the further proceedings in all the above three FIRs.
(ii) Section 153A constitutes the offence of promoting hatred and enmity between different sections.
(iii) Section 124A constitutes the offence of sedition!
The aim of all the above actions is of course singular. Create a total suspicion between the two communities; terrorize the minorities by using the criminal justice system specially POTA and create ìIslamic terrorist" in Gujarat by fabricating false cases on absolutely innocent-young-muslim-college going boys, create deep feeling of insecurity amongst the majority community by projecting that they are under a perpetual threat and attack from Islamic terrorists and ISI; and ultimately derive political advantage of playing the role of the sole savior!
The illegal detentions, misuse of POTA against the minority community, intimidation of the social activists and members of the media can no longer be described as mere abuse of criminal law system or persecution of a particular community or individuals. The aforesaid actions 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 constitution. It is also continuing the communal carnage through criminal justice system legalizing State terrorism. It is an undeclared "emergency" and suspension of the fundamental rights of a section of the citizen.
State has also selectively targeted the Muslim moderates, Peace Activists and social workers who are at the fore-front of relief & rehabilitation efforts. They are being harassed, threatened & arrested on alleged Hawala links! Approximately 389 Muslim youths have been picked up. 200 have been released since. The cops seem to find middle of the night most appropriate for their so-called ëlaw enforcement & investigationí operations. But the cops have been extremely nonchalant about this as if they had picked them for a paid-for trip to the park & back.
These unfolding events are definitely not isolated one-off incidents but they nicely fit into the jigsaw puzzle, which, the State seems to be adept at creating & solving. This has left a deep scar on the psyche of the Muslim community. It has effectively marginalized, terrorized, stigmatized, ghettoized & immobilized the community. This State strategy has further deepened the disaffection between Hindus & Muslims effectively silencing the moderates & progressives on both sides. It has snatched the basic ëRight to Life with Dignityí from the entire community.
Twenty-three long months have passed & several enquiry commissions, official and unofficial notwithstanding, truth continues to be a distant reality. Unfortunately this delay is not without active malice on part of the State.
Rashidabano Yusufkhan Pathan, a resident of Shahpur, was a witness to the brutal attack on her husband, whose only crime was, that he raised his voice against the police inaction when the riotous mob went on a rampage in his locality. The police, supposedly protectors of the lives of the citizens, took him away and thrashed him in front of his wife, which subsequently resulted in his death on the same day. However, when Rashidabano went to register an FIR of the same, not only was her attempts to register the same thwarted but she was also attempted to be gagged through threats and glitter of the lucre. After one and half year of attempts to get her voice heard, she finally did get a chance to depose in front of the Nanavati & Shah Commission. However, even the honourable members of the Commission instead of recording her deposition verbatim were actually trying to delete the most crucial parts about the police involvement and the continued inaction in the murder of her husband.
When the protectors turn predators, democracy gets sacrificed at the alter of ësubversion of justiceí. In rural Gujarat in Himmatnagar, a lot of Muslims have been driven out of their villages. Some of them have also got compensation, even though minimal and negligible. The majority community members, the perpetrators are now forcing them to compromise and withdraw their cases. That is the price they are charging for their return. What is even more outrageous is that the Gram Panchayats, the much-touted symbol of grassroots democracy is also involved. In such cases, the minority community members, children of a lesser God, are not only being pushed into an insecure environment, but are also being asked to jeopardize the measly compensation amounts that they got from the benevolent State. Besides such a fearful brokering of peace is travesty of the concept of peace. Hardly surprising that, in such a scenario, victims have willfully resisted the attempts of State incursion. ìWe did not allow the State and thatís why there is peace, everywhere the State came, it came with the Hindu fundamentalists like Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who indulged in loot & murder. We took a conscious decision to keep the State out, thatís why there is peace here in spite of Popatpura being surrounded by 14 Hindu villages,î says Yasmeen, a 30 year old member of the minority community, mother of 3, whose father and brother were arrested under false charges of rioting in Godhara town.
Compensation: The new spelling of harassment
A series of state government orders following the violence, issued in part as a result of public pressure, established guidelines for compensation for injury, and loss of life, property, employment, or livelihood. By and large, however, victims received paltry sums in compensation for their losses. Most people received negligible amounts to compensate for the destruction of their homes, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand rupees (less than one hundred dollars).
Sixty-year-old R. Bibi, a former resident of Naroda Patia told 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 wasn't 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 Rs 3,800 crore, or approximately USD 760 million. The prolonged closure of shops, industries, and commercial establishments in Gujarat also hurt the economy as a whole and added to soaring unemployment rates.
Muslims in Gujarat, already among the poorest populations in the state, have been further economically marginalized. Ongoing economic boycotts instituted by Hindu nationalist leaders with the support of local officials are crippling the community as a whole. 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. The violence has also proved a successful catalyst for the community's "ghettoization." The reconstruction of homes, carried out almost exclusively by non-governmental and charity groups, has largely taken place along communal lines. Muslims cannot work, reside, or send their children to schools in Hindu dominated localities. As the segregation of communities continues, hopes for community dialogue or reconciliation have dissipated.
In Pavagadh, a taluka in Panchmahals district, 22 families have been displaced, their property & land impounded and they are forced to live in Dehrol. Same is the case in Popatpura, where families have been forced to live, after being repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to return to Vejalpur village, 4 kilometers from Godhara township. From Mehsana to Ahmedabad, Sabarkantha to Panchmahals, the story is same.
While the same State is giving an allowance to the Kashmiri pandits who have fled from Jammu & Kashmir & habitating them in camps, the same federal government is challenging the number of internally displaced people in Gujarat & forget about compensation, is actually harassing the NGOs and activists who are working with these victims & trying to provide them relief and succour.
Teesta Setalvad, the activist responsible for getting the Best Bakery case re-opened is getting threatening calls and so is her associate Raiskhan Pathan. Sishu Milap, one NGO working with the street and working children in Vadodara in mainstreaming them, has stopped getting any government grants because of its association with Vadodara PUCL (Peopleís Union of Civil Liberties). SAHR WARU, working with the rape victims of the carnange & trying to rehabilitate them with livelihood options & providing them protection for the trial stage is getting middle of the night checks from the Intelligence Bureau.
Still there is hope!
The struggle against exploitation is the struggle of memory against forgettingÖÖÖ.
In such times when hope does tend to become a dead letter, making the victims re-visit their pain, remember the violence and the details of the violence is not just onerous but inhuman. While time would attempt the healing, it is important to remember, not to forget, even at a price to oneís own emotional well-being. 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 in order to maintain the pressure the social organizations and activists must do all they could to aid the victims remember those details. If they do that, then they have done a singularly yeomen service to maintain the pressure to start trial of all the riot-related cases.
Because time, which heals, is also the time, which denies justice, time which trivializes pain & the guilt of carnage from collective conscience.
Civil Society and the Commission of Inquiry
Mukul Sinha, Trade-Unionist & Senior Advocate in the Gujarat High Court highlights the association with the Enquiry Commission, ìWhile Shah & Nanavati Commission had been written off as partisan and the entire exercise as an eye-wash, we persisted with them. In choosing to continue as the cross-examiner in the Commission, we managed to facilitate the delicate 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 utilize the democratic space provided by the process of Enquiry Commission.î
He also points out to the time they got for cross examining the witnesses in Godhara during the hearing of the Commission. ìWe 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, if the Commission ignores them, then it will be at the peril of its own credibility. Everything is being recorded and we owe it to the times to come that all the evidence do get recorded.î
Salim Shiekh, a resident of Naorda Patia, an important witness was prepared by Aman Pathiks to depose at the Nanavati Commission. Coming to know about this, the Crime Branch of Gujarat Police picked up his son on the night before deposition, i.e. August 26th, 2003. They summoned Salimbhai at Kagdapeeth Police Station on 27th August at 10.30 am, coinciding with the time of the hearing. However, Salimbhai was at the Commission of Enquiry venue at 10.30 am defying the Gujarat Police orders. This is the power of witness protection programme, even spending time with them gives them hope and courage to defy the police. It is the inherent faith of Salimbhai in the process of justice and the work of Aman Pathiks.
Witness protection programme:
Many civil rights groups and well-meaning organizations are working for witness protection programme which will be a very important when the trials begin and the witnesses come to give evidence. Mukul Sinha is waiting for the Ahmedabad trials to begin so that the laboriously protected witnesses could come out and depose at the trial stage. That is the only way to prevent another Best Bakery.
Gujarat has also been interesting as the State inaction has been a test case of the Criminal Justice System and that has resulted in the judicial and civil liberties community of the entire world to focus attention on Gujarat. Such international attention and Supreme Courtís action, even though late, will only bring in fruitful results feels Mr Achyut Yagnik, social activist and director of SETU. ìWhile a Human Rights Watch comes out with a report on the subversion of justice in Gujarat or the 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 victimization of the Muslims.î
Human Rights Watch, an international civil rights group, came out with a seventy page detailed report on the plight of Muslims in Gujarat 15 months after the carnage, in the month of July, 2003. Similarly in August Amnesty International came out with a report on the illegal detention of Muslims. In fact Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been constantly coming out with appeals and updates on the situation in Gujarat.
In the case of Gujarat, justice needs to be seen to be done as the violence was seen by countless millions in their living rooms through live broadcasts in Shillong, Kanpur, Cuttack, Kochi, Nasik and New Delhi. Because the victims are not limited to the geographical spaces of Gujarat but also to the mind space of ìIndiaî and hopefully the world.
When State turns perpetrator, hope floats through NHRC
In any rights discourse, State 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.
State is a multi-headed hydra, manifesting itself through different units. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is one such. NHRC has done onerous job in the Gujarat genocide. Not only have they given a very scathing report on the Stateís role in Gujarat but also moved the Supreme Court in both Best Bakery and Bilkees Banu case. In fact their recommendation of handing over 10 cases of mass-murder to CBI for investigation and trial outside Gujarat is finally seeing the light of day with the recent Supreme Court indictments against the Gujarat Government. In fact NHRCís moves have had wide-ranging impact with the 1984 anti-Sikh riotsí victims meeting the body & NHRC accepting their petition for re-trial. In fact the appointment of Mr Harish Salve as the Amicus Curae can be directly attributed to the strong stand taken by NHRC Chairman Mr Justice A S Anand.
So when the State itself becomes the prime violator of these rights, is there any hope? Yes, feels Mr Mukul Sinha, but it requires a very concerted effort and much more planning and strategy. One such planning and strategizing is happening by the Citizenís Initiative, a conglomorate of 38 NGOs and activists who came together during the carnage. After innumerable debates, they were the first ones to declare the incidents post Godhra train carnage as ëpogrom, genocideí.
Aman Samudaya: A campaign for Peace and Justice
Aman Samudaya, a Citizenís Initiativeís effort to spread the word of peace, reconciliation, hope & to provide the much-needed healing touch to the people devastated by the riots took shape. It has been a year since the Aman Pathiks (community volunteers, most of whom are the victims of the carnage itself, who chose not to bray for blood, but to heal & spread the word of peace and dignity) have been working relentlessly to bring justice & dignity of life to the victims of violence. They have taken political stance, have been passionate followers of peace, religious harmony in a state where concepts like governance, constitution & citizenís rights have been cremated long ago.
The conspiracy of silence, the abnormality of maintaining the business-as-usual attitude, the deeply entrenched pain being consciously tackled with a thin veneer of normalcy has been taken on frontally by the Aman Samudaya. During the riots, working with the victims in the Relief Camps, providing the traumatised women and children the much needed psycho-social counselling, the ravaged families livelihood support, providing 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, Aman Pathiks have done it all. They have pitched in to rebuild lives, rebuild hope & trust!
Spread over the worst 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, the first step to Trust, Life with Dignity & challenging the totalitarian, fascist State.
We took a conscious decision of focusing on building peace cadres, building Aman Parivaars, creating democratic and humanitarian spaces after witnessing the relentless state fascism, says Amarjyoti Naik, team-leader, Aman Samudaya. Aman Samudaya operates 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 doesnít prevail. Organisations will continue providing relief and rehabilitation and the Hindu nationalists will continue indulging in violence with impunity ravaging all the work. Such interventions are not sustainable without peace and security. And peace and security will not take off without justice. Hence justice needs to prevail for lives to be lived, hence all such attempts of subversion of justice, be it even by the State need to be challenged.
Now Aman Samudaya not only rebuilds houses of the Muslims, it also accompanies the Hindus, the Dalits, the Chamars to the Municipality authorities to repair their houses, colonies and drainage systems when the unprecedented monsoon struck in August 2003. Aman Samudaya mobilizes people when an eviction-cum-resettlement drive (which seeks to resettle the hutment dwellers away from their place of employment) is under-taken by the Ahmedabad Municipality Corporation on the Sabarmati banks for their much touted River Front Development Project, a beautification drive for the rich and the mighty without a thought spared for the slum-dwellers whose livelihoods will be destroyed with such eviction. Members of both the communities have come together to form Rehthaan Aadhikaar Manch (Right to Shelter Campaign). Similarly members of both the communities go to protest vandalisation by Hindu nationalists of Primary Health Centre in Limdi taluka of Surendranager.
When development and economic well-being will take priority, the people will suo moto dis-own the communal card, concurs social activist and Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash of Prashant. He has worked extensively with the minority community members and the slum dwellers in the city of Ahmedabad. When the wave of attacks on Christians was taking place in 1998-99, he has also come under severe attack and slander campaign by the Hindu nationalists.
While the Ahmedabad chapter of Aman Samudaya, graduated into peace cadre building and community mobilization for justice-related work in the last year, the Godhra chapter of Aman Samudaya started in April 2003. When it started, the single objective was to reach out to people and mind-spaces where it started all. Perhaps, there was a learning from the Indo-Pak conflict, the Kashmir issue, where it started, but which both Indian and Pakistani state refuse to address. However, Aman Samudaya took a conscious decision to address the same, where it started, hence Godhara.
ìGodhara was a mine-field of state terrorism. When we entered, we thought, our primary job would be to tackle the systematic communal propaganda, but when we started our survey, we realized the quantum of destitution, the depth of communal hatred, the absolute misery of the families who have their loved ones booked under POTA. The level of desperation hit us. We were not prepared for such hopelessness,î says Bahadur, Programme Manager, Aman Samudaya Godhara.
However, not only Aman Samudaya built its brand in the town of Godhara which has been physically and psychologically polarized, but also started providing the much needed healing touch, through relief and rehabilitation, legal aid, even to the extent of taking up individual details and socio-economic profiling of each POTA accused families. After eight months of intervention, the business community of Godhara is now talking the economic cost of riot and working hand in hand to ward off any further incidences of such violence.
Providing immediate relief to the families pushed into destitution because their prime bread-winners are behind bars booked under POTA to doing detailed village surveys with the villagers to identify families for immediate livelihood, celebrating Raksha Bandhan with members of both the communities to carrying out Aman Satyagraha, Godhara Gaurav, a body of 17 NGOs and activists have done it all. When the Godhara Gaurav rally happened in the month of September, the Ganesh immersion violence and curfew were still fresh in public consciousness, still people came in large numbers to be counted for peace. They took out a rapid assessment survey, which revealed more than 80% people in Godhara wanted peace.
A calculation with the Income Tax, Sales Tax and Revenue Department threw up the fact that not less than Rs 60 lakhs (Rs 6 million or USD 125,000) was being lost in terms of income due to riots daily. This study of the daily cost of riot was a major factor in bringing people together, say Dr Sujaat Vali & Mr Nimesh Shah leading peace activists and members of Godhara Gaurav.
Popatpura, a Muslim village (200+ families) surrounded by 14 Hindu villages has managed to survive harmoniously and now is a refuge for many Muslims driven from other villages. Popatpura also has an Aman Chowraha (Peace & Justice center). All the villagers treat it as the Supreme Court, even above the Godhara Sessions Court and the Gujarat High Court. All the local disputes are resolved through discussions in Popatpura Aman Chowraha. Now Popatpura Aman Parivaar, which has majority Muslim members is helping out Bhukliben (a tribal) to rebuild her house which was gutted by fire.
The cultural road show for democracy
ANHAD, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, has also been very active in the field of combating communalism through cultural programmes, intensive political trainings for local activists and peace festivals. It is a body formed by social activist Shabnam Hashmi, Harsh Mander, alongwith singer Shubha Mudgal and academician Biju Mathew. We need to act now before its too late, because if we loose our civil and political rights, there would not be any democracy left to defend, says Ms Hashmi. Fusion band like Indian Ocean, prominent theatre activist Haren Gandhi and Soumya Joshi have also joined forces with the ever-increasing efforts for challenging the active and conscious inertia of the aloof middle class.
Turning adversity into strength: Activists
Rohit Prajapati, a trade unionist and leading member of the Vadodara PUCL spells out the new battle-front they have opened to stop the working class movement being sabotaged by the Hindu nationalists and their front organizations. Spelling out the dangers of majoritarian nationalism, which can take on the colors of fascism in no time, Mr Prajapati says, ìThe Gujarat governmentís labour policies have the diwali bonus for the state government employees in November 30th. If you look at the lunar calendar, the diwali (festival of lights, a major Hindu festival) has always fallen in the second fortnight of October, never in November. This minor amendment has not been effected by the Modi government, which has been elected on the Hindutva mandate! We always expose this and try to question the commitment of this government even to the Hindu work-force for the state government.î
We constantly raise the question of increasing unemployment and the rising penury among the working class when both the federal and the state government are claiming economic prosperity, adds Mr Prajapati. This is their strategy to de-bunk the communalist agenda of the government.
Development Issues: Another front for taking on the hate machine
Gujarat Harmony Project, an initiative of CARE has been working extensively on the livelihood options. It has been providing micro-finance support through group-lending schemes through its partner Samerth, where, it forces the groups to have members from both the communities.
Centre for Development Education, of Meera Malek and Rafiq Zakaria have been working with the youth of both the communities. Some of the youth from the Hindu community have not only confessed their collective guilt to such genocide but also have admitted their role in 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 his rally for assertion of Dalit Human Rights through the villages of Gujarat, he gives a clarion call for Dalits 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 (the cup in which tea is served in local shops and houses which is separate for Dalits) and accepting all symbols of equality like the Bhim Patra (the plate/saucer in which a Dalit generally drinks tea). Also in such a rally he spells out the contribution of Muslims to Dalitsí struggle. ëMuslims were the first teachers of the Dalits in the pre-independence era. Even B R Ambedkar has been taught by a Muslim teacher.í Dalits converted to Islam to put an end to the indignities that the Brahminical order was imposing on them, concurs Dr Shakeel Ahmed, social activist, chief administrator of Islamic Relief Committee, which has been working for the rehabilitation of the victims of the carnage from the minority community.
However, with such natural reasons for alliance existing between the Dalits and the Muslims, the fact that Dalits have been used in such massive numbers to engineer the pogrom is baffling at the minimum and requires concerted efforts to target, the Brahminisation of Dalits and their being canon fodder in the Hindu Rashtra plans.
Unfortunately, lots of times the Non-Governmental Organisations work in a projectised manner focusing on their target groups on their focus issues resulting in very micro-interventions. For e.g. an NGO working on mother and child health with the tribal women would only restrict itself to that and not to the partriarchy prevailing in the tribal community, which has resulted in poor health indicators. Similarly, they will not challenge the structural violence of the Brahminical order. It takes a genocide of the scale of Gujarat 2002 to bring them all together.
Media: conscience keeper & effective watchdog
Mr Prajapati feels, ìWhen the dices are so heavily loaded against the victims and almost the entire legal fraternity at the local level, right from the Public Prosecutor, Police Investigator till the MLA are involved, the only way justice could be meted out is if the media plays a bigger role. Media needs to own up the story. It needs to be the democratic watchdog and create public pressure and also continue to maintain the pressure by regular follow-ups.î
However, he sees no alternative to public pressure. He feels if the current media tempo could be maintained then judges would be scared of sitting on such cases. Looking at the fact that the Supreme Court did take notice of media reports of starvation deaths all over India to increase the Food For Work period from June 30 till September 30 in the relief code in the PIL of PUCL Rajasthan v. Union of India ìRight to Food Right to Workî shows the important role media could play if it wants to.
The media should certainly look into the incidents of secondary victimization through illegal detention of the youths of the community, in the post-Haren Pandya episode and the legitimacy being claimed by the state thereafter.
While BEST Bakery did manage to get the media attention and did stir the national psyche, there are many more cases in rural Godhara (like Pawagarh, Kinjiri, Lunawada), Ramol (sub-urban Ahmedabad) etc. Under such circumstances, it is important to travel to the interiors, capture unheard voices of victims of violence, build alliances, work out a single strategy, highlight the same nationally and internationally and never allow the collective conscience to commit the crime of forgetting the gravity of injustice meted out to their brethren.
Moreover, the media should go even deeper and further in focusing on the real stories. The recent riots in Dariyapur and Viramgam over rumors should have been debunked by the media through their independent fact finding. Similarly the media should take lead in doing stories on the massive illegal detention of the youths of the minority community. The battle at hand is so enormous that it requires more than special and concerted effort. Similarly the conspicuous silence on part of the media in exposing the polarization attempts by the contesting candidate from the ruling party in Juhapura is tantamount to colluding with the communal agenda because as the Fourth Estate of the Democracy, they need to take their role a little more seriously and take initiatives in such exposeí. Because abnormal situations require extra-ordinary, super-human and persistent responses.
Democracy: Way to go!
As Arundhati Roy has very aptly put, Fascism has put its foot-prints in India, mark the date-Spring 2002. This is one spring which needs to end, if democratic values have to survive, if life has to be lived and if humanity has to be resurrected in the body-politic of Gujarat.
Gujarat is just a symptomatic phenomenon. The victory of the Hindu fundamentalist party Bharatiya Janta Party, BJP, in the recently concluded assembly election of Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajastan is nothing if not signs of dangerous times to come though it cannot be overlooked that even they had to adopt the issue of lack of development and governance as the main poll plank to attack the incumbent Congress governments and win the elections in three of the four states. In Delhi, Congress was swept back to power only on the ground of good governance and development. But what is worrying is that the BJP has not reverted from its stated ìnarrow sectarian, fundamentalist and facistî stand. The trend of tribals in all these states voting for the Hindu nationalist party is also a signal of the times ahead.
The complete absence of political opposition in Gujarat is appalling & even more hopeless. The Congress has capsized and resigned to reactionary politics, devoid of any original thinking. Its dilemma is understandable with the í75 emergency and ìthe 1984 riotsî being still fresh in memory of victims and many people. But what about the Left parties? The NDA allies, well less said the better.
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. As trade-unionist and peace activist Ashim Roy puts this dangerous agenda of nationalism aptly, ìIt is the congenital trait of the Sangh Parivaar to think, prepare and plan communal violence. The evidence is so strong that riots and the Sangh Parivaar appear like Siamese twins. It is in these riots, when people suffer and die, that the Sangh Parivaar 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.î
It is this Hindu nation, this idea of the Hindu nation, which has to be combated. But while strategizing the battle-plan it is important to recognize the strength of the enemy. Engaging the masses in a discourse where the terms are decided by the Hindu nationalists and the idiom is as simple as what the masses would understand has been one of their main forteí. While the secular activists have been indulging in an idiom, which is definitely not hoi polloi, they have also been abjectly failing in their attempts to set the terms of the debate. Hence the discourse from their side has been mostly in terms of rebuttals, refutations and reactions. It is important to recognize that the communal players have had a head-start over the secularists and now is the time to set the terms of reference in a manner of ëtaking initiativeí.
Also the inherent contradiction among the human rights activists or any identity politics, which when works towards assertion of a certain set of rights of lets say Dalits, continues to practise partriarchy and othering of the Muslims has to be recognized and combated.
Besides the secularists need to recognize the fact that 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 secured job or a better future, then it would be naïveí to expect him to give up Ram / Allah! Hence the discourse on democracy has to be in terms, which recognizes and respects the sentiments of the masses. Therefore the need to highlight the syncretic traditions like the dargah of Vali Gujarati or the Meenakshi Mandir street of Madurai where a furlong away from the South Gate of the temple, non-vegetarian eating joints are located and Diwali is celebrated with a Biriyani breakfast. Or that Ramkrishna Mission celebrates Christmas by offering cake to Goddess Kaali or Lord Jagannath of Puri Dham has fish as His bhog (maha-prasad).
Also, one wonders why were the UN mechanisms not invoked during the pogrom and why are they still not being invoked? For example, why Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, Convention Against Torture (CAT) not invoked? Even though India has not ratified CAT, Gujarat would have been a good reason to put pressure for ratification too and the special rapporteur Theo Van Boven not written to, the womenís rights special rapporteur Ms Radhika Coomaraswamy, habitats ñMr Miloon Kothari or even the Human Rights rapporteur Ms Ashma Jehangir? In fact UN mechanisms have been conspicuous by their non-invocation in Gujarat.
While all these happen it is also important to recognize that Hindu Fascism has been a very good vehicle for US Imperialism and September 11th has helped in the Hindutva agenda of othering the Muslims and demonizing Islam. The recurrent images from Western capitalist media of similar demonisation has to be combatted at an international level. Perhaps, that is why the need to expose the link of Hindu Fundamentalists, their liberalization policies and the US hegemony is important. But even this discourse has to be put in context of communalism in Gujarat and the designs of Hindu nationalists.
The much-touted economic development has meant a jobless growth. The changing political economy, the altered balance of social forces with the traditional working classes seriously eroded numerically and reduced to the paupaurised informal sector workers and corresponding to this the rise of a wealthy middle class which constitutes the base of Hindutva will continue to give rise to may more Gujarats. Hence, as Ms Vasanti Raman puts it, there is a very important need to recognize the convergence of the two agendas: the neo-liberal paradigm with its thrust on integration into an essentially unequal world capitalist system whose aim is to dispense with the bottom 30% and the agenda of Hindutva which has no place for the diversities and the pluralities of India and certainly not for shudras, ati-shudras, Muslims and women.
Quo Vadis humanity?
[Authors] -- Biraj Swain & Somnath Vatsa
The authors work with the carnage victims in Gujarat on peace, justice & rehabilitation issues.
 Dr Shakeel Ahmed is a social activist, chief administrator of Islamic Relief Committee, which has been working for the rehabilitation of the victims of the carnage from the minority community. He is also the latest victim of State terrorism. His son is the latest victim of POTA who had been sent to police remand as and when this report is being written.
Return to: The Inferno of Hate, Horror in Gujarat, India (From 27 Feb 2002 on)