There are claims by the Government that situation in Gujarat is normal. There are counter charges by the NGO world that situation is far from normal. It is far from normal because sporadic killings continue, because relief camps still have far more people than the government is prepared to concede, and the VHP continues with its virulent rhetoric against the minorities.
The situation is really more complex than that, and involves an assessment of what is now considered “normal”, by us as much as by the fascists, and a critique of our own lack of sensitivity on this question. While it is very important to continue mounting pressure for greater commitments towards relief work and rehabilitation, it is equally important to underline that Gujarat was not normal even before the recent pogrom- which we all consider our worst experience in independent India- and will not be normal even if the last person has been paid full compensation and the killings stop.
And we need to keep our moorings in control rather than accept situations where “normal” for us amounts to absence of fresh dead bodies and the sore sights of relief camps. The point being made is: if we go by the criteria of how we conduct our daily lives elsewhere, Gujarat is today what the rest of us living elsewhere would dread were it to become our future.
For a long time now, for the Muslims in Gujarat, the safeguards of law and Constitution have been absent, and freedom of expression has been curtailed not merely in the sense of not being able to speak what they want, but in not being allowed to conduct their lives unselfconsciously. The daily going about their own business, seeking livelihoods, discussing spontaneously, dressing in their own fashion, sporting a beard and cap, supporting the best team in sport and announcing another team as better than the Indian team, grumbling about BJP policies, not cursing Pakistan on every occasion, not getting enthusiastic about the war preparations, accepting daily insults in buses and trains in situations where we would have spoken out, saying ‘yes’ all the time when they do not agree…etc etc…has been fraught with danger in ways that we cannot even imagine. In short living controlled, suffocated, lives on a daily basis is what ‘normal’ life has been for minorities in Gujarat even prior to the pogroms. This ultimately is what fascist victory is all about. Things can only be worse now, with the bourgeois parties conceding one victory after another to the BJP despite Gujarat.
Moreover, the classic media fatigue in reporting a continuing tragedy or holocaust and the declining level of interest and shock in the news relating to it should not define our sense of normal. We should guard against accepting the low intensity and widespread offensive by the Sangh Parivar fascism as normal or part of daily life. The BJP government in Gujarat, with the cooperation of its Parivar has simply reverted to other less spectacular methods of killings, through ensuring starvation and rehabilitation of the nearly two lakh Muslims hounded out of their homes and places of livelihood.
The spiral effect of killings has been the creation of quick opportunities for implementing the contours of a Hindu Rashtra in what is now called their laboratory. On their part they will now proceed to call it the Hindu Pradesh, and in many ways they would be right. There is no going back for the Muslims even to their earlier discriminated against lives, the ‘normal’ situation of yesterday one can see
Short news items on people from specific localities who were forced to flee and have since tried to return to their homes, and been prevented from doing so, when added up will show that hardly a few of the one and a half lakhs displaced have been able to return because of local hostility, lack of compensation, or because their attackers are still roaming around free, and the state police refuses to give them protection or guarantee their security. Thousands have reportedly, in any case fled the state to their relatives elsewhere in the country, thereby ‘cleansing’ the Hindu pradesh of their presence. Those that remain will remain as homeless.
People are being asked to prove their citizenship and losses of life and property through ration cards, when most of the one and a half lakhs in the camps, fled with nothing but the clothes on them Compensation has been a meager 80 to 200 rupees in most cases, ridiculous in circumstances of loss of homes and their entire household items. In one case, a month after they returned to their damaged houses, 181 families living in Noor Park Society in Tarsali received marching orders from the government itself, when the administration suddenly decided that the land on which their houses have stood all along belonged to the government and were hence “encroachments’’ (IE, June 27, 2002).
Literally thousands have lost jobs and means of self-employment and other sources of livelihood they cannot go back to either because their former employers will not employ them or cannot employ them for fear of the Hindutva stormtroopers. These thousands can easily be multiplied by four, to account for non-working family members dependent on the jobholders, earners. More than two thousand teachers are unable to go back to their postings because government will not guarantee their safety. Over 20,000 in Ahmedabad alone have reportedly been rendered jobless since Feb 27, among them unauthorised vendors driven out of the station, drivers and cleaners of trucks torched or damaged, lorrywallas, and also those whose shops were bulldozed in Polan Bazar on Feb 28.
The systematic destruction of almost all small workshops, shops, trucks and lorries run by Muslims amounts to a loss of crores of rupees and loss of means of livelihood for thousands of families-a loss that the community will collectively never be able to emerge from given the government complicity in recognizing or recording this loss in the first place.
In addition, there is willful denial of justice and even FIRs are not being recorded on various grounds. Sometimes it is said that women who have been raped must produce medical evidence, at other times that there must be proof that those missing for the last five months are indeed killed, and at other times that a ration card is a must for citizenship and therefore for appeal for justice and compensation. Sometimes the victims are told that just one FIR can be recorded for “one incident” even if it separately involves scores of citizens and perpetrators of killings, thereby attributing everything to “mob violence” and preventing the names of actual VHP/Bajrang Dal leaders of mobs from being recorded. Attackers roam free and perpetrate terror even as police turns its face the other side. And it is a matter of more than a simple detail that these attackers include not just VHP and bajrang Dal men and women, but also BJP leaders, MLAs and corporators, who are being provided immunity from law by the government in power.
Besides, in a move indicative of government attitude, after the transfer of the Panchmahals (Godhra) Superintendent of Police Raju Bhargava, Narendra Modi has now shifted District Collector Jayanti S Ravi and posted her as commissioner, mid-day meal scheme -- presumably because no spontaneous reactions to Godhra killings took place in Godhra itself. On another day, a function to reconstruct the tomb of 17th century Urdu poet Vali Gujarati, destroyed in the recent violence in Gujarat, was cancelled at the eleventh hour today after police withdrew permission for it, (IE, June 24, 2002). And following bias during the pogrom and attacks by communal elements right inside the VS Hospital compound, Ahmedabad, which shattered their faith in the most preferred hospital, the Muslim community is now working hard towards creating its own hospitals in Muslim areas, and better health facilities right in the convenience of ghettos itself. (TOI).
Throughout this period of five months, the government has not provided relief camps at all but is forcing the closure of camps set up by the Muslim community. Driven out from camps, and prevented from returning to the places of their destroyed homes, provided neither food nor water nor toilets they are simply ceasing to exist in government records and files. There is the point that where do they go. But there is also the point where do they belong? They have already been reduced to non-citizens insofar as the BJP government is concerned, and therefore not entitled to anything. We need to be alert because it is just a matter of time before they will be hounded from place to place, intimidated because they have no ‘document’ to show for themselves, and denied their basic fundamental rights.
The Hindu Rashtra so graphically outlined by Golwalkar and Savarkar is there before our very eyes in Gujarat. Lakhs of people belonging to the Muslim community are being reduced to second class citizenship or non citizenship, denied their basic fundamental right of life, liberty, livelihood and shelter, leave alone freedom from discrimination, equality before law, freedom of speech and organisation, freedom of religion and places of worship to name but a few of the things we take for granted for ourselves as guaranteed by the Constitution.
This is not simply government neglect or government callousness for people belonging to a religion they are in no sympathy with. It is what fascism and fascist rule is all about.
We need to protect the victims of their rule. We need also to dislodge them from the position they have gained in our social and political life. And we need to prevent them from taking over our discourse. We need to decide for ourselves what is normal and what is fast becoming normal for this country.
Nalini Taneja teaches history at the University of Delhi.
Courtesy: People’s Democracy
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