More and more people, young and old, of different skin colours and cuts of face, believers and non-believers, speaking as many different languages as this country has to offer, need to get on to trains heading for Gujarat.
We should go alone or in groups, whenever we can, for as little or great a while as possible, again and again, over at least the next one year.
Udit, Ditee, Nakul and Arindam, students from Delhi University, worked with Anandi in the relief camps at Halol and Godhra. They played with kids, helped them paint, took classes with them, conducted need-assessment surveys for adults and children and helped organise marriages between men and women from different camps, marriages which could wait no more for the return of an ever elusive 'normalcy'. They travelled to the neighbouring village, Boru, and listened to stories from the people of Delol, where 37 Muslims were massacred.
The camps at Halol and Godhra were sheltering hundreds of people from villages such as these in the Panchmahals, where death had ruled, homes, crops and livestock had been plundered and devastated, and the air was thick with threats of more murder and mayhem should Muslim survivors attempt a return. In some cases they were being invited back provided they forget and forgive and surrender their iman, their Muslimness.
Arindam, too, escaped the potential wrath of young Bajrang Dal goons lurking in the alleys of Godhra one night, whereupon Udit, a god-fearing, spirit-scared, janeyu-wearing Brahmin lad from Assam, sick of it all, freed his torso of the sacred thread and chucked it in the garbage. It was his way of "registering a resounding silent protest".
It was great seeing the four of them at work, and the affection and regard that they had come to command among camp inmates without themselves resorting to convenient populism. Arindam spoke of how he gently and successfully challenged ideas of vengeful, retaliatory communalism which he encountered among some young male Muslim survivors of this pogrom.
Talking, discussing issues threadbare, is difficult and dangerous work that is being undertaken by concerned citizens and activists all over Gujarat. Anandi in the Panchmahals and Action-Aid's aman-pathiks in Ahmedabad are trying, among other things, to encourage Hindus and Muslims to re-invent their neighbourhoods by dialoguing with each other and crossing communal 'borders' that have come to divide Ahmedabad, for instance, since the late Sixties. Drops in the ocean, stray strands of hope, these efforts need huge shots of imaginative and energetic help, if Ahmedabad, Gujarat and, I dare say, large parts of the rest of this country are not to go the way of Northern Ireland, Beirut and Palestine.
Seven of us, six students and I, stayed in Ahmedabad between May 5 and 12 while the other four were in the Panchmahals. After four days of calm, the dhamaal kept its date with the city, breaking out on Sunday, May 5, like it had on every other Sunday during the past few weeks since the toofaan got going, at exactly 2 pm, "after people had had a good night's rest, an easy morning, a good lunch and then set out for 'time-pass', looting, burning and killing". A three-wheeler driver, a Hindu, stated the last bit rather matter-of-factly about some of his co-religionists.
During the week that we were in Ahmedabad, people, mainly Muslim labourers, venturing out fearfully to try and earn a day's wages, were being burnt alive, hacked to death, their skulls smashed to bloody pulp. Muslim bastis on the periphery of the old city were torched and firemen had struck work for a couple of days because some of them had been beaten up in Khaadia, a den of the Hindu Right-wing in the heart of the old city.
Nobody who has ever stepped by and paused to look at these and so many other cadavers of Muslim life and work in Ahmedabad is likely to disbelieve stories about Kausar Bano and Naroda Patiya, Ehsan Jaffrey and the Gulbarg Society, the enormous trishul and sword-wielding, lust-filled tolas of Bajrang Dal and VHP men ruling the streets of Ahmedabad, out to rape, maim and teach Muslims the lesson of their lives, put them in their place as unequal beings in Gujarat's 'Hindu Rashtra'.
I was really glad Divya and Emma were there because in camps the women mobbed them and spoke. In the midst of it all, Emma would steal a grimace at some children, and invariably, before they knew it, children were coming out of the woodwork as it were, had displaced the women, and were at play with Emma and Divya, squealing and laughing with abandon. Alberuni, who has a way of attracting kids to himself, remained in a supporting role while Banajit, thin and tall, would look on, rubbing his chin, flashing the odd smile, the loss of his spectacles hardly seeming to matter.
During playtime, the simple impromptu games that were played were watched and enjoyed by almost all camp inmates. Divya and Emma would suddenly become like performers of old, the madaari or the jaadugar enchanting children not with the khel they performed for them, but with the khel they played with them. For that precious slice of time when everyone played, I think everyone forgot where we were, forgot all that can never really be forgotten, all that must never be forgotten. The vast majority of non-Muslim, largely Hindu Gujaratis couldn't give a damn, at least right now, for the fate of Gujarati Muslims.
With each passing day we felt increasingly unsafe and oppressed living and walking in 'safe Hindu' Ahmedabad, simply because we were not 'Hindu' enough for the Navrangpura-Naranpura Ahmedabadis. We were visiting relief camps for Muslims and meeting with non-camp Muslims, labouring people, Hindus too (not that this would redeem us in the eyes of the west-side Ahmedabadis), many of them migrants from eastern UP and Rajasthan, whose work and lives had spun down black holes. We were meeting with families such as the Jawhers, who were living in Paldi, professional and secular to the core, dazed, shocked and sad at feeling forced to take refuge among people as different to them as heaven from hell, but people who happened to be of their religious kind.
Fifteen minutes before we boarded the Ashram Express for Delhi on May 12, I remember bursting the dam, showering unstoppable, intense verbiage, letting off steam, and feeling much better. The insecurity must have persisted like a bad hangover because I was actually relieved to see men of the Rajasthan police board our compartment once we'd crossed the border out of Gujarat. I felt we were in 'safe' hands, perhaps one of the few times I've felt safe with the police.
In January 2000, a few months after the Kargil war and immediately after the Kandahar hijack, when relations between India and Pakistan were at their worst in many years, I travelled with students into Pakistan. Despite the paranoia before the trip, all of us felt at ease there. This is certainly not something that any of us can say about our trip to Gujarat.
The Godhra burning - communal, repulsive and criminally punishable - was not the reason why the rest of Gujarat went up in flames. Nor was it the reason why Muslims, especially women and children, have been hunted down, humiliated, forced to look on as family and friends were gangraped, cut up into pieces, blown apart, with the survivors cast away to fend for themselves, being dared to re-build their lives, their work.
Godhra was simply an occasion, the excuse for what has been happening in Gujarat for four months now, just as September 11 was not the reason but the occasion for the launching of the 'international war against terror'. Godhra was an excuse for a butchery binge against Muslims just as faltering secular practices and the only partially attained goals for education and democracy have become excuses in recent years for launching into a slaughter of secularism, democracy and education.
The only way we can begin to make sense of Gujarat is to look hard, long and clearly at the RSS family. All other explanatory variables - the long-term worldwide economic slowdown, the collapse of Ahmedabad's 64 textile mills, disrupting 160,000 working lives, the expansion in Gujarat of informal labouring practices with all its attendant everyday insecurities, the class, caste and patriarchal anxieties of the privileged (the Brahmins, Patidars and Banias, for instance), the historical absence in modern Gujarat of strong anti-caste movements, emancipatory women's movements, autonomous labour movements - all these arguments are absolutely necessary, but not sufficient for understanding what we are confronted with in Gujarat today. It is not even enough to argue that Gujarat happened the way it did because the State collapsed or allowed it to happen.
The dangerous singularity of Gujarat 2002 lies in the shameless self-righteous abandon with which the anti-Muslim pogrom has been unleashed and justified by the State, right to this day. This, to a large extent, explains the scale and the extreme viciousness of the continuing violence as also the cold terror that is gripping Muslims in Gujarat and in other parts of the country. The State, not just through the practice of its partisanship but through a rationalisation of this practice, is saying more loudly and clearly than ever since 1947, that everyone is not equal before the law. It is saying openly that it is for the State - not for our republican Constitution - to decide who shall live and how in this country.
Today it is the Muslims and other religious minorities who are at the receiving end of the State's arbitrary brutality. Tomorrow it can be anyone who is seen to be a thorn in the flesh of the wilful exercise of power by the Indian State. The danger lurks not just for Muslims, shameful and impoverishing as this itself is for all of us. The terror that Muslims are living with today, their deep, everyday fears, can become the terror that all of us may face tomorrow, a threat to our collective democratic existence as citizens of this land.
This dangerous singularity of Gujarat, with all its grave implications, may not have come to pass had the RSS not been in command politically and ideologically. No other organised force in this country hates Muslims as deeply and pathologically as the RSS. No other force could have demonised Muslims, projected them as being less than human and deserving of unimagined cruelties - the 'enemy' that must be exorcised from 'our' midst if 'we' are to live in peace and harmony - as effectively as the RSS. No other force could have so shamelessly raided our past, abused and twisted it beyond recognition, played, untiringly over many years on popular prejudices about 'minorityism' and shaken up all this and more into a potent, anti-Muslim potion.
No other force could have revelled in offering up this poison as a simple 'solution' for all kinds of problems facing all manner of people in these times of multiple crises. Only the RSS with its single-minded hatred of Muslims could plunge itself into the lives of Adivasis and Dalits, OBCs and Brahmins, Patidars and Banias, scratch their multi-sourced and differentially complex insecurities and get them to come together as the Hindutva god's army straining to go to war. Only the RSS with its relentless vilification of the Muslim as enemy could have forged this alliance between the dispossessed and the propertied, hurling them in a violent offensive against the imagined 'other', looting, plundering, and in the process subverting challenges to existing social hierarchies, steering minds and energies away from battles concerned with making our earth a better place to live on for all.
Gujarat 2002 comes straight out of the RSS's 'heart of darkness', as clear a warning as we may want about what it means to 'Hinduise India and militarise Hinduism' - the foundational and still the core desire of the RSS.
Take the RSS family away and the Gujarat carnage, the Ayodhya movement, Pokhran II and the rapid downward slide in relations with Pakistan may have all remained far away dreams and not our immediate nightmares.
The writer is a historian and filmmaker.
Courtesy: The Hindustan Times
25-26 July 2002
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