2006 Is Deadlier Than 2002
By Prashant Jha
19 October, 2006
stocky, and balding, Babubhai Rajabhai Patel can pass off as a normal,
middle-class trader. Only, he isn't one. Babu Bajrangi, as Patel likes
to be called, says he runs an NGO, Navchetan Sangathan. Sitting in his
'office' in Ajanta Ellora Complex in Naroda in Ahemdabad, Bajrangi is
surrounded by images of RSS ideologues KS Hedgewar and Guru Golwalkar,
a map of Akhand Bharat, and his own photographs, with politicians or
in public meetings.
Bajrangi claims to be a social
worker. "I rescue Hindu women who are lured by Muslims. I hate
such marriages." As soon as Bajrangi gets to know of any such union,
he kidnaps and sends the girl back home; and beats up the Muslim boy.
"It's fun. Only last week, we made one such man eat his own shit
thrice," he says. Bajrangi's operation is ruthless and effective.
He claims to have 'saved' 725 Hindu women this way. And what about the
law? "What I do is illegal, but it is moral. And anyway, the government
Perhaps that is the reason
that Bajrangi, chief accused in the Naroda Patiya murder case (during
the Gujarat carnage), is out on the streets and not behind bars. "People
say I killed 123 people," says Bajrangi with a grin. Did you? "How
does it matter? They were Muslims - bloody Pakistanis. They had to die.
They are dead."
"The government is ours."
Few will doubt Bajrangi's claim. Not Muslims for sure, for they know
Bajrangi might be more extremist than most, but he represents a mindset
that is widespread: the mindset of the Gandhinagar government's ministers.
The mindset of several Hindus, from the waiter to the auto-driver and
the middle-class, across Gujarat.
The discourse among Muslims
has a striking unity. There is no one who speaks for us. This is not
our government. This is their rule - Hindu rule. What do we do? As an
elder in Shah Alam, a Muslim area in Ahmedabad, puts it, "Our crime
is we pray to Allah."
The emotions of Muslims across
Gujarat revolves around alienation, helplessness, and anger. Understandably
so, large sections of the Hindu society, led on by the BJP government,
ensure that Muslims remain second-class citizens.
And that is the story of
Gujarat 2006. A tale of a society that is sharply polarised and prejudices
about the 'other' deeply entrenched, and a state that happily engineers
everyday hatred. In its wake, lies a community that lives in fear. The
Gujarat of today is in some senses more dangerous than the Gujarat of
2002. For here, the violence is invisible. It operates systematically,
as well as subtly, at the establishment and social level.
The truth is, the Gujarat
government has seceded from the Indian Constitution. It did so in 2002,
when the state sponsored mass violence against Muslims. And contrary
to what many think, it has
consistently done so and flaunted it since then. It has tried to completely
subvert the process of justice for 2002 victims, from distorting FIRs
and ensuring faulty investigation, to letting the accused get away free.
With office-bearers of the Sangh Parivar affiliates doubling up as public
prosecutors, it is little surprise that only 13 out of the 345 cases
decided so far have resulted in convictions.
Even as it fulfils its promise
that no harm should come the way of rioters, the government continues
its campaign to harass innocent Muslims. The fact that the UPA government
in Delhi did not ban the draconian legislation, Prevention of Terrorism
Act (POTA), retrospectively has meant that those charged under that
law in Gujarat before 2004 remain in jail. This effectively means that
the secular UPA government, backed by the Left, is playing Narendra
Maulana Omarji's house is,
ironically, on the Station Road in Godhra. But he doesn't live there.
Along with others accused of hatching the conspiracy and burning the
train compartment at the Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002,
he stays some distance away - in Sabarmati Jail in Ahmedabad. Omarji
was arrested one year after the incident took place - a period in which
he was active in organising relief camps for Muslims, and petitioning
national leaders who came visiting about the injustice meted out to
minorities in the state. Clearly, someone powerful did not like that.
A well-respected man and community leader against whom there is no evidence,
Maulana Omarji is charged with POTA.
His young and articulate
son, Saeed, is quite frustrated. "What is the fault of Muslims
in India? I am so angry with the system here, including the judiciary."
Everything is stacked up against Muslims in India, feels Saeed. "I
am an Indian and will never be disloyal to my country. But I feel our
parents and grandparents made a mistake by staying on here. We should
have gone to Pakistan." It is a striking comment, revealing the
manner in which a fascist state is pushing
people into a corner.
Half-an-hour from Godhra
lies Kalol -- a site of major violence in 2002. This reporter met Mukhtar
Mohammad at the Kalol police station. Active in organising relief camps,
Mukhtar has been working to get justice for the victims. Something that
did not go down too well with the state authorities. Framed under, what
by all accounts, is a false 'rape case', he is stuck making rounds of
police stations and magistrates and has to spend occasional nights,
and at times, extended periods in jail. He says, "They want to
break any kind of leadership that emerges among the Muslims, especially
those who are moderate, and want to fight politically, constitutionally
Indeed, there is a pattern
in which the Gujarat government is acting against Muslims. The Hindutva
forces have no problems if the influence of the Muslim conservative
religious organisations increases because it helps strengthen their
stereotypes about Muslims. What they do not want is an articulate, liberal
voice among Muslims that speaks the language of democratic rights and
claims equal citizenship.
The regime targets innocent
Muslims not just by framing false cases. Discrimination is spread across
all realms. Juhapura is the largest Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad with
more than 300,000 people. Yet, it has no bank, state transport buses
take a detour to avoid crossing through it, and there are no public
parks or libraries. OBC communities among the Muslims in Gujarat find
it difficult to get certain certificates. The saffronisation of the
bureaucracy and local power structures, points out scholar Achyut Yagnik,
has meant that panchayats, co-operatives, agrarian produce markets and
government schemes have become sites for discrimination against Muslims.
What is more alarming is
the fact that this discrimination has larger social sanction. There
is pride about the 2002 toofan among many Hindus - we taught them a
lesson, crushed; the world should learn how to deal with miyas from
us, are oft-heard remarks. And the increasing distance between the two
communities, both in the minds and physically, has not helped matters.
Most cities and towns in
Gujarat are completely divided into Hindu and Muslim areas; a street
corner, a divider in the middle of the road, a wall, or just a turn
acting as borders. If it was difficult for a Muslim to find a house
in Hindu areas before the killings, it is impossible now.
Sophia Khan is a well-known
woman activist in Ahmedabad. Her office was in Narayanpura, an upmarket
Hindu area. A month ago, when neighbours in her office complex got to
know of her faith, they asked her to vacate immediately. Putting up
a fight was no use in the face of constant harassment. She has now shifted
to Juhapura. "My house is in a Muslim area. My office is now in
a Muslim area. My Hindu employee is being pressurised by her family
to resign, because they don't like her coming to a Muslim area. And
my work revolves around Muslim women. This is how they want to push
an entire community into a corner," says Khan.
The segregation has spread
to other realms as well, leading to absence of contact and interaction
between the two communities and breeding stereotypes and intolerance.
The most visible realm is the fewer number of mixed schools in Ahmedabad
which have a fair number of Hindus and Muslims. Discrimination on religious
lines, coupled with the desire of parents to send children to schools
where there are 'more of our people' has further boosted this trend.
Pankaj Chandra, professor at Indian Institute of Management, is worried.
Brought up in the composite Ganga-Jamuni culture of Allahabad in Uttar
Pradesh, he says, "My children may graduate from school without
knowing a single Muslim. Imagine how easy it will be to build stereotypes
When this reporter, with
his long, unkempt beard, walked into an elite government colony in Ahmedabad
to meet a senior official, three kids parked their bicycles right in
front. One screamed aloud, "Terrorist." Why? "Because
you are a Musalman," he responded. So? "All Muslims are terrorists.
My father is a judge. He will call you terrorist in court." Really?
"Yes. And get out of here. This is a Hindu area." Sauyajya
is 12-year-old and has not met a single Muslim in his life. No one knows
how many Sauyajyas are in the making in Gujarat.
The writer is Assistant
Editor, Himal Southasian, Kathmandu. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
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