Lamps Lit In
By Harsh Mander
05 April 2004
the savage massacre in Gujarat and its unconscionable conspiracies of
silence and complicity marked a monumental collapse of traditional 'civil
society', it witnessed simultaneously a countrywide upsurge of spontaneous
voluntary action, luminous acts of compassion, conscience and faith.
In this hour of national darkness, many lamps were lit. With quiet individual
acts of caring and courage, it is ordinary people, in several corners
of the country, who have defended the gravely threatened humanism and
democratic traditions of our land.A shameful paralysis gripped the development
sector in Gujarat, as celebrated and revered social activists chose
to shut their eyes and ears to the slaughter and continuing agony of
innocent people and the unprecedented complicity of state authorities.
They did not attempt to
confront mobs as they set aflame people and properties, they set up
no camps to shelter the bereaved and destitute survivors. They remain
mute as all civilized norms of relief and rehabilitation were openly
and wantonly subverted by the state.
Amidst the bleak
despair of this ignoble abdication, a few organizations bravely banded
together under the banner of Citizens' Initiative in Ahmedabad. Many
others grappled with the even more daunting challenges of rural communalism.
Despite threats to the very survival of some of the organizations, they
refused to flinch from their resolute collective stand against injustice.
They supported the camp organizers with relief supplies, ran health
camps and temporary schools, organized legal assistance, extended trauma
counseling for the survivors of rape, arson and the mass murders with
the help of dedicated professionals from the National Institute of Mental
Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS). When the state government
refused to even construct rainproof shelters in the camps, and starved
them of food supplies, they sustained the lifeline of food grain and
built structures which provided some protection from the rain. It is
only because of them that the camps are not fully disbanded, and the
survivors still have some succour and hope.
The concerted attempts
by the state government and the dangerously communalized local media
to hide the truth of the massacre from the rest of
the country was decisively subverted by journalists in the national
media, who withstood intense pressures and they courageously reflected
a widely shared national outrage. There can also be no better testimony
to the robustness of the secular and democratic instincts of large sections
of people than the series of independent citizens' enquiries into the
events of Gujarat, more than 40 at last count. Spontaneously organized
by a range of concerned citizen and human rights groups from the length
and breadth of the country, these intrepid reports fearlessly and painstakingly
document the facts of the Gujarat massacre, so that the rest of us know.The
parched compassion of Gujarat has been quenched by the stream of volunteers,
mostly young people, who continue to pour into Gujarat, eager to contribute
in whatever way they can, to
show that they care, and suffer with their fellow citizens in Gujarat.
For many, it is an act of prayaschit or penance, for others it is a
pilgrimage of active caring. Many more have sent donations, from wageworkers
in Lucknow to rich
industrialists in Mumbai.
I recall a team
of auto-rickshaw drivers who arrived from Andhra Pradesh and lived in
camps in Ahmedabad for over three weeks, cheerfully sacrificing their
daily earnings back home. Of all the volunteers, they were perhaps the
loved. Women in the camps blessed them and declared that they had adopted
them as their sons. They wept when they finally returned to their homes.
I recall an unlikely band of youthful executives working with multinational
companies in Mumbai, who were so moved by the carnage, that they would
every week-end put away their suits and travel to Ahmedabad to serve
the camps. A leading woman industrialist and a respected senior film
actress quietly, away from the glare of publicity, approached everyone
she knew to collect millions of rupees to help in the task of rebuilding
the lives of the survivors. A village volunteer from the organization
Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan visited a camp and
observed that the toilets were intolerably dirty, blocked with nightsoil
and not cleaned for days. Unmindful of the nauseating stench and caste
taboos, without a word he set
about cleaning the toilets for several hours. When he returned the next
morning, women surrounded the toilets, refusing to let him enter. They
had resolved to take up the duty themselves.
I have been most
touched by the Aman Pathiks or peace volunteers, many of them painfully
young men and women who responded to our call in Ahmedabad to work for
healing and rebuilding. Many of the volunteers had themselves suffered
gravely in the carnage. As they showed me pictures of the ruins of their
burnt and plundered homes, or spoke in low voices sometimes of the violence
suffered by members of their own families, I wondered how many of us
in their position would be able to summon the same inner resources to
forgive so quickly and cheerfully help others in need.
If the agony of
our land is to heal and the rivers of poison dry, if love and tolerance
are to be restored to our public life, it will be because of our ordinary
people. It is ultimately because of them that we are still able to hope
amidst the darkness of Gujarat.Harsh Mander is a social activist, writer
former civil servant who has worked in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh
and Chattisgarh for two decades.
This book is about
the carnage that swept Gujarat in February 2002. With candid honesty
and impartiality the author captures the details of the tragedy that
unfolded in this Indian state. The author also highlights the acts of
compassion and humanism that brought hope to the ravaged and dispossessed.
Excerpted with permission from: Cry, My Beloved
Country: Reflections on the Gujarat Carnage
By Harsh Mander
Rainbow Publishers, New Delhi.
Available with Indus Publications, 25 Fareed
Chambers, Abdullah Haroon Road, Karachi
Tel: 021-5660242, 4801429
142pp. Price not listed