Gujarat Pogrom












Contact Us




In Delhi, these days, an exhibition is being shown. Gandhi, King, Ikeda: A Legacy of Building Peace, it is called. In a small room of the Gandhi Smriti, in Tees January Marg. A few photographs and write-ups. Whenever I visit Gandhi Smriti, I usually see there only some foreigners and a few old people from Tamil Nadu obviously on a sight seeing tour to the capital. (I don't know how this combination has come, but that is how it is!) As for this exhibition, they too were absent.

When I think of Martin Luther King Jr, the first thing coming to my mind is the memorable speech he made on 28 August 1963, five years before he was killed, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I have a dream today… the wavy dreamy words go on. Gandhi too had his dreams. And five months before he was killed, on the occasion of Indian Independence, he was trudging the graveyard of those dreams. He had stopped making speeches and proclamations. Only fasts and prayers. Yet, his spiritual energy was not spent up.

On 26 August 1947, Governor General Lord Mountbatten wrote a letter to
Gandhi which had these lines: "In the Punjab we have 55000 soldiers and large scale rioting in our hands. In Bengal our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting…"

We don't know the strength of soldiers in Gujarat today. Whatever it is,
neutralizing the state soldiery everywhere, several new senas, dals and lashkars have sprung up, and with bombs, guns and trisuls in hand, adorning a variety of uniforms, they are conducting flag marches in the land from Kashmir to Kerala and Gujarat to Assam.

That is of arms. Now, about the men. Everyone knows the advice Gandhi gave to the angry Hindu who stormed into the room where he was observing fast in Calcutta, with the story of his daughter killed by Muslims. No need to repeat it.

Reminding that advice in a strange way, a few sentences were spoken by Prime Minister Vajpayee last week, while on a visit to Gujarat. He said, he was due to embark upon a foreign tour soon and that included Muslim countries too. "What face I will show them?" he asked the audience in an emotion-choked voice. The strangeness was that the audience was not BJP workers or the parishad of Hindus, his conscience keepers, these days. They were the stumps and remnants of the Muslim families subjected to the carnage, now put together in a camp. Standing by the side of the Prime Minister, was Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister, and he nodded in agreement. "Our police have mowed down people," he had snapped at
reporters during the first two days of the carnage when told about police

The reporters of a national newspaper have now scanned through the
FIRs and post mortem reports and found out that the forty killed in the police firing on day one were all Muslims. Men like that, and arms this way!

During the discussion on POTO Bill, in parliament, the leader of opposition,
Sonia Gandhi commented that the Prime Minister's "moment of reckoning has come." He had to make up his mind, she said: whether he wanted to "protect the welfare of the people of India" or "succumb to the internal pressures of his party and its sister organizations." An angry Vajpayee retorted that he was not Prime Minister courtesy the Congress, and that "people want me and I will remain PM till they want me." He warned her not to interfere with the affairs of his parivar. "There is a limit to enduring, " he said sternly. (Does anyone remember the momentous speech of Adolf Hitler in the crucial days of 1938? "My patience is now at an end…In this hour the whole German people will unite with me! It will feel my will to be its will…") What followed was truly ominous.

To illustrate his ability to resist pressure (atal, he is), the example he selected was nothing but the 1998 Pokhran nuclear test. How he "defied the world opinion" and how another Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao could not. (How he defied another of our Prime Ministers, he did not say. The assurance given by Prime Minister Nehru to the nation, in 1957 on the occasion of the inauguration of Apsara Reactor at Trombay: "I am happy today, but with the happiness it is impossible not to think of the likelihood of this development taking a malevolent turn. No man can prophesy the future. But I should like to say on behalf of my government - and I think I can say with some assurance, on behalf of any future Government of India - that whatever might happen, whatever the circumstances, we shall never use this atomic energy for evil purposes. There is no condition attached to this assurance, because once a condition is attached, the value of such an assurance does not go very far.") In other words, when the dreadful, inhuman and selfish decisions come, things like world conscience,
human considerations and even the simple voice of common sense may not mean anything to this man, a poet. Why, these days, every word spoken by him, (behari as well as atal that he is), is so much loaded with meanings and uncomfortably ominous?

On 4 April, when he went to Gujarat to express his human concerns
before the Muslim refugee families, the images he employed to describe the horror of the carnage were more horrible than the carnage itself. Hindu rites require a person to put on the pyre only after his death, not alive, he said! How faulted is the mindset that seeks religious rites and that too such ones, rather than the statuettes of civilization and natural justice to judge the rights and wrongs in such cases!

I remember the days when a debate was on in Kerala on the case of Chekanur Moulavi, a Muslim cleric who was done away with by the Islamic fundamentalists for preaching reform and brotherhood between religions. Sharia did not sanction the killing of a murtadd, an apostate, was then the common position stated by Muslim intellectuals, even the liberal ones.
Shocked, I had to ask, what if they did, for the argument's sake? (And in fact many Muslim scholars held that view.) Were not these things to be decided on the basis of the criminal law of the land? Unfortunately reluctance to proceed further suddenly put a stop to the debate. Will such reluctance and stoppage be the fate of the new argument set on by the Prime Minister too? Or, will the debate take a turn that burning is okay after killing, and killing is okay after…? Unfortunately for the Hindus, their rites and customs, discarded as rubbish by sensible ones but being propped up again by the fundamentalists of the day, do provide for burning people alive too!

As I leaf through the famous speech of Martin Luther King Jr, a master in making the spoken word the servant of his cause, this stanza appears at one place: "We have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has
given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked
'insufficient funds'. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is

The Bank of Justice has not failed. It is open and functioning. But the cheques issued are fraudulent. Not from the accounts of rights of man, but from those of the rites of religions they are being issued. Don't ever think that the signatories do not know that these accounts have been long closed. But the signatories themselves have been usurped and bigots are occupying the chairs.

(Anand is a writer and thinker)