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Gujarat: Silence Of The Lambs

By Shoma Chaudhury

01 November, 2007
Hindustan Times

We are all tempted to forget. Tempted to shake
our heads at 'mind-numbing' horror and get sucked
back into the urgencies of our own day. Tempted
to impute sinister motives or just look the other
way. We are tempted, but we must not give in.
Because what Tehelka's investigation last week
showed is not just about Narendra Modi and some
lumpen Hindus. It's about you and me and who we
are as people.

It is true that 'Operation Kalank' is about
things we already knew: mass murder, rape and
barbarous cruelty, all planned and executed by
the unforgivable sanction of the State. But the
unthinkable has happened. What was earlier
allegation by victims and their defenders has now
been corroborated by the perpetrators themselves.
And what is our response? Nothing.

Operation Kalank cannot be dismissed as the empty
bragging of anonymous men. The men caught in the
eye of the camera range from the Advocate General
of Gujarat to BJP MLAs, senior functionaries of
the VHP and RSS, influential lawyers and the
actual foot-soldiers of hate: not the bit players
cheering from the outer circle, but the hacksaws
themselves. And what the TV channels have shown
is only the broadstrokes. Tehelka documents an
even vaster and more detailed nightmare world of
thwarted justice and failed institutions,
including the fire on the Sabarmati Express.

Yet, in the face of all this, our story has only
been met by empty counter-arguments and
conspiracy theories. Why was the story timed for
now? Is Tehelka a Congress front? And even more
ludicrously, has Modi paid Tehelka to do the
story to consolidate the Hindu vote ahead of
elections? As one of the founder members of
Tehelka, these theories bring an exhausting sense
of déjà vu. We have been here before. Six years
ago, when Tehelka broke Operation Westend, the
investigation about corruption in defence
procurement, the same fantastic theories had
greeted us, each contradicting the other. But the
truth outlived it all.

Now it's happening again. Journalistic stories of
this nature can never be timed. Operation Kalank
began by sheer accident - we did not set out to
do it - and it took six months to nail down. If
it had taken three, we would have released it in
August; if it had taken ten, we would have
released it in January, post the election.
Imagine what conspiracy theories that would have

Duck the truth and look for some new depravity to
explain it away: that's become our habitual
response as a people. We think it makes us
worldly and knowing. We think it makes us
sagacious. But in truth, it displays our fallen
nature. It displays the bankruptcy of our
emotions and the poverty of our conscience. We no
longer believe anyone can do anything without a
motive. The fact that cynical backroom games are
more easy to believe in than purity of intention
says something enormously disturbing about where
we have reached as a society. We can be shown a
man gloating over a foetus ripped out of a
mother's womb, but we would rather embroider why
we are being shown this than react with honest
emotion to the fact.

But what is far worse is the unremorseful
responses of the BJP and people who state that
the genocide is no longer an issue because it is
five years old and Modi has been voted back to
power since then. As if a mere assertion of
majority can nullify the fundamental cry for
human justice. What is far worse also are the
people who are trapped in the suicidal dialectic
of Godhra and Gujarat - action and reaction:
Muslim provocation and Hindu retribution. As if
Death leaves its aching footprint in shades of
green and saffron, one less painful than the

It seems so simple to understand - crime has no
communal colour. The State should have identified
and arrested the Muslims who were in the mob at
Godhra and punished them instead of unleashing a
pogrom against innocents. Why engineer a communal
death embrace that neither community can ever
loosen itself from?

But of all the responses, what is by far the
worst is that everybody seems unperturbed by the
fact that Gujarat is a failed state. Modi may
have been re-elected post-2002, but Operation
Kalank is proof that every fundamental
institution that underpins the idea of a
democratic and civil society has been subverted
there: the police, the judiciary and the
political establishment. And yet we are all
content to continue with the charade of treating
Gujarat as a democratic state facing an on-coming

Nations are built by the words men use to
describe it. Societies are shaped by the
collective rules men agree to live by. The India
we inherited, the India in which we all have a
right to life, liberty, livelihood, expression
and religion is not some self-perpetuating magic
State. It's a State that was articulated by the
heroic imagination of our founding fathers, a
State we all have to struggle and fight to
retain. If we are faced with something like
Operation Kalank and do nothing, we will turn a
dangerous corner as a nation. Our certitudes will
slip away from us. We will become morally

For me then, the most frightening thing about
Tehelka's investigation is not Narendra Modi and
his cold, unalloyed evil. It is not even the
animal violence of his henchmen. It is the
X-factor that seems to have paralysed everybody:
the fear of the 'Hindu vote'. This fear and the
unquestioning acceptance that it will blow in
Modi's favour if anybody speaks out against his
depraved state has made a mockery of every check
and balance that lies at the heart of a
democracy. It has made the media cautious. And it
has made timid marionettes of the Congress.
Neither the Prime Minister, nor the Home
Minister, nor any senior minister has spoken out.
Is Gujarat no longer a part of India? Doesn't the
same Constitution apply? Are we doomed to have
leaders whose heads are only trapped in the
abacus of electoral numbers?

The real faultline in India today is not between
Hindus and Muslims. It is between Hindus and
Hindus. If the Hindus of Gujarat are going to
re-elect Modi after being confronted with visual
proof of what he stands for, we have to
aggressively reclaim what being Hindu means. The
problem is too few people seem to have a stomach
for that fight. It is not a fight that can be won
by burning and slashing. Or ducking. It requires
words and eloquence and conviction. The Hindu
vote in Gujarat could swing both ways in the
years to come because the curious thing about
human beings is that they are always willing to
thrum to a nobler note. Someone just has to have
the courage to sound it.

Shoma Chaudhury is Editor, Features, Tehelka.



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