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Counterfeit Peace In Gujarat

By Harsh Mander

The Times of India
19 July, 2003

"I know today that I will never be able to return to my village. And
yet, more than anything in the world, I wish I could go home. After
all, my brother, one's village is one's village. Nothing in the world
can replace it."

These disconsolate words of an elderly woman as she fought back her
tears, were to echo many times in a journey of healing that took us
through the tribal regions that were the epicentre of the violence
that had ripped apart Gujarat.

Over a year has passed since Gujarat was devastated by the
death-dealing squall of hate that traumatised the nation. For many
months, the state slipped off the front pages of national newspapers.
The widely-shared assumption was that after the stunning electoral
endorsement, peace has been restored to the ravaged state. Long
before the Best Bakery case tone down this facade before an outraged
nation, our journey had revealed to us the frightening anatomy of
this utterly counterfeit peace.

Authentic peace can be founded ultimately only on justice, trust and
dignity. In the wake of blood-drenched betrayal and mass
brutality, the construction of an enduring peace requires both the
healing of remorse and compassion and the demonstration of justice
done. Neither was evident anywhere during our harrowing travels.
Instead, we witnessed twisted malformed mutations of peace, based on
a resigned social acceptance of settled fear, utterly unequal and
degrading compromises and the institutionalisation of second-class

Worn out by months of living in bleak makeshift relief camps run by
community volunteers, many conquered their dread of the duplicity of
their neighbours, and gathered the courage to return to their
villages. No one from among those with whom they shared bonds
nurtured through generations even greeted them, let alone extended a
helping hand. Amidst their hostile silences, they bravely tried to
restart life in the charred ruins of where their homes and shops had
been razed and plundered, and their loved ones killed, maimed or
raped. The disquiet of each night was stirred by chilling taunts and
threats. Defeated, many returned ultimately to the safety of numbers
in the town, sometimes fleeing in the dead of night.

For those who still chose to stay on, it was a new untouchability
that they are subject to in village after town, an elaboratelyÂ
accomplished economic apartheid. What is terrifying is that this new
manufactured injustice is not now imposed from outside but
internalised into the local social fabric, and the unresisting,
almost fatalist, acceptance by the victim community of the terms of
this masquerade of peace.

In the villages where the hapless refugees of hate have returned, if
they owned a shop and are Muslim, no clients from other communities
now patronise them. New competitors have opened businesses in every
town and village, thriving on the hatred fostered against an entire
community. If you were employed, even for decades, as a factory,
transport or farm worker or even a domestic worker cleaning dishes or
sweeping floors, you now find yourself summarily retrenched.
Creditors are mocked and  despair of recoveries, owners of tiny
catering establishments and paan shops are helpless if clients refuse
to pay. Tenants of long standing are abruptly evicted from homes,
shops and agricultural land.

Relief camps across the state have been forcefully disbanded. Those
who could do so have returned to the safety of the states of their
origin, but also to the dead-end poverty they had once tried to flee.
The large majority have taken shelter in the tiny tenements of
their relatives, or masses are cramped into small hired rooms.
Charitable organisations are building rows of homes for several of
these refugees in Muslim ghettos, but work is hard to find. For the
first time since Independence, the state has wantonly denied all
but the most meagre assistance, and extended no soft loans to help
rebuild shattered lives.

Other forms of this bogus peace require as a minimum condition of
sufferance, the withdrawal of all complaints whether of assault or
arson. We saw villages in which brave witnesses of rape and
slaughter, sometimes women and girls, were under pressure from elders
of even their own community to refuse to give further evidence, as
the price of their safety. The inti-midation and bribery of key
witnesses and the openly partisan attitude of state agencies
responsible for investigation and prosecution, evident in the Best
Bakery case, represents a pattern found in all cases of violence.

The majority of mob leaders, even when named in police complaints,
walk free, compounding the terror of the residents. Of 4,500 cases
registered in the wake of the carnage, 2,000 have already been closed
by investigation authorities, claiming lack of evidence. On the
other hand, even where the mass violence exclusively targeted the
minorities, as was the situation in an overwhelming number of cases,
it is they who are being arrested on various charges, including under
POTA. Frequently, as in both Naroda Patiya and Godhra, the
peace-makers are especially targeted for arrests. Lawyers from the
majority community are unwilling to defend them and even the courts
are reluctant to free them on bail.

This is the counterfeit peace, more than a year after, in Gujarat.