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Remembering The Gujarat Genocide

By M Hasan Jowher

01 March, 2005

Bludgeoning forex reserves, growing FDI, rising GDP accompanied, increasing political stock of India, growing number of NRI millionaires.. makes great news for most of us. But the victims of post-Godhra riots await more mundane news: justice done, security strengthened and compensation awarded. For three years to this week they have waited for truth to prevail.

To recap: As the political stock of the ruling right-wing BJP started dwindling through 1999-2001 it replaced Keshubhai Patel with the RSS pracharak Narendra Modi as Gujarat CM to face ensuing elections. Then, following the burning of Sabarmati Express on 27th February, 2002, claiming 59, mostly innocent Hindu lives, nearly 2,500 innocent Muslims were brutally killed, many more permanently handicapped, hundreds gang-raped in their homes, farms, factories and on the roadside. Several thousand homes were gutted; lakhs of people lost livelihood, tenancy and heritage. Some could never return to their villages and societies. Chamanpura in Ahmedabad, for instance, where former MP Ehsan Jaffary was burnt alive along with several others, remain deserted.

In the following months Gaurav Yatras were taken out unmistakably celebrating these heinous acts. The CEO of Gujarat that presided over this mayhem was re-elected with a thumping majority and is now arguably an icon of macho Hinduism. The star criminals roam free and some also deface its legislature. None of the killer outfits: VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena were banned. Instead, nearly three hundred Muslims languish under the long-dead, dreaded POTA despite Forensic Laboratory, Justice Bannerjee, Hazard Centre and numerous nationalists' probes ruling out Godhra Muslim conspiracy behind the train burning.

On the other hand, fast track courts have routinely acquitted criminals accused of brutalizing Muslims, in most cases, thanks to a pro-accused prosecution by pro-VHP public prosecutors. Even in the cases reopened with Supreme Court intervention justice is suffering, thanks to a heady mixture of opportunism, enticement, hopelessness - as in Zahira's case - or sheer intimidation, as in Viramgam, Godhra, Panchmahals et al. Where the accused are hounded by a chastened police, their sympathizers make the complainants' lives miserable.

Compensation has by and large been a farce. Take Sikander's case for instance. He drove a Hindu professor of IIMA for fifteen years. At 50 he lost his wife, brother, bhabi, two nephews, domestic goods worth over two lakh, plus all the jahez [dowry] they had readied for their daughter. She and her brother being away, escaped the killing. The dead mother's cash compensation of ninety thousand rupees went to finance her daughter's wedding a year later. Meanwhile Sikander lost his three thousand rupee job as he became risky for his good boss who at times took grave risks to save him. To sell his burnt house, obviously at a throw-away price, he needs sixty thousand rupees on basic repairs.

Lamenting his loss he asks God, through mortals like us, why this happened to him, why his wife who offered "all the five prayers daily" suffered this fate? Our impotence, if not indifference, provides no answer. And God clearly doesn't seem too interested in the meek. As for Muslim leadership, the less said the better.

So who is really guilty in Gujarat? Sadly, virtually everyone. Half of Gujarat, at any rate, for that was the voting percentage of BJP in the elections that followed the killings. No senior cop, not one IAS officer
quit protesting the killings. Not one religious guru of some stature condemned the killing publicly. Instead all kind of crafty justifications and consolations have been systematically planted in popular perception. Consider some: "reaction" to Godhra killing; "conspiracy" of anti-nationals, pseudo-secularists to "defame" Gujarat; look ahead, not behind.

Few Gujaratis ponder: if Gujarat's reaction to Godhra was justified, wasn't Godhra itself then a justified reaction to the kar sevak's mischiefs and Babri demolition? That a whole decade before the Sabarmati burning virtual ethnic cleansing has been carried out in Ahmedabad is forgotten. Does Gujarat's honour [asmita, as Modi calls it] lie in booking or bailing out the murderers and rapists? In one sweep Supreme Court, NHRC, Citizens' Tribunal, numerous fact finding commissions, NGOs and eminent nationalists are held guilty of Gujarat-bashing.

What then is the future of Gujarat? Frankly pretty bleak in the long run. No wonder the FDI has vanished; even Gujaratis avoid investing here, despite all the chest-beating, festivals and bravado put up by Modi. No sane person would want to risk good money on bad politics.

Equally, the integration of the nation has been badly affected. The Muslim psyche, not just within Gujarat but throughout India, is deeply hurt. Nothing in recent times, not even Babri Masjid demolition, has shaken their faith in the Indian state as much as the Gujarat killings. Not until the state acts decisively to punish the guilty and compensate the losses fully, not until the Hindu clergy and society condemn the guilty, not until Moditva is extinguished and Modi tried, can true justice be perceived. With a ruined Sikander in every mohalla, a gang-raped Bilkis in every town, crying for justice in wilderness, pray, how can there be peace and harmony?

Partly encashing the revulsion the nation felt at the Gujarat carnage, the UPA ousted NDA at the centre with Sonia replacing Vajpayee as the nation's darling. However, little has changed for Gujarat's riot victims. But alas! There is no alternative to justice. Even if delayed, let it not be denied for brazen injustice cannot pave the way for peace and a fractured society cannot be harmonious.

The author runs a voluntary agency, SPRAT, and is accessible at











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