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Lamps Lit In Darkness

By Harsh Mander

05 April 2004

If 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 most
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 in
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 and
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
ISBN 81-86962-66-2
142pp. Price not listed