Numbed with disgust and horror,
I return from Gujarat ten days after the terror and massacre that convulsed
the state. My heart is sickened, my soul wearied, my shoulders aching
with the burdens of guilt and shame.As you walk through the camps of
riot survivors in Ahmedabad, in which an estimated 53,000 women, men,
and children are huddled in 29 temporary settlements, displays of overt
grief are unusual. People clutch small bundles of relief materials,
all that they now own in the world, with dry and glassy eyes. Some talk
in low voices, others busy themselves with the tasks of everyday living
in these most basic of shelters, looking for food and milk for children,
tending the wounds of the injured.
But once you sit anywhere
in these camps, people begin to speak and their words are like masses
of pus released by slitting large festering wounds. The horrors that
they speak of are so macabre, that my pen falters in the writing. The
pitiless brutality against women and small children by organised bands
of armed young men is more savage than anything witnessed in the riots
that have shamed this nation from time to time during the past century.
I force myself to write a
small fraction of all that I heard and saw, because it is important
that we all know. Or maybe also because I need to share my own burdens.What
can you say about a woman eight months pregnant who begged to be spared.
Her assailants instead slit open her stomach, pulled out her foetus
and slaughtered it before her eyes. What can you say about a family
of nineteen being killed by flooding their house with water and then
electrocuting them with high-tension electricity. What can you say?A
small boy of six in Juhapura camp described how his mother and six brothers
and sisters were battered to death before his eyes. He survived only
because he fell unconscious, and was taken for dead.
A family escaping from Naroda-Patiya,
one of the worst-hit settlements in Ahmedabad, spoke of losing a young
woman and her three month old son, because a police constable directed
her to 'safety' and she found herself instead surrounded by a mob which
doused her with kerosene and set her and her baby on fire.I have never
known a riot which has used the sexual subjugation of women so widely
as an instrument of violence in the recent mass barbarity in Gujarat.
There are reports every where
of gang-rape, of young girls and women, often in the presence of members
of their families, followed by their murder by burning alive, or by
bludgeoning with a hammer and in one case with a screw driver. Women
in the Aman Chowk shelter told appalling stories about how armed men
disrobed themselves in front of a group of terrified women to
cower them down further.
In Ahmedabad, most people
I met - social workers, journalists, survivors - agree that what Gujarat
witnessed was not a riot, but a terrorist attack followed by a systematic,
planned massacre, a pogrom. Everyone spoke of the pillage and plunder,
being organised like a military operation against an external armed
enemy. An initial truck would arrive broadcasting inflammatory slogans,
soon followed by more trucks which disgorged young men, mostly in khaki
shorts and saffron sashes. They were armed with sophisticated explosive
materials, country weapons, daggers and trishuls.
They also carried water bottles,
to sustain them in their exertions. The leaders were seen communicating
on mobile telephones from the riot venues, receiving instructions from
and reporting back to a coordinating centre. Some were seen with documents
and computer sheets listing Muslim families and their properties.
They had detailed precise
knowledge about buildings and businesses held by members of the minority
community, such as who were partners say in a restaurant business, or
which Muslim homes had Hindu spouses were married who should be spared
in the violence.
This was not a spontaneous
upsurge of mass anger. It was a carefully planned pogrom.The trucks
carried quantities of gas cylinders. Rich Muslim homes and business
establishments were first systematically looted, stripped down of all
their valuables, then cooking gas was released from cylinders into the
buildings for several minutes. A trained member of the group then lit
flame which efficiently engulfed the building. In some cases, acetylene
gas which is used for welding steel, was employed to explode large concrete
buildings. Mosques and dargahs were razed, and were replaced by statues
of Hanuman and saffron flags. Some dargahs in Ahmedabad city crossings
have overnight been demolished and their sites covered with road building
material, and bulldozed so efficiently that these spots are indistinguishable
from the rest of the road.
Traffic now plies over these
former dargahs, as though they never existed.The unconscionable failures
and active connivance of the state police and administrative machinery
is also now widely acknowledged. The police is known to have misguided
people straight into the hands of rioting mobs. They provided protective
shields to crowds bent on pillage, arson, rape and murder, and were
deaf to the pleas of the desperate Muslim victims, many of them women
There have been many reports
of police firing directly mostly at the minority community, which was
the target of most of the mob violence. The large majority of arrests
are also from the same community which was the main victim of the pogrom.As
one who has served in the Indian Administrative Service for over two
decades, I feel great shame at the abdication of duty of my peers in
the civil and police administration. The law did not require any of
them to await orders from their political supervisors before they organised
the decisive use of force to prevent the brutal escalation of violence,
and to protect vulnerable women and children from the organised, murderous
The law instead required
them to act independently, fearlessly, impartially, decisively, with
courage and compassion. If even one official had so acted in Ahmedabad,
she or he could have deployed the police forces and called in the army
to halt the violence and protect the people in a matter of hours.
No riot can continue beyond a few hours without the active connivance
of the local police and magistracy. The blood of hundreds of innocents
are on the hands of the police and civil authorities of Gujarat, and
by sharing in a conspiracy of silence, on the entire higher bureaucracy
of the country.
I have heard senior officials
blame also the communalism of the police constabulary for their connivance
in the violence. This too is a thin and disgraceful alibi. The same
forces have been known to act with impartiality and courage when led
by officers of professionalism and integrity. The failure is clearly
of the leadership of the police and civil services, not of the subordinate
men and women in khaki who are trained to obey their orders.
Where were also, amidst this
savagery, injustice, and human suffering is the 'civil society', the
Gandhians, the development workers, the NGOs, the fabled spontaneous
Gujarati philanthropy which was so much in evidence in the earthquake
in Kutch and Ahmedabad? The newspapers reported that at the peak of
the pogrom, the gates of Sabarmati Ashram were closed to protect its
properties, it should instead have been the city's major sanctuary.
Which Gandhian leaders, or NGO managers, staked their lives to halt
the death-dealing throngs? It is one more shame that we as citizens
of this country must carry on our already burdened backs, that the camps
for the Muslim riot victims in Ahmedabad are being run almost exclusively
by Muslim organisations. It is as though the monumental pain, loss,
betrayal and injustice suffered by the Muslim people is the concern
only of other Muslim people, and the rest of us have no share in the
responsibility to assuage, to heal and rebuild.
The state, which bears the
primary responsibility to extend both protection and relief to its vulnerable
citizens, was nowhere in evidence in any of the camps, to manage, organise
the security, or even to provide the resources that are required to
feed the tens of thousands of defenseless women, men and children huddled
in these camps for safety.
The only passing moments
of pride and hope that I experienced in Gujarat, were when I saw men
like Mujid Ahmed and women like Roshan Bahen who served in these camps
with tireless, dogged humanism amidst the ruins around them. In the
Aman Chowk camp, women blessed the young band of volunteers who worked
from four in the morning until after midnight to ensure that none of
their children went without food or milk, or that their wounds remained
untended. Their leader Mujid Ahmed is a graduate, his small chemical
dyes factory has been burnt down, but he has had no time to worry about
his own loss. Each day he has to find 1600 kilograms of foodgrain to
feed some 5000
people who have taken shelter in the camp.
The challenge is even greater
for Roshan Bahen, almost 60, who wipes her eyes each time she hears
the stories of horror by the residents in Juhapura camp. But she too
has no time for the luxuries of grief or anger. She barely sleeps, as
her volunteers, mainly working class Muslim women and men from the humble
tenements around the camp, provide temporary toilets, food and solace
to the hundreds who have gathered in the grounds of a primary school
to escape the ferocity of
As I walked through the camps,
I wondered what Gandhiji would have done in these dark hours. I recall
the story of the Calcutta riots, when Gandhi was fasting for peace.
A Hindu man came to him, to speak of his young boy who had been killed
by Muslim mobs, and of the depth of his anger and longing for revenge.
And Gandhi is said to have replied: If you really wish to overcome your
pain, find a young boy, just as young as your son, a Muslim boy whose
parents have been killed by Hindu mobs. Bring up that boy like you would
your own son, but bring him up with the Muslim faith to which he was
born. Only then will you find that you can heal your pain, your anger,
your longing for retribution.
There are no voices like
Gandhi's that we hear today. Only discourses on Newtonian physics, to
justify vengeance on innocents. We need to find these voices within
our own hearts, we need to believe enough in justice, love, tolerance.
There is much that the murdering
mobs in Gujarat have robbed from me. One of them is a song I often sang
with pride and conviction. The words of the song are:
Sare jahan se achha
It is a song I will never
be able to sing again.
(Harsh Mander, the writer,
resigned from Indian civil service after witnessing the state complicity
in the carnage in Gujarat)