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Update:  March 9, 2002

Gujarat -- The Corpse of a Nation's Soul

By John Dayal

Secular Civil Society, and an Independent Media, specially TV news channels, must ensure that vested interests do not succeed in re-writing current history of the systematic state-protected violence in Gujarat. They have begun the exercise, as can be seen by the sound bites on some competing channels, and in the writings of a stream of the print media whose Editors sit in the Rajya Sabha wearing saffron, if not khaki. What is required at this time is the authentic Voice of the Victim, which no future coercion can change.

The Centre, now ruling in Lucknow too through the Governor, has announced it is relaxing curbs that had kept away kar sevaks from Ayodhya. A massive and aggressive gathering of ‘simple pilgrims’ (as Union minister of state for Home Affairs I D Swami describes them) is inevitable for the worship of the stone pillars already ready for installation. It is time to learn the lessons from the Liberhans Commission's painful course of hearings on the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and from the probes of 1993 anti-Muslim riots and the murderous 1984 anti-Sikh arson.


The NDA partners have made it clear their first priority is to remain in power. New allies want a bite of the cake - and both J Jayalalithaa and Mayawati have said they have no hesitation in cohabiting with the Sangh Parivar, warts, blood-dripping trishuls and smoke-stained hands notwithstanding. After all, an aroma is just a stink one has learnt to like.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, and was shot dead in New Delhi. The institutionalised, Constitutional State as born in New Delhi, has died in Gujarat. Burnt alive, so to speak.

At some time in the future at some judicial commission, the state government will file an affidavit giving the official number of those dead in the violence. No one will believe in this figure. There are all too many reports of bodies burnt to ashes, buried in mass graves even without a proper recognition by parents, wives and relatives. There are too many reports of police not registering FIRs, the first information reports that become the basis of subsequent enquiries.


The Commission of police of course is on record saying, in slightly different phraseology, that his boys too were human, and had reacted to the burning of the kar sevaks in the Sabarmati express at Godhra in an emotional response from their heart. The best ones just watched Muslims being burnt alive. Others participated in the lighting of the living pyres.

There are no reports yet of any major Sangh parivar leader arrested from among the hordes of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal cadres who ruled the towns and villages from 1st to 7th March 2002. Nor indeed are reports available of policemen suspended for dereliction of duty. The comparative data on arrests from the two communities will also have to wait for much more time.


If the Gujarat police's luck holds out, the shila pooja and succeeding events after 15th March may well overtake the Gujarat event, diverting media attention and shifting the political protest from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh.

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has exonerated just about everyone he could - the police, the administration, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Union. Home minister Lal Krishna Advani has exonerated Narendra Modi. The Prime Minister, in first requesting the RSS to intervene and then making the Shankaracharya of Kanchi his main emissaries to bring peace to Gujarat, has exonerated the very ideology that set Gujarat on fire.


And if Union defence minister George Fernandes, rattles that his car and motorcade were
attacked by the ravaging mobs, at one stage seemed to have blamed the state government for delaying the military from staging its rout marches – by its delay in not providing them the smaller trucks the army required – the close friend of George Fernandes and his former party president Jaya Jaitley, made the strongest defence ever of the Sangh Parivar's government and the cadres of the parivar.

Relief is another matter altogether. Chief minister Modi set new standards of equity for the dead - Rs 2 lakh for the dead of Godhra and Rs 1 lakh for the victims of the state sponsored arson. His argument is that the kar sevaks were victims of terrorism. Modi of course had the precedence of the earlier BJP government under whose patronage; relief was distributed on caste and religious lines amongst the victims of the earthquake 13 months ago.

The world saw terror unleashed on the living and the dead of Ahmedabad in the photograph of the wild eyed infant, his head bandaged, who died a few hours after the flash of the camera, and it was visible in the picture of the youth whose home had been set on fire. That has been the contribution of a vibrant section of the Media - NDTV's Rajdeep Sardesai and his brave colleagues, not forgetting the anonymous cameramen, Manas of The Hindu and Rathin Das of The Hindustan Times and their many collagues formed a select band of newspersons who are an inspiration to their generation of media


They deserve the gratitude of the nation for having overcome the fear of retribution beyond the call of duty. It is tougher than reporting from a bunker, dangerous as reporting from Kargil is. There at least the state was on the media's side, and the media on the state's.

It is thanks to these young men and women, and at least one or two not so young, that the Voice of the Victims was first heard. Teesta Setalvad, Shushobha Barve and Cedric Prakash went later and have kept us abreast of the emerging conspiracy of silence. More will go as the dust settles and the smoke dissipates.

It is thanks to them that one heard of senior administrators who first shaved off their stubbles and then ventured forth. It is through them that one read about the four senior police officers, all Muslims, who had to call in extra security to their home, and of the Muslim constables attacked in their barracks by their own colleagues. And it is because of the media that I now know of at least two Gujarat High court judges who too had to flee their houses and seek refuge in the warm bosom of their community and friends.

What has the state come to if the government cannot protect judges, and senior police officers feel insecure? The implications of even two High Court judges having to leave their homes, if even for a short time, are grievous and far reaching. This nation
cannot live with the images of a judiciary that can be so threatened.


At this critical moment, the Judiciary is the arbiter of issues that may spell life or death not just for those unfortunate to be caught in a future conflagration that may be triggered by persons and groups defying their judgments one way or the other. It is no too difficult to imagine the stress under which the judiciary would be functioning, in Gujarat, in Allahabad, and in New Delhi. There is no risk of contempt of court, and a night in Tihar jail, in saying this.

There is little sympathy for the National Minorities Commission, now really feeling how marginalised it has become. The National Commission for Human Rights earned for itself the respect of the people. The Minorities Commission chose to be an agent of the Bharatiya Janata Party, masquerading as a wing of the government. The state government has told it there is no security for its members if they come to the state to probe the violence.


And surely now the commission cannot coerce anyone, the Church included, to get them to dialogue with the murderous ideology, and ideologues, of the Sangh Parivar. It has itself to blame for opting out of the peace with justice system.

This role today is with brave individuals in Gujarat and elsewhere who are mobilising people of conscience, bringing consolation, peace and relief to the victims, identifying the guilty at the risk of their own lives. To safeguard the sanctity of the secular protestations of the Indian nation.
And the pluralism of its ancient heritage.

John Dayal <[email protected]>


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