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End note

On September 24th, terrorists entered the Akshardham temple in Gujarat. The nation learnt in horror of the innocent worshippers slain by their bullets. The next morning the casualty list included the terrorists, worshippers and national commandos. A mother who had lost her child asked what harm could he have possibly done in his lifetime. ‘We even vehemently protested the riots against Muslims’ she said. Many children lost their parents that night -- innocent parents who had gone to the temple to pray. That night as on the night of February 28, many children were robbed of their childhood, and with it a notion of stability and predictability in their lives.

The children of Gujarat live in an atmosphere of continuous violence and hatred, each fueling the other. The Muslims are now living in ghettos more than before. The last of middle and upper class Muslims are leaving so called Hindu domains and moving to Muslim dominated areas on the other side of the Sabarmati river. They face severe social and economic isolation with right wing Hindu groups continuing to advocate their economic boycott and willing Hindu traders being afraid to conduct business with them. Not allowed to join mainstream society and being relegated to the fringes geographically and socio-politically, the minority community suffers from heightened levels of insecurity. The horrendous crimes committed against them and the complicity of the State in allowing these crimes weakens their faith in a just State. In such circumstances, the State continues to deny justice to the victims. Rehabilitation measures are hampered by bureaucratic indifference or malfeasance. Even children are not spared.[1] Most adults in the minority community harbor no concept of the State as a just and protective entity. They perceive it as a political and tyrannical extension of the majority community. While Islamic madrassas and Muslim ghettos in all parts of India have always been rumored to supposedly indulge in anti-nationalistic propaganda and demonization of people of other faiths (“kafirs”), they now have an audience more receptive than ever before. Children are a large proportion for this audience and potential soldiers in their fight for ‘justice’. It will not be terribly incorrect to assume that the avenues of justice advocated will be very violent. The jargon of injustices as explained to such an audience will not be that of Constitutional violence or transgressions of civil and political human rights; the language will be that of faith and god and religion. The language will be that of revenge and of ascertaining their position in Indian society and on the global stage. It will not concern itself with mundane issues of education and employment, of women’s liberation and religious tolerance. It will deal with more glorious tasks, the task of avenging the martyred and redeeming their faith. The children having nothing more to lose and the contentment of revenge, and hence justice, to gain, will be eager recipients of this indoctrination. These children will want to grow up and kill; they have said so in as many words.

The Hindus have always been chided by the militant Hindutva right wing for being too effeminate and docile, as against the warrior like Muslims.[2] The carnage of 2002 unfortunately proved them right. While a few thousand men consumed with hatred desecrated the Constitution of India in the name of Ram, 800 million Hindus stood silently and watched. These 800 million Hindus, who constitute the larger civil society with their thundering silence and palpable apathy snuffed out the manliness of the warrior mobs. Hindu society, with thankfully many exceptions, does see the State as its extension. The educated Hindus not only in Gujarat but all over India do not even now, after all the cards are on the table, after all the woeful tales have been told, after all the corpses of Naroda and Gulbarg Society have been buried, explicitly condemn what happened. The feeble hearted agree that what happened was excessive, but say that it was ‘necessary’. ‘They had it coming from a long time’. I have hardly met a man who felt that the correct response to Godhra would have been a swift arrest of the perpetrators, a fair and rapid investigation, a social and political condemnation of the event along with a large Muslim voice decrying the persecution of innocents and a very definite and strict directive by the State to all arms of its protective machinery to prevent at all costs another riot. That the deaths of innocents cannot be avenged by the retaliatory killing of more innocents seems to escape most people in either community.

Akshardham makes it very difficult for sane and secular people to ask the masses to show restraint. A people swept by religious fervor, avenging the ransacking of their temples hundreds of years ago by Barbar and Ghazni, seething with revenge for the wrongs of Aurangzeb four centuries ago, and yearning to build a temple for their beloved Ram lalla in Ayodhya obviously see the attack on Akshardham as a manifestation of a greater threat to Hinduism, a threat that can no longer be tolerated, a threat that must end now. The political parties in power along with their affiliated organizations continue to divert the nation’s attention to non-issues. They have found in the Indian masses, eager erecpients to baseless hate propaganda. The Hindu masses, for example, continue to attribute the population explosion to Muslims who marry four wives and bear many children. Chief Minister Modi in his campaign speeches alleged that the relief camps were baby producing centers and that the Congress Party was the bane of India’s population problem. His logic was simple and was lapped up quickly by the masses: “the population of India was 30 crores until Independence. After the Congress came into power it became a billion.” Demographic curves, reason and logic are lost on him. Census data that repeatedly show that polygamy exists far more in Buddhists and certain sections of Hindu society compared to Muslims are supposedly incorrect. Scientific logic that the number of wombs remains the same and hence more children cannot be produced by Muslim families is outrightly rejected. Hindu children are brought to think of ‘Muslims’ as ‘them – the outsiders – those that should have left for Pakistan. Their history textbooks call the minorities ‘foreigners.’ The Kashmir problem is used to legitimize resentment against all Muslims. Until the ‘Muslim’ problem is not sorted out, the Hindu children are made to believe, ‘we will not be able to live in peace.’ A ten year old student in Ahmedabad told me, ‘These Muslims they are all Paksitanis. They should all go back to Pakistan’. That child may never learn that ‘they’ and their ancestors have probably been sons of the Indian soil since the advent of time.

India was a dream. A dream dreamt by some of the tallest giants mankind has seen. In the wake of the Partition, India was still deemed secular. This decision was not made by lumpens. It was a struggle fought by some of the most learned scholars and philosophers of the day, who wanted to create in this part of the world, a heaven for all. A land, which true to its five thousand year old philosophy assimilated all that it had.

Today at a time when the world is repeatedly tethering on the brink of war, when man has grown wary of man, there is dearth of good leadership. At such a time, it is crucial for a nation as heterogeneous as India to make very strong and concerted efforts to foster peace and tolerance. India is not a homogeneous entity. Moreover, it is home to the world’s second largest Muslim population, whether or not certain members of Indian society approve of it. Though Indian civilization and culture may be ancient, the nation is not. While the people of India are plagued by poverty and all the consequences thereof, the men in charge of bettering their lives are specimens of the worst kind that history has occasionally produced. There is hardly a political organization that can stand up to the challenges of the day. There is hardly a voice that is loud enough to penetrate the darkness and reach the people. The aftermath of Godhra should have sparked off a period of grim introspection where all communities in India examined what has gone wrong. There is a lot indeed that the Muslims are to blame for, but their misdoings or shortsightedness has only damaged them as a community. Never has either modern India or the Hindu religion been threatened by the Indian Muslim.

I will be very unfair if I casually dismiss the efforts of thousands of courageous Indians, who inspite of grave threat to their lives, have raised their voices in protest. But the truth, as I see it now, is that their voices are not loud enough. The din of hate is easily drowning the plea of peace.

The children of India, over 400 million of them, are growing up with the wrong messages. They have no concept of a nation State, of the role of law, of good governance, of peace and of prosperity. For they see none. They only know the rule of the bludgeon: the triumph of primal and basic instants. I want to dismiss this fear as cynical but after listening to the common man for four months in Gujarat, and in other major cities of India, after speaking to many successful businessmen and dedicated homemakers, after listening to the educated and the illiterate and after weeks of denial, I am afraid I am closer to the truth than farther.

In the near future, the cycles of communal violence will continue, as much as one would like them to not. Violence will beget more violence. Fanaticism will fan more of it. Over the next decade the children of today will be the men of tomorrow. The neighborhood teams of today will be the mobs of tomorrow. This is how man makes a monster out of another man’s child.



[1] With the riots not fully under control, examination centers for the board exams were geographically allocated in a manner that made it virtually impossible for Muslim children to appear for the exams. No vaccination drives were conducted in the relief camps, there was no State sponsored distribution of emergency medicine or ORS. When schools reopened after summer, there were no provisions made to accommodate relocated children.

 [2] See Thomas Blom Hansen, ‘Urban Violence in India’, Chapter 3 p86-95. Princeton University Press 2001

The author can be contacted at SatchitBalsari@hotmail.com, sbalsari@hsph.harvard.edu

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