We Are All Responsible Now for What Happens in Future
An eighteen year old young woman Mai Makhutar was gang raped in feudal rural Punjab of Pakistan because her brother Shakoor dared to romance a girl from a higher caste – the Mastoi Baloch. Local Council – Panchayat – of 6 elderly Mastoi met to adjudicate and ruled that Shakoor’s Sister Mai be handed over to Mastoi men to be gang raped for next hour in a nearby barn house. Revolting? Horrifying? We in India would be tempted to pity Pakistan and patronizingly regret its degenerated ways – mob justice, and gross human right violations. We better pause. Our beloved progressive, Gujarat is gripped by mob justice and human right violations worse than in rural Pakistan.
Ever since Godhra carnage occurred on the fateful day of February 27 2002, Gujarat is in the eye of the storm. We have seen several communal riots in the last 30 years of public life. But this is unique. Admittedly, the disturbances of last turbulent 3 decades have earned Gujarat an unsavory label of “the most communal state”. We simply disagreed, because in the villages and towns of Gujarat, we always saw Muslims and Hindus living and trading peacefully together. A large number of Hindus and Muslims lived in harmony in tightly packed, overcrowded Bastis for decades. In large shopping streets of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Bharuch, Surat, it is a common place to see Hindu shops adjacent to Muslim shops, doing thriving business. We always laughed off the label because of the social reality. Little did we realise that we would be caught unaware.
Then Godhra happened. Within 48 hours of Godhra massacre of Hindu Karsevaks by the Muslims, the tidal wave of Hindu violence engulfed the cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara and towns and villages of Panchmahal, Sabarkantha and Mehsana districts. Innocent Muslim men, women and children were killed en mass in most gruesome way while the police looked on passively. When the police control stations in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar were flooded with desperate cries for help from Muslims, senior ministers sitting there watched the unfolding events dispassionately. Ahmedabad city was left to marauding mobs for 72 hours. The police simply disappeared from the streets. Even a small boy knew that it was free for all for the next 3 days. Muslim properties across Ahmedabad city including those on the most prestigious shopping street of C. G. Road were systematically ransacked and burnt. Eyewitness accounts reported that young upper middle class women in their gleaming cars descended on C. G. Road, casually entered the broken Muslims shops and leisurely selected and tried expensive foot wears, and tastefully selected saris, salwar – kameez, walked away with hands-full of merchandize and drove away peacefully. There was no tension, terror, pelting of stones, police sirens, firing – nothing. Ahmedabad city was surrendered to Hindu arsonists and looters to do whatever they wanted to Muslim properties. We are deliberately omitting the blood-curdling accounts of how Muslim women were raped and killed by the frenzied mobs, of the children hacked right before their mothers, and of the planned killings of frightened Muslims trying to run away from the blood thirsty Hindu mobs on the roads of the rural areas of Sabarkantha, Panchmahal and Mehsana, while the police stood in silence. Senior police officers in Ahmedabad blandly denied gang rapes saying “in such mayhems rapes are impossible!” Unbelievable but true, 3 months after the horrors, Out Look newsweekly published revelations of a senior minister made before Citizens Tribunal that the Chief Minister Modi on 27th February had summoned a meeting of top bureacrats and police officers of the state. He issued instructions to keep police away during the next 24 hour’s VHP Bandh. “There would be justice for Godhra” he said and the police should not come in the way of “the Hindu back lash.” A senior police officer protested, but was silenced. What happened in the next 48 hours is now a history. The account has not been challenged, nor any action taken against the magazine.
Lest it be thought that these are reproductions from English media, we hasten to add that we have traveled places and obtained individual eyewitness accounts of Muslims killings and lootings from the camps and Bastis in the districts of Sabarkantha, Panchamahal, Vadodara and Bharuch. One of us (Rajesh) was a witness to the week long build-up of violent atmosphere leading to looting and burning of 152 houses and shops of Muslims and Bohras of Kawant. The District Collector and Police Officer received countless calls from desperate Rajesh and others, but remained unmoved. The rape of Kawant was predetermined in Gandhinagar, the district officers merely complied.
Kawant and Panwad – 8 kms from Kawant – were looted and burnt a full week after pogroms in Ahmedabad, Baroda and the adjoining districts had run its course. Modi claimed and Delhi endorsed it – that peace was restored in Gujarat in 72 hours after Godhra! Kawant and Panwad, the bustling, trading towns of the tribal area had never witnessed communal disturbances since independence. In fact, the large tribal belt of East Gujarat, stretching from Banaskantha in the North through Sabarkantha, Panchmahal, Baroda, Bharuch in the south was barely scratched by communal disharmony in the past. This was not a spontaneous fury of angry Hindus as claimed by the Hindutva forces. It had all the hallmarks of pre-planning and co-ordination. Fundamentalists carried out the outrage long after the pogroms of Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Panchmahal and other places. The state connived and held law and order in abeyance. Vast areas of Gujarat convulsed with almost unilateral Hindu fundamentalist violence for the next four months. Never before Muslim was so frightened, insecure and isolated in Gujarat. Muslims in North and Central Gujarat were frightened to appear alone on the roads and the streets. We have never witnessed such state sponsored terror and violence in Gujarat.
True, Godhra massacre by the Muslims was a ghastly act, but how can a state abandon its constitutional obligation to maintain law and allow paralysis of economic activities for four months? The state, gone berserk, is disturbing enough, but the tacit-support of Gujarati Hindu Middle Class (GHM) – educated, technology savvy, exposed to the world - to this wholly avoidable human tragedy is appalling and frightening. In the drawing rooms of the GHM, derogatory comments galore: ‘Muslims richly deserved this; they are a violent and fundamentalist community; their bodies are in India but heart in Pakistan, they should go to Pakistan; they overbreed; they harbour Pakistani terrorists and smuggle explosives, arms and narcotics; they had to be taught lessons and put in their place.’ Barring a few exceptions, to most GHM, it was just and proper to take revenge of Godhra killings in other parts of Gujarat. To them, the Muslim community was guilty as a whole and the mob justice right. The passion, the conviction and the sincerity of their views revealed a lot. The constitutional guarantee of the rule of law, equality of all before the law was a fiction – merely a piece of paper. It mattered little to them that Muslim High Court judges hid from murderous crowds and the police watched; at least in 2 cases police reluctantly escorted them to a safety of Muslims areas! Their brother judges in the High Court observed studied silence. (True, three retired Chief Justices spoke out). The High Court lawyers were abnormally complacent about absent law and order and violation of human rights. Doctors, other professionals business community, industrialists (with exceptions) were complacent no less. Only the police, receiving flak from the national, international media and intellectuals was shaken. The police association formally resolved to uphold the law and order in future!
An unreal fear psychosis has gripped the GHM. Even if some felt vague unease about the innocent Muslims being victimised for the crime committed by other Muslims at Godhra, they kept silence. Large circulation Gujarati dailies published unfounded, inflammatory accounts of involvement of large sections of Indian Muslims with the terrorists; of smuggling of arms, explosives, narcotics and of the sanctuaries, provided to Pakistani agents in the Muslim homes. The rumour mill worked over time, echoing poisonous propaganda against Muslims by the Hindu fundamentalists. Many intellectuals in Gujarati press came forward to provide rationalisation for the fear psychosis being built up by rumours and innuendoes. To begin with intrinsic intolerance of Islam was assumed. Thence followed the historic injustices by the Muslim invaders centuries ago; duplicity and deceit of Muslim League and Jinnah; traumas of the partition; the rise and growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the last few decades across the crescent of Muslim countries from Morocco in the west to Philippines in the far east; the genesis of al-Quaeda terrorism of September 11 and the terrorist attacks in Kashmir from across the border. While some of the pieces like al-Quaeda terrorism in the U.S. and elsewhere feeding on the rising wave of fundamentalism in the Muslim countries are factually true, the first premise of the dubious logical chain – intrinsically intolerant Islam, is simply not true (Read Galib for a start!) It is a slur on the great religion, by the bigots and the myopic. Nor is the connection with Jinnah and Muslim league tenable. The connection of the chain of reasoning to Gujarati Muslims and their putative behaviour is not only down right lie, it is devilish in intent and design. Sadly the GHM has swallowed without hesitation this scandalous reasoning and misinformation as true, and tacitly supported mob attacks on the Muslims.
It never occurred to them that the mob justice is a primitive justice and not justice of the civilised society. They easily forgot that when al-Quaeda terrorists struck in New York and Washington, killing about 4000 innocent civilians, terrified and angry Americans did not go on killing spree of innocent Asians, but showed exemplary discipline. President Bush’s appeal not to take law in hand was almost totally heeded. Barring two killings (the killers were convicted) America remained peaceful, mourned her dead with great dignity, and reveled deep spirituality.
This is not a place to delve deep in to the history long past of Muslim invasions and their deeds / misdeeds, suffice it is to say that many were unsophisticated warlords, with little understanding of Islam. Nor is it a point that Jinnah, far from being Muslim fanatic, was the most prominent exponent of Hindu-Muslim unity in British India in his early avtar. He later became the father of pernicious doctrine of Muslim nation based on religion, though he was not religious fanatic. His single-minded pursuit of Pakistan was driven by pure political ambition, so much so that he cared little for the millions of Muslims he left behind. Denying all facts, Jinnah vilified Gandhi and the Congress as only Hindu. He bullied and insulted large number of nationalist Muslims like Azad and others as stooges of “Hindu Congress.” He yearned to see the rise of Hindu fundamentalists as a counter foil to Muslim League. Nonetheless his tirades were not of a religious bigot. Gandhi and his great generals Nehru, Sardar, Azad foiled his dangerous game. The congress remained truly nationalist, and the Hindu fundamentalists were sidelined. Gandhi’s bid to avert partition failed. Two-nation theory of Jinnah triumphed. Pakistan was created. Two nations were born amidst the worst blood bath India has seen. Three million innocent Hindus and Muslims were slaughtered on both sides of the border. Gandhi and his colleagues stood by the Indian Muslims in their trying hours. Jinnah saw the bloody consequences of his doctrine. He was humane enough to atone and advised Indian Muslims publicly to trust Gandhi! Belatedly he acknowledged that Gandhi was a good man. Gandhi indeed was a true Hindu who brought out the best in Hindu Dharma in the great tradition of Ramkrishna – Vivekananda. He lived by the ideal of Lord Rama and of Gita preached by Lord Krishna. (Koran is as spiritual as Gita is – Azad and many before him and after him have showed this.) He and his trusted colleagues Nehru, Sardar, Azad, Prasad etc doused the wild passion of blind revenge. Finally in his last act of renunciation, Gandhi sacrificed his life for Hindu – Muslim unity. Hindu fanatic killed him but the fundamentalists were contained. Jinnah did not win.
Gandhi was no votary of constitutional liberties and parliament. He was however acutely aware of the insecurities felt by the minorities once British left the country. He energetically intervened to get congress committed to develop this country as a democratic, secular state where all citizens enjoy full and equal rights irrespective of the religion to which they belong. The Constitution enshrined the right of individual liberty, the equality before the law of all citizens irrespective of caste or creed – the rule of law. From this followed the parliamentary democracy based on free elections, independent judiciary and the great principle of secularism – under the savage attack at the moment.
Jinnah, waking to the enormity of his theory, wanted Pakistan to adopt a la India liberal constitution and secularism but the death intervened and the Muslim League abhorred “the dangerous idea.” Pakistan never saw the great ideals taking roots. India did, thanks to Gandhi, Nehru and Sardar.
No doubt, India immersed in the tradition of authoritarian hierarchy of old, of castes and gender; of illiteracy and poverty, did not find it easy to live by the principles of the liberal constitution – mauled severely in the ‘70s. Yet India managed better than most sympathisers had anticipated in the early ‘50s – that it until February 2002. Admittedly, the idea of the state upholding the law and order took a sever beating in anti-Sikh Delhi riots of 1984. More than two thousand innocent Sikhs were murdered, while the state machinery watched on. Even this blot pales in comparison to post Godhra massacre in Gujarat.
The congress presiding over 1984 massacre suspended the law and order machinery and led the mobs in the killings of Sikhs, but had sense not to take pride in its misdeeds and wanted to forget it. Not so, the Hindutva forces in Gujarat and New Delhi. They are proud of what they did in Gujarat. They are warning the Muslims to behave and accept their place, meaning second class citizenship. They are in a hurry to cash in on the looming elections in Gujarat and hopefully later in other states. “Moderate” Vajapayee in his infamous speech in Goa – “wherever there is Muslim there is discord.” – has put a seal of approval on Hindutva’s deeds in Gujarat.
Jinnah’s poisonous wish of Hindu fundamentalism taking a center stage in India may now well be realised because the GHM is too immersed in its make – believe world to see the dangerous turn. It refuses to imbibe core principle of the civilised society that punishment for the crime committed by some at one place and time cannot be given to others at different place and time by mobs. The GHM refuses to learn from history that to take revenge of the past is counterproductive. This is elementary – but eludes it. Many intellectuals have argued that these ideas of “law and order, of secularism, of equality before the law” are culture specific, product of specific place and time, alien to our culture. They are the artifacts imposed on us by the Western hegemony, to further their own interests. This is a cultural invasion akin to globalisation! The GHM would concur and like to believe that these ideas are “abstractions” it can not understand!
This is a dangerous illusion, pretence and laziness. The GHM has avidly assimilated applied western science, law, education, technology, commerce, medicine and the rest. They are no more abstract or concrete than are the basic constitutional tenets of the civilised society – the rule of law, secularism, and the individual liberty. They are as indispensable for future peace and prosperity as are science, education, technology and commerce. The GHM must grasp the horrendous implication that to connive with the fundamentalist state trampling over the civil rights of the Muslims today can pave the way for it to do the same to GHM tomorrow. These are not decorative ‘abstractions’. The concrete lessons of fascism enthroning itself through “democratic” election, destroying liberty have not sunk in yet. The GHM thinks it is safe and secure today and forever! It is in for unpleasant surprise – it is sowing the wind and will reap the whirlwind. Basically it is very simple: we are all responsible now for what happens in the future.