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Gohana Nay Gujarat

By Subhsash Gatade

02 February, 2007

"The struggle of humanity against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."
- Milan Kundera

Gohana, 75 kilometers away from the national capital witnessed burning of 50-60 houses belonging to Valmiki community on 31 st August 2005 in broad daylight. A 1,500-2,000 strong of mob of upper caste people mainly belonging to the Jat community attacked their houses in a systematic manner. The perpetrators had come fully armed with spears, batons, axes, and petrol and kerosene oils. They broke TV sets, Refrigerators, Washing Machines, looted the valuables and burst LPG cylinders.

Anybody could see that an organised and experienced team of houseblasters led the ‘spontaneous expression’ of anger of the upper castes against the dalits. Independent neighbors in the area, who did not want to be named, had disclosed to us the way in which the gang of lumpens under the leadership of an advocate and son of a local MP had led the marauders. People working in a nearby hospital even told us that the marauders had brought with them mini trucks to ferry the loot from the houses. Definitely even a layperson would be able to tell that the 'task' of burning, looting 50-60 houses which are spread over an area of three square kilometers cannot be accomplished within 15 minutes as the police wanted us to believe initially. The police is on record that only 5-6 houses were burnt and the rest caught fire because of winds.

The recent charge sheet filed by the CBI which was asked to look into the attack and arson in Gohana, has once again rekindled all those experiences, which clearly exhibit the partisan role, played by the upholders of law and order themselves. According to a newspaper report the CBI charge sheet into the 2005 Gohana riots in Haryana has '..revealed that some people in Valmiki Basti had set their houses on fire themselves, allegedly for compensation." The charge sheet talks of CBI's observations that " extensive burning was observed in 19 out of 28 houses. Of these, nine houses were inspected thoroughly and it appeared that in these houses the “simulated arsoning” was carried out, which are yet “to get compensation”.

One still remembers our visit (4 th September 2005) to Gohana as part of a fact finding team - comprising of writers, journalists, social activists - which had rushed there to get first hand details, mere five days after the incident...Haunted houses, barren faces, fear still lurking in their eyes...only some old people or relatives of the inhabitants were visible there who were roaming there. We still have copies of the photographs, which we took to comprehend the magnitude of damage. None of those photographs, by no iota of imagination convey that people residing in those houses themselves undertook all that exercise supposedly to get compensation (as the experienced officers of the CBI wants us to believe).

Perhaps all these details are now meaningless, as we have before us the 'official' truth scripted by the deligent officers of the CBI. Perhaps all these details would be useful for posterity, wherein some gennext researcher would discover the metamorphosis of victims themselves into perpetrators, which used to happen in the wee hours of the 21 st century.

But can it be said that Gohana is an exception in our much-valorised democratic setup. Dust your memories and you would discover that Gohana is not just the name of a place; it is a phenomenon which has become part of the modus operandi of our Republic itself.

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Apart from the hapless families themselves, does anyone remember the 1984 genocide of Sikhs! The whole Sikh community had to pay the price of the assassination of the Prime Minister by two of her own bodyguards. Delhi, which happens to be the capital of the country witnessed more than two thousand killings by lumpens instigated by leaders of the Congress party, which was holding reins of power at the center. And the incumbent Prime Minister had no qualms in rationalizing all those crimes by underlining a natural phenomenon that ‘if big trees fell on the ground, then the earth is bound to face tremors’.

Any sane person who could still maintain her/his sanity during those fateful days was told umpteen times.

‘They invited it’
‘They deserved it’.
‘They needed to be taught a lesson’.

A newly manufactured common sense was weighing heavily on people’s minds, which had decreed that a inhuman act by two people was reason enough to brutalize the whole community.

1984 illuminated to the rest of the world in a big way that victims themselves could be held responsible for their victim hood. To be fair, 1984 had not discovered this rationale. It was in fact part of our psyche – an assaulted woman could be held responsible for inviting the attack for wearing particular types of clothes or a dalit could be alleged to have invited an attack for refusing to prostrate before age-old traditions. – The qualitative difference, which the genocide made to our way of thinking that it, rather obliterated the category of perpetrators themselves. Perhaps we had entered a new life world, which comprised merely of victims and their victim hood. The victimhood itself appeared to be a function of being born in a particular community or an exploited section of society.

It is clear that justice still eludes all those visible and not so visible victims of the 1984 genocide. But despite the horrendous killings on the streets of the capital itself (and many other parts of the country) one is yet to see any feeling of remorse among all those people for all the wrongs, which they have done towards a significant section of our own people.

Of course ‘normalcy’ has been restored.

It may sound ironic, but the same Congress Party, which had spearheaded this onslaught against the Sikhs, has exhibited ‘magnamity’ in doling out cheques of compensation to the victims using monies collected by the public exchequer.

There have been commissions after commission to investigate different dimensions of the genocide, but the real culprits have not been yet properly named. It is a different matter that some minor operators have received some semblance of punishment. And what about the ringleaders of the genocide? They are still adorning different seats of power and have no qualms in peddling Gandhian dictums every now and then.

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If Congress Party and its leaders would never be able to absolve themselves from their complicity in the carnage of Sikhs in 1984, the name of RSS and its affiliated organizations would ever remain itched in the public psyche for the crimes, which were committed against innocent citizenry in the year 2002 in Gujarat.

Gujarat, as everybody knows, witnessed a State sponsored genocide that led to the deaths of more than 2500 Muslims. As many as 150,000 people were driven away from their homes, many of whom still live in refugee camps.

There is no comparable example in the history of post independence India of 'planning a genocide' and 'executing it with military precision' and presenting it as a 'spontaneous outburst' of people.

There is no comparable example wherein one notices continuous subversion of justice despite the extraordinary intervention of the Supreme Court to rein in 'modern day Neroes'.

As things stand today the victim community might have gained little respite from the direct violence but the ongoing low intensity violence still continues. The deliberate denial and exclusion of the basic rights of citizens, making a mockery of the Government and administration's false claims of 'normalcy', is for everyone to see. The economic boycott of the minorities goes on unabated, the intimidation of witnesses is going on with impunity and each and every step is being taken even to deprive even a feeling of justice from the minds of the victims. From the series of ongoing court battles and other studies like those commissioned by the National Commission for Minorities and even the Sachar Committee Report the picture that constantly emerges is that of a continued boycott of the minority Muslim community and worsening of their socio-economic conditions. Shortly we would be entering sixth year of the carnage.

Sixty four reports brought out by different national and international human rights organisations have documented different aspects of the human rights situation as it existed in strife torn Gujarat. There has been no variance of opinion about the real guilty behind the carnage. All the evidence point towards the direct involvment of the RSS and its affiliated organisation in planning the ‘spontaneous reaction’ in the immediate aftermath of the burning of the coach.

Of course none of the evidence could match the ‘admission’ by one of their own leaders in an interview to a webmagazine. In this interview Keka Shastry, leader of the state Vishwa Hindu Parishad had laid bare the plans of the Hindutva brigade.

He had told the correspondent that '[t]he list of shops owned by Muslims in Ahmedabad was prepared on the morning of 28 February itself.' In the tape-recorded interview he said, " In the morning we sat down and prepared the list. We were not prepared in advance." ( It had to be done, VHP leader says of riots, Sheela Bhatt, 12 March 2002)
When the correspondent asked him why they did it, he responded, " It had to be done, it had to be done. We don't like it, but we were terribly angry..."

When the correspondent asked him how he, a scholar and litterateur could condone the burning of living innocents, he remarked, " The youngsters have done some things which we don't like. We don't support it. But we can't condemn it because they are our boys.". He added for good measure " We don't believe that the boys had done anything wrong, because this was the result of an outburst.... We needed to do something."

The interview had also explained the inactivity of the police in simple terms by underlining that "they feared death" and " some of them were Hindus who thought let the mob do whatever it wants." While talking to the interviewer his future prognosis was clear. He said the situation could get aggravated and bigger riots were possible.

There is no doubt that if the Parivar people would not have been power this literary figure would have been immediately hauled up and put behind bars for his attempts at "Promoting enmity between different religious groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony (Section 153-A, IPC)", or "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class, by insulting its religion or religious beliefs (Section 295-A,IPC)," or " uttering words, etc with deliberate intent to wound religious feeling( Section 298, IPC)" or similar other provisions which have clearly laid down punishment for offences committed under such acts which ranged from three years to seven years rigorous imprisonment as well as fine.

It was clear to even a novice that Keka Shastry was putting it in black and white what others of his ilk were implementing through the 'successful experiment.'.

Whatever may be the predilections of the Hindutva Brigade about this ‘experiment’, the highest courts of the country has been very clear about what went wrong there. In its famous judgement on the Best Bakery Case it had decreed

“ ..The modern day “Neros” were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected. Law and justice become flies in the hands of these “wanton boys”...

It had also said
“...The fanatics who spread violence in the name of religion are worse than terrorist and more dangerous than an alien enemy...”

But it cannot be denied that the situation on the ground remains much the same. Narendra Modi, the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ who spearheaded this onslaught against the hapless community still remains the most popular leader in the state. Congress Party which wears its secularism on its sleeves is content playing second fiddle to the divisive politics being played out in the state. And as far as the civil society is concerned, it seems to have acquiesced before Modi’s ‘charisma’.

Much on the lines of 1984 genocide one can notice absence of remorse on a mass scale over the tragic incidents in the state. Reports emanating from the state keep underlining this fact. One still notices the language, which was much in the use in those days. 'They had invited it. 'They needed to be taught a lesson', 'Hindus have shown that they cannot take it lying down'.

Question arises will this situation continue forever or one can make radical rupture with our recent past and move ahead.
But the most pertinent question remains:

How does a whole community gets out of such an experience in which many of its members did not remain mere spectators. Frankly speaking it is relatively easy for a person to get out of such a situation, s/he can make self-criticism, make amends and rectify one's behaviour. But for a community to do this it does need special efforts and special actions.

One can look at the transformations, which took place in Germany and Italy where the people as whole have been largely redeemed of their Nazi or Fascist past. How could the Germans get out of their nightmarish experiences dotted with Gas Chambers or storm troopers.

It is clear that one has to get ready for a long haul and till that time arrives one has to persist in very many ways.

Perhaps one can draw some lessons from the experience of the great Palestinian Poet Mahmous Darwish. Jairus Banaji, a famous radical scholar narrated his experience in one of his speeches where he discussed the ‘Political Culture of Fascism’

"It was August 1982 when Darwish was living in Beirut when it was intensively bombed by the Israeli airforce and navy. The bombardment was spread over two months, and almost every day about two to three hundred Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed. To come to terms with that experience, he wrote a diary which he called 'Memory for forgetfulness”.

It is welcome sign that people/formations who yearn for the victory of secularism in the country or are engaged in anti-communal struggle at various levels are coalescing together at various levels to organize commemorative programmes / campaigns on the fifth anniversary of the genocide. One such email sent by a friend in Gujarat explains the rationale for taking up this campaign :

‘WE MUST NOT FORGET’ !....that is the message of the fifth anniversary commemorative programmes. We must not forget the personal reality for the people and their loved ones facing this repression, we must not forget the State’s wrong doings, we must not forget the brutalities and silencing of the entire society, for, only by remembering can we build the future. A society that congratulates itself on maintaining its ‘borders’ cannot talk of ‘Development’ or ‘Gujarat-ni-Asmita’.”

And while committing themselves to ‘Never Let It Happen Again’ it concludes :

“The truth that the bloody conquest of Gujarat is actually the conquest of us all: of our minds, our humanity and our self-respect at the very least. If we remain silent, victory over secularism is assured. “

contact : subhash.gatade@gmail.com

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