Archive for December 20th, 2008

Nellie: India’s forgotten massacre – By Harsh Mander – The Hindu, Chennai

December 20, 2008

http://www.hindu.com/mag/2008/12/14/stories/2008121450100300.htm

Nellie: India’s forgotten massacre

The lives lost in Mumbai’s Taj Hotel are precious. But the lives extinguished in distant hamlets of Nellie ― and indeed the streets of Delhi, Bhagalpur, Gujarat and Malegoan ― are no less valuable. A day must come when our rage and our compassion responds equally to each of these tragedies. We can be safe only by standing ― and caring ― together.

By Harsh Mander

Published in The Hindu on Dec. 14, 2008

A lifetime is much too short to forget.

It was November 26, 2008, the day that was to become etched in India’s history for the audacious and traumatic terrorist commando attack on the country’s commercial capital Mumbai. I happened to be on that day at a location as distant as possible from Mumbai ― psychologically, politically and socially ― at Nellie in Assam, the site of one of free India’s most brutal forgotten massacres in 1983. I had been invited by the survivors to sit with them as they recalled and commemorated the events that had unfolded in this distant impoverished corner of the country 25 years earlier.

We gathered in the soft sunshine of early winter in an open courtyard. A crowd quickly gathered: the older men with checked lungis and beards could easily be distinguished as people of East Bengali Muslim origin. The women and younger men dressed like anyone from an Assamese village. There were the initial courtesies of traditional welcome, as they offered us customary white Assamese scarves with exquisite red embroidery.

Senior officials of the State government who accompanied me had gently dissuaded me from the visit, questioning the wisdom of re-opening wounds of painful events of such a distant past. People have moved on long ago, they assured me. What purpose then would our visit serve? It would only revive memories that have long been buried. The same advice came from many non-official friends who worked in development organisations in the State. They added that the visit would stir issues that were too bitterly contested in the region. But the survivors persisted in their resolve that they wanted to be heard. It was impossible for me to refuse them.

On February 18, 1983, in the genocidal massacre organised in Nellie, just 40 km from Guwahati , 2,191 Muslim settlers originally from Bangladesh were slaughtered, leaving 370 children orphaned and their homes in 16 villages destroyed. As the survivors spoke one by one before our gathering a quarter century later, all of us who heard them ― including officials, academics, social workers ― were completely stunned, and shamed, by the enormity and immediacy of their suffering today, which retained an urgency as though they had only very recently suffered the unspeakable cruelties that they gave words to, not 25 years earlier. The bodies of many were twisted and deformed by inadequately treated injuries from the assaults by machetes and daggers; others pulled back their clothes to expose frightening scars of the attacks of a generation earlier.

Hazara Khatun, with scars of a dagger attack on her face that she survived in 1983, sat on the ground before us and pointed to her empty lap. “I was cradling my child here”, she said in a low voice. “They chopped him into two, down the middle”. Another widow Alekjaan Biwi, was far less calm. Her body was twisted, and we could all see that she had lost her psychological equilibrium. Eleven members of her family were slaughtered in the massacre, and she acted out for us how the mob had attacked them, how she had cowered and hidden herself, how she was discovered and wounded, and how she survived even though scarred and deformed for life. “I have no one in the world,” she concluded quietly.

In his early thirties, Mohammed Monoruddin began to cry inconsolably as soon as he sat before us. “My brothers, sisters were all killed, hacked into pieces,” he recalled. “I was seven years old then. I saw my parents slaughtered in front of me. I saw another woman being killed and her child snatched from her hands and thrown in fire. I wept in terror all day. The CRPF came in the evening and rescued me. Later we came to know that our house was torched. Nothing was left. All our belongings and stores of rice were gone in the fire. My elder brother, who was in Nagaon, brought me up. But I feel so lonely.”

Many others spoke of their loneliness. Noon Nahar Begum was 10 years old, and when the killings started, she tried to run away but was attacked and badly wounded. She was hospitalised for two months, and her mother and four siblings were murdered. “They were butchered here in the place where we are standing today,” she said, adding: “I have found no peace of mind for the last 25 years. I need justice for my peace. Justice is important because it was such a terrible crime. I feel lonely and miss my family…” Babool Ahmad, a tailor, was two years old when he lost his parents. He was brought up by his grandparents, whereas his sisters were raised in an SOS village.

And so the stories flowed, like a deluge of muddied waters of grief ― long unaddressed and denied ― gushing from a breached dam. The forgotten massacre in Nellie in 1983 established a bloody trail of open State complicity in repeated traumatic bouts of ethnic cleansing and massacres both in Assam and in India. It was followed by similar State-enabled carnages, in Delhi in 1984, Bhagalpur in 1989, Mumbai in 1993 and climaxed in Gujarat in 2002.

Assam in turn has seen a series of violent ethnic clashes between various oppressed communities, each bitterly and ferociously ranged against other ethnic groups which may be as dispossessed, if not more so. The accord brokered by government with militant Bodos in 1993 assured them autonomous control over regions where their population was in a majority. The government therefore itself laid the foundations for ethnic cleansing. Bengali Muslims were driven out of their settlements by murderous attacks and the torching of their homes in 1993, and this scenario was repeated for Santhal and Munda tribals (called Adivasis) ― many of whom are descendants of tea garden labour imported by the British two centuries ago ― in 1996. Thousands of them continue to languish today in camps, some for 15 years, as they are still terrified to return home. Assam remains a tinder box of ethnic hatred, with recent attacks on Bihari migrant labour, Jharkhand agitators in Guwahati, bomb explosions and recent clashes between Bodos and Bengali Muslims this year, which left many dead and thousands in camps seething with hate.

The government gave the survivors of Nellie compensation for each death of as little as 5,000 rupees, contrasted for instance with Rs. 7 lakhs that have been paid to survivors of the Sikh carnage of a year later in 1984. Six hundred and eighty eight criminal cases were filed in connection with Nellie organised massacre and of these 310 cases were charge-sheeted. The remaining 378 cases were closed due to the police claim of “lack of evidence”. But all the 310 charge-sheeted cases were dropped by the AGP government as a part of Assam Accord; therefore not a single person has even had to face trial for the gruesome massacre. Some lives are clearly deemed by the State of being of little worth compared to others.

The Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008 has witnessed an upsurge of understandable public anger, because a partisan and weak State leaves each of us unsafe. But States have long failed abjectly and shamefully to protect ordinary citizens and uphold justice. The lives lost in Mumbai’s Taj Hotel are precious. But the lives extinguished in distant hamlets of Nellie ― and indeed the streets of Delhi, Bhagalpur, Gujarat and Malegoan ― are no less valuable. A day must come when our rage and our compassion responds equally to each of these tragedies. We can be safe only by standing ― and caring ― together.

Comments By Ghulam Muhammed posted on LIVEMINT website, over Ramachandra Guha’s article: India’s Dangerous Divide

December 20, 2008


Comments By Ghulam Muhammed posted on LIVEMINT website, over Ramachandra Guha’s article: India’s Dangerous Divide, published in Wall Street Journal supplement of MINT, Mumbai:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I am surprised at Ramachandra Guha, a supposedly renowned historian, for his economizing with the full facts of partition history in his current article. He has completely left out the role of the British and the US, in picking up and imposing the option of dividing the country, not mainly for reasons of Muslim demands, but for their own compulsions imposed by participation in the great game against the rising Soviet power in Russia and to protect the Persian Gulf oil wells, that were to fuel Europe’s post 2nd World War reconstruction. It is a big lie, that Pakistan was created for Muslims. It was created as a military outpost for the retreating British colonialists to protect their own geopolitical assets in this part of the world. Why should US have built up Pak army if Pakistan was only to ‘placate Muslim sentiments’? Why Pakistan’s participation in CENTO and SEATO? Why till today Pak Army remains the most favoured, most pampered, most lavishly funded institution of Pakistan?

Indian writer, Narendra Singh Sarila’s book – The Untold Story of Partition — is the most damning proof of the British and US treachery that has divided the subcontinent for last 60 years.

Guha as a historian should have taken note of this humongous cover-up and given lie to the false premises that India has been divided on the sole onus of Muslim demands.

Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai
ghulammuhammed3@gmail.com
http://www.ghulammuhammed.wordpress.com

————————————-

http://www.livemint.com/2008/12/19225212/India8217s-dangerous-divide.html

Posted: Sat, Dec 20 2008. 12:14 AM IST
Culture

India’s dangerous divide

History and political opportunism have left most Indian Muslims poor and a few angry. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, tensions have mounted and loyalties are being tested. So, what is the path forward for India and its Muslim minority?

Ramachandra Guha

In October 1947, a bare six weeks after India and Pakistan achieved their independence from British rule, the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote a remarkable letter to the chief ministers of the different provinces. Here Nehru pointed out that despite the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland, there remained, within India, “a Muslim minority who are so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they want, go anywhere else. That is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilized manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic State.”

In the wake of the recent incidents in Mumbai, these words make for salutary reading. It seems quite certain that the terrorists who attacked the financial capital were trained in Pakistan. The outrages have sparked a wave of indignation among the middle class. Demonstrations have been held in the major cities, calling for revenge, in particular for strikes against training camps in Pakistan. The models held up here are Israel and the US; if they can “take out” individual terrorists and invade whole countries, ask some Indians, why can’t we?

Other commentators have called for a more measured response. They note that the civilian government in Islamabad is not in control of the army, the army is not in control of the notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the ISI is not in control of the extremists it has funded. They point out that Pakistan has itself been a victim of massive terror attacks. India, they say, should make its disapproval manifest in other ways, such as cancelling sporting tours and recalling diplomats. At the same time, the US should be asked to demand of Pakistan, its erratically reliable ally, that it act more decisively against the terrorists who operate from its soil.

[Together in mourning: An Indian Muslim woman at a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims of the Mumbai attacks. Anindito Mukherjee/EPA/WSJ]

One short-term consequence of the terror in Mumbai is a sharpening of hostility between India and Pakistan. And, as is always the case when relations between these two countries deteriorate, right-wing Hindus have begun to scapegoat those Muslims who live in India. They have begun to speculate as to whether the attackers were aided by their Indian co-religionists, and to demand oaths of loyalty from Muslim clerics and political leaders.

Partition and Congress patronage between them dealt a body blow to Muslim liberalism. The first deprived the community of a professional vanguard; the second consolidated the claims to leadership of priests and theologians. In an essay published in the late 1960s, the Marathi writer Hamid Dalwai (a resident of Mumbai) wrote of his community that “the Muslims today are culturally backward”. To be brought “on a level with the Hindus”, argued Dalwai, the Muslims needed an “avant garde liberal elite to lead them”. Otherwise, the consequences were dire for both communities. For “unless a Muslim liberal intellectual class emerges, Indian Muslims will continue to cling to obscurantist medievalism, communalism, and will eventually perish both socially and culturally. A worse possibility is that of Hindu revivalism destroying even Hindu liberalism, for the latter can succeed only with the support of Muslim liberals who would modernize Muslims and try to impress upon these secular democratic ideals”.

The possibility that Dalwai feared has come to pass. From the 1980s, the dominance of the Congress party has been challenged by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP seeks to make India a “Hindu” nation by basing the nation’s political culture on the religious traditions (and prejudices) of the dominant community. Charging the Congress with “minority appeasement”, with corruption and with dynastic rule, the BJP came to power in many states, and eventually in New Delhi. However, its commitment to the secular ideals of the Constitution is somewhat uncertain. For the party’s members and fellow travellers, only Indians of the Hindu faith are to be considered full or first-class citizens. Of the others, the Parsis are to be tolerated, the Christians distrusted, and the Muslims detested. One form this detestation takes is verbal―the circulation of innuendoes based on lies and half-truths (as in the claim that Muslims outbreed Hindus and will soon outnumber them). Another form is physical―thus, the hand of the BJP lies behind some of the worst communal riots in independent India―for example, Bhagalpur in 1989, Mumbai in 1992, and Gujarat in 2002; in all cases, an overwhelming majority of the victims were Muslims.

The rise of the BJP owes something to the failures of the Congress, and something also to the example of Pakistan. As that society has come increasingly under the influence of Islamic fundamentalists, there is a more ready audience, within India, for the rants and raves of Hindu extremists. Likewise, the expulsion, by jihadis trained in Pakistan, of some 200,000 Hindus from the valley of Kashmir in a single year―1989-1990―has been used to justify attacks on Muslims in other parts of India. But to explain is not to excuse―for the BJP has stoked feelings and passions that should have no place in a civilized society.

In its activities, the BJP is helped by a series of allied groups. Known also by their abbreviations―RSS, VHP, etc.― these were at the forefront of the religious violence of the 1980s and beyond. Roaming the streets of small- (and big-) town India, they addressed their Muslim prey with the slogan “Pakistan or Kabristan!” (Flee to Pakistan, or we will send you straight to your graves). Meanwhile, their ideologues in the press―some with degrees from the best British universities―make the argument that Muslims are inherently violent, or unpatriotic, or both.

In fact, the ordinary Muslim is much like any other ordinary Indian―honest, hard-working and just about scraping a living. A day after I heard a BJP leader denounce the Congress for making the Muslims into a “pampered and privileged minority”, I found myself making a turn into the busiest road in my home town, Bangalore. Just ahead of me was a Muslim gentleman who was attempting to do likewise. Except that he was making the turn not behind the wheel of a powerful Korean-made car but with a hand-cart on which were piled some bananas.

That the fruit seller was Muslim was made clear by his headgear, a white cap with perforations. He was an elderly man, about 60, short and slightly built. The turn was made hard by his age and infirmity, and harder by the fact that the road sloped steeply downward, and by the further fact that making the turn with him were very many motor vehicles. Had he gone too slow, he would have been bunched in against the cars; had he gone too fast, he might have lost control altogether. Placed right behind the fruit seller, I saw him visibly relax his shoulders as the turn was successfully made, with cart and bananas both intact.

One should not read too much into a single image, but it does seem to be that that perilous turn was symptomatic of an entire life―a life lived at the edge of subsistence, a life taken one day at a time and from one turn to the next. In this respect, the fruit seller was quite representative of Indian Muslims in general. Far from being pampered or privileged, most Muslims are poor farmers, labourers, artisans and traders.

The failure to punish the perpetrators of successive pogroms has thrown some young men into the arms of fundamentalist groups. But the number is not, as yet, very large. And it is counterbalanced by other trends, for instance, the growing hunger for modern education among the youth. The desire to learn English is ubiquitous, as is the fascination for computers. Even in the disgruntled valley of Kashmir, a press survey found that the iconic founder of India’s most respected software company, Infosys Technologies, a Hindu named N.R. Narayana Murthy, was a greater hero among Muslim students than the founder of Al Qaeda.

Since the reasons for the poverty (and the anger) are so complex, a successful compact between Indian Muslims and modernity will require patient and many-sided work. It would help if the Pakistan centre was to reassert itself against the extremism it has itself, in past times, encouraged. It would help some more, if, pace Hamid Dalwai, there was a more forthright assertion of Muslim liberalism within India. But perhaps the greatest burden falls on India’s major political parties. The Congress must actively promote the modernization of Muslim society. And the BJP must recognize, in word and in deed, that the 150 million Muslims in India have to be dealt with in a civilized manner, and given the security and the rights due, them as equal citizens in a democratic and non-denominational state.

Writing in 1957, the historian Wilfred Cantwell Smith pointed out that Indian Muslims were unique in that they shared their citizenship “with an immense number of people. They constitute the only sizable body of Muslims in the world of which this is, or ever has been true.” True no longer, for in many countries of western Europe and even in the US, the Muslims are now a sizeable but not dominant component of the national population. This makes this particular case even more special.

For if, notwithstanding the poisonous residues of history and the competitive chauvinism of politicians, Indians of different faiths were to live in peace, dignity and (even a moderate) prosperity, they might set an example for the world.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy. He lives in Bangalore.