|We, The Murderers
Does Gujarat have the resources to come to terms with its moral responsibility?
“Many things were then said and done among us; but of these it is better that there remain no memory.” —Primo Levi
IT WAS as if a burden had been lifted. I reacted to the news of the Supreme Court directive to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the role of the Chief Minister, his cabinet colleagues, members of the BJP, VHP, the Bajrang Dal and senior members of the bureaucracy and the police during the violence of 2002, with almost gleeful joy. There was finally a possibility of justice; victims, friends and NGOs fighting for justice stood vindicated.
The list of those who shall be investigated reads like the who’s who of Gujarat. The Chief Minister, the present Speaker of the assembly, the Minister of State for Home, the former Chief Secretary, the former Home Secretary, the former Additional Chief Secretary, the then Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad, two former DGPs; the list of sixty-three persons from the ministry, the legislature, the bureaucracy, the police and the Sangh Parivar makes for scary reading.
As the initial sense of vindication passed, a new responsibility came to haunt. For all these years I had refrained from using that morally poignant word coined by the jurist Raphael Lemkin in 1944. I had spoken of it in private conversations, almost in a whisper, perhaps not wanting to own up to the moral responsibility that utterance would invite. Genocide. I write this with personal shame, with hazy awareness of what it means for us in Gujarat. Genocide is mass murder, deliberately planned and carried out by individuals working with the complicity of the State. Each individual is responsible, whether he (and she, in the case of Gujarat) made the plan, gave the order or carried out the killings. Genocide is made up of these individual acts, the individual chooses to participate in it. Even routine, mundane, banal, bureaucratic acts are acts of choices made. Hannah Arendt would insist that genocide is most ruthlessly effective when it is bureaucratised, made banal and hence routine. An act as routine as closing a relief camp is genocide, where a closure of a file snuffs out lives. It was RB Sreekumar, IPS of the 1971 batch, who through his meticulous records submitted before the Justices Nanavati- Shah (now Mehta) commission brought out the complicity and collaboration of the high functionaries of the police and the civil administration in bringing about what sociologist Shiv Visvanthan has called ‘normalisation’ of the genocide.
In the last seven years Gujarat has used every available means to prove that the state is normal and that what happened was not a genocide but a ‘Newtonian’ reaction to the burning of the Kar Sevaks at Godhra. We questioned the statistics and tried to minimise the loss of lives and the scale of displacement, we claimed that the processes that were unleashed were out of control of the state and the party in power, we blamed the victims, attacked and sullied the motivations of the truth-seekers, justified denial in favour of greater economic interests and claimed that moving forward, being pragmatic was more important than blaming people.
It is technically and legally premature to state that all those under investigation are guilty in the court of law. But never before in the history of modern India has the role of the state, the police and the bureaucracy come under interrogation at this scale. It is not a case of mere ‘highjacking’ of the state by the party in power; it is not a case of a sole, supplicant bureaucrat pleasing the all-powerful political master. What is under investigation is active and wilful participation and abetment of the functionaries of the state in an act of mass murder.
This order of the Supreme Court also brings under question the premature and hasty exoneration of the chief minister, his council of ministers and police officials by the Justices Nanavati-Mehta commission of enquiry. The order is also an indirect indictment of the judicial processes in Gujarat where hundreds of cases were declared as closed by the courts by granting a plea of summary for lack of evidence or non-availability of the accused. What this indicates is a large scale systemic failure of both the criminal investigation and justice delivery system, cognisance of which must be taken. The process of criminal investigation and trial of the accused will take its due course. It might result in punishment of some as well. But justice is not merely a legal, technical term. It is a moral universe, which sometimes eludes codified law.
THE QUESTION is: how does one act in the face of genocide? How does a society come to terms with its moral responsibility? The first is acknowledgement. We must acknowledge that some of us participated in this act, some of us condoned it, many of us became willing spectators. But acknowledgement is primarily an act of memory. We must keep alive the memory of the act and the dead alive. It is not a memorial that one seeks. An act of memory is an act of bearing witness. One can bear witness only to truth. Let us remind ourselves that testament and testimony bear the same root. As individuals and members of the society we must bear witness to truth and realise that no act of genocide is possible without a large section of the society seeking to have selfwilled amnesia about it. Only then can we move towards truth and reconciliation. Reconciliation requires both atonement and forgiveness. It is one act that binds both the victim and his aggressor in a moral universe. This requires that we as societies have the capacity to recognise pain, have the language of compassion and justice and are capable of atonement. It requires penance that leads to self-purification and recovery.
It is morally a large task. Do we have the cultural and moral resources for it? And it is this question that makes me immensely sad. A few weeks ago one of Gujarat’s foremost poets and cultural activists, Saroop Dhruv published a book, Umeed Hogi Koi, on the memories of 2002. She chose to write it in Hindi. One suspects that she felt that the Gujarati language had lost its capacity to bear witness to truth, to capture pain and pleas for justice. We are a society where Gandhi has become a burden that we would rather shed. We wear masks given to us, not because they allow us to hide who we are, but because the mask allows us to express those parts of ourselves that remain inarticulate and repressed. The mask is us.
And yet, one knows that every society is capable of virtue, without which no society can be. Each of us is capable of being moral, just and compassionate, no matter how frayed the societal possibility of it. And it is through individual acts of testimony that we shall move on the long path of self-recovery.
Suhrud, author of Writing Life, is a social scientist based in Ahmedabad.
Posts Tagged ‘Gujarat genocidal riots’
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Violence in Indian politics commands premium
India’s democracy is cursed. It can only function if violence is unleashed. The group that can wreck peace of the nation is lauded by its own constituency as their saviour, their protector, their brave ideal. L. K. Advani, whose BJP had 2 seats in Parliament, was gifted by a US source with a doctoral dissertation, outlining how aggression can be converted into power. He organised the demolition of Babri Masjid and went on to so improve its electoral power in a subsequent election, as to win highest number of Parliamentary seats and put its own leader as coalition Prime Minster of India. Gujarat Chief Minster reportedly organised a genocidal communal riot against his state’s Muslims, and won subsequent election by thumbing majority. Since independence Congress has been using communal riots targeting Muslim minority in various states, to push a double game of first killing Muslims and pillaging their properties and later coming on the scene as saviors of Muslims, by promising offers of hefty relief and recompense, so Muslims vote them in. All their successes have been directly related to this murderous violence to secure Muslim votes.
Now it is the turn of a new generation, when a budding Raj Thackeray, has shown how mobilising goons on streets to terrorize law-abiding citizens, with minimum of efforts, thanks to free media publicity, is poised become a new winner in Maharashtra’s fractured political polity. Though he has been charged with fomenting several acts of violence, the way his popularity is being measured by the same media which on cue denounces him as a menace to civil society, it is now beyond possibility that he will increase his political strength in the coming election, to claim a big share of corruption pie that goes in India with the electoral victories.
The beauty of the whole operation is that the same people that are supposed to control and prevent his fascist violence, terrorizing people in the state, are handling him with kid gloves, in a strategy of their own, to split the votes of their adversaries and thus make sure they return back to rule the state. So it is open secret, that both Vilas Rao Deshmukh Congress and Sharad Pawar are not unhappy that Raj Thackeray is able to make a dent into Shiv-Sena/BJP combine. Sharad Pawar had gone cynical brushing aside his coalition partner, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s demand to ban Raj Thackeray’s MNS party, with the retort, that Election Commission has hardly any political party registered and how can it ban one that is already registered. That means even with a fascist strategy and a divisive agenda, according to Sharad Pawar, Raj Thackeray’s MNS is providing a vital backdrop to the nation’s other main political parties, who are not averse to go for, encourage or tolerate such undemocratic outfits, with the word Sena (army) as their very open face of violence, as long as they provide some counterbalance to their electoral strategies.
Possibly, this is the reason that Maharashtra’s Samajwadi Party, under its firebrand leader, Abu Asim Azmi, is appearing to be pushed by both Congress and NCP, to add up representation of North Indians to its old Muslim constituency in Maharashtra and come on the streets with a Sena of its own.
A mock Mahabharata will be arranged and the victory will go to the ‘masterminds’. The misery of the people and social and economic cost of such destructive politicking is hardly the subject that will interest the oligarchs in power.
Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
A LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
BJP SPEAKS WITH FORKED TONGUE
Sunday, it is Rajnath Singh with his call for old Hindutva baggage of discarded slogans of 370, common civil code, and the whole litany of their pet planks. Monday, it is L. K. Advani, with his more sugary, but equally transparent slogans of opening up to minorities and the suppressed castes. It is hard for the diehards to understand that they cannot fool all the people all the time.
There is no doubt that Sangh Parivar’s deep commitment to its outdated communal ideological formations have kept the party from disintegration. However, it is equally true that Indian people have shown it again and again that they by instinct and temperament are not as fundamentalists as the Brahminical hate-mongers would like them to be. BJP did win spectacular results through its well-tuned violence-led campaigns, of Babri and post Godhra Gujarat. However, it got them as many admirers as detractors around the country, if not more. Hindutva’s core appeal is restricted to a core group. It cannot be translated to become the national obsession that could get BJP its cherished majority to rule India, without any coalition partners. India has changed so dramatically over the last 2 decades at least, that no single party can win a majority until and unless it possibly organises a full scale war with one of its neighbours and reap an concocted patriotic vote across all differences of castes, religions, regions and group loyalties. BJP was poised for such a scenario when it allowed terrorists to move into Parliament premises and stage their attack. Vajpayee had full information of that intended attack and he had publicly announced the danger, at Sharad Pawar’s birthday bash at Mumbai’s Race Course grounds, a day earlier to the parliament attack. With such advance knowledge, it is easy to guess, why the terrorists were not stopped at the very gates. However, it would appear that even for waging a war against one’s enemy in these times, for whatever motive one can imagine, countries like India need the support of other powers, unless they are moving in on behalf of such powers. That goes to prove that violence, be that Babri, Gujarat, or full fledge wars, all are temporary devices to win electoral victories. Such nature of violence cannot be perpetrated as a permanent tool to create wave of mass indignation and win votes.
BJP will have to junk its communal baggage, cleanse its warped hate ideology, and win the hearts and minds of people by concentrating on bread and butter issues. All hate propaganda against Muslims should be openly condemned. BJP should concentrate on good governance, corruption free administration, equal opportunity to all, and positive upliftment of those suffering from benign or malign neglect, by the past governments of all hues and restore a sense of respect and dignity to all Indian citizens without any discrimination whatsoever.
Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai