This ‘unique’ land

JOSEPH MACWAN

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IT is difficult these days to speak or write. Both the heart and the mind are anguished. Words and their truth appear meaningless. What form have our religions assumed? And our culture? What about nationality? What about Hindutva and our pride in it? The so-called sants and sadhus claim that this is an expression of the pride of Hindu society, crushed for a thousand years, which has now awakened. It is claimed that this is a movement for self-determination. They claim, ‘This is Hindutva.’ At times like these it is very difficult to distinguish between a Pravin Togadia or a K.K. Shastri and the sadhus supporting them.

I see no reason to narrate the sequence of events of the last 35 days. But a question remains: after the inhuman carnage at Godhra, Gujarat was peaceful for almost 24 hours. What was it that happened to trigger the subsequent carnage? For at least 72 hours from the morning of 28 February, murdering, burning, looting mobs ruled Gujarat. The police was a spectator. Even after the army was called in to handle the situation, place after place burned, people were killed and a macabre play of death and destruction continued. Even after the recent visit of the prime minister, Gujarat continues to smoulder; entire families have been burnt alive. The state government continues to make claims of having effectively controlled the violence.

Over 100,000 people are in refugee camps. Earlier, the riots were largely confined to urban areas. This time remote villages and tribal areas have also participated in the orgy of violence. As a reaction to the Godhra killings, the VHP declared a statewide bandh, which was supported by the state government. The Narendra Modi government and the state police have been deeply implicated in the violence through their inaction. The areas that had a significant Muslim population did escape the fury, but elsewhere they were systematically targeted.

In Anand and Kheda districts the Muslims took refuge in town like Anand, Bhalej and Sui. On 12 March I visited Oad village of Anand tehsil. The Muslim sector of the village was still in the grip of uncertainty and terror. Burnt houses, with the belongings either looted or consigned to flames, and the remains of charred foodgrains were testimony to the horror experienced by the inhabitants.

 

 

Gujarat witnessed communal riots in 1947, 1969, 1982, 1985 and 1992. During these riots the villages by and large had remained untouched by communal violence. The most disturbing aspect of the 2002 riots has been the participation of village communities in violence. The poor, oppressed and labouring classes had so far stayed away from the violence. This time around, however, they were used as the front, made the instruments of violence. In Ahmedabad, Vadodara and in the villages, communities like the Vaghari, Charra, Thakarda, Dalits, Dharala participated in the violence. They were sometimes coerced into violence but more often enticed by illicit liquor and promise of police protection.

During the 1992 rathyatra of L.K. Advani, the VHP had organized a more widespread yatra which passed through 12,000 villages collecting bricks for the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. It was during this yatra that the communities mentioned above were organized. By the VHPs own admission they have established 7000 village level peace committees! The RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, the Hindu Jagaran Manch and even the mobilizations inspired by Pandurang Athawale have spread the idea of Hindutva, and the pride in being a Hindu based on Hindutva, to these communities.

Initially, Gujarat had resisted the Congress led by Indira Gandhi. This was made possible by the wide support to Congress(O). After the 1971 elections Jinabhai Darji, Madhavsinh Solanki and Sanat Mehta formulated the KHAM theory, which paid rich electoral dividends to the Congress.

After the collapse of the Janata Party in 1980, the Jan Sangh and the newly created BJP evolved a plan to break the Kham alliance. Just as Kham had given a false self-image of Kshatriya to a Thakarda, the VHP and its sister organizations gave the idea of being a proud and militant Hindu. Television serials like the Ramayana and Mahabharata played their part in this process. The shibirs (camps) organized by Pandurang Athawale also played an important role in this process. The claim of the RSS that it was opposed to untouchability became an effective weapon.

 

 

On the other hand, the established, self-serving Dalit leaders of the Congress party could not see the signs of times to come. Those who understood looked the other way. They continued to follow the dynastic style of Congress politics. Enamoured of their wealth and power the Ambedkarite Dalits turned towards the BJP. Those who aligned themselves with the RSS also managed to acquire power. All these Dalit leaders are today votaries of Hindutva. Those who did not succumb to temptation have not been communalised. They are not anti-Muslim even today. But the others have accepted the VHP ideology.

The VHP and its sister organizations have managed to turn the Dalits against the Muslims. This time around they have enjoyed unprecedented success in turning all Hindu castes against the Muslims. The President of the VHP in Gujarat, K.K. Shastri is considered a great scholar. Shastri and Pravin Togadia’s statements are proof of their fascist tendencies. If this terrorism had not been state sponsored and supported, they could not have made such inflammatory statements.

Vajpayee is considered an astute statesman. If this were true he would have forced the VHP to take back its call for a bandh. He would have prevented the ruling BJP from declaring its support of the bandh. Vajpayee, Advani, Fernandes and Narendra Modi are not unaware of the violence that bandhs are capable of generating. The BJP has used the Godhra incident to boost its diminishing and fast eroding public support. The incident gave them a chance to execute what they had been waiting for since 1992.

I am an activist. I have experienced unjust oppression, violence and social discrimination. It has been my effort to articulate through my writings the pain and suffering of social groups that have no voice. I must say that the current barbaric violence has shaken me to the core. I had never imagined that such inhuman carnage and destruction was ever possible.

 

 

For quite some time now those of us who have followed the principles of secularism as enshrined in our Constitution have been abused as pseudo- secularists. In this campaign, pseudo-intellectuals like Arun Shourie have participated. This has been an effective campaign. It is no longer possible to speak of secularism as it is now constructed as a crime. It is alleged that the secularists are anti-national and unpatriotic.

Recently I wrote an essay on the current violence in a daily called Madhayantar published from Anand where I live. On the day it was published, I received phone calls from my Hindu friends till late in the evening. Most insisted that I should not write anything about the riots. Many were displeased, some even used threatening language. It didn’t end there: my son who is a school teacher was also told that this was a question of Hindu pride and existence, and that his father should not write anything against it.

 

 

Some of our Christian missionary organisations have been active in providing relief to the victims. This was opposed, some Christian community leaders were even pressurised, and official machinery was used to intimidate them. When I pointed out that these very elements had been responsible for the attacks on the churches in the Dangs and Ahawa, the leaders had no response. Instead, I was told that because of people like me the entire Christian community would suffer one day; who will protect them then? I was told that I would be held responsible.

I had a similar experience with the Dalit and Christian communities of the affected villages. For obvious reasons none of them had the courage to support the Muslims. They were so terrorised that they were willing to do the bidding of the upper castes. They also thought that the violence was legitimate. They had not forgotten the VHP slogan, ‘pahle kasai, phir isai’ (Muslims first and Christians thereafter). But they do believe that people like me will be responsible for attacks on the Christians. My mind is numb after experiencing the power of misinformation. All those who know me made one request, ‘please keep quiet.’

With the exception of a handful of Hindus who believe in the equality of all religions, most Hindus have come to accept the VHP and RSS ideology. They claim that the Congress has used the Muslims as a vote bank and played the politics of appeasement. It is said that Muslims have gone out of hand, their acts cannot be tolerated any longer. A large number of pamphlets have been circulated which narrate the evils that the Muslim community is capable of perpetrating. A call has gone out to boycott all economic dealings with the Muslims. The atmosphere is so vitiated that it is not possible to enter into any dialogue with them.

The killings of Godhra must be condemned in the strongest possible terms; they cannot be condoned. The Muslim community must also take a pledge to prevent such incidents from recurring in the future. That cannot justify what happened subsequently. Who will care for the orphans? For the homeless and the destitute? Who will provide succour and support to the countless widows? But such thoughts do not touch anyone these days. Where has our humanity gone?

 

 

No one is concerned about hunger, unemployment, lack of access to natural resources and abject poverty; no one questions the disparities arising out of the liberal economic regimes. Instead, we fight over mandir and masjid. Who will redeem the country from our politicians? Our Constitution hopes to create an equal society. The VHP and the RSS are speaking of creating a second class nationality. Where do we go? Who will give us justice?

So long as we are ruled by the BJP government at the Centre and in the state we cannot hope for a ban on the activities of the VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagaran Manch. But can we not at least approach the Supreme Court to take action against the VHP and others on the basis of the Kerala High Court judgement banning bandhs?

We feel that the VHP should be made to pay for the loss of life and property in Gujarat. The call for dialogue and brotherhood will not touch them; they only understand the punitive language.

 

* Author of over thirty five books, Joseph Macwan’s novel Angaliyat is to be published in an English translation by the OUP.

** Translated from original Gujarati by Tridip Suhrud.

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