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THE dastardly attack on innocent civilians and the families of jawans in Jammu has once again brought us to the brink of war. Not surprisingly, the threat of war, even a limited one, has pushed all other concerns on the backburner. Hopefully this will not lead to a diminution of public interest and pressure on the continuing tragedy of Gujarat.

It is a matter of some relief that the last few weeks have not witnessed mob frenzy of the kind we saw in March and April. Clearly the consensus resolution in the Rajya Sabha helped, as did the induction of K.P.S. Gill to revamp the law and order apparatus of the state. Finally, Narendra Modi was forced to meet affected people in the refugee camps, dialogue with Muslim community leaders and give permission for charge-sheeting and prosecuting alleged offenders.

Skeptics may dismiss this as mere eyewash. Possibly true, but clearly, even to the myopic supporters of the Sangh Parivar, it should be evident that continuing tension and violence is unlikely to fulfil the crass objective of consolidating a Hindu vote bank.

In all these dark days, one positive, noteworthy trend was the self-activity of numerous citizens’ groups, and all across the county. No other event in recent history, not even the massacre of innocent Sikhs in 1984 or the Mumbai carnage of 1992-93, excited as many citizen’s reports as has Gujarat. For once, even statutory and constitutional bodies – the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission, and the Minorities Commission – have not lagged behind. The NHRC indictment of the functioning of the state apparatus has been unequivocal.

It is precisely for these reasons that the report of the National Commission of Women has come in for justifiable stricture. For a start, the NCW kept quiet, sending in an investigation team seven weeks after Gujarat went up in flames. The numerous press and TV reports as also those by other investigation teams – Citizen’s Initiative and CPI(M)-AIDWA – clearly did not move it enough.

And when the investigation team did go to Gujarat, it did so for only two days, went to only Godhra, Baroda and Ahmedabad, stuck to an official itinerary and mainly met officials. Yes, it did visit a few relief camps and recorded testimonies of victims and inmates. But the quality and authenticity of what was done in all of two days can be well imagined, particularly since there was little effort to seek assistance from other voluntary groups.

In itself, the NCW report would have gone unsung, but for two facts. One, unlike other statutory agencies, it maintained a discrete silence on the role of the state. Second, and more important, with so much written about the violence women were subjected to, as also their role as active participants and aggressors, the bland narrative by the premier official body for women dealt a bad blow to years of struggle for women’s equality and justice.

Is it that the NCW team felt that the other accounts were grossly exaggerated, that the ‘planned’ targeting of women from the minority community was a media concoction, and that the heart-rending accounts of rape, mutilation and murder vastly overplayed? Even if its objective was not to rake up the past, should not the NCW team have more strongly recommended measures to record the testimonies of women victims and institute fast track mechanisms to file criminal charges? At the least, it could have requisitioned the services of the legal fraternity to help file insurance and compensation claims as also FIRs.

True, the recommendations do say all of this but without the passion and determination expected of our premier, statutory body – one mandated to protect and extend the rights of women. As a result, it has only strengthened the cynicism that many citizens have about these institutions – that they are but hand-maidens of the ruling dispensation. The fact that the investigation team had as its members some highly regarded women and social activists only adds to the disquiet.

It is important that we do not let such processes go unchallenged. These institutions partly came into being as a result of larger public pressure. And we need to engage with them rather than let them atrophy as sinecures for political fellow-travellers of the regime in power.

The coming days are unlikely to bring any cheer, what with war hysteria slowly building up. Almost certainly this will be accompanied by another round of Muslim bashing. India is not Pakistan, but this is no settled matter. We have to work at retaining our secular fabric.

Harsh Sethi

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