Gujarat: The Spiral of Violence
- The Spiral of Violence
In a state where death has become a daily statistic, the question one
is asked most frequently now is when will the violence in Gujarat really
end? It's a tough question to answer, and frankly, in a situation like
Gujarat, no one can safely predict when the streets of Ahmedabad and Vadodra
will once again be free of bloodletting. The Gujarat government has
attempted to seek refuge in history: it has told the national human rights
commission that it took over 45 days to control the violence in the 1969
riots, and over 60 days before the army could be withdrawn in 1985. All one
can say is that the 2002 riots are set to break past records: 60 days and
still continuing. It's a statistic that makes Gujarat Chief Minister
Narendra Modi's claim that the violence was brought under control within
three days seem like a cruel joke.
But there is a difference between the first phase of post-Godhra
rioting and what we have witnessed in the last fortnight in Gujarat. We may
not like the word, but the initial violence in Gujarat was a pogrom, defined
in the Oxford dictionary as an organised massacre. The manner in which the
lives and livelihood of the minority community were singled out in this
phase of violence should leave no one in any doubt that there was a
systematic targeting in which the state machinery either connived, or else
chose to turn a blind eye to.
In the last two weeks though what one has seen is a more conventional
riot, in the sense that the violence has involved members of both
communities. In Muslim-dominated localities in the walled city of Ahmedabad,
there have been instances where Hindus have been attacked, and their shops
damaged. The bulk of the damage has still been sustained by members of the
minority community, but there is now a growing "evenness" in the sporadic
violence that holds dire consequences for the future.
For one thing, the longer the violence endures, the more it is
deepening the wall of mistrust between the communities. If the initial wave
of violence was triggered off by the terrible tragedy of Godhra, it now
requires only the slightest rumour or even a seemingly innocuous incident
like an auto-rickshaw hitting a cycle for mobs from both communities to
gather on the street.
The psychological divide has now triggered off a physical divide. In
the heart of Ahmedabad, we now have "border areas", streets and
neighbourhoods partitioned on strictly communal lines. Families are moving
out of mixed neighbourhoods to live in single community areas, no one it
appears is willing to risk being isolated in a polarised society. It's this
ghettoisation of body and soul that threatens the very basis of civil
society in Ahmedabad. If individuals cannot move freely in a city, if there
is virtually no inter-community interaction, then where is the basis for any
hope for the future?
Unfortunately, leaders from both communities seem to be unable,
deliberately or otherwise, to even attempt to bridge the divide. For the
ruling party, the polarisation is seen as integral to their political
agenda. One finds ministers in the Modi government still choosing not to
even visit the relief camps that have been set up for minorities. Instead,
you have a senior minister in the Modi government saying that he wants the
camps to be dismantled because they are adding to the tension in his area.
Again, there are still pamphlets being distributed urging people to
economically boycott the minority community. Some of these pamphlets may
well be the handiwork of local gangs keen to benefit from the surcharged
atmosphere, but the fact is that on the ground little has been done to check
their spread. Instead, even now, senior VHP leaders are persisting with
their campaign of hate against the minorities.
On the other side of the communal divide, some local Muslim leaders
also seem intent on adding their own little bit to the problem. Why, for
example, did some local groups choose to announce a boycott of the school
examinations in Gujarat, even going to the extent of forcing some children
not to go the examination centres? The argument that students would feel
insecure travelling out of their neighbourhood may have some validity, but
couldn't the issue have been resolved through dialogue instead of taking a
confrontational posture? The fact that many of these community leaders have
close links with the Congress party makes their actions even more
suspicious, especially as ensuring a large attendance at the exams had been
made a prestige issue by the Gujarat government.
The time for political sparring in Gujarat is over. Too many innocent
lives have been lost simply because the state machinery has failed to
perform its basic obligation to provide security to its citizens. This
failure of the state has made it even more important for individuals and
citizens groups in Ahmedabad and Gujarat to set aside their political
differences, and actually make an attempt to work together. One of the more
depressing features of the violence in Gujarat has been how little attempt
there has been on the part of civil society to speak out against the
violence. Whether out of fear or plain acquiescence, the silence of the
people of Gujarat has allowed the state machinery to brazen it out and even
believe that the silence is evidence of support for their actions.
Those who are ready to speak out must make just one simple demand:
even before they ask for Narendra Modi's resignation (and that is now a
political question better left to the voters), they must demand justice.
They must demand that every one who has had their family members killed,
houses torched, and businesses destroyed, be made to believe that those
responsible for their plight will be punished. For example, if more than two
months after at least 60 people were killed in the Naroda-Patia surburb of
Ahmedabad, no one has been arrested, how can anyone hope that justice will
be done? Punishing the guilty in Gujarat is the very minimum required for
any kind of normalcy to return to the state.
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