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Gujarat: The Spiral of Violence

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    The Spiral of Violence Rajdeep Sardesai NDTV http://www1.ndtv.com/columns/showcolumns.asp?id=819 In a state where death has become a daily statistic, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2002
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      The Spiral of Violence
      Rajdeep Sardesai


      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      riots, and over 60 days before the army could be withdrawn in 1985.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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