Jeebesh Bagchi on Thu, 14 Mar 2002 03:23:44 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> about recent violence in Gujarat

Dear Nettimers,

I do not know how much of the news from India is reaching other parts of the 
world. I am enclosing a recent posting about the massive violence in the 
state of Gujarat this month.

with sorrow, jeebesh
Subject: [Reader-list] CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 16:43:42 +530
From: "rustam" <>

            Reflections on the Gujarat massacre

                        Harsh Mander

Numbed with disgust and horror, I return from Gujarat ten days
after the terror and massacre that convulsed the state.  My heart is
sickened, my soul wearied, my shoulders aching with the burdens
of guilt and shame.

As you walk through the camps of riot survivors in Ahmadabad, in
which an estimated 53,000 women, men, and children are huddled
in 29 temporary settlements, displays of overt grief are unusual.
People clutch small bundles of relief materials, all that they now
own in the world, with dry and glassy eyes. Some talk in low
voices, others busy themselves with the tasks of everyday living in
these most basic of shelters, looking for food and milk for children,
tending the wounds of the injured.

But once you sit anywhere in these camps, people begin to speak
and their words are like masses of pus released by slitting large
festering wounds.  The horrors that they speak of are so macabre,
that my pen falters in the writing.  The pitiless brutality against
women and small children by organised bands of armed young
men is more savage than anything witnessed in the riots that have
shamed this nation from time to time during the past century.

I force myself to write a small fraction of all that I heard and saw,
because it is important that we all know.  Or maybe also because I
need to share my own burdens.

What can you say about a woman eight months pregnant who
begged to be spared.  Her assailants instead slit open her  stomach,
pulled out her foetus and slaughtered it before her eyes.  What can
you say about a family of nineteen being killed by flooding their
house with water and then electrocuting them with high-tension
electricity.  What can you say?

A small boy of six in Juhapara camp described how his mother and
six brothers and sisters were battered to death before his eyes.  He
survived only because he fell unconscious, and was taken for dead.
 A family escaping from Naroda-Patiya, one of the worst-hit
settlements in Ahmedabad, spoke of losing a young woman and
her three month old son, because a police constable directed her to
‘safety’ and she found herself instead surrounded by a mob which
doused her with kerosene and set her and her baby on fire.

I have never known a riot which has used the sexual subjugation
of women so widely as an instrument of violence in the recent mass
barbarity in Gujarat.  There are reports every where of gang-rape, of
young girls and women, often in the presence of members of their
families, followed by their murder by burning alive, or by
bludgeoning with a hammer and in one case with a screw driver.
Women in the Aman Chowk shelter told appalling stories about
how armed men disrobed themselves in front of a group of terrified
women to cower them down further.

In Ahmedabad, most people I met - social workers, journalists,
survivors – agree that what Gujarat witnessed was not a riot, but a
terrorist attack followed by a systematic, planned massacre, a
pogrom.  Everyone spoke of the pillage and plunder, being
organised like a military operation against an external armed
enemy.  An initial truck would arrive broadcasting inflammatory
slogans, soon followed by more trucks which disgorged young
men, mostly in khaki shorts and saffron sashes.  They were armed
with sophisticated explosive materials, country weapons, daggers
and trishuls.  They also carried water bottles, to sustain them in
their exertions.  The leaders were seen communicating on mobile
telephones from the riot venues, receiving instructions from and
reporting back to a co-ordinating centre.  Some were seen with
documents and computer sheets listing Muslim families and their
properties.  They had detailed precise knowledge about buildings
and businesses held by members of the minority community, such
as who were partners say in a restaurant business, or which
Muslim homes had Hindu spouses were married who should be
spared in the violence.  This was not a spontaneous upsurge of
mass anger.  It was a carefully planned pogrom.

The trucks carried quantities of gas cylinders.  Rich Muslim homes
and business establishments were first systematically looted,
stripped down of all their valuables, then cooking gas was released
from cylinders into the buildings for several minutes.  A trained
member of the group then lit the flame which efficiently engulfed
the building.  In some cases, acetylene gas which is used for
welding steel, was employed to explode large concrete buildings.
Mosques and dargahs were razed, and were replaced by statues of
Hanuman and saffron flags.  Some dargahs in Ahmedabad city
crossings have overnight been demolished and their sites covered
with road building material, and bulldozed so efficiently that these
spots are indistinguishable from the rest of the road.  Traffic now
plies over these former dargahs, as though they never existed.

The unconscionable failures and active connivance of the state
police and administrative machinery is also now widely
acknowledged.  The police is known to have misguided people
straight into the hands of rioting mobs.  They provided protective
shields to crowds bent on pillage, arson, rape and murder, and
were deaf to the pleas of the desperate Muslim victims, many of
them women and children.  There have been many reports of police
firing directly mostly at the minority community, which was the
target of most of the mob violence. The large majority of arrests are
also from the same community which was the main victim of the

As one who has served in the Indian Administrative Service for
over two decades, I feel great shame at the abdication of duty of my
peers in the civil and police administration.  The law did not
require any of them to await orders from their political superivisors
before they organised the decisive use of force to prevent the brutal
escalation of violence, and to protect vulnerable women and
children from the organised, murderous mobs.  The law instead
required them to act independently, fearlessly, impartially,
decisively, with courage and compassion. If even one official had
so acted in Ahmedabad, she or he could have deployed the police
forces and called in the army to halt the violence and protect the
people in a matter of hours.  No riot can continue beyond a few
hours without the active connivance of the local police and
magistracy.  The blood of hundreds of innocents are on the hands
of the police and civil authorities of Gujarat, and by sharing in a
conspiracy of silence, on the entire higher bureaucracy of the

I have heard senior officials blame also the communalism of the
police constabulary for their connivance in the violence.  This too is
a thin and disgraceful alibi.  The same forces have been known to
act with impartiality and courage when led by officers of
professionalism and integrity.  The failure is clearly of the
leadership of the police and civil services, not of the subordinate
men and women in khaki who are trained to obey their orders.

Where also, amidst this savagery, injustice, and human suffering is
the ‘civil society’, the Gandhians, the development workers, the
NGOs, the fabled spontaneous Gujarathi philanthropy which was
so much in evidence in the earthquake in Kutch and Ahmedabad?
The newspapers reported that at the peak of the pogrom, the gates
of Sabarmati Asram were closed to protect its properties, it should
instead have been the city’s major sanctuary.  Which Gandhian
leaders, or NGO managers, staked their lives to halt the death-
dealing throngs? It is one more shame that we as citizens of this
country must carry on our already burdened backs, that the camps
for the Muslim riot victims in Ahmedabad are being run almost
exclusively by Muslim organisations. It is as though the
monumental pain, loss, betrayal and injustice suffered by the
Muslim people is the concern only of other Muslim people, and the
rest of us have no share in the responsibility to assuage, to heal
and rebuild.  The state, which bears the primary responsibility to
extend both protection and relief to its vulnerable citizens, was
nowhere in evidence in any of the camps, to manage, organise the
security, or even to provide the resources that are required to feed
the tens of thousands of defenceless women, men and children
huddled in these camps for safety.

The only passing moments of pride and hope that I experienced in
Gujarat, were when I saw men like Mujid Ahmed and women like
Roshan Bahen who served in these camps with tireless, dogged
humanism amidst the ruins around them.  In the Aman Chowk
camp, women blessed the young band of volunteers who worked
from four in the morning until after midnight to ensure that none of
their children went without food or milk, or that their wounds
remained untended.  Their leader Mujid Ahmed is a graduate, his
small chemical dyes factory has been burnt down, but he has had
no time to worry about his own loss.  Each day he has to find 1600
kilograms of foodgrain to feed some 5000 people who have taken
shelter in the camp. The challenge is even greater for Roshan
Bahen, almost 60, who wipes her eyes each time she hears the
stories of horror by the residents in Juapara camp.  But she too has
no time for the luxuries of grief or anger.  She barely sleeps, as her
volunteers, mainly working class Muslim women and men from
the humble tenements around the camp, provide temporary toilets,
food and solace to the hundreds who have gathered in the grounds
of a primary school to escape the ferocity of merciless mobs.

As I walked through the camps, I wondered what Gandhiji would
have done in these dark hours.  I recall the story of the Calcutta
riots, when Gandhi was fasting for peace.  A Hindu man came to
him, to speak of his young boy who had been killed by Muslim
mobs, and of the depth of his anger and longing for revenge.  And
Gandhi is said to have replied: If you really wish to overcome your
pain, find a young boy, just as young as your son, a Muslim boy
whose parents have been killed by Hindu mobs.  Bring up that boy
like you would your own son, but bring him up with the Muslim
faith to which he was born.  Only then will you find that you can
heal your pain, your anger, and your longing for retribution.

There are no voices like Gandhi
’s that we hear today.  Only discourses on Newtonian physics, to justify
vengeance on innocents.  We need to find these voices within our own hearts,
 we need to believe enough in justice, love, tolerance.

There is much that the murdering mobs in Gujarat have robbed from me.  One of
them is a song I often sang with pride and conviction.  The words of the song

Sare jahan se achha
Hindustan hamara…

It is a song I will never be able to sing again.

                (Harsh Mander, the writer, is a serving IAS Officer,
who is working on deputation with a development organisation)

Sare jahan se achha Hidustan hamara
(our india is better than the world)

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