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December 4, 2007


Gujarat Muslims: The Way Ahead


Ram Puniyani


Many a voices have emerged from a small section of Muslim community which is arguing that Muslims should unilaterally forgive the pain they suffered during the carnage of 2002. This section says that we should draw from the reality of Gujarat where the religious and other community leaders have refused to apologize for the crimes committed in the name of Ram. Also that the state apparatus is so communalized that chances of getting justice are   bleak, and how long a community can live in such a state of pity and victim hood, it affects their self respect and dignity. This section does see that civil rights groups are fighting for the rights of Muslim minority against odds, irrespective of their religion.


One can appreciate the personal magnanimity of those who personally suffered serious losses due to violence against them, like Mrs. Gladys Stains who personally forgave the killers of her husband and children. Jesus and Gandhi urged the people to put another cheek forward when slapped on one. One has to see the difference between personal magnanimity and the political assault of a section of people to victimize the weak. One has to see that the communal violence is not just violence against person but is also a part of political agenda of some. The crimes against a person can not be forgiven in law, as justice is the basis of tranquility and peace in society. The question is, can such a position of individual/ individuals to forgive the crimes against them be acceptable to major sections of victims in Gujarat? Many a religious teaching do emphasize on forgiveness. Are such things applicable to the situation of those facing Gujarat Muslims?


There are many a precedents where the culprits have been forgiven. South Africa was the major experiment, where truth and reconciliation commission undertook a massive exercise in this direction. The starting point there was that the culprits confessed to their crimes. Reconciliation followed. Personally putting forward another cheek when someone slaps is based on the basic human understanding that the one slapping you has a potential for reforming, will have remorse of his actions and will feel apologetic about what he has done.


In Gujarat the things are very different. The communalization of society was going on from many decades. The demonization of Muslim minority went unhindered for a long time, and violence was used as a method of polarizing communities. Later Dalits, Adivasis were co-opted to unleash on the Muslim community by clever social engineering. The truth of this has been reconfirmed by Tehelka expose (Novemember 2007). Modi used the pretext of Godhra to unleash the genocide. The state machinery is totally communalized, no rehabilitation, no justice for victims, and there is a deliberate marginalization of Muslims to the status of second class citizens! Today in Gujarat not only are communities polarized, the partitions between communities are becoming worse and deeper by the day. No body is asking forgiveness as the criminals, Modi downwards, believe, that what they did was for their religion, was right, and was needed to teach 'them' (Muslims) a lesson. There is also an un-spelt understanding that they will anyway be protected by the mighty arm of the Hindu Rashtra of Gujarat. So whom are you going to forgive?


The problem is essentially that of violation of democratic rights and civil liberties. Problem is that Gandhi's Gujarat has been manipulated to become Godse-Modi's Gujarat. Modi, the mass murderer, is hero for large sections. He is acquiring a halo around him duly helped by a section of media. The alternative pole, the one of Congress is more interested in electoral arithmetic and so far has been behaving as B team of RSS combine. The defense of democracy and forthright stand for secular values has been put on the backburner.


One can understand the painful sigh of a section of Muslims, some of whom may be thinking on these lines. This section, seems to have accepted and internalized the second class status and seem to be willing to be on the bent knees to live in this Hindu Rashtra, where Indian constitution is present by its absence. Can there bee peace without justice? Can there be dignity and self respect if the injustice is inbuilt into the social system and is institutionalized to the core?


Are the civil rights groups working just for minority community? The work of civil rights groups is more a defense of democratic rights and civil liberties than just a defense of rights of this or that religious group. It is more a question of defending our constitution and not just the rights of minorities. Can we call it a democratic society if a large section has to reconcile its status as the one of a second class citizen? RSS combine is celebrating this relegation of minority rights, as now more and more villages of Gujarat are putting the hoarding of 'Welcome to so and so village Hindu Rahtra of Gujarat'.


While totally empathizing with this section of Muslims one has to turn the criticism to the larger democratic polity. What have we done to our democracy? How is the status of democracy judged? One of the parameters is to see as to how safe and secure the minorities are. At another level the acceptance of such position of Muslims is a sign of total surrender of democracy to the religious fascism, which is on ascendance more so in Gujarat. And this intimidation of minorities is just the beginning. As we witnessed in Germany, the same thing is being played here in the slow motion. Jews were the first target, followed by communists, trade unionists and later sections of Christian minorities. Here in India the order planned by RSS combine is Muslims, Christians, Secularists and other weaker sections of society, in that order.


When Gujarat is facing elections and many forecasters are talking of Modi's return, the time has come to put all our energies to save democracy there. The time that we get over the diffidence, that Modi is too clever to be defeated, that the polarization has gone too far to be repaired. These may be part of the deliberate propaganda of the well oiled machine which organized Gujarat pogrom. We need to reassert that there is no substitute for democracy. The treatment of ills of democracy is more democracy and more democracy. National integration means that we have the overarching national, Indian community in which any injustice to one is the injustice to all. Any undermining of the rights of one section tantamount to erosion of the values of our freedom movement and the principles as given in our Constitution, which these communal elements do not hold by.


Even today the chasm between the religious communities can be bridged by broadening the awareness about our syncretic traditions, Bhakti and Sufi. There is an urgent need to remind people that Hindus and Muslims have lived together for centuries. What has been propagated is opposite of this that there is a centuries old fight between Hindus and Muslims. Even today there is a need to remind people every where that freedom movement was the movement in which all communities participated equally. We need to remember that Hinduism of Gandhi and Islam of Maulana Abul Kalam unites people while Hinduism of Godse-Modi-RSS and Islam of Jinnah-Muslim League-Taliban divide the people.


It is never too late to counter the negativity injected by communal forces and bring back the humane values ingrained in our plural history to ensure that the process of remorse, reconciliation and justice comes to the fore, and Muslims feel as much at home as any one else. That a section of our society is made to think that one sided forgiveness is the only way out just shows that our system is deeply infected and needs to be cleansed by the spirit of Indian ness. And that's where all the conscientious and aware citizens believing in democracy have to stick together, for getting justice for all and to soothe the wounds of those thinking of unsolicited, unilateral forgiveness