More reasons to remember
Acknowledgement, remorse, justice and reconciliation are
the accepted steps required for collective
healing when wounds of an indescribable nature have been inflicted on a
whole population. In Gujarat,
five years after independent India’s worst genocide, there has been little
or no acknowledgement of the
crimes and no question therefore of any expression of remorse from
perpetrators and masterminds.
Justice, except in a few isolated cases, dodges Gujarat’s survivors. It
must therefore be a while before
we talk of reconciliation.
In the midst of the struggle for reparation and justice,
this year brings an electoral battle to the battered state. In past
months, Chief Minister Modi has utilised most of his energies and much of
the taxpayer’s money to sell the ‘normalcy’ jingle and the ‘vibrant
Gujarat’ pipe dream. As the election environment draws out the inevitable
scandals, the dissensions among his partymen, the aura around Modi appears
a trifle less bright, a little less shining. Will Modi’s vibrant Gujarat
hard sell meet the same fate as NDA’s ‘India shining’ mantra?
Electoral predictions apart, what is of real concern to
CC and its wide readership is this: Will and can the issues of mass
murder, mutilation and gender violence be issues that resonate in
mainstream politics? Can the brazen remarks of a chief minister who scoffs
his hatred at Muslims be publicly and rationally discussed, and then
seriously rejected? Will issues of impunity to mass crime figure not just
in party manifestos but action plans for governance? Will the rule of law
and good governance be the stuff that the Gujarat 2007 state election
campaign is made of? Will our candidates and political parties take the
spirit, the core of the Indian Constitution, to the Gujarati people?
This could well be our very own pipe dream. Switch to
nearby Maharashtra, where in 1992-1993, after the Babri Masjid demolition,
a communal pogrom led by Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena ripped Bombay of
its essence, its cosmopolitan fabric. Two years later, the perpetrators,
the Shiv Sena-BJP romped home to a calculated electoral victory, riding
high on hatred and division among the people. Two governments have since
come to power, in 1999 and 2004, both ‘secular’, both a combination of the
Congress (I) and the NCP, who promised punishment of the guilty but failed
to deliver. It was under former Congress chief minister Sudhakarrao Naik
that Bombay was allowed to burn.
In February 1998, Justice BN Srikrishna submitted his
historic report on the Bombay violence, making detailed recommendations
for punitive actions and remedial measures. Despite election promises in
1999 and again in 2004, these remain unfulfilled. Perpetrators have not
been punished and memories of the pogrom lie buried. In stark contrast,
the system has meted out harsh punishment if not speedy justice to those
convicted of ‘involvement’ in various degrees in the serial blasts of
The harsh reality of discriminatory justice has raised its
ugly head. While those responsible for bomb terror are labelled traitors
and anti-nationals, and sent to the gallows, the perpetrators of home-bred
mob terror escape censure and punitive action.
Similar or worse questions arise from Gujarat today. This
issue of CC, Genocide’s Aftermath–Part II, which has also been put
together by co-editor, Teesta Setalvad, analyses in detail the evidence
placed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. Thousands of victim survivors
braved threats and intimidation from a vindictive administration to place
their affidavits on record. (In August 2004, victim survivors and members
of citizens’ groups were assaulted and threatened by riot accused, Babu
Bajrangi, in the premises of the circuit house where the commission sits.)
The rare courage of two police officers has exposed the cynical
nitty-gritty that shaped the orchestration of the genocide. The tenacity
of groups like the Jan Sangharsh Manch in deconstructing the Godhra fire
before the commission pokes serious holes in the barefaced lies behind the
Godhra train burning. Today, more than ever, it appears that the incident
was an accident and not an ‘ISI-inspired conspiracy’ as touted by former
union home minister LK Advani and Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi.
Now, even as the Godhra fire can no longer be used to
justify the post-Godhra massacres, 84 accused languish in Ahmedabad’s
Sabarmati jail. Meanwhile, escaping the long arm of the law, perpetrators
of the genocide, many with powerful political connections, roam free.
Details of the illegal continued custody of those accused in the Godhra
arson have been placed before our apex court for three years now. However,
despite sincere efforts by legal action groups and counsel, these men have
been denied bail.
The fact that 84 accused still remain in Gujarat’s jails
five years after the incident, the fact that many of them are ill, one is
blind; the fact that their families have been reduced to penury and
indignity while the main accused and masterminds of the post-Godhra
carnages not only roam free but rule Gujarat by action and word, raises
the niggling, troublesome question once again.
Discriminatory justice. Can a discriminatory system of
justice be viable in principle, given what our Constitution espouses? What
does this reality mean in practical terms, given that today we also face
the challenge of another kind of terror, internationally supported bomb
terror? In the ultimate analysis, genuine secularism and constitutional
governance must mean that issues of mass violence, accountability,
transparency, impunity for mass murderers and government officials, are
not merely the stuff of election campaigns but the basis on which the
balance sheets of our public servants and representatives are drawn. Only
then would we have made the transition from a purely electoral democracy
to true constitutional democracy.