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Reconcile with the truth

The defining feature of post-riot Gujarat is its frozen compassion, the determined absence of remorse both by the State and among many segments of the people, writes Harsh Mander.

india Updated: Feb 26, 2009 23:24 IST

There have been many failures that characterise the polity and society of contemporary Gujarat. Probably the most dangerous of the lot is the unprecedented extent of the arrest and collapse of processes of authentic reconciliation, even seven years after the 2002 Gujarat carnage. There are few organised social and political spaces — official or non-official — for fostering forgiveness in Gujarat today. Instead, there is a communal chasm, ignored or actively encouraged by the powerful political, administrative, business and media establishments. This manufactured divide is growing exponentially.

Even before the carnage, despite communal bloodletting during and after Partition, there has been no structured official (or even significant non-official) processes of ‘truth and reconciliation’ to help perpetrators and survivors of hate violence come together; to see and speak to each other; acknowledge their crimes and failings, their hate and fear, their grievances and suspicions; to seek and offer forgiveness, trust and goodwill. And ultimately help bring closure and healing.

Part of the problem is that the threats and peril, both of on-going communal violence and of pervasive subversion of justice to minorities, are not acknowledged by the State, political parties and formal civil society organisations. Even as relations between communities deteriorate, and states are increasingly openly partisan on communal lines and soft on organisations committed to destroy the secular democratic foundations of India, many continue to live in dogged denial.

Second, much of the violence and injustice is not overt, it rages in the hearts and minds of people. We attend to it only when violence spills on to the streets. We deliberately overlook the covert violence of the everyday. Third, governments, political parties and social organisations are today most frequently equivocal, unsteady and reluctant in dealing with the intensely sensitive and potentially divisive issues raised by communalism. They are no longer prepared to stand up to be counted.

However, Indians have arguably had more experience than most. Therefore, even without organised processes of reconciliation, there are natural spontaneous processes of reaching out that follow bouts of sectarian violence. There may be debates about whether, without structured modes of facilitating reconciliation for survivors of Partition violence, there could have been adequate closure for families that experienced the loss of their loved ones.

Perhaps we needed to bring together people who lived with the violence from both sides of the border, to share their truths, discover their common burdens of suffering and privation, and thereby find the spaces for individual and collective forgiveness. The defining feature of post-riot Gujarat is its frozen compassion, the determined absence of remorse both by the State and among many segments of the people. So it isn’t surprising that more than seven years later, what is most scarce in the parched soil of ‘vibrant Gujarat’ is reconciliation and empathy.

Efforts for reconciliation in Gujarat are imperative. In the absence of reconciliation, hate is retained and nurtured — with stereotypes, myths, selective memory and lies about the demonised ‘Other’ — and passed on as a dubious legacy from generation to generation. But to be authentic and enduring, it must traverse the stony paths of justice. Not just those who joined the slaughter, but those who planned it must face the law of the land.

There are recent brilliant glimmerings of hope, with cabinet ministers and police officers becoming fugitives from the law. Those who held the command in those weeks of slaughter must stand before the courts of the land to atone for their crimes. Only such a just reconciliation will rebuild a stable and enduring peace for a shared future of restored trust between our estranged peoples.

(Harsh Mander is the Convenor of Aman Biradari)