A dream gone sour
It’s nine years since many districts across Gujarat were swept by a tornado of hate. Innumerable lives were snuffed out, women and girls brutally raped and killed, and homes and livelihoods destroyed. Thousands of people fled their homes in mortal fear.
But nine years is a long time. Nature equips the human body and spirit with extraordinary capacities to heal from great injury. Yet, there are some wounds that don’t mend even after a lifetime. I encounter such unhealed suffering among survivors of mass communal violence in Nellie of 1983, Delhi of 1984 and Gujarat of 2002. There is something about the violence of mass hate, which makes its wounds fester even after many others heal.
In villages and towns of Gujarat, survivors have adapted themselves to the everyday reality of second-class citizenship. I estimate that nearly 100,000 people have been permanently ejected and their erstwhile settlements ‘cleansed’ of Muslim residents. A quarter of these internally displaced people endure in austere relief colonies, established after the carnage by various Muslim organisations. The remainder have moved to the safety of numbers in poorly serviced Muslim ghettoes.
Across the state today, I observe what I regard as the ‘Dalitisation’ of the Gujarati Muslim. Like Dalits, Muslims in Gujarat today live in segregated settlements, socially devalued and economically ostracised. They are discriminated against in schools and police stations, deprived of basic public services, discouraged in both private and public employment, and excluded from social intercourse such as wedding and birth celebrations. Dalits have lived with these social and economic disabilities for centuries. But the process of pushing Muslims to the same humiliating margins of Gujarati society as Dalits was compressed into the single past decade. This is the enduring legacy of the politics of hatred and division, which has triumphed in Gujarat. We don’t know if and when this will ever change.
Muslims in Gujarat today don’t live in the expectation of another imminent orgy of mass violence. But they survive daily discrimination as an incontrovertible element of survival. Markers of Muslim identity are fading from Gujarati public life. In many villages, one of the conditions imposed on Muslim residents who wished to return was that the call of the azaan from their mosque should no longer resonate in the village. Auto-rickshaw drivers in every city in the country decorate their rickshaws with symbols of their religious faith (alongside pictures of buxom film actresses). In Ahmedabad, I can estimate that my rickshaw driver is a Muslim only because his rickshaw has no markers of faith. Muslim eateries have adopted culturally-neutral names like Ekta, Tulsi and Jaihind, and no symbols of Muslim faith decorate their walls.
We’re helping hundreds of survivors to fight criminal cases against those who slaughtered, raped and plundered in 2002. But we frequently lose these cases in courts, because many baulk at the last minute from naming their tormentors. They want to see them punished, but calculate that if they are to live in Gujarat they can’t afford to antagonise their neighbours. Some dignify these ‘compromises’ as forgiveness. But in their hearts they know that these are acts of surrender. It’s not easy to feel resigned to see your tormentors walk free on the dusty paths of your village everyday.
Many people who filed charges against their neighbours for the crimes of 2002 found themselves embroiled in false criminal charges, and some even spent months and years in jail. They dropped their charges, as the price to be freed from jail and be relieved from false criminal cases against them. Young Muslim men also live in fear that they will be picked up for terrorist crimes. Many are forced to spend hopeless years behind prison walls on flimsy charges of which they may be acquitted. But who can return to them the lost years of their lives? And of those of their loved ones who wait all these years outside in penury and despair?
It does little to reassure the Muslim citizens of Gujarat that their persisting persecution under his watch hasn’t dimmed the sheen of chief minister Narendra Modi — an icon for legions of his admirers. He is celebrated by virtually every national corporate heavyweight for the rapid economic growth and ‘efficient’ administration offered by his stewardship of Gujarat. Yet, he refuses to apologise for the crimes of the dark months of 2002 and the complicity of his state administration. On the directions of the Supreme Court, his personal role has been investigated — and raises many doubts. His former home minister and senior police officers are in jail for extra-judicial killings. His public speeches are laced with barbs, which taunt and label the Muslim community as regressive, violent and unpatriotic. But these make him not less but more of a hero for millions of his adoring middle-class supporters.
Madhavrao Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS from 1940 to 1973, dreamed of an India where religious minorities could live only as second-class citizens. The India of his aspirations can be glimpsed in today’s Gujarat. But the Constitution promised all its citizens a land of equality and fraternity. Its pledges lie in tatters for the Muslim residents of Gujarat, nine years after their massacre stirred the conscience of the people of India. Neither the law of the land nor the legacy of the Mahatma in the land of his birth has secured for the survivors of 2002 justice, security, social dignity and freedom from fear. How many more years will they have to wait?
(Harsh Mander is Director, Centre for Equity Studies)
*The views expressed by the author are personal.