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Silence of the lambs

If Indians do nothing when faced with what Tehelka has exposed about Gujarat 2002, we will turn a dangerous corner as a nation — India will risk becoming morally rudderless, writes Shoma Chaudhury.
None | By Shoma Chaudhury
UPDATED ON OCT 31, 2007 10:31 PM IST

We are all tempted to forget. Tempted to shake our heads at ‘mind-numbing’ horror and get sucked back into the urgencies of our own day. Tempted to impute sinister motives or just look the other way. We are tempted, but we must not give in. Because what Tehelka’s investigation last week showed is not just about Narendra Modi and some lumpen Hindus. It’s about you and me and who we are as people.

It is true that ‘Operation Kalank’ is about things we already knew: mass murder, rape and barbarous cruelty, all planned and executed by the unforgivable sanction of the State. But the unthinkable has happened. What was earlier allegation by victims and their defenders has now been corroborated by the perpetrators themselves. And what is our response? Nothing.

Operation Kalank cannot be dismissed as the empty bragging of anonymous men. The men caught in the eye of the camera range from the Advocate General of Gujarat to BJP MLAs, senior functionaries of the VHP and RSS, influential lawyers and the actual foot-soldiers of hate: not the bit players cheering from the outer circle, but the hacksaws themselves. And what the TV channels have shown is only the broadstrokes. Tehelka documents an even vaster and more detailed nightmare world of thwarted justice and failed institutions, including the fire on the Sabarmati Express.

Yet, in the face of all this, our story has only been met by empty counter-arguments and conspiracy theories. Why was the story timed for now? Is Tehelka a Congress front? And even more ludicrously, has Modi paid Tehelka to do the story to consolidate the Hindu vote ahead of elections? As one of the founder members of Tehelka, these theories bring an exhausting sense of déjà vu. We have been here before. Six years ago, when Tehelka broke Operation Westend, the investigation about corruption in defence procurement, the same fantastic theories had greeted us, each contradicting the other. But the truth outlived it all.

Now it’s happening again. Journalistic stories of this nature can never be timed. Operation Kalank began by sheer accident — we did not set out to do it — and it took six months to nail down. If it had taken three, we would have released it in August; if it had taken ten, we would have released it in January, post the election. Imagine what conspiracy theories that would have yielded.

Duck the truth and look for some new depravity to explain it away: that’s become our habitual response as a people. We think it makes us worldly and knowing. We think it makes us sagacious. But in truth, it displays our fallen nature. It displays the bankruptcy of our emotions and the poverty of our conscience. We no longer believe anyone can do anything without a motive. The fact that cynical backroom games are more easy to believe in than purity of intention says something enormously disturbing about where we have reached as a society. We can be shown a man gloating over a foetus ripped out of a mother’s womb, but we would rather embroider why we are being shown this than react with honest emotion to the fact.

But what is far worse is the unremorseful responses of the BJP and people who state that the genocide is no longer an issue because it is five years old and Modi has been voted back to power since then. As if a mere assertion of majority can nullify the fundamental cry for human justice. What is far worse also are the people who are trapped in the suicidal dialectic of Godhra and Gujarat — action and reaction: Muslim provocation and Hindu retribution. As if Death leaves its aching footprint in shades of green and saffron, one less painful than the other.

It seems so simple to understand — crime has no communal colour. The State should have identified and arrested the Muslims who were in the mob at Godhra and punished them instead of unleashing a pogrom against innocents. Why engineer a communal death embrace that neither community can ever loosen itself from?

But of all the responses, what is by far the worst is that everybody seems unperturbed by the fact that Gujarat is a failed state. Modi may have been re-elected post-2002, but Operation Kalank is proof that every fundamental institution that underpins the idea of a democratic and civil society has been subverted there: the police, the judiciary and the political establishment. And yet we are all content to continue with the charade of treating Gujarat as a democratic state facing an on-coming election.

Nations are built by the words men use to describe it. Societies are shaped by the collective rules men agree to live by. The India we inherited, the India in which we all have a right to life, liberty, livelihood, expression and religion is not some self-perpetuating magic State. It’s a State that was articulated by the heroic imagination of our founding fathers, a State we all have to struggle and fight to retain. If we are faced with something like Operation Kalank and do nothing, we will turn a dangerous corner as a nation. Our certitudes will slip away from us. We will become morally rudderless.

For me then, the most frightening thing about Tehelka’s investigation is not Narendra Modi and his cold, unalloyed evil. It is not even the animal violence of his henchmen. It is the X-factor that seems to have paralysed everybody: the fear of the ‘Hindu vote’. This fear and the unquestioning acceptance that it will blow in Modi’s favour if anybody speaks out against his depraved state has made a mockery of every check and balance that lies at the heart of a democracy. It has made the media cautious. And it has made timid marionettes of the Congress. Neither the Prime Minister, nor the Home Minister, nor any senior minister has spoken out. Is Gujarat no longer a part of India? Doesn’t the same Constitution apply? Are we doomed to have leaders whose heads are only trapped in the abacus of electoral numbers?

The real faultline in India today is not between Hindus and Muslims. It is between Hindus and Hindus. If the Hindus of Gujarat are going to re-elect Modi after being confronted with visual proof of what he stands for, we have to aggressively reclaim what being Hindu means. The problem is too few people seem to have a stomach for that fight. It is not a fight that can be won by burning and slashing. Or ducking. It requires words and eloquence and conviction. The Hindu vote in Gujarat could swing both ways in the years to come because the curious thing about human beings is that they are always willing to thrum to a nobler note. Someone just has to have the courage to sound it.

Shoma Chaudhury is Editor, Features, Tehelka.

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