03, Mar 2018 | Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
It is sixteen years now since the Gujarat Carnage of 2002. The years have flown by; Gujarat, India and the world have experienced a generation change in many different ways. “Let us move on” is the repeated quote of many who were not affected. “Such things happen everywhere” is the slogan of those who would like to sweep the reality under the carpet. “Oh, they were just aberrations, worse things have happened at other times,” say some. For those who try to legitimatize what took place, the oft repeated refrains include, “Didn’t they deserve it?”, “Why did they have to burn the train in Godhra?”, “They are all anti-nationals! They support Pakistan!” etc. and ad nauseam!
The truth is, facts never lie and memories never die! By all counts, the Gujarat Carnage was one of the bloodiest chapters in post-independence India. There was the brutality: barbarity at its worst as children, women and men were burnt alive; chopped into pieces. The murderous mobs spared no one: from the unborn child in the womb of a mother to the very old and sick. Unlike other ‘riots’ this carnage went on and on. There was arson and loot. An estimated two thousand people were killed, thousands others injured and many times that number who were affected and had to flee from places which they once called their home. Above all, this one took place with the complete connivance and even involvement of the State Government. There are enough of eyewitness accounts, reports and studies to evidence this. The police who are meant to protect the lives and property of all citizens have gone on record saying, “we have no orders to protect you”. It was, without an iota of doubt, the Government and their henchmen versus a minority community!
After sixteen years, there has certainly been some justice done. There have been several convictions for the atrocities committed, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of many committed persons. Teesta Setalvad and the ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ have been resolute in this struggle for justice; but there are others too who are determined to leave no stone unturned until the cause of justice has been completely met. Thanks to the efforts of all, the ‘Gujarat Carnage’ is still on the radar of the country and world today. However, the unfortunate reality is that some of the lynchpins- those largely responsible for orchestrating the violence- are today in the seats of power. They have managed to cloak themselves with a certain degree of immunity.
Today one can never forget the victim-survivors who have gone through unbelievable pain and trauma, and continue to do so. There are thousands of them everywhere; some have fled Gujarat never to return to a place, which was their ‘home’. Large numbers continue to be displaced from their original villages and towns, living in rather sub-human conditions in so-called resettlement places like the ‘Bombay Hotel’ area, which is next to Ahmedabad’s major garbage dumpsite. It is just unimaginable how people can live in places like these- literally in the midst of filth and squalor- without even the basic amenities of life. Thankfully, some victim- survivors have shown amazing strength and resilience to take on the powerful perpetrators of this carnage. It has not been easy but they have heroically withstood all hostilities and obstacles, gone to the courts umpteen of times seeking justice, which is legitimately theirs. There is Zakia Jafri, the wife of the former Member of Parliament Eshan Jafri, who was brutally murdered on that fateful 28 February 2002; there are Rupa and Dara Mody who still wonder whether their only son Azhar, who also disappeared that very day, will one day return. There are many more, who still courageously and patiently wait for the light of day.
The powerful, the vested interests, those who are perpetrators of these heinous acts have been doing everything possible to stop the wheels of justice from arriving at the complete truth. They have bought up/coopted some members of the minority community to propagate fabricated stories; they have used former staffers and associates to ‘go to town’ with total untruths. Human rights defenders, social activists, committed journalists, academics, upright officials and others have had false cases foisted on them; the police and other Government bodies have been misused and manipulated to harass and intimidate those who have accompanied the victim-survivors. A good part of the mainstream media, in a blatantly Goebbelsian manner, has hounded those in pursuit of truth and justice. It is unbelievable, how sections of the Judiciary without weighing all the merits of a case, can deliver judgements, which are very convoluted. This and much more: the journey after 2002 has not merely been traumatic for those who have actually suffered, but also a real ordeal for those who have felt duty-bound to relentlessly pursue truth and justice, in order to preserve all that is sacred in India.
Today in Gujarat and in other parts of India, several of the victim-survivors, human rights defenders and citizens from all walks of life, assembled in rallies, public meetings and in prayer groups, remembering those bloody days of 2002! Many still await the day of justice; several still are and feel ostracized. In between the sharing of pain and struggle, there were also slogans like “We are all one!”, “Hindu-Muslim unity”, “Down with communalism”. Embers of hope!
Yes there is a hope that someday “truth will triumph”, the words emblazoned on our national emblem. There is certainly the need for the healing of memories, for genuine reconciliation, for sustainable peace. These values however are not enveloped in a vacuum; they take place when there is a realization by the perpetrators of what they have done, when there is not merely an acceptance of the wrong, but a sincere remorse and the courage to ask for forgiveness. In the eventuality of that happening, then reconciliation will take place, memories will be healed. As Haruki Murakami, the Japanese writer says so poignantly in ‘Kafka on the Shore’, “but still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone”. Yes, memories never die!
*(Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Contact: [email protected] )