15 years of Gujarat 2002 riots – why every Indian must remember

During the times of Kabir in the 15th century, India simmered with communal tension, the reason why he wrote and sung so passionately about Hindu-Muslim unity. Like a huge flash in the pan, a riot would erupt quickly, consume what it could and die.

Gujarat Riots

In India in the last few decades, this flash has been replaced by a slow burn inside a volcano –temperature continues to rise, but you don’t feel it until it’s too late.

15 years back, beginning this day in Godhra, Gujarat, one such volcano burst open and consumed at least 1044 (official figures) lives, mostly Muslims, in its wake. A critic would be right to point out that there have been worse communal carnage in modern India, Nellie (Assam) in 1983, Delhi in 1984, India post the demolition of Babri Masjid in Dec 1992 etc. In each of these cases more people have died than in Gujarat 2002, at least officially. The 1984 Sikh genocide even set a precedent that would become a norm. The party responsible for the genocide, Congress, not only gave tickets to some of the rioters, but people of Delhi elected them with record margins. How is Gujarat 2002 worse than these?

Because in no other riot, do you see a huge class of society justifying the slaughter of women, children and old people, the brutal rape and often murder of hundreds, and wear it like a badge of honour. India, especially Gujarat, is not only unashamed of the violence in Feb-May of 2002, but is actually proud of it. The pride has increased as the man at the helm of Gujarat government then – Narendra Modi – has risen to become the Prime Minister of the country.

Arguments like ‘it was important to teach the Muslims a lesson’, ‘it was necessary for Hindus to feel a sense of pride,’ ‘for once we got the better of them’ etc. are dinner table conversation around children to this day. Delhi 1984 had seen those justifications making the rounds for a while. Yet, never before in the history of India (not even during the most heinous Partition riots that claimed at least 200,000 lives from the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities) has the vilification and demonization of one community been done with such great fervour by such a large class of society in the country. While every other riot ended when the violence was brought under control, Gujarat 2002 continues to exist to this day tainting almost every sphere of our lives.

A 1000 years of history continues to be pushed down on the living bodies and minds of Muslims, attempting to bury them once and for all. In some Hindus segments, so degraded is their psyche that they can unite only under the umbrella of the hatred of Muslims. The love and devotion that Bhakti and Sufi cults espoused, that Hindu-Muslim peace that seers like Nizamuddin Aulia, Baba Farid, Kabir or Guru Nanak and more recently Mahatma Gandhi preached, is consistently undone by the hatred deliberately sown into people’s hearts by millions of cadres of various organisations under the Sangh Parivar, be it RSS, the ruling BJP or even its student wing ABVP who prefer to argue with sticks and stones rather than verbs and adjectives. It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar, said Anais Nin.

A society which can converge into agreement only on a point of hatred rather than love, is signing its own suicide pact. And more and more every day, India walks towards that precipice of hatred, ready to jump. Ask anyone in the administrative circles and they will tell you that no communal violence can go on for more than 24 hours without the collusion of the ruling dispensation. The anti-Sikh pogroms of Delhi 1984 went on for three days because the ruling Congress allowed it. The Nellie massacre in Assam where over 2000 people were killed was a matter of 6 hours. That the Gujarat pogrom went on for almost 3 months till KPS Gill was sent by Prime Minister Vajpayee, is proof of the collusion of the then ruling BJP dispensation which either turned a blind eye, or many times actively participated in it. The volcano had simmered for at least a decade in the hatred being poured into drawing rooms of Gujarat against Muslims, before it burst open. There are huge pockets of resistance against this hatred.

It is being led by all kinds of people – upper castes Hindus, the Dalits, those who once believed in the Hindutva ideology of hatred but now believe in the sarva dharma sama bhava – the equality of all religions, the philosophy of true Hindus. They have diffused many flashpoints through the ages. Yet, many small fires are being lit every single day these days in the hopes that they turn into a rampaging forest fire. It is for these reasons that we must not only remember, but commemorate our own failings as a nation. The memory of Gujarat 2002 must not be allowed to fade, neither that of Godhra on 27 February nor what happened in the next 3 months. It is important to tell millennials what happened then, without shame or rancour but with all honesty. It is important for the sanity not just of the nation, but the world. In order to truly rise as a global superpower, we must also remember our ancient Vedic idea of: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the whole world and all its inhabitants are my family. Not just in words – for us Hindus have a great, inclusive ancient ideology which we revere but conveniently forget – but practice it in actions and deeds.

Let us begin by two of Kabir’s dohas. “Pothi Padh Padh Kar Jag Mua, Pandit Bhayo Na Koye , Dhai Aakhar Prem Ke, Jo Padhe so Pandit Hoye.” (The study of a thousand books, will not a scholar make; as much as learning the four alphabets, that the word ‘LOVE’ makes.) “Bura Jo Dekhan Me Chala, Bura Naa Milya Koye, Jo Munn Khoja Apnaa, To Mujhse Bura Naa Koye.”

(I went in search of bad and found none around, when I looked inside my own mind there it lay abound.)

(Satyen K Bordoloi is a writer based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)

This article was first publihsed on Sify.com




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