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GUJARAT : A YEAR AFTER Fr. Cedric Prakash S.J. Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen, I feel deeply honored and privileged to be invited by the INDIAN MUSLIM COUNCIL – USA to its FIRST ANNUAL CONVENTION on “INDIA AFTER GUJARAT”, which is being held here in this beautiful location of the Santa Clara Marriott in the midst of so many illustrious guests and speakers. I am grateful to Mr. Ubaid Shaik for inviting me to be a speaker tonight, to share with you my thoughts on GUJARAT : A YEAR AFTER. I am convinced that Conventions such as these, apart from the very natural role that they play of bringing people together, will also lead to positive civil action for a society based on justice, equity, harmony and peace. The goodwill and the momentum generated by and through this Convention must not be lost. Its impact and its voice must be felt and heard in the distant shores of this great Continent and must finally reach the shores of Gujarat, which for so many of us, has come to symbolize all that civil society should not be today ! I. INTRODUCTION In the very heart of the city of Ahmedabad, which is the commercial capital of Gujarat, in North-west India, stands the Sidi Saiyed Mosque named after its builder. The most exquisite craftsmanship in stone carving can be seen in this Mosque which was built in 1572. The distinguishing features of this mosque are the ten intricately carved stone windows. One of the windows depicts the “tree of life” with delicate intertwining of the branches of a tree. For years, this motif was the symbol of Ahmedabad and in fact, of Gujarat. In a way, it symbolized all that India meant and stood for : diverse cultures, faiths, languages, traditions, peoples….yes, everything which indeed made up a great civilization. Very different but very united. A unity in diversity. A unique tapestry, inter-woven with multi-colour hues as the light of the sun and the moon pierces the gaps of the window. It is magnificent ! Yet on the other hand, a few years ago, when the Hindu right-wing Government took controls of the reigns of power in the State of Gujarat, one of their first decisions was to ensure that this replica of the stone trellis was no longer used as a symbol of Gujarat and of Ahmedabad. They quickly replaced it with the replica of a temple. The move was significant because in one stroke it demonstrated all what India is about today : a country with a great and rich past but with a very tenuous future. The diversity that characterized this civilization has now become the source of bitter division, hatred and violence; religion is used as a tool to manipulate people for petty political gains…..The intricacy and the beauty of the “tree of life” literally stands to be poisoned at its very roots. I needed to situate this presentation in the “tree of life” of Ahmedabad city because exactly sixteen months ago, to date, a series of incidents took place, which has spelt the death knell of civil society. II. THE GUJARAT CARNAGE : When I referred to the “tree of life” I also meant to communicate the fact that so much of India has not been able to sustain the wealth of our diversity. This is totally true of Gujarat where over the years, the beautiful and interwoven tapestry has just been destroyed to shreds. It was not just “a once and for all”. It has emerged over a period of time in subtle, covert and insidious ways On November 21st 2002, the Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal consisting of several eminent citizens and headed by Justice V. Krishna Iyer, a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, made public a report entitled “ CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY ”, on the Gujarat Carnage which began on 27th / 28th February 2002. This report was on the basis of more than 2000 oral and written testimonies both individual and collective from victim-survivors and also independent Human Rights Groups, Women’s Groups, NGOs, academics and others. The Tribunal, in its findings and recommendations clearly indicts the Government of Gujarat and holds them responsible for the unfettered violence, murder, arson and loot that took place in Gujarat last year. This violence, (though not an “action-reaction” syndrome) followed the burning of the S-6 compartment of the Sabarmati Express Train in Godhra (in Eastern Gujarat) and the death of fifty-nine people. What took place in Gujarat has already been well-documented in studies, analyses, reports by fact-finding teams, human rights groups, statutory bodies like the National Human Rights Commission and the media, besides others (both in India and abroad). I don’t think it is necessary to get into the nitty-gritty of the events. The details of the carnage are gory and horrendous : almost 2000 Muslims were killed, many more were injured or brutalized, several hundreds of women were raped and the extent of damage to homes and establishments can hardly be quantified. Gujarat has not yet recovered from the massive losses incurred by every strata of society during that period. The major trends which emerged from each of these reports (including the Human Rights Watch Report of 2003) and which corroborate the findings of the Citizens’ Tribunal are : - what took place in Gujarat was not merely communal violence or riots; it was a genocide, a carnage, an ethnic cleansing, designed to wipe out or to ostracize a whole community. - the carnage was well-planned and well-executed. It was not a “spontaneous” reaction as it was made out to be. The preparations must have taken several months. Already a year earlier, a widely circulated Gujarati daily listed several hotels run by the Chilya community which had non-Islamic names. Most of them were, during the carnage, razed to the ground. A meticulous census was conducted on the Muslims and Christians of Gujarat in 1999. The data was sufficient to help rampaging mobs to know exactly whom to attack and where. - the carnage was meant to break the backbone of the Muslim economy. It has succeeded to a great extent. - the middle-class ( including several well-to-do and educated women ) were blatantly involved in the violence; there were very few who were willing to come out and take a stand to prevent what was happening. - in some areas, tribals and dalits were very effectively used in the arson and looting of Muslim homes and establishments. - it was a State-sponsored genocide. The Citizens’ Tribunal has clearly indicted, besides the Chief Minister and politicians, several high-ranking bureaucrats and police-officials. The Sangh Parivar was given a free hand to do what they wanted. The police were apparently given clear instructions not to take any action. There is also evidence to show that some were encouraged to join in the violence which they did, with ruthless finesse. State Ministers and leaders of ‘the Parivar’ (like the mafioso) were seen leading the mobs. Today, sixteen months have run……. the question that is frequently asked, is whether everything is “normal” and whether “peace” has actually returned to Gujarat. A cue to this question was given by the leading Indian industrialist Rahul Bajaj when at a meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry in New Delhi a few months, he pointedly demanded from the Chief Minister of Gujarat whether he could ensure that the events of 2002 – a year he characterized as a “lost one” for Gujarat – would not be repeated. The response from the CM was typical: he ranted and raved and accused the likes of Bajaj, Godrej (also of the Confederation of Indian Industries) and “their pseudo-secularist friends” for spoiling the name of Gujarat. To put things in their proper perspective : the question asked by Mr. Bajaj is definitely loaded. It is a reiteration of the fact that life in Gujarat is still not yet normal; that peace has still not returned. Inspite of this, several industrialists, putting aside all norms of civil behaviour have actually pledged their support to Modi and to his agenda….when Mr. Tarun Das the President of the CII literally came on his knees to Gujarat to apologize to the CM for the “behavior” of Bajaj and Godrej ! Indeed, one injustice upon the other is heaped upon the victims of the Gujarat carnage. Yes, there is an apparent “normalcy” in the State. For an outsider, the city of Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat, may seem fairly alright. This indeed is far from the truth; beneath this superficiality is a reality which is grim and highly explosive. The reality is thus : if one is a Muslim today, one cannot buy a house or own a shop in the western up-market part of the city. Muslims are normally confined to ghettoes in the eastern part of the city or in some rare pockets in the western part. most Muslims in Gujarat continue to live in fear and insecurity. an insignificant incident can spark off a major riot. State-sponsored terrorism continues with frightening regularity. In the past year, several Muslim youth have been killed in “police encounters” in Baroda sometime ago, several young Muslims were detained under PASA and a respected Muslim cleric was also arrested for allegedly being one of the master-minds of the Godhra burning. Several others have been arrested under POTA. All these arrests are apparently unwarranted. some of those who are accused of the violence against the Muslims have been elected as MLAs and some have even become Ministers. the Sangh Parivar continues its vicious campaign against the Muslims, Christians and other vulnerable groups with impunity. even the judiciary has been tampered with; there are public prosecutors appointed by the Government who have primary membership in the RSS / VHP. One needs to go back to March 1998 when the Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party) won a two-third majority in Gujarat. It was the very first State in the country which gave them such a massive mandate with unqualified support. The build up to this victory was gradual but efficiently planned ; that Gujarat was bound to become the laboratory for the Hindutva ideology was clear as daylight. The Bombay bomb blasts in 1993, in a way contained aggressive posturing by the Hindu fundamentalists. The Muslims of Gujarat seemed to be more well organized and extremely prepared for any eventuality. An agenda was needed in order to consolidate their position in Gujarat. Governance or the needs of the people was never their top priority (or will ever be) so they chose a soft target : the Christians. With frightening regularity from March 1998 onwards Christians and their institutions were attacked. A huge Church which was under construction was pulled down in Ahmedabad city by the Sangh Parivar mob. Several other Churches all over the Dangs and other parts of South Gujarat were attacked or burnt in December 1998 and January 1999. Earlier, on December 4th 1998, more than 35,000 Christians marched on the streets of Ahmedabad in a protest rally against the attacks on Christians in Gujarat and other parts of India. For the first time, the fundamentalist elements were put on the defensive though that did not stop them going on a rampage a few weeks later. The census on the Christians and Muslims (which I have referred to earlier) took place in February / March 1999 and inspite of a suo motto by Justice Calla of the Gujarat High Court, the collection of data continued unabashedly. After a hue and cry nationally and internationally, the attacks on the Christians gradually subsided and became far apart. However, this posturing had already translated into very important parliamentary seats in the general elections of 1999. As February 2003 (the original month for State Elections) approached, the BJP definitely needed an agenda. All bye-elections and other local elections held in 2000 and 2001 saw them losing miserably in most constituencies both in Gujarat and elsewhere. The attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001 was just the “proper opening” for the sinister designs of the Sangh Parivar. But they still were not sure whether attacking the Muslims in any way would help or would meet with further reprisals. Some of their local think-tanks were already suggesting that a low profile attack on Christians and Christian-institutions would pay richer dividends that is why in January 2002, we had already sent out to all our institutions a little leaflet asking our people to be “prepared”. Finally, the “Godhra incident” provided the trigger. All that followed is bitter history. That the State of Gujarat has become highly polarized and is literally sitting on a tinderbox is without a shade of doubt. Whilst the terrible violence of the early months has taken a back-seat, a more sinister violence which screams through prejudices and hate-campaigns, is taking deeper and deeper root. The BJP emerged triumphant in the elections of December 2002 romping home with a two-third majority. Inspite of all its rhetoric ( “50 million Gujaratis !” ) the actual numbers that voted BJP, were 8 million out of an officially estimated population of 50 million. Recent posturings and actions have clearly demonstrated that this victory is bound to heighten the intolerant, unjust, arrogant and discriminatory attitude of the ruling political bosses of the State. The use of PASA (the Prevention of Anti Social Activity law), POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and the draconian law entitled the Freedom of Religion (which is actually an anti-conversion Law)which was passed by the State Assembly on March 26th 2003, the diatribe against those who stand up for justice and human rights; on March 26th, Mr. Haren Pandya – a former Home Minister of Gujarat and a very vocal critic of the current Chief Minister was shot dead in broad daylight……. Are all clearly signs of things to come. On June 7th, the National Commission for Minorities paid an “official” visit to Gujarat. On behalf of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, I made a submission before them telling the Commission about how the Christian Minority of the State together with the Muslims were being harassed, intimidated and even terrorized. We furnished plenty of proof and evidence to them. All that the Chairman could do was to reiterate the Government’s position that such things were not happening. The point I would like to make is how legitimate and statutory bodies have been sabotaged to such an extent that they have to become mere mouthpieces for their political masters. A few days later, on June 13th I made a submission before the National Human Rights Commission on this very subject ( and ofcourse), they too promised to look into the matter….In the meantime, the “normal” world of Gujarat continues……as Muslims live in Ghettos or very specially designated areas Witnesses, very specially key witnesses, so very easily turn hostile like for example the Best Bakery Case (the judgement perhaps would have been given yesterday June 27th). Interrogations / investigations continue with undying regularity by the Police, Charity Commissioner, The Income Tax Department – from subtle and insidious ways they have become very official and legal…. Yes, the only thing “normal” about Gujarat is the fact that fascism has come to stay ! III. RESPONSE : What I have tried to present during this limited time is a perspective on Gujarat A Year After and to reiterate the fact that if Gujarat has been the cauldron of hate and despair it must ultimately change to become a vessel of compassion and hope. For this, we need to respond…..and the response, my dear friends, has to come from people like you and me. I would therefore like to make some suggestions to this august gathering. They are : i. The urgency to de-link religion from politics : If we look back at history, the world has been bloodied when politics and religion have become deeply linked. The Indian scenario is just that. Religious posturizing by bigots filled with hatred and venom for others has not only deeply divided Indian society but has also polarized cities of Gujarat to such an extent that it will take long years of healing before people start becoming less-suspicious of one another. The political campaigns of most political parties in India today and very specially of the Hindu Nationalist Party (the BJP), has topmost on its agenda, aggressive Hindu-revivalism or literally a land only for Hindus. This is dangerous. The harbingers of such ideology are not able to see anything but only the narrow confines of their religious bigotry. De-linking religion from politics, would help ensure that those who take up political office would focus on issues of governance which would imply peace, security, food, clothing, employment, water, and the other basics of life. At the same time, one fundamentalist position can never be addressed by another fundamentalist position. Two wrongs never make a right. Those of you in the U.S. must allow the liberal temper which characterizes so much of the society here to help position your role in ensuring that religion is de-linked from politics in Gujarat and in other parts of the world. ii. The necessity to establish a responsible civil society : If there is one single phenomenon which is sadly missing in India (and in Gujarat in particular) is that of “civil society”. There seems to be a “crippling” and in fact sometimes “criminal” silence of people (who do not belong to the political spectrum) who are afraid of being involved in matters of vital importance. The attitude of many of them is “why get involved ?”; “How does it affect me ?”; “It was bound to happen!”; “ They deserve it!”; “It’s safer for me this way”, etc. Such an attitude has provided leverage to vested interests who continue with impunity on their way towards establishing their hegemony. When hundreds of people were being massacred in Gujarat, people were too afraid to come out on the streets to protest against the carnage. The same thing happened when Iraq was being attacked….unlike other parts of the world, the Indian masses did not think it important to come out on the streets en masse. A civil society that is able to mobilize and be mobilized, to respond to critical issues, to come out and take a stand, is a first step towards the restoration of law and order and in fact will always act as a deterrent to the vested interests, spoken about earlier. It is therefore imperative that this Convention snowballs into a movement which will not only bring together people from diverse faith-backgrounds, perspectives, cultures, nationalities and ideologies but who have the maturity and the courage to join together on important issues. iii. The importance to network and to advocate : We no longer live on an island. In a world which is overwhelmed by mass-media and highly advanced technology, networking with others at micro and macro levels, at the local and global levels, is not merely essential, but it is mandatory. Issues which concern India are not the issues of India alone. The emergence of fascism in India has to be a concern for the countries around India like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. It is bound to polarize the ground reality in these countries which have sizeable majority of the population belonging to different faiths. Issues such as that which took place in Gujarat in 2002 must be addressed by the world fora. Some countries and even the European Union have addressed the issue but only to a limited extent. Only when groups and individuals at every possible level network with each other and advocate a cause will we be able to address critical issues like the ones faced by India today. iv. The imperative to stand up for human rights, justice and peace : Development is the other word for peace. There cannot be true development if it is not in context of a society which is peaceful and just. At every level, there will have to be a clear signal from individuals, groups, Governments - that they uphold Constitutional freedoms and guarantees and are able to defend the value and sanctity of every individual right for the sake of peace and justice. There can be no compromise on that. The report of the Human Rights Watch which I referred to earlier, and of several other groups (also US-based ones) are examples of those that have taken a stand for what we are talking about. Then, there was the NRI Sadhbhavna Mission that came to Gujarat and felt the pain and pangs of what had taken place here. In June last year, with some others from here and from India, I testified before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Their report was a clear indictment of the Gujarat Government and what had taken place. The only language that Gujarat understands and will understand is the FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Please do not stop pressurizing the US Government and the people here, to “revisit” Gujarat, to see in the silence of everyday life of how hundreds and thousand of innocent people – victims of a genocide still languish in the horrors, in the nightmares, in the pain and tragedy of something that should never have happened. Please do not stop taking a stand for human rights and justice and ultimately for peace…….Many in Gujarat today pretend that “nothing happened” in 2002 ! IV. CONCLUSION : For months on, I was haunted by the terrible images of Muslims being brutally massacred and burnt alive in their homes and on our streets. In the early days it was painful to see people murdered, houses burnt, destroyed, religious places desecrated, whole areas laid waste….one great tragedy was the heinous murder of my friend Eshan Jafri. His secular credentials could not be questioned by anybody and in some of the meetings I sat with him, he always took a stand for the poor and the helpless. Anybody who has any heart will recoil in horror at the way he was done-in. That day I took a stand : I would do all within my capacity to make known the horrors of the Gujarat genocide and to bring to justice those who are responsible for it. Only then will peace come and I will not rest till then ! Through sheer coincidence, while I was preparing this presentation (on June 22nd ), a new Gujarati newspaper “Divya Bhaskar” was launched in Ahmedabad. The very first issue had a very interesting editorial and as a logo on the editorial was the symbol of the Sidi Saiyed Jali - “the tree of life”; however, superimposed on it, was an emerging Sun. The paper, we all know, is literally the brain-child of CM, Modi. One can interpret the masthead on the editorial in both ways – either light will shine ultimately through the tree of life or the blazing Sun will scorch it to death…..interestingly the editor quotes at the end the words of India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru who fifty-four years ago in an address to the US Congress very forthrightly said “ when freedom is threatened or justice is menaced, India cannot and shall not be neutral ”. Yes, my dear friends, in the fact of what happened in Gujarat a year ago, none of us can be neutral. We have to take the stand for what is right and for what is just. Until then, we need to pray in the words of Rabindranath Tagore : "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, Where knowledge is free, Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls, Where words come out from the depth of truth, Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection, Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit, Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action, Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, led my country awake !" Yes, my friends, let us pray that in the context of Gujarat, let us awake too, before it is too late ! Thank you very much ! ----------------- x ------------------ x ---------------------- x --------------------- x --------------- This talk was delivered at the FIRST ANNUAL CONVENTION of the INDIAN MUSLIM COUNCIL, Santa Clara, USA on June 28th 2003. (Fr. Cedric Prakash S.J. is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre of Human Rights, Justice and Peace in the State of Gujarat in North-west India. Fr. Prakash is also a member of the Citizens for Justice and Peace that set up the Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal to look into the Gujarat Carnage which took place in 2002; he has also testified before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom on the carnage. He is actively involved in issues related to communal harmony, justice and peace. In 1995, he was awarded the Kabir Puraskar by the President of India for the promotion of communal peace and harmony.) ‘ PRASHANT ’ Post Box 4050 Navrangpura Ahmedabad 380 009 Gujarat, INDIA Tel: 0091 79 7449744 / 7449745 / 7455913 Fax: 0091 79 7489018 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org