Sunday 24 January 2021

The Case of Gujarat: An extract from Khushwant Singh's "The End of India"

 There are days when speeches made by our netas and so-called sants distress me so much that a voice within me screams, “Let all of them go to jahannum (hell). I’ll get on with my life as best as I can.” When I get over the depression, a wave of anger surges within me and I say to myself: “This is my homeland, I will not let these medieval-minded fanatics get away with wasting precious years squabbling over where exactly a temple should have its foundation-stone laid. I will shout my protest from the roof-tops.”

Then comes the ghastly carnage in Gujarat.

Much has been written and said about the riots of 2002. But not enough. I would like to quote from a document from another time. Summing up his report for the Maharashtra government after the riots in Bhiwandi and Jalgaon in 1970, Judge Madon wrote: It was a lonely, arduous and weary journey through a land of hatred and violence, of prejudice and perjury. The encounters on the way were with men without compassion, lusting for the blood of their fellow men, with politicians who trafficked in communal hatred and religious fanaticism, with local leaders who sought power by sowing disunity and bitterness, with police officers and policemen who were unworthy of their uniform, with investigating officers without honour and without scruples, with men committed to falsehood and wedded to fraud and with dealers in mayhem and murder.


He could have been writing about Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. But at least the Maharashtra government under SB Chavan accepted Judge Madon’s damning report with all its recommendations. Modi’s government dismissed the report of the National Human Rights Commission as incorrect and biased. The Central government’s attitude was no different. Cabinet ministers like Arun Jaitley shamelessly supported Modi’s stand. To them it was mere propaganda by the ‘pseudo-secularists’.

What can one expect from an administration that has openly sided with murderers? It is clear that the attack on the train at Godhra was pre-planned. Far from putting the perpetrators down with an iron hand, the government colluded with the mischief-makers as its police and its chief minister were imbued with the spirit of badla—revenge. It is also clear that the revenge was so vicious and effective because it was also pre-planned. There have been credible reports that within hours of the Godhra massacre, armed mobs were out in different parts of Gujarat with detailed lists of Muslim homes and establishments. Several hundred Muslims were hacked to death or burnt alive, women raped, homes and shops looted and burnt down.

I have seen it before with my own eyes in 1947 and 1984. The police stood by like tamashbeens (spectators) watching the carnage. They had been tipped off not to interfere but let looters and killers teach hapless men, women and children a lesson they would never forget.

In Gujarat they went several steps further. Not only did the police remain inert, when the army arrived on the scene, it was not deployed. Flag marches are spectacles which don’t frighten evil-doers. What does frighten them are orders to shoot at sight which were issued too late, only after many lives had been lost. Officers who tried to do their duty and foil the plans of the mobs were transferred out. Even in the camps set up for the riot victims there was harassment.

There can be no doubt there was serious dereliction of duty on the part of the chief minister, his cabinet colleagues and the IG of police. Even a year after the rioting, many Muslim victims remain homeless. Those who have returned to their homes have been forced to withdraw all complaints filed with the police. They are at the mercy of their Hindu neighbours who have warned them never to forget their subordinate status. I won’t be surprised if Muslims in Gujarat one day have to start paying religious taxes like the jazia which medieval Islamic rulers imposed on their non-Muslim subjects.


It is ironic that the highest incidence of violence against Muslims and Christians has taken place in Gujarat, the home state of Bapu Gandhi. It has been going on for years. Before the 2002 riots, Christian missionaries were being attacked in the tribal districts of the state. There were reports of violence and intimidation coming in almost every day. We will see more of that.

Since the late 1990s, newspaper reports have put the blame for this communalization squarely on neo-fascist members of the Sangh Parivar: the RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena, with the collusion of the BJP government. Reports of the Minorities Commission substantiate what has appeared in the national press. For those interested, photographic evidence of destroyed churches, dargahs, Muslim homes and shops is available. 

Among the most ludicrous is the state-sponsored attempt to wipe out remnants of Muslim presence. I first saw this in 1998. Gujarat’s capital, Ahmedabad, was built by a Muslim ruler in the middle ages. I noticed that milestones on the main highway leading to the city had dropped Ahmed from its name and made it into Amdavad.

How did Gujarat become the laboratory of Hindutva? It did not happen overnight. The Sangh and its sympathizers began poisoning Gujarat not long after Independence. Even the Congress took advantage of the slowly vitiating atmosphere to divide Gujarati society for electoral gains, unwittingly helping the RSS. The 1969 Ahmedabad riots were the first triumph of the RSS in Gujarat. Its fortunes began rising after that. I went to Ahmedabad in 1970, five months after the riots. I quote from the article I wrote after my return:

I had constituted myself into a one- man commission of enquiry to find out all I could in three days and pass on my verdict to my readers. My object was not to discover what had happened . . . but why it happened. And, even more, what the people of Ahmedabad thought about it today and what they would do tomorrow if some incident again strained relations between the city’s 90% Hindus and 10% Muslims.

I start my investigation by visiting the temple of Jagannath . . . I detect no signs of damage. To make sure I ask (a) priest. He tells me to look outside. I go outside and look. Above the entrance gate is a glass pane to cover an effigy of a mahant. The pane is splintered in three places. I approach a band of ash-smeared sadhus lolling under the shade of a banyan tree and ask them if anything else had been damaged . . . They express themselves in unholy language.

I walk around the bazaar and come to the dargah where it is said to have begun—with the herd of temple cows stampeding into pilgrims going to some Urs. The dargah gate is barred. A posse of constabulary guard the entrance. I ask the caretaker seated outside if this is the right place. He looks at me suspiciously. For an answer he spits a blob of phlegm on the pavement. The sub-inspector of police gives me a dirty look. I do not like policemen. I move on.

I go to the Sindhi Bazaar. It is a cluster of cubicles made of plywood and corrugated tin. Row upon row of mini-shops cluttered with bales of cloth and hung with multicoloured saris. The place looks as inflammable as an Indian Oil petrol carrier. I was told that the bazaar had gone up in smoke. I can well believe it. But I see no sign of damage. Sindhis are an enterprising race; they must have re-built it and resumed business. I accept one of the many invitations hurled at me to buy something . . . I pay for a dhoti to buy information. I get an earful of hate.

I hire a scooter. From the Arabic numerals 786 painted on the metre I know the faith of the driver. A scooter is not the best mode of transport for a friendly dialogue. I yell my comment on the ‘bad days’. The driver turns back, “You take me for a sucker? I know on which side you are!” He doesn’t say so with his tongue but with his doleful eyes.

I try paanwalas, chanawalas, fruit vendors. The result is the same. If they talk, they are Hindus. If they do not, they are Muslims. Both speech and silence are pregnant with hate...

I remind myself of my mission. It is not to probe into the dead past but to gauge the prevailing mood and so forecast the future. But the yesterdays of September are always with me. I drive out of Ahmedabad along the Sabarmati. I pass a mound of debris. A half-broken minaret reveals its identity. I pass graves with their gravestones smashed. And my temper mounts and tears come to my eyes.

What species of monstrous swine were those who spared neither places of worship nor the peace of the dead?

At the end of my visit I told the then Mayor of Ahmedabad about what I had seen and heard. “It is all over,” he assured me. “It will not happen again.” I hoped he was right. But I was not so sure.

Of course it did happen again, more than once, and most tragically in February 2002. Those deep divisions I saw over thirty years ago were not allowed to heal. The Sanghwalas were never interested in bringing communities together. In Gujarat, a border state, they have terrorized and alienated the state’s 10% Muslim population. History will judge them for the damage they have caused, but that will happen in the future. Meanwhile, with a triumphant Modi as their mentor, they will repeat the Gujarat experiment all over India, unless we stop them.

An extract from The End of India by Khushwant Singh (Pengiun, 2003). 163 pages, Rs 200. Reproduced with the permission of Penguin Books.

(Source: The Caravan Magazine)

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