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Gujarat riots 2002: Today, there are loud, shrill voices trying to legitimize what happened in those bloody days

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
It’s fifteen years! How soon the years fly by. Some things however, are never forgotten. The memories are still fresh. The pain, the suffering, the trauma – though not visible – still lingers on. Only those who have gone through it know deep down, what it means to lose a loved one. That too through such inhuman brutality.
Rupa and Dara Mody still wait for their only son Azhar, who went missing on February 28, 2002, to come home. The nightmare for many continue. The masterminds: the main culprits still roam with impunity and immunity. It was, indeed, one of the bloodiest chapters of post-independent India.
Certainly, the only one presided over and engineered by those responsible for protecting the lives and property of ordinary citizens. Sadly, it is still not a closed chapter. It was no ordinary riot: it was the Gujarat Genocide of 2002!
After fifteen years, many may agree that there must be healing; but for that to take place, the victim-survivors have to experience the triumph of truth and justice. A painful reality can never be swept under the carpet. The wheels of justice have moved in some cases but the judiciary has still to prove that it serves the cause of justice alone; a good section of the media in India has been bought up and compromised and can no longer be impartial and objective. Fatigue does set.
Moreover (as we see in Delhi University today), the fascist and fundamentalist forces responsible for what happened in 2002 and are still blatantly at work in the country. True there have been several convictions, thanks to the dogged determination of human rights stalwarts like Teesta Setalvad and others.
Very ironically, the one who presided over the Gujarat Genocide, ‘rules’ the country today. That is a sad and bitter truth. The mayhem and murder of innocent men, women and children; rapes, arson, loot, displacement and denigration of thousands of Muslims – just does not seem to have mattered. It all seemed part of a game in which one scores brownie points.
Your dastardly deeds gain legitimacy through the ballot box. After all, Hitler succeeded immensely because of the lies, myths and half-truths dished out by Goebbels, his Propaganda Minister. Tragically, a similar story here!
It was certainly very unfortunate that fifty-nine persons lost their lives when the S-G coach of the Sabarmati Express caught fire on February 27, 2002, just outside the Godhra Railway Station. The whole truth on what caused the fire is still not out.
Nothing else happened for more than twenty-four hours after that; not in Gujarat, not anywhere else in India. Sadly, enough from the afternoon of February 28th, began those dark and violent days, which would make any human being to squirm and to hang one’s head down in shame.
In December 2003, the then Chief Justice of India VN Khare presiding over a Divisional Bench of the Supreme Court criticized the Government of Gujarat saying, “I have no faith left in the prosecution and the Gujarat Government. I am not saying Article 356. You have to protect people and punish the guilty. What else is raj dharma? You quit if you cannot prosecute the guilty.”
Some years later in February 2012 in a landmark ruling, the Acting Chief Justice of Gujarat Bhaskar Bhattacharya, very emphatically stated, “Gujarat government’s inadequate response and inaction (to contain the riots) resulted in an anarchic situation which continued unabated for days on… the state cannot shirk from its responsibilities”.
In the context of the many cases and the fact that several fingers were pointing to the connivance of the Modi Government, the Supreme Court of India appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into certain cases, very specially a complaint made by Zakia Jafri with regard to the murder of her husband, the former Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri and several others.
It is common knowledge that the SIT played a very dubious and partisan role in key cases. The SITs Final Report was also challenged. It had just too many grey areas with gaping loopholes. It went all out to protect the masterminds of this carnage. Whatever that Report said or did not say, the complicity and the culpability of the powerful and of certain vested interests, has never ever been doubted.
There have been numerous efforts to consign Gujarat 2002 to the fires of history. Efforts have been made, by the most powerful in the land to buy up people and to coopt others, to denigrate those who fought relentlessly for justice on behalf of the victim survivors.
There are certainly the loud, shrill voices, who try to legitimize what happened in those bloody days. They provide all kinds of justification (however, weak) “2002 was just an aberration in fact a distraction”; “look at the way, we have progressed since; the roads, the shopping malls, the riverfront, the flyovers...in fact all the industrialists want to come only to Gujarat”; “didn’t they deserve it, after all, they are but terrorists”; “why is the same importance not being given to the massacre of the Sikhs in 1984 and for that matter, to the Hindu pundits in Kashmir?”; “We Muslims need to move on…”
The rationalisations are typical. They come from the unaffected, the ‘educated’ elite and from those who are afraid to deal with the past. Statements like these are often enveloped in a fear, which stills rules the roost.
There are reprisals, there is revenge, and the powers stop at nothing. Remember the murder of former minister Haren Pandya, who testified before the ‘Citizens Tribunal’? A sizeable section of the population is terribly afraid of the plain truth. Many also suffer from selective amnesia! However, Gujarat 2002 is not forgotten
Human Rights Defenders, who have taken up cudgels on behalf of the victim-survivors and take a stand for truth and justice – have been hounded and harassed no end. What is still happening to Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand is a case in point. False cases are foisted; all kinds of lies and half-truths are fabricated.
Teesta, however, has been relentless. Last month her memoirs, ‘Foot Solider of the Constitution’- was published. It makes compelling reading: of how one woman in the pursuit of justice and truth has taken on the might of the State. It is a must-read for all wish to preserve and promote the sanctity of our Constitution.
In New Delhi, on February 28, several concerned citizens gathered together as a remembrance of 15 Years of the Gujarat Genocide. Zakia Jafri and her daughter Nishrin were there – reliving painful memories; Teesta Setalvad and Shabnam Hashmi; Harsh Mander and Apoorvanand; Manoj Jha and several others, who have stood resolute in their struggle for justice.
One thing is clear, that the resilience of several victim-survivors and the heartaches and cries of strong women like Zakiaben and Rupaben will never go unheard! They will be vindicated! Fifteen years to date; but history has proved that however slow things are, truth, is always a non-negotiable! Above all, it is not for nothing our national motto is ‘Satyameva Jayate!’ Truth will triumph!
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* Indian human rights activist, formerly based in Ahmedabad as director, Prashant; currently in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications

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