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Fwd: A Must Read: Brillinat article on the Indian situation by an Indian IAS OfficeR!
by Saima Alvi
25 March 2002 08:05 UTC
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Posted from www.ncasindia.org 

(a website of National Centre for Advocacy Studies located at Serenity 
Complex, Ramnagar Colony, Pashan, Pune 411 021, India. Tel.: 91+020-

p.s. in case u dont want to read the entire article, then read from fifth 
para onwards.

Reflections on the Gujarat massacre

By Harsh Mander

(The writer, is a serving IAS Officer, who is working on deputation with a 
development organisation)

Numbed with disgust and horror, I return from Gujarat ten days after the
terror and massacre that convulsed the state. My heart is sickened, my
soul wearied, my shoulders aching with the burdens of guilt and shame. As
you walk through the camps of riot survivors in Ahmedabad, in which an
estimated 53,000 women, men, and children are huddled in 29 temporary
settlements, displays of overt grief are unusual. People clutch small
bundles of relief materials, all that they now own in the world, with dry
and glassy eyes. Some talk in low voices, others busy themselves with the
tasks of everyday living in these most basic of shelters, looking for
food and milk for children, tending the wounds of the injured. But once
you sit anywhere in these camps, people begin to speak and their words
are like masses of pus released by slitting large festering wounds. The
horrors that they speak of are so macabre, that my pen falters in the
writing. The pitiless brutality against women and small children by
organised bands of armed young men is more savage than anything witnessed
in the riots that have shamed this nation from time to time during the
past century.

I force myself to write a small fraction of all that I heard and saw, 
because it is important that we all know. Or maybe also because I need to 
share my own burdens.

What can you say about a woman eight months pregnant who begged to be
spared? Her assailants instead slit open her stomach, pulled out her
foetus and slaughtered it before her eyes. What can you say about a
family of nineteen being killed by flooding their house with water and
then electrocuting them with high-tension electricity?

What can you say? A small boy of six in Juhapara camp described how his
mother and six brothers and sisters were battered to death before his
eyes. He survived only because he fell unconscious, and was taken for
dead. A family escaping from Naroda-Patiya, one of the worst-hit
settlements in Ahmedabad, spoke of losing a young woman and her three
month old son, because a police constable directed her to `safety' and
she found herself instead surrounded by a mob which doused her with
kerosene and set her and her baby on fire. I have never known a riot
which has used the sexual subjugation of women so widely as an instrument
of violence in the recent mass barbarity in Gujarat. There are reports
every where of gang-rape, of young girls and women, often in the presence
of members of their families, followed by their murder by burning alive,
or by bludgeoning with a hammer and in one case with a screw driver.
Women in the Aman Chowk shelter told appalling stories about how armed
men disrobed themselves in front of a group of terrified women to cower
them down further. 

In Ahmedabad, most people I met - social workers,journalists, survivors - 
agree that what Gujarat witnessed was not a riot, but a terrorist attack 
followed by a systematic, planned massacre, a pogrom. Everyone spoke of the 
pillage and plunder, being organised like a military operation against an 
external armed enemy. An initial truck would arrive broadcasting 
inflammatory slogans, soon followed by more trucks which disgorged young 
men, mostly in khaki shorts and saffron sashes. They were armed with 
sophisticated explosive materials, country weapons, daggers and trishuls. 
They also carried water bottles, to sustain them in their exertions. The 
leaders were seen communicating on mobile telephones from the riot venues, 
receiving instructions from and reporting back to a co-ordinating centre. 
Some were seen with documents and computer sheets listing Muslim families 
and their properties. They had detailed precise knowledge about buildings 
and businesses held by members of the minority community, such as who were 
partners say in a restaurant business, or which Muslim homes had Hindu 
spouses who should be spared in the violence.

This was not a spontaneous upsurge of mass anger. It was a carefully
planned pogrom.

The trucks carried quantities of gas cylinders. Rich Muslim homes and
business establishments were first systematically looted, stripped down
of all their valuables, then cooking gas was released from cylinders into
the buildings for several minutes. A trained member of the group then lit
the flame which efficiently engulfed the building. In some cases,
acetylene gas which is used for welding steel, was employed to explode
large concrete buildings. Mosques and dargahs were razed, and were
replaced by statues of Hanuman and saffron flags. Some dargahs in
Ahmedabad city crossings have overnight been demolished and their sites
covered with road building material, and bulldozed so efficiently that
these spots are
indistinguishable from the rest of the road. Traffic now plies over these
former dargahs, as though they never existed.

The unconscionable failures and active connivance of the state police and
administrative machinery is also now widely acknowledged. The police is
known to have misguided people straight into the hands of rioting mobs.
They provided protective shields to crowds bent on pillage, arson, rape
and murder, and were deaf to the pleas of the desperate Muslim victims,
many of them women and children. There have been many reports of police
firing directly mostly at the minority community, which was the target of
most of the mob violence. The large majority of arrests are also from the
same community which was the main victim of the pogrom.

As one who has served in the Indian Administrative Service for over two
decades, I feel great shame at the abdication of duty of my peers in the
civil and police administration. The law did not require any of them to
await orders from their political supervisors before they organised the
decisive use of force to prevent the brutal escalation of violence, and
to protect vulnerable women and children from the organised, murderous
mobs. The law instead required them to act independently, fearlessly,
impartially, decisively, with courage and compassion. If even one
official had so acted in Ahmedabad, she or he could have deployed the
police forces and called in the army to halt the violence and protect the
people in a matter of hours. No riot can continue beyond a few hours
without the active connivance of the local police and magistracy. The
blood of hundreds of innocents is on the hands of the police and civil
authorities of Gujarat, and by sharing in a conspiracy of silence, on the
entire higher bureaucracy of the country. I have heard senior officials
blame also the communalism of the police constabulary for their
connivance in the violence. This too is a thin and disgraceful alibi. The
same forces have been known to act with impartiality and courage when led
by officers of professionalism and integrity. The failure is clearly of
the leadership of the police and civil services, not of the subordinate
men and women in khaki who are trained to obey their orders.

Where also, amidst this savagery, injustice, and human suffering is the
`civil society', the Gandhians, the development workers, the NGOs, the
fabled spontaneous Gujarathi philanthropy which was so much in evidence
in the earthquake in Kutch and Ahmedabad? The newspapers reported that at
the peak of the pogrom, the gates of Sabarmati Asram were closed to
protect its properties, it should instead have been the city's major
sanctuary. Which Gandhian leaders, or NGO managers, staked their lives to
halt the death-dealing throngs? It is one more shame that we as citizens of 
this country must carry on our already burdened backs, that the camps for 
the Muslim riot victims in Ahmedabad are being run almost exclusively by
Muslim organisations. It is as though the monumental pain, loss, betrayal
and injustice suffered by the Muslim people is the concern only of other
Muslim people, and the rest of us have no share in the responsibility to
assuage, to heal and rebuild. The state, which bears the primary
responsibility to extend both protection and relief to its vulnerable
citizens, was nowhere in evidence in any of the camps, to manage,
organise the security, or even to provide the resources that are required
to feed the tens of thousands of defenceless women, men and children
huddled in these camps for safety.

The only passing moments of pride and hope that I experienced in Gujarat,
were when I saw men like Mujid Ahmed and women like Roshan Bahen who
served in these camps with tireless, dogged humanism amidst the ruins
around them. In the Aman Chowk camp, women blessed the young band of
volunteers who worked from four in the morning until after midnight to
ensure that none of their children went without food or milk, or that
their wounds remained untended. Their leader Mujid Ahmed is a graduate,
his small chemical dyes factory has been burnt down, but he has had no
time to worry about his own loss. Each day he has to find 1600 kilograms
of foodgrain to feed some 5000 people who have taken shelter in the camp.
The challenge is even greater for Roshan Bahen, almost 60, who wipes her
eyes each time she hears the stories of horror by the residents in
Juapara camp. But she too has no time for the luxuries of grief or anger.
She barely sleeps, as her volunteers, mainly working class Muslim women
and men from the humble tenements around the camp, provide temporary
toilets, food and solace to the hundreds who have gathered in the grounds
of a primary school to escape the ferocity of merciless mobs.

As I walked through the camps, I wondered what Gandhiji would have done
in these dark hours. I recall the story of the Calcutta riots, when
Gandhi was fasting for peace. A Hindu man came to him, to speak of his
young boy who had been killed by Muslim mobs, and of the depth of his
anger and longing for revenge. And Gandhi is said to have replied: If you
really wish to overcome your pain, find a young boy, just as young as
your son, a Muslim boy whose parents have been killed by Hindu mobs.
Bring up that boy like you would your own son, but bring him up with the
Muslim faith to which he was born. Only then will you find that you can
heal your pain, your anger, and your longing for retribution.

There are no voices like Gandhi's that we hear today. Only discourses on
Newtonian physics, to justify vengeance on innocents. We need to find
these voices within our own hearts, we need to believe enough in justice,
love, tolerance. There is much that the murdering mobs in Gujarat have
robbed from me. One of them is a song I often sang with pride and
conviction. The words of the song are:

Sare jahan se achha Hindustan hamara… It is a song I will never be able
to sing again.

Saima Alvi
Research Assistant
Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)
Opposite Sector U, DHA, Lahore-54792
Tel.: 5722670-79; Ext.: 2165

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