Mari Marcel Thekaekara reports from Ahmedabad on the week-long commemoration of the Gujarat genocide, and the violence that will not go away
Gulbarg Society, Ahmedabad, scene of violence, bloodshed and carnage in 2002, was an appropriate venue to remind us in 2012, 10 years after the communal violence, of how human beings can descend to unbelievably chilling acts of evil anywhere, anytime. How else can one comprehend the logic of a mob attacking innocent unarmed people, hacking them to pieces, killing children in retaliation for another evil act -- the burning alive of innocent people (in the Sabarmati Express coach) by a totally different set of men?
On February 27, 2012, Teesta Setalvad, social activist, announced the opening of the Gulbarg Society Exhibition to commemorate and honour the memory of the 59 Hindu victims of the charred Sabarmati coach at Godhra, the over 2,000 Muslim victims, and the people who hid and saved the lives of Muslims fleeing from mobs.
It’s a busy, noisy neighbourhood. But as you enter the once vibrant housing colony, a pall of gloom descends on everyone. It’s an abandoned, derelict place. Dirty, dry, dusty. If it wasn’t for the crowds now assembled here, the macabre sight of the blackened, burnt out shells of mainly Muslim homes would send a shiver down your spine. If you'd read accounts of the carnage you would know that there was blood everywhere. Torn, brutalised body parts and limbs ripped asunder. It doesn't take much imagination, the images push themselves to the surface of your consciousness, unbidden. Muslim women sit in front of their former homes praying, weeping, keening. A woman sobs quietly. “They killed her three children and husband. She is alone now,” someone whispers to me.
What is going through their minds now, I wonder. Death and the loss of loved ones renders us inconsolable ordinarily. How can one begin to comprehend the feelings, the emotions these people are going through ? How can they forget? How can they forgive?
Binaifer, a Parsi girl, drives to the memorial with us. Her family lived in the Gulbarg colony too. Her 13-year-old brother Azhar went missing sometime when the mob arrived. He'd have been 23 years old now. Her mother Rupa Mody has been on a 10-year frantic search for the boy. The agony of not knowing if your child is alive or dead is intolerable, the anguish, unimaginable.
The memorial, Insaf Ki Dagar Par (on the path of justice) is a week-long programme by 30 organisations to highlight the grim reality of the 2002 carnage. A few hundred victims' families are present, along with activists, eminent judges, lawyers, police personnel, writers, poets, playwrights, filmmakers and NGOs from all over the country. This is secular India, gathered here in solidarity with the victims. The demand is for justice. Nothing more, nothing less. Without it there can be no closure.
There are loudspeakers, TV cameras, journalists galore. The survivors share their stories yet again. Maybe the repetition provides catharsis, a way to cope with grief.
Photographs of the Sabarmati Express Hindu victims and the Muslim dead are displayed on the derelict walls. Each picture is a sword piercing our collective conscience. I see a child as young as four, babies, vulnerable old people, very young girls and boys. An enormous banner proclaims, ‘There is no outrage. The screams died long ago. The pain is scratched into the surfaces of these walls. Fire burns, but does not always cleanse.’
The ambience is eerie. There is sombre music from different quarters. Luminaries float around. Mallika Sarabhai, obviously a star. Filmmakers Rakesh Sharma. Rahul Dholakia of Parzania fame (whose film was based on Azhar, the missing boy). Anand Patwardhan's film were to be screened.
An impressively bearded bishop, complete with cap and scarlet sash, arrives to show solidarity and sympathy. It’s unusual for a Catholic bishop to be publicly condemnatory. But Bishop Thomas Macwan did not mince words: “Those responsible must be brought to book. It is shameful that in Gandhi's Gujarat, always a peaceful, harmonious place, this violence occurred. It’s a jolt to the image of our state. Justice will be served only if those who lost their property and homes can have this restored to them. Otherwise we will never have peace and harmony in Gujarat again.”
Former DGP Shree Kumar, a gutsy cop, hit the headlines for daring to openly implicate CM Narendra Modi. “The Gujarat police force is demoralised, ashamed of the image they now suffer because of Modi. I was an intelligence man. Police officers bring me information. Modi can be convicted under sections 166, 186 and 187. Dereliction of duty, preventing legally empowered people from doing their duty. Serious questions must be asked. Why were minutes of important meetings not kept? How can monitoring happen without minutes? I have submitted nine affidavits exposing the government's complicity in perpetrating this genocide. I am a practicing Hindu. I believe in my duty, in the rule of law. ”
Muslim maulvis sit in a huddle. Religious leaders seem abundantly evident. A Sufi music evening will follow the victims' declarations. A poet's gathering, a kavi sammelan a few days later. There are theatre personalities. Films and music and poetry for a week. Interspersed with seminars, conferences, speakers. It should be a festival really, but with the charred buildings in the background, the underlying ambience is sad, an atmosphere of mourning, the grim reality of 2002. The deep sadness of the genocide permeates the air, even 10 years later.
Another banner proclaims ‘Trauma refuses to go away. My child sleeps with me, waking up again and again screaming. The violence never goes away.’
Somehow, that sad stark statement sums up the remains of this day, February 22, 2012, 10 years after.
Infochange News & Features, March 2012