07 December 2002

Times of India review of Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, (Ed.) Siddharth Varadarajan

December 7, 2002
The Times of India

Best Reads

Reviewed by Vrinda Nabar


Editor: Siddharth Varadarajan
Publisher: Penguin India

Rating: ****

The book is a collection of articles in three parts ('The Violence', 'The Aftermath', and 'Essays and Analyses') that add up to a numbing dissection of the Gujarat experience.
The single common detail emerging from the whole is that no easy answers can explain what triggered off Godhra, that it was a complex act which shames India's claim to be a secular democracy. As Siddharth Varadarajan says in his excellent and well-researched introduction, 'Chronicle of a tragedy foretold': "For the sake of its soul as a nation, India must reject this corrosive notion of morality which sees in the condemnation of the Gujarat pogrom the diminution of the suffering of the victims of the Godhra carnage, or of other victims of other tragedies."

Recounting the events leading to Godhra, Jyoti Punwani asks a series of troubling questions about the failure of the system as a whole. Her moving account of those who lost their dear ones in 'The carnage at Godhra' is given an added dimension by Nandini Sundar's 'A license to kill' and Teesta Setalvad's 'When guardians betray', both of which expose the collusion of the State administration and the police.

'Nothing new?' takes off on George Fernandes's infamous defence of gender abuse by referring to the events of 1984, and contains contributions by seasoned mediapersons like Barkha Dutt, the evidence of eyewitnesses and the findings of independent teams that visited Gujarat. The horror of this section finds a chilling match in 'Narratives from the killing fields', which also draws on the studies of various citizens groups.

It becomes clear from the other parts of this collection that there has been little significant effort at relief and rehabilitation, that ghettoisation has accelerated, and that February 27 was a turning point in the fragile pluralism of post-Independence India. The last section of the book, which contains brief responses from intellectuals, reaffirms another, liberal tradition that rabid fulminators, our upcoming self-styled nationalists, appear to have erased from memory.

Over the past few months, the Gujarat nightmare has dominated the national consciousness, dividing people along seemingly impenetrable lines. As the debate goes on and the rhetoric of jingoism dogs the forthcoming elections in that State, we are, sadly, no nearer to understanding the tragedy of Godhra and after. This is a disturbing book that I would recommend to every concerned Indian who wishes to ensure that history won't repeat itself.

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