16 February 2003

Nothing but dismay

16 February 2003
The Hindu

Nothing but dismay

Instead of being based on sensational headlines and unsubstantiated conjuctures, Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy is the product of painstaking research, says SOHAIL HASHMI.

THE speed with which books can be put together these days makes one a little dizzy and one approaches any text on unfolding events with some trepidation. Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy came, therefore, as a bit of a surprise. This is a book, that in spite of the speed with which it has been put together, seems not to have suffered the consequences of haste.

Instead of sensational headlines, and unsubstantiated conjuctures, there is painstaking research. Every fact checked and rechecked, every source quoted. The authors are either people who have been there and have recorded what they have seen or are academicians, researchers, social workers or activists. In short, the authors are people who are generally respected in their chosen fields. Some of the pieces are based on reports put together by fact-finding teams; here again one finds that any generalisations made have a basis in hard facts.

Yes there is anger and there well might be. The terrible pogrom and carnage can hardly provoke any other sentiment but rage, a deep-seated hurt that wrenches your insides, occasioning dismay, utter and absolute, at the abysmal depths to which the human animal can reduce itself.

If you want to learn about the capabilities of myopic politicians and born again fanatics riding on the shoulders of packaged and encapsulated religion, read this book.

It will tell you about Juned, a little boy who gets up in his sleep and runs screaming: he is trying to escape those who chopped half his family to pieces including a 11/2-year-old cousin. Where can he run and for how long?

Read also about the planning that went into organising the "Spontaneous Reaction" to the "Conspiracy of Godhra". The surveys that were conducted, the sources that supplied the household bomb — the cooking gas cylinder — and the mobilisation of the tribals.

Read also about the slender threads by which hangs hope and about Geetaben killed for the rime of marrying a Muslim. Read all this and decide if these are only biased rantings of pseudo-secularists, as the mini sardars and their leaders will have us believe, or is there more to it?

This is a document not only of Gujarat; it is, in the words of the editor, also a "Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold" and more. Siddharth Vardarajan, Nandini Sundar, Teesta Setalvad, Vibhuti Narain Rai, Barkha Dutt, The Women's Panel, The PUDR Report and Vrinda Grover, all point to the role of the police and the administration either in abetment or direct involvement, both in the pogroms and then in the efforts to shield the criminals. If such things were possible in this land, this book could become the basis of a Nuremberg.

The book is however not a mere catalogue of dates, incidents, numbers killed and such like. It is like the surgical knife that Manto used in his stories of Partition to slice through the fa├žade of decency of the middle class to expose the festering sores of bigotry and intolerance. The difference is Manto was writing fiction.

The perpetrators of the violence in Gujarat — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal and their cohorts — swear by Golwalkar, known also as Guruji. This revered teacher wrote in 1939 "... Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by."

The Nazi Black Shirts put the Star of David on each house where Jews lived, so that no mistakes were made. The saffron scarved and black savarkar capped disciples of guruji put posters of Hanuman outside every Hindu house with the same objective.

The Khaki shorts have learnt their lesson well. This book is not for them: it may help others to prevent another Gujarat.

Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, edited by Siddharth Varadarajan,

Penguin Books India 2002, p. 460, Rs. 295

Sohail Hashmi is into documentary filmmaking.

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