23 February 2003

A sad story of hatred

23 February 2003

A sad story of hatred

Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy
Edited by Siddharth Varadarajan
Penguin, 2002.

Reviewed by Sidharth Bhatia


Gujarat state in India was so far known for the leaders who came from
there - Gandhi, Jinnah and Patel among them, for the enteprenuerial
spirit of its natives and for its high growth rate. Since exactly a
year ago, the name of the state has become synonymous with possibly
the worst example of communal riots in independent India.

Not that India has not seen religious troubles and anti-minority
violence. But the 2002 riots were different. They were executed with
clinical precision and moreover, the state and its arms emerged as
actors in the violence. The riots, which have also been called
genocide and a pogrom, were the result of not merely state
inefficiency, but worse, state complicity.

There has been enough documentation to show that top functionaries of
the state, whose task it was to protect the lives of citizens,
instead, through their acts of omission and commission, allowed the
violence to proceed unabated. Not surprisingly they resulted in the
death of between 1000 and 2000 innocent people, depending on whose
version you believe. The report of Human Rights Watch, called "we have
no orders to save you", which is apparently a quote of a police
officer, has done a fine job of documenting the killings.

Now comes a book, Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, which provides not
only a record of sorts of the events leading upto the week long danse
macabre, but also contextualizes the entire episode by looking at the
socio-cultural profile of a province which till the other day was
being held out as an example of model growth.

Edited by journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, whose paper The Times of
India , like many others, did a fine job of covering the entire story,
the book is divided into three broad sections: The violence, the
aftermath and general essays and analyses which range from the
romantic to the quasi-academic.

All the pieces add up together to a horrific tragedy which in a sense
was almost inevitable, given the breakdown of the old social orders in
Gujarat accompanied by the unchecked, indeed, encouraged, emergence of
the forces of hatred and divisiveness.

But it is also a sad story of the collapse of simple law and order, of
a state which simply decided to abdicate its most fundamental
responsibility, namely, the protection of all its citizens, especially
the minorities. The brutal killings, lootings, rape and even hacking
of children make for horrific reading and cannot be justified on any

This comes through over and over again. In "License to Kill: Patterns
of Violence in Gujarat", academic Nandini Sundar examines many cases
of violence which show that the police simply failed to, or worse,
neglected to perform their duties. It is axiomatic, she writes, that
the mass violence perpetrated by the Sangh Parivar (the common name by
which forces of Hindutva are called) could not have been perpetrated
on Muslims without the indulgence or even active support of the

She also writes about a fascinating new trend, which this reviewer had
seen in an incipient stage a decade ago in Mumbai. That was the
emergence of well-heeled looters and rioters who come out to "join the
fun"; they are a kind of lumpen bourgeoisie, materially comfortable
but sans any cultural moorings, who seem to lose their values and
civic sense in such moments.

Jyoti Punwani has done an excellent job of reporting on the burning of
the train in Godhra, in which 58 Hindus died, and which lit the spark
of "revenge" among "ordinary" Hindus who then went out to kill
Muslims. But, as Sundar has shown, the reprisals were hardly
spontaneous, given that the perpetrators had lists of Muslim homes and
businesses and erupted in more than one city.

Another interesting development was the participation of tribals and
dalits in the violence, often in rural areas, where social bonds are
somewhat deeper. For this, one ought to read the essay by G.N. Devy of
the Tribal Academy of Gujarat who writes about how tribals, who do not
belong to any organized mainstream religion, have succumbed to
Hindutva propagandists who have slowly made inroads into villages.

Sociologist Ghanshyam Shah in an insightful essay makes much the same
point in regard to upper caste Hindu efforts to co-opt lower caste
Hindus into the anti-minority agenda, without disturbing the status
quo casteist structure. All these "experiments" have been carried out
in Gujarat, aided and abetted by massive funding from overseas
Gujaratis, who, like most expatriates, feel out of place in their new
homes and are guilt-ridden about the homelands they left behind.

Fundamentalist religion - in this case Hinduism - then becomes a kind
of security blanket for such non-residents. The Gujarati diaspora and
its financial contribution to Hindutva organizations certainly
deserved a closer look in this book and this analysis is regrettably

The role of the media in Gujarat is another factor that has been
covered but not completely. While the "elite" English media has been
criticized by the BJP and others for allegedly fanning communal
flames, (and there is a fitting reply to that in this book), sections
of the Gujarati media raised passions by lurid banner headlines and
uncorroborated stories, all designed to instil fear and insecurity
among Hindus about the dreaded "other". Perhaps one of those papers
should have been allowed to give their defence of why they covered the
story in the way they did.

The book came out before the Gujarat elections, which have shown that
the Gujarat experiment has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the
Hindutva brigade. After losing the elections galore, the Bharatiya
Janata Party scored handsomely in Gujarat in elections held a few
months after the pogrom.

Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat when it was burning, has
emerged as a new vote catcher for his party; his election formula was
based on painting domestic Muslims as a kind of fifth column for
outside powers and to warn insecure Hindus that their lives were in
danger if they did not vote him in. Proof indeed that Goebbelsian
tactics work even in these times of instant communications and
saturation media. Will this formula work in the rest of India? The
next few months are crucial.

For anyone interested in contemporary India and perhaps even in the
pathology of hate mongering, this is an invaluable book. It takes a
look at this shameful episode in Indian history from all sides and
should even serve as a warning to all right thinking secularists - and
not merely Indian ones - that secularism cannot be taken for granted,
it must be fought for all the time to ensure that the forces of hatred
do not dominate. In India, the liberal elites had fallen into the trap
of thinking that secularism was non-negotiable; as the popularity of
the fundamentalists among the middle classes shows, the enemy lies

Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy

Edited by Siddharth Varadarajan

Penguin India.

For more information log on to www.penguinbooksindia.com

ISBN 043029010

460pp. Indian Rs295

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