Communal violence is not new in India. This has existed all along. Despite India adopting the word ‘Secular’ in its constitution, religious tolerance yet remains a dream. Individuals, communal organisations, political parties have in some form or the other played a role in perpetrating communal violence all along. Adoption of ‘Secularism’ has not resulted in a communal free behaviour among the Institutions. The example of Gujarat 2002 remains a classic example where communal ideas, communal organisations, communal propaganda came together to create a mayhem of religious genocide. This was instigated by the State, which was to protect the basic values of the Constitution including Secularism.
Gujarat 2002 evokes different responses. For the perpetrators of the violence, it was a way to teach a lesson to the minorities to accept the majoritarian goondaraj, for minorities it was an experience where permanent wound was inflicted through violence and fear psychosis, for the secular elements it was a complete breakdown of the functioning of state institutions in protecting secular values and a dark phase in Indian Democracy.
While the damage has been done through Gujarat violence, the task however remains that for delivering justice to victims of Gujarat violence. The book titled ‘Foot Soldier of the Constitution – A Memoir’ by Teesta Setalvad represents her struggle for justice for the victims of Gujarat 2002 violence. Born in a family where subsequent generations undertook legal practice and worked in judicial institutions and growing up in a liberal environment, she imbibed the values as thrust upon by the Constitution. Though she chose a different path of journalism, technical acumen to legal aspects was natural to her.
Setalvad’s association with reportage of communal violence began in 1984 itself through coverage of Bhiwandi communal violence in Mumbai during 1984. This was followed with engagement with Mumbai riots in 1993. It was during coverage of 1984 violence, she also came in touch with Javed who extensively covered the violence. Each of the instances revealed the partisan behaviour of police and state agencies. In the context of Cosmopolitan Mumbai, Shiv Sena had laid foundations for a parochial communal rhetoric.
Communal violence witnessed an increase in the country in the 1980s with the rise of Hindutva politics. In Gujarat too the seeds of communal mindset were strongly laid by RSS and VHP during the 1980s. By the 1990s there was a strong undercurrent of anti-Muslim sentiment. 2002 was only a result of the continual communal propaganda carried out by the Saffron clique. Across the country too, this was seen. In Assam, one can find the 1983 anti-Muslim Nellie massacre. While media questioned 1984 anti-sikh riots in relation to 2002 Gujarat violence, it failed to talk of Nellie massacre which was committed by majoritarian community. Anti-social elements in minorities were glorified to build a stereotypical image of the minorities. This was by excluding the larger image of the population who tended to be secular.
Teesta’s struggle against communal violence as a Journalist was spread across her stint in The Daily, later Indian Express and Business India. She later established her own Sabrang Communications and its magazine Communalism Combat which offered deeper explanations to communal incidents in the country. It went into the context of eruption of communal incidents and its fallout. It also took up issues related to victims of communal incidents.
While Dadri, Latehar or Una were later developments, the foundations of the same were laid in Gujarat. Cow terrorism of Gau Rakshaks was prevalent from much earlier in Gujarat. Muslim festivals such as Bakri Id were used to mobilise Hindu sentiments against them. The perpetrators of majoritarian communalism were made immune from punishment. A culture of impunity was created.
Setalwad points that Indian Constitution remains a threat for the aspirants of Hindu Rashtra. Hence they subvert into the institutions. They segregate cities and communities along religious lines. They felicitate the perpetrators of violence. The discriminatory behaviour of the state also finds its reflection in events such as offering disaster relief as was found during Bhuj earthquake. Certain caste and religious communities were excluded in getting relief. Social textbooks were used as a means to teach prejudice.
Referring to Post-Godhra violence, she points that Godhra incident was used only as a means for communal mobilisation by the State. Towards this corpses were paraded, mobs were instigated. Violence was encouraged. When Gujarat violence finally broke out, calls for help was ignored. Police remained a mute spectator similar to the one in Naroda Patiya and Gulberg incidents. Gujarat ethnocide was only a trigger for what was planned for long. In the violence, weapons, chemicals and cylinders were used. Bombs, guns and weaponry were procured long back. Instances of minority women being stripped off clothes and abused, instances of rapes, families being massacred, babies being cut and bruised, muslim business enterprises being targeted was part of the acts performed by Hindutva forces. Even a Parliamentarian was killed. Dead bodies were a reflection of the level of religious hatred and dehumanization. In the violence, about 1, 68,000 were internally displaced, 2,000 killed, homes of 18,000 urban and 11,000 rural families destroyed. Violence was reported from 993 villages, and 153 of the 182 assembly constituencies. Hate propaganda in the form of anonymous pamphlets and audio-visual material were widely distributed preceding the genocide.
The response of Saffron forces is to deny the happenings of Gujarat violence on the one hand and glorify the Godhra incident. What is not pointed out is that during the journey in Sabarmati, the RSS-VHP-Bajrang dal was instigating the passengers with a violent communal rhetoric. Post-Godhra, instances of Modi instructing police, senior cabinet colleagues and administrators through statements such as a) ‘Now the Hindus will awake’ b) ‘Hindu reaction was to be expected and this must not be curtailed or controlled’ c) to allow ‘people to vent their frustration and not come in the way of the Hindu backlash’ as instances of encouraging violence is never revealed. The period also saw the clear bias of the state against minorities. There was abdication of responsibilities meant to protect lives. So are the instances of Gulberg, Naroda and Sardarpura. The violence had led to shameful destruction of the Muslim community at the physical, emotional, economic, cultural and religious level.
The struggle for justice for victims of Gujarat violence is being carried out by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) over the past fifteen years. Legal actions and litigations are being used as means to rebuild confidence in rule of law. About sixty eight legal initiatives, petitions and interventions have been supported. These were related to relief camps, complaints of mass carnage, compensation claim cases, hate speech cases, criminal conspiracy, mass murder, manslaughter and others. Concerned citizen’s tribunal (CCT) was formed consisting of eminent human rights activists, judges and social activists. It was to capture testimonies of survivors, perpetrators and officials. The CCT was able to gather rich evidence and testimonials including those related to state role in instigating violence.
During fight for justice, threat tactics were used against all those who stood for justice. Vehicles used by CJP were attacked, constant surveillance of those who testified before the Tribunal was carried out. Even the Judges of High court who were to deliver justice were physically attacked. Chief justice of High court had to move to Muslim majority area as there was no faith in the law and order machinery. Instances of state buying out people were also common. The Raghavan led Special Investigating Team (SIT) and lawyers of post Godhra accused being paid handsomely and provided special assignments with high fees was part of buying out. This was including for those battling CJP on Zakia Jafri case. On the other hand, those fighting were threatened. CJP was charged with violating FCRA norms, accused of becoming a threat to ‘national security’.
Despite the 2002, ‘Normalization’ and ‘strong leadership’ was used as the basis for the creation of a new Prime Minister nominee. In the Vibrant Gujarat summit 2008, Business leaders threw Modi as a potential prime ministerial candidate.
The author expresses that Gujarat reflects a state of unchallenged state power, which is not challenged by the political class. Political parties have stood little with the struggle for justice. Despite the scandalous exposures and evidence on the conspiracy behind the genocide, institutional democracy in India has so far left Modi and his co-conspirators relatively untouched. In the struggle for justice, while the likes of Babu Bajrangi and accused of post godha killings roam free, innocents accused on godhra continue to be in jails despite lack of evidence.
What happened in Gujarat was merely an experiment. The same is being replicated across the country. A communal divide is being built through ‘Love Jihad’, ‘Ghar Vapsi’ and now ‘Gau Raksha’. These are being used as terminologies to justify mass, targeted violence.
The book by Teesta is a caution call for all those who stand for Justice and secularism. Gujarat provides enough evidence of how the mainstreaming of a communal ideology can play havoc with people. It shows how a fascist ideology manipulates institutions and constitutional principles to establish its bias and discriminatory behaviour in the name of religion. The book is an essential reading for those to understand the reality of Gujarat 2002.
T. Navin has done his M.Phil in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). He works with an NGO as a Researcher.