Speaking out

In the wake of the Gujarat carnage, civil society has largely remained silent. MARI MARCEL THEKAEKARA calls for voices to speak against the outrage and to fight the forces of communalism.

Evidence that the carnage in Gujarat was State-sponsored remains irrefutable.

WHY has civil society not responded to the Gujarat pogrom as it did to the earthquake? The question has been asked by several people. A deafening silence is the answer. I have just returned from Gujarat as part of a special Women's Commission. Our much maligned press was heroic in this instance. They refrained from publishing all the gory details. They didn't want the country to go up in flames. The Muslims of Gujarat are a broken people.

Hindu journalists and intellectuals, the fact finding teams who returned from Gujarat, are horrified and traumatised by what they saw and heard. It is my belief that 95 per cent of Hindu India feels this way. However, it is about time that we stand up and announce to the world, and more importantly to ourselves and our children, that India is not the BJP, VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal. That these messiahs of the politics of hate, wrenching apart the fabric of secular India do not represent the Hindu majority. That Hinduism does not ask its followers to kill non-believers, rape women and burn little children alive. Women we interviewed told of being gang raped by monsters who forced them to say "Jai Sri Ram". What kind of warped, sick mind would defile their religion and their God so unspeakably?

The BJP government accuses the media of trivialising the Godhra carnage. But this was the work of a handful of hoodlums, terrorists or just plain criminals. The carnage that ensued in Gujarat was State-sponsored terror. The evidence is irrefutable. Yet the media held back from publishing the really horrendous pictures and accounts of the unbelievable cruelty that followed. I saw these and was silenced.

The media can be gliby dismissed as pseudo-secular. But this is what Professor K. N. Panikkar, Vice-Chancellor, Shree Shankracharya Vidyapeeth, Kochi, had to say: "What happened in Ahmedabad and other towns and villages in Gujarat is not a spontaneous action. The methods used for destruction of life and property pre-suppose a fairly well-organised preparation. It is clear that many incidents during these last ten days could not have happened without such a preparation. In a way it indicates a long-term process of communalisation and brutalisation of society. A major issue which society has to face is the influence of brutality, which appears to have conquered the minds of men. This is the result of the systematic and long-term atrocities of communal organisations and heightened by the irrational and emotional coercion of the people by both the VHP and the RSS."

A way out from this pathology of violence is not easy to find. But society cannot survive unless a solution to this is immediately found. That this has happened in the city of Mahatma Gandhi, the laboratory of non-violence and tolerance, is a sad occurrence.

Intellectuals and some individuals in Gujarat who believe in Gandhiji's legacy, live in an atmosphere where to speak even remotely of being secular or to express ordinary human sympathy for the victims of the carnage is to bring down the wrath of the community on one's head. That is how totally sick society has become in Gujarat.

To counteract this and to show our Muslims that the entire country has not gone the way of Gujarat, we need to respond immediately. I would urge leaders of communities, religious leaders, business leaders and individuals to come forward immediately to show the victims of Gujarat that we care.

Deepak Parekh, Chairman of HDFC, has come out with an open condemnation of the Modi regime. So did Harsh Mander, an IAS officer currently CEO of ActionAid India. These people, like Professor Pannikar, enjoy greater credibility than writers or human rights activists. Because they do not normally or easily come out stridently against Chief Ministers. This has now to be converted to action for a healing process to begin. Each of the people I mentioned above, is a concerned Hindu. The face of real India. But this gets obscured because the hate mongers shout louder.

In the Shah Alam camp that I visited, the relief work is being done by Muslim leaders with some aid from NGO's and charities. Women and men who before Godhra, were wealthy or middle class, sit there without a change of clothes. Money is needed desperately. The victims who have lost everyone and this time not by a natural calamity, but by acts of hatred and immense cruelty, sit there traumatised and dazed. They more than anyone else, are desperately in need of counselling. They need compassion and love. Healing.

Let India respond as she has done before. Most people don't know where to begin. Having returned from Gujarat, I met people who have plunged into relief and rescue work and are doing a brilliant job. Money can be sent to the Gujarat Education Society, Prashant, Hill Naga, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in-Road, Ahmedabad-380052, Gujarat.

Most of us feel ashamed and guilty. Our generation now bears the taint that Hitler's silent majority has to carry through history. We can fight back. And we must. Not with murder, trishuls and talwars. But by acting immediately to show we are not with them. It is our only chance to redeem our country, to save it from being wrenched apart. It is our only chance to redeem our souls.