Trauma: Can it be compensated?

GAGAN1By Gagan Sethi*

The aftermath of the Golana massacre of January 26, 1986 gave a fillip to the Dalit movement in Gujarat. Golana had already become a pilgrimage site, especially for the Dalits who would visit the Samadhi, set up by us to commemorate the death of our colleagues. Meanwhile, the Gujarat government had begun distributing compensation to those whose houses were burnt, or were partially destroyed, and also to those who were injured.

The year was 1987. Things began becoming piquant. While the whole community had suffered the trauma, the compensation was being paid just for physical damage.

We found that some members of the Dalit community became extremely angry, even jealous. Some even aired the view that they had unnecessarily invited the ire of the upper caste Darbars, who were actually their benefactors. The Darbar landlords had stopped calling them to work on agricultural fields. And, the moneylenders wouldn’t give them loan.

Things reached such a point that two youngsters thought they would take law in their own hands. It was dark in the night. They burnt their own houses, and claimed that there was another attack on them!

We rushed to the village. The cops were posted all over, as the spot of the incident had been put under special protection. Martin Macwan, my colleague and friend, who later started Dalit rights organization, Navsarjan, went to the Vankar Vas, where the Dalits lived, and met the two young men. They looked miserable.

Yet, we were guided by a sense of disbelief. I thought that nobody from the upper caste would have the gumption to repeat what they had done a year earlier. I looked at Martin, and he was also shaking his head.

Both of us decided to play the game of prisoners’ dilemma. I took one of them in a room and accused him of doing it himself. He denied it in spite of several attempts at cajoling. I asked him: Was he provoked by others? When he kept denying, I pushed him out of the room.

At this point, Martin pushed the other person in. I accused the second person now of doing it, and even told him that his colleague had admitted it. He immediately started begging for mercy, saying it was not his but the other person’s idea, and that the only reason why he burned his house was he also needed compensation.

The game was up, and we had to deal with it by talking over to the then district authorities.

There was the need to understand that individuating relief when the entire community was affected could produce jealousy and greed, and that it was important that the whole community — which had struggled for land — was given plots under the Indira Awas Yojna to build their houses.

D Jagatheesa Pandian, current Gujarat chief secretary, was then district development officer (DDO) of Kheda. He understood the situation and sanctioned plots under the Indira Awas Yojana to each family of the Vankar Vas.

This was for the first time that we were confronted with an issue related with payment of compensation in an incident like this. Issues of similar nature would be happening in the aftermath of communal incidents, too. Giving so-called ex gratia to a few “affected” families based on physical damage can indeed induce negative energy.

The lesson learnt was: The entire policy of paying compensation needs to be reviewed. It is necessary to understand that when an entire community is attacked, individuals face physical damage. But alongside physical damage is trauma and insecurity faced by the community.

There is indeed a need to rethink individual vs communitarian framework in the relationship between state and citizens.

**Founder of Janvikas & Centre for Social justice. This article first appeared in DNA

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