When riots became a child’s play: I was aghast… How deep was hatred, how casual was it to talk of killing others…

gagan speakBy Gagan Sethi*

The year 2002 has been traumatic in the history of Gujarat. For those of us who have seen communal riots from close quarters ever since 1960s, there have been no winners or losers. Most of these riots may have been triggered by some odd incident. But their impact could be seen in the realignment of physical and economic spaces between communities at war. The state has been found to be wanting for immediacy in action, and yet very soon normalcy would prevail.

The 2002 trigger was the barbarous incident of burning of the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra. Fifty eight people were charred to death. The impact of the incident was even more far-reaching, as this time the state machinery allegedly supported whatever happened in the aftermath of the Sabarmati Express incident.

If the state is perceived as ineffective or inefficient, there is always a hope that justice would prevail. But when the state is seen as the abettor, things are bound to be different.

During the 2002 riots, one of the posters said, “Yeh andar ki baat hai, Police hamare saath hai”. The poster suggested the bravado of the perpetrators of violence, and how it met with accolades. Indeed, the communal divide had been taken to a height.

One of the most glaring instances of this divide was the day when I, along with my senior colleague PGJ Nampoothiri, a former DG of Gujarat, special rapporteur of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), visited relief camps in Ahmedabad to assess the situation. Along with Nampoothiri, I was the only other member of the monitoring committee under NHRC chaired by Justice Verma.

We came out of the relief camp in Shah Alam, which was one of the largest, and we found ourselves surrounded by majority Hindu localities. At the relief camp we had seen death, fear, hopelessness, pain and misery, families still separated ala Parzania style. We wondered how to communicate all this to the NHRC.

As we were still moving on, we passed through a small Hindu basti, where we saw a group of children playing a game. The innocent game was replicating a real life magnum opus, which they had witnessed from the windows of their houses.

The children in fancy dresses with saffron bands, having sticks covered with silver paper, looking like swords and guns, were chasing another group of children who were masquerading as Muslims with paper skull caps. They were shouting, “miyao ne khatam karo… balo… maro!! Jai Hulladiaya Hanuman!” I was aghast! The riots had become a game, a children’s play – like cops and robbers.

How deep was hatred, how casual was it to talk about killing another human species? Was it just politics or a deep-rooted bias of the majority fanned by myths about imaginary differences? To me the game was up!

Was the idea of India so fragile, was the identity of an Indian which propounds equality, fraternity and justice for all a pipedream sacrificed at the altar of a new Hanuman called Hulladiya?

Thirty years of engagement in civil society strengthening … and I felt we were back to basics. In real terms, it meant starting work with school children and bringing back subjects of civics and moral science, taken away from modern school curriculum.

This gave birth to our new programme at Janvikas, Videoshala and citizenship education (http://janvikas.in/education.html). I only hope that bit by bit we will retrieve the civil society space through a new breed of youngsters who will say “Jai Bharat” with the understanding of at least our Preamble.

*Founder of Janvikas & Centre for Social justice. Contact: gaganssethi@gmail.com

One thought on “When riots became a child’s play: I was aghast… How deep was hatred, how casual was it to talk of killing others…

  1. Please read this TOI dated 9.8.2003 Congress was silent for Gujarat riots.
    I have seen what happened in Vadodara from 27.2.2002 At 2 PM on Vadodara railway station a mob assembled, Stabbing three peoples ; one was Hindu and two were Muslims. Further what happened from 27.2.2002 to My 2002 of Guajrat riots in Vadodara all knows =====

    Read===Dated: 22.02.2011
    Will Congress investigate Vadodara riots of 2002 to know role of Chinnam Gandhi, a congress activist in killing of Muslims in south zone of Vadodara=Will the Govt. Start investigation what happened in Vadodara from 27.2.2002?

    9 Aug 2003, 2350 hrs IST, Rajesh Ramachandran, TNN
    Cong silent on cadres linked to Guj riots
    NEW DELHI: The Congress has been going to town over Best Bakery and other instances of the Narendra Modi government’s complicity in the anti-Muslim violence which shook Gujarat last year.
    But when it comes to the involvement of its own party cadre in the killings, 10 Jan path maintains a deafening silence. Even when confronted by a long-standing ally from the freedom movement days, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. According to the JUH, “most Congress corporators” and some Congress leaders of Gujarat had actively participated in last year’s riots.
    Mahmood As’ad Madani, JUH general secretary told The Times of India: “We wrote letters to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, gave a list of Congress leaders involved in the riots, asked her to take action against them but to no avail.”
    On April 29, 2002, for example, the JUH received a list of 25 Congress leaders from its Gujarat chapter, which was promptly forwarded to her. This included a former Congress minister, a sitting MLA and a former MP.
    Then on August 20, Madani reminded Gandhi: “Similarly our appeal forwarded to you in respect of involvement of Congress MLAs, corporators and workers in Gujarat carnage along with the list of culpable names remains disregarded.”
    When contacted by TOI, Ambika Soni, in-charge of Gandhi’s office, said she was not aware of the correspondence. Ahmed Patel, Gandhi’s political secretary, to whom copies were marked by the JUH, was not available for Comment.
    The JUH insists it had accurate information from the ground. For instance, its Gujarat branch had written to the police commissioner of Vadodara city on March 21 that, “After the Godhra incident an urgent meeting of the activists of the BJP, VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal was held under the leadership of Yogesh Patel (MLA)..Chinnam Gandhi (Congress corporator)…They had allotted the activists their jobs, they made a plan and instructed the activists to carry out this work without any fear and told them that they would get full support of police officers.” The Gujarat JUH had mapped the Congress leadership even at the district level. Mehsana and Patan districts’ list has 8 names of Congress leaders including local MP Atmaram Patel as having played a “negative role.” A fax message sent on May 1 from Mehsana has this against Patel’s column: “Still has not come to help Muslims; taking sides in favour of a criminal person of Sardarpur and Ladoi village.”
    A list of 15 from Anand is headed by a secretary of Gujarat youth Congress. But to be fair to the Congress and the JUH, the report is all praise for the “positive role” played by Patan MP Pravin Rashtrapal.
    JUH secretary N A Farooqui says: “The Congress has committed sins of omission and commission during the riots.
    Former MP Ehsan Jaffri had called up Sonia Gandhi for help. She didn’t take a strong stand in her subsequent visit to Gujarat. The local bodies were mostly headed by the Congress which could have done a lot for relief and rehabilitation, but it was all left to the NGOs.”
    Farooqui maintains that the JUH “has not severed its relationship” with the Congress, the party’s ambivalence has led to debates within Though the Muslim intelligentsia over which political formation is best placed to defend the country from the danger of communal division. PTO=Read – Tehelka investigation by Ashish Khetan 03.11.2007

    Both Congress party and Safforon Parivar workers were equally involved at least in Vadodara Gujarat riots of 2002.

    Why no action by the Congress and Saffron Parivar leaders against the perpetrators of Gujarat 2002 riots?



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