Friday, November 02, 2007

Inhumanity revisited

Editorial to be published in EPW next week.

Revelations by Tehelka can only shame us more about the 2002 Gujarat murders

Even as assembly elections in Gujarat draw near, a “sting” operation conducted by the magazine, Tehelka has thrown more light on the subversion of justice and how the state administration aided the horrific pogrom in 2002 in the aftermath of the Godhra deaths. The frank comments made to the Tehelka undercover reporter by perpetrators as well as some of those arguing the government's case in judicial bodies to the reporter expose the degree of state complicity in the crimes against humanity that were perpetrated five years ago. Even allowing for a degree of ugly bragging on camera on the part of the functionaries of the various Sangh parivar outfits such as the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there is no doubt, if ever there was one, of the extent to which the state is complicit in those mass killings.

We can only be shamed when we watch and hear one political activist after another, one state official after another and one lumpen after another boast about their roles in the pogrom (from providing logistics for the rioting to taking part in the killings) and recount the support the state silently gave to the rioters. The accused describe in detail how they had participated in incidents such as the killing of former member of parliament, Ehsan Jafri, how they were shielded by senior government officials and even got help from the police while committing those horrifying acts.

The reaction of the political parties in Gujarat has been on predictable lines. While the BJP has dismissed the operation as being politically motivated, the Congress has been cautious, fearing that the Tehelka operation would actually benefit chief minister Narendra Modi in his bid for re-election. The BJP is riven with dissent and internal conflict in the state ahead of the elections. Senior leaders such as Gordhan Zadaphia (the former home minister, who held this ministry during the killings), Keshubhai Patel and former chief minister Suresh Mehta are some of the people who are identified among the dissidents. Civil society organisations, however, have reacted quickly and have asked for the tapes to be admitted as proof of involvement of the accused in the various cases being tried. Already the Nanavati-Shah commission inquiring into the riots has affirmed that the Tehelka tapes will be verified as part of the allegations made against the accused.

The survivors of the pogrom meanwhile still live in horrific conditions with little sympathy and support from government institutions (EPW, October27). They have been herded into resettlement areas with little support in terms of facilities and far removed from their means of livelihood. For all the talk of a “Vibrant Gujarat”, a vision promised by the current chief minister, the state of existence of people displaced (often forcibly by the rioters, in order to grab their land) makes one feel appalled by the insensitivity of the administration. Several incidents in the past few years confirm the acute communalisation of governance and the tearing up of the secular fabric in the state.

Against this background, the Tehelka revelations cry out not only for justice to be dispensed and not to be delayed any further, but also for drastic measures to be undertaken to reverse the communalisation of society in Gujarat. A first step would be to rehabilitate the victims justly and to ensure basic means of livelihood to those who have been living as internal refugees, virtually ghettoised, in their own state. The role of the judiciary in ensuring punishment to the perpetrators of the crimes has to be re-emphasised. Several cases are still pending following applications to transfer them outside Gujarat. The findings of the sting operation have to be taken cognisance of by the courts that are trying the cases related to the post-Godhra violence, especially the Naroda Patiya and Gulbarg Society incidents referred to in the sting operation.

The BJP is pinning its hopes on Narendra Modi leading the party back to power in the December elections. The chief minister is projecting a different image and is offering a vision of development in contrast to the communal rhetoric that was used to get back to power in 2002. Irrespective of the verdict, justice must be ensured for the victims of the pogrom. It is necessary that the Supreme Court takes cognisance of the fact that the state institutions in Gujarat are thoroughly communalised and offer little hope for both the victims as well as survivors, most of whom are from the minority community, and that the government in power has shown no inclination to better the lives of the victims.

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