Sunday, November 13, 2016

Godhra 2002: An Unforgotten Chapter

Before presenting my views on one of the most tragic incidence of communal violence in our country, I just wish to make a candid confession that as a blogger I do not hold the power to judge anyone guilty or not guilty. Our honourable Supreme Court had its findings, investigations conducted over a course of more than a decade and delivered judgement against the several accused on case by case basis and post extensive scrutiny provided respite to the then state government that was accused of inciting this gruesome mass murder. But the question that's quite bothering is "..In a country where millions have perished in similar communal violence cases, cases where even justice is far from delivered, why is it that Godhra finds a mention irrespective and still continues to remain the epicentre of discussion?"


Godhra 2002 as we recall was a chapter in our history which tarnished the so called communal harmony to the extent that 14 years down the line, the pain has just not died down and the wounds are still far from healed. According to official figures the death toll was over 1000 people including 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus among the deceased, 223 reported missing and another 2,500 injured. Some more concerning figures included more than 900 women had been widowed and 600 children orphaned in the riots. Over 2 billion rupees paid towards relief and rehabilitation work. All in all a fatal incident on all counts. 

A day prior to the Godhra 58 kar sewaks (religious Hindu group) were charred to death in a bogey of Sabarmati express train that was on route to Godhra from Varanasi. What was the crime of these people? Why were they made to suffer in this inhuman way? No clarification was ever sought on this. As for the people who are constantly chest-beating claiming Godhra to be a planned riot should also take time out to think that a mass gathering with stone pelters and enough flammable material to torch an entire train bogey wouldn't just have happened in the fit of the moment or due to some verbal spat. These were terrible developments a day prior to Godhra violence, the then CM of Gujarat was fully aware if these dead bodies were immediately brought to Godhra it would have electrified the situation as the rumours were already flying thick and high. However since the bodies had to be handed over to the relatives it was decided that the same would be done under the cover of night. What the morning of 28th Feb would bring no one could have predicted. Aroused by the developments, some fringe Hindu groups were like provided arsenal to carry out the carnage in the name of avenging their dead. The path they chose was not just wrong but also was about to bring epidemic consequences.

The Godhra Carnage

As the violence broke out there was only chaos & devastation, the mobs went blood thirsty and no one was spared. There were retaliation from the other side too and nonetheless equally of heinous nature. A sight of extreme apathy, difficult to even portray in words... women and young girls being raped, even pregnant women were not spared from atrocities. Children and Elders being mercilessly butchered like animals. Some even incinerated alive. Shops and houses vandalised and burnt. Several families entirely perished from the face of the earth. It was a black day even mother earth cried tears of blood. Even to sort of portray that horrific day gives me jitters! No doubt heinous crimes occurred in several Hindu dominated areas like Naroda Patya, Gulberg Society, Naroda Gram and Sadarpura. Some counter offensives were also carried out in Muslim dominated areas of Himmatnagar, Danilimda and Sindhi Market.
                                              Gujarat Chief Minister's appeal post Godhra incident
This was the death of humanity above anything else yet again. The 'yet again' being symbolic that this wasn't the first time we had witnessed such heinous crimes, there has been a never ending history of such communal clashes and mob violence that had cost us millions of lives above all else.

Post Godhra Developments

I wouldn't be exaggerating if I were to say that never in the history and even to this date, has there been an incident that was so thoroughly scrutinised and investigated by all of country's Law & Enforcement Agencies, Judiciary, Human Rights and even foreign organisations. Several committees were constituted to look into the crimes committed during the riot period and level charges on the accused.  A daunting task it was amidst all the furore and hype that that the incident had already garnered. To this date, almost one and a half decade later we are still seeing convictions and that's certainly a positive sight end of day its not about justice delayed but more to do with justice being delivered. The most recent being the Gulberg Society verdict on 18th June'16 which was quite satisfactory penalising 11 of the 24 accused to life sentence. The judge termed this as dark day in the history of civil society.


The Media Frenzy & Activism

Gujarat mostly remained peaceful in the coming years with govt., civilians and some NGOs actively engaged in the relief and rehabilitation work, as life slowly came back on track. Where there's blood peace does take time to establish however the blood certainly invited vultures or rather wolves in sheep clothing, the internal turmoil had already began with some NGOs and  5 star activist working at ground level to keep aggravating the situation (needless to mention the acquisitions of dubious funding for disturbing the communal harmony in the state that were thrown at them). While this had lesser consequences in Gujarat the impact on communal harmony was more far fetched thanks to media taking the torch in there hands

None of us can deny how this incident has been publicised till date both by the political as well as the media fraternity. And it will be unjust to not discuss the media role/contribution here in fuelling the violence and keeping the hatred burning by the repeated exploitation of the Hindu-Muslim divide via non stop biased view of the incident till date. What's been more disheartening is how the fourth pillar of democracy-our media, projected this entire incident, proclaiming themselves as 'Messiahs of Minorities' just like the so called Secular Politicians and exploit the divide to crunch those already sky rocketing trps. Much of the Godhra outrage is all credits to our so called secular sections of media who follow the British Divide n Rule policy by pitting the two communities against each other. I still recall a controversially renowned female columnist quoting some fictional crimes further infuriating the masses and aiding hate mongering and creating outrage. But its ironical that on being asked to help in the probe she distanced herself and denied assistance. Recently May'16 one of the prime conspirators of the Sabarmati express burning was also nabbed by the NIA(National Investigating Agency), he has been on the run for past 14 years and said to have affiliations to a political party. However the story died down (possibly hushed) even before reaching our ears.

Media trials conducted by media houses especially those based out of lutyens Delhi left no stone unturned to blame the then CM of Gujarat and the majority group of the population i.e. Hindus. For some it was a stepping stone in their career while for others it brought riches. I wouldn't go into specifics but certainly these 'Godhra Patrakars' fill me with disgust. The entire world saw the same picture as was projected to them day in day out. What was never emphasised upon was, why this happened, how can we avoid such clashes in future, strengthen the law, pass legislation effective of dealing with such nuisance. Should we blame the state as it took three days to curb the violence or someone truly responsible that is the people themselves and their hatred and animosity especially those fringe who burnt the train bogey and the other fringe elements who went blood thirsty under the garb of avenging the dead??

What Does All This Mean...
Despite being a Hindu majority, India as a nation has always welcomed every religion, culture and allowed them to equally flourish and so shall continue. People towing the dividing lines and talking of minority rights violation should look at the plight of Hindu minorities in our neighbouring countries. What rights they have and how much oppression they are dealing with day to day. Orthodox mindset has never helped. While demanding justice is fair but it would be equally unfair if our heart only selectively goes out to Godhra victims that too only from one community. Indeed there is no justification for a crime. However its absolutely absurd to say "my crime is lesser than yours" especially in context of Godhra riots.  

Some people still never miss an opportunity to highlight this incident whenever they want to portray the so called communal harmony in our country or take pot shots at the existing govt. or even for their own ulterior motives. Despite all the findings and trials that followed for over a decade the belief among the people from certain sections never died down that this was a planned riot and execution that the right wing Hindu forces carried out with the support of state machinery on that fateful day of 28 Feb 2002. Not far behind are some opportunistic sick minds who justify this cowardly act as a revenge for what happened the night before. For almost one and a half decade this has been the epicentre of debates and incitement among the Hindu and Muslim population of the country despite the brotherhood bond they share unlike any other nation. 

Not an iota of doubt that these were heinous crimes, and a violent outburst of communal hatred that swept away everything in its path irrespective. While this has been debated a zillion times already any further discussion to the same stream of thoughts would be a waste rather there need to be a more open and rational perspective and understand that to say these were crimes against a particular community (Muslims to be specific) would certainly be unfair as there were Hindus killed too, both by police firing and by the rioters and not to forget those torched to death day before the incident. Just because one has lesser blood stain on their clothes doesn't nullify their crime or justify their wrong doings either. End of day each life should be accounted for and considered. Whether it was 254 Hindus v/s 790 Muslims or vice versa or whatever the exact number may be, it doesn't convey a one sided story! Again the way I see it "More than crimes against community or group these were crimes against Humanity!". This was an inhuman act and no statistic, theory or explanation can justify it especially for the families that lost their near and dear ones but having said that I do want to raise some questions to any sane mind:

  • How long will we keep leaving in this fallacy, is it more bloodshed that we want?
  • Are we too na├»ve to be deceived so easily?
  • Is this so called communal harmony that we often boast off, just a sham, a cover-up on the boundaries that have been long drawn inside of us?
  • How is that despite being rational, we can be so selective and have a one sided view?
  • Is Godhra the only crime that happened in our country, why don't we demand justice with equal aggression for other such heinous crimes? 

Yes! We should unequivocally demand justice for every life lost in communal violence till date instead of being selective. If we can't do that, than just like we moved beyond 1947, '84, '89, '90 and many more communal incidents, we should move beyond 2002 as well. 

If the past was painful then a mourning present will only make a regretful future!!
                                                                                                          Ashutosh Joshi

~Peace & Brotherhood

Friday, November 11, 2016

India Takes Down Fake Currency

Prime Minister of India's address to the nation on 8th Nov'16 at 20:00 hrs came as a rude shock to many when in his address he made a revelation to the entire nation that the existing highest currency denominations in India which is INR 500 and INR 1000 would no longer be a legal tender starting midnight. What that implied was that these notes could no longer be used for any financial transaction and would have to be exchanged from the banks or post offices with the new currency notes of equal value. In four hours these major currency bills would become valueless. This was huge and nobody had a clue. While he did clarify his action as another step in the fight against black money menace that had been impacting the country's economy adversely.

                                                      PM's address to the nation 8th June'16


If we step back a little. This huge announcement only came a month after the amnesty scheme called IDS 2016 (Income Declaration Scheme) ended on 30th Sep'16. This was another major step undertaken by the current government to curb the black money menace and make people declare their undisclosed assets. Under the scheme the income tax department had politely asked the citizens especially the non tax-payers and defaulters to declare their undisclosed wealth and pay a 45% tax guaranteeing no scrutiny or legal proceedings against the declarant. The scheme fetched the tax department 65,250 Crores (almost $10 Billion) worth of undeclared money. Though this was not that great a success considering the black money and undeclared income and the fact that only about 1% Indians pay income tax in this huge country of 1.25 billion but still a valiant effort.

Impact of Fake Currency

Coming back to the discussion of demonetisation or currency withdrawal - So what actually inspired this idea? What really lies ahead of us? These were immediate and pertinent questions soon after the withdrawal.The PM in his address to the nation on tuesday evening clarified the same stating..
"Black money and corruption are the biggest obstacles in eradicating poverty." Sabka saath, sabka vikas (governance and progress for all) is our motto. This is a government for our farmers. Corruption and black money are diseases rooted in this country, they are obstacles to our success. We are among fastest-growing economies, but we also rank so high in global corruption rankings," he added. 

"There is a time when you realise that you have bring some changes in society and this is our time to feel the same. Corruption and black money is something we have fought for immediately after assuming office," he added. He said the move would "cause some hardship" but asked people to "ignore" it, calling the step a "celebration of honesty".

Asserting that the NDA Government focuses on empowerment of the poor, Prime Minister Modi said a series of schemes have been introduced for this. He also made a mention of how the existing government under its Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna reached out even to the remotest village of the country allowing every Indian the access to the banking system and allowing them to save their hard earned cash in their accounts. 

The truth is incidence of fake Indian currency notes in higher denomination has increased. With a lot of them in active circulation or being pumped up through various hawala channels and other mediums. Its not hidden that a lot of fake Indian currency is printed in Pakistani printing press. And it's mostly the higher denomination notes that are sneaked in via Nepal or through bordering states. Much of this is then used in funding anti national/terrorist activities and sleeper cells across India. Over the course of time these fraudster have become much more smarter technically. The point worth considering is, that not just terrorism but these counterfeit currencies post coming into circulation deal a severe blow to the economy of the country. For ordinary people, the fake notes look similar to genuine notes, even though no security feature has been copied. High denomination notes have been misused by terrorists and for hoarding black money. India remains a cash-based economy, hence, the circulation of fake Indian currency notes continues to be a menace. Withdrawal of the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes has been introduced with the prime motive to eliminate the fake currency circulation.

The Provisions

Immediate withdrawal needed some immediate measure to ensure that a chaos wasn't created when the majority of currency in circulation in the country is deemed valueless with immediate effect. Banks and ATMs were kept shut to strategise and prepare for the transition begining 10th Nov'16. How well this would be managed can only be assessed in the coming days,as for the citizens its essential that they are well informed of the change and what steps they need to take to secure their savings.

New INR 500 Note
New INR 2000 Note

From 10th Nov -30th Dec'16 all the existing 500 and 1000 Rupee notes can be exchanged at the banks and post offices all across the country. The chart below depicts in details how the exchange or deposits would work while the transition is completed. Additionally provisions have been made to ensure the inconvenience to common public is minimised and essential services like medicines, healthcare, food, travel services etc provided through public systems still continue to accept the old currency for next 72 hours post implementation. All banks including private and public sector to also remain open on the weekend including sunday.

The Income tax department will also be keeping a vigil on these deposits especially those crossing INR 250,000 over the next 50 days to identify the tax defaulters and the black money holders.

The Challenge Ahead

The scrapped 500 and 1,000 rupee notes comprised 86 percent of the value of currency in circulation, and replacing this quickly and effectively with the new notes pan India in itself is currently the biggest challenge facing the government. Needless to mention the cooperation of the banking sector to make this change reach out to 1.25 billion Indian is extremely critical. They truly will be in a somewhat warzone like situation being cautious and tireless.

Its also fantastic to see that people of the country have taken this initiative in sporting spirit and despite the inconvenience, are overwhelmingly supporting it. Social media was flooded with praise for the move, while some went beyond amidst all the hullabaloo and circulated news about the new note being loaded with some NGC (Nano Gps Technology) allowing tracing of notes via satellite. The hoax was however soon called off. So much for the fun. Irrespectively, this is a mighty blow to the black money hoarders, hawala operatives as well as the political and business fraternity indulging in corruption as they have all been suddenly caught on the wrong foot. Its like a crisis without a warning for them. With upcoming elections in some of the major Indian states this is certainly a welcome move to avoid illegal fundings of political parties. The money could have otherwise been used in influencing voters. In view of all this one can easily ascertain that among the dissenting crowd are mostly the political class especially the opposition parties. There have already been PILs filed in court against this game changing decision. We are also witnessing few odd examples of people burning counterfeit currencies.

Certainly a bold move but a lot more of such proactiveness is required to deal with rampant corruption and huge chuck of black money that still prevails and circulates with ease in the system.

Jai Hind!