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