It was depressing - my short visit to Ahmedabad early this week. Even six years after the 2002 carnage in Gujarat, the line drawn with blood between Hindus and Muslims remains distinct. The two communities live in two different worlds, in localities which have borders. The places are known as Hindu aabadi (habitation) and Muslim aabadi and there is no contact between them, either socially or economically.
The Muslims who were the target in the 2002 riots have tried, gulping down their loss and pride, to normalise the situation - they are still doing so - but they continue to be barred by Hindus from every activity. Many Muslims went back to their villages but returned because they found some others occupying their lands and houses. The administration did not intervene. Nor does it want to do it now. In some cases, even original village records had been fudged to transfer ownership. The uprooted Muslims took refuge in the already over-populated localities and some even in kabristan (graveyards). A few have gone to the courts but the cases have yet to be decided.
|A supporter of Modhi shouting Hindutva slogans during the 2002 riots
The worst hit is the labourer who faces discrimination. He does not get any employment. Vendors find it hard to go back to their place from where they sold fruits, vegetables or such other things. Even when some have braved hardships to go there, they have met with an economic boycott which the BJP stalwarts bless. They want the ethnic cleansing to stay as it is.
What surprises me is the freezing of division between the two communities as if something permanent has taken place. In every state, even in Delhi after the 1984 Hindu-Sikh riots, the ousted people have gone back to their home and business places to restart their life once again. Gujarat is the only state where the victims have not been allowed to return, the government probably proving that the line delineated between the two communities in 2002 will not change.
When I went to Ahmedabad soon after the riots six years ago, I saw the scenes which I had witnessed while leaving my home at Sialkot in August 1947 - refugee camps, scared children, weeping widows and lots and lots of people, just sitting on the roadside staring at the future with little hopes.
The Muslims are no more in camps. But conditions in which they live are no different. The ravages of mini-partition in 2002 still hit you with all poignancy. Take the Bombay Hotel area at Ahmedabad. This is the place where the city's waste is dumped. Children play in its midst. The government has no plans to shift it anywhere else. As for facilities, there is no hospital in the vicinity. Some deliveries have taken place in scooters. The nearest school is a private one, and it is three kilometres away. Heavy fee, rather than distance, keeps the children at home.
Imagine the atmosphere in which they are growing up. They were five or six years old when they saw the fury of rioting. It is still etched in their minds. Now they are at the sensitive age of 11 and 12. Some parents told me that whenever a lady with a sari had come visiting the area, they whispered to each other: a Hindu. When there is no mingling and when there are not even educational facilities, it may be a hostile community in the making. Some Muslims were shifted to a place near the camp of the state reserve police. The force was aggressive and made the migrants feel unwanted by taunting the community and even beating up some children. The aabadi went back to the Muslim locality.
That there is no remorse in the Hindu society does not surprise because I have read about it in the press and heard it from some activists who are doing a tremendous job despite unending difficulties and depleting funds. A few Hindus that saved Muslims during the riots and some more - altogether two per cent of the population - are helping the activists courageously and going to the courts to narrate what they witnessed. But justice is slow to come and the Nanavati Commission appointed to go into the whole gamut of riots is nowhere near the completion of its assignment.
The disgusting part is the fear of Modi and his administration. None dares to speak out in public. Even at a closed-door meeting, where some 200 academicians, lawyers and others present, when I asked them if they felt suffocated in Gujarat, all of them nodded their head in assent. But only a few of them were willing to join issue with the Modi government.
Therefore, it does not come as a surprise to me that the Gujarat government has slapped sedition charges against Ashish Nandy, a political psychologist, for an article which Modi considers critical. The article is factual and does not criticise the government for the carnage or non-rehabilitation of Muslims. Nandy only points out to the misuse of the state machinery.
Nandy's real attack is the on the middle class which he correctly denounces for not realising even after so many years that secularism and communalism are two different ideologies and cannot be mixed like water and fire. That a phrase like "the media and education have become hate factories" may not be to the liking of the middle class. But Nandy is known for making understatements, not exaggerating things.
I am reminded of an observation by a Mexican philosopher. The difference between dictatorship and democracy is that in the first, the top man changes the people and in the latter, the people change the top man. Modi has changed the very thinking of Gujaratis. Even the Gujarati NRIs have sacrificed Indian-ism at the altar of communalism.
There has been very little outcry against the government's action on Nandy's write-up. But for a few academicians from India and abroad, none, particularly from among the media hands, has spoken in his defence. At stake is the "freedom of expression." Today, it is academician Nandy; tomorrow it could be a journalist. I had imagined that we had learnt a lesson from the emergency for not speaking out when we should have. I personally think that the day when one sees the truth being attacked and keeps quiet is the day when one begins to die. I have no doubt that Nandy will come out of the ordeal unscathed. But it will be yet another case of our insensitivities. The society seems to be losing in its battle against communalism.