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Living in Times of Fear and Hate

No authentic reconciliation is possible unless it is based on four components: (i) acknowledgement, (ii) remorse, (iii) reparation, and (iv) justice. None of these have taken place in Gujarat after the 2002 pogrom.

Insight

Living in Times ofFear and Hate

Failures of Reconciliation in Gujarat

No authentic reconciliation is possible unless it is based on four components: (i) acknowledgement, (ii) remorse,

(iii) reparation, and (iv) justice. None of these have taken place in Gujarat after the 2002 pogrom.

HARSH MANDER

O
f the many failures that characterise the polity and society in contemporary Gujarat, probably the most dangerous is the unprecedented extent of the arrest and collapse of processes of authentic reconciliation, because of which wounds refuse to heal, people of diverse faiths live together but in an uneasy brittle truce without the restoration of trust and social and economic intercourse, and the state remains openly hostile to a segment of citizens only because they belong to a different faith from the majority. There are few organised social and political spaces in Gujarat today for fostering forgiveness and compassion. There is, instead, a frightening communal chasm that is growing exponentially between people of different religious persuasions and an ominous subtext of re-engineered social relations, of settled hate, settled fear and settled despair in villages and urban settlements that were torn apart by the gruesome mass violence of 2002. Gujarat continues to be a society bitterly, and some now grimly fear, permanently divided.

It is remarkable that despite recurring communal bloodletting during and after the traumatic Partition of the country, there has been no systematic official (or even significant non-official) processes of “truth and reconciliation”, to help perpetrators and survivors of hate violence come together; see and speak to each other; acknowledge their crimes and failings, and their hate and fear; seek and offer forgiveness; and ultimately help bring closure and eventual healing. Given the enormity of contemporary threats posed by a deliberately fostered communal divide and violence to the very survival of secular democracy in India, fuelled further by the global “war on terror”, it is imperative today more than ever that systematic, sustained processes of reconciliation and justice in communal relations in India are established.

Part of the problem is that the threats and challenge, both of ongoing communal violence and of pervasive subversion of justice, are not sufficiently acknowledged by the state, political parties and formal civil society organisations. Even as relations between communities deteriorate perilously, and states are increasingly openly partisan on communal lines, many in the country continue to live in denial. Secondly, much of the violence and injustice is not overt, it rages unseen in the hearts and minds of people, and spills over only rarely on to the streets. Thirdly, governments, political parties and social organisations are today most frequently equivocal, unsteady and reluctant in dealing with the intensely sensitive and potentially divisive issues raised by communalism. They no longer are prepared to stand up to be counted.

However, the Indian people have arguably had more experience than most through millennia of living with diversity,1 therefore, even without organised processes of reconciliation, there are usually natural spontaneous processes of healing and reaching out that follow bouts of sectarian violence. There may be debates about whether without structured modes of facilitating reconciliation for survivors of the cataclysmic Partition violence of 1947, there has been adequate closure for families that experienced the agony and permanent uprootment from and loss of their loved ones and homeland. Perhaps, we needed to bring together people who lived with the violence from both sides of the border, to share truth, discover their common burdens of grief and loss, and thereby find the spaces for forgiveness. But in other communal riots that I have seen and handled in small district towns, I have observed that within days of such riots, persons of goodwill and compassion reach out from each community and others grasp their stretched hands gratefully. There are spontaneous individual and collective expressions of remorse and grief at the loss suffered by the other community, and processes of social and personal healing set in.

By contrast, the defining feature of allegedly vibrant Gujarat five years after the 2002 massacre, is the determined absence of reconciliation and compassion. This paper seeks to track this failure and its devastating consequences.

Elements of Reconciliation

Reconciliation in this context may be understood as the restoration between members of different racial, ethnic or religious groups who have been estranged by mass violence or organised campaigns of hate and distrust, of mutual dialogue, understanding, social, cultural and economic interactions, trust and goodwill, to levels that at least match those that prevailed before the violence or hate campaigns. It involves the expulsion or neutralisation of hate and suspicion that invaded social relations between diverse people, and in the end a genuine meeting again of hearts.

Any authentic process of reconciliation requires at least four mandatory components: (i) acknowledgement; (ii) remorse;

(iii) reparation; and (iv) justice. The first of these involves a public acceptance that grave and unjust violence and discrimination actually took place, causing unconscionable suffering to those who were targeted by the violence; and the second, a public expression of collective sincere regret for the violence and injustice. Reparation involves at the very minimum adequate and timely assistance to enable survivors to sustainably achieve

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007 shelters, livelihoods, common resources, habitats and cultural environments that are better than what they enjoyed prior to the conflict. There can be no compensation for loss of loved ones, homes and valued ways of life, but reparation should also address these losses as well to the extent that is humanly possible.

Justice involves firstly legal justice, equal application and protection of the law of the land and by institutions of the state, including fair, timely and non-partisan processes of registering police complaints, investigation, arrest, bail, prosecution, trail and appeal. It includes also accountability to people and the legal system of public officials who are charged with preventing and controlling communal violence, reparation and restoring peace. Finally it involves restoring peace: the establishment of a sustainable environment of harmony and amity founded on justice, freedom from fear and distrust between communities, and strengthening of social, economic and cultural bonds between them.

The responsibilities for organised processes of reconciliation vest with the state, and with the people on both sides of the conflict and their own organisations. The role of human rights and the social organisations committed to secular democracy and peace is optional, but if equipped with compatible values and skills, they can vastly facilitate the process.

In earlier communal conflicts, it cannot be claimed that any of these four elements of reconciliation was fully and satisfactorily achieved, but some partial movement in most were accomplished in varying degrees, which is why some extent of healing could set in. Gujarat, by contrast, represents an extreme case in which none of these four necessary components of reconciliation were allowed to be accomplished to any extent, and instead actually the reverse has been deliberately fostered. Instead of acknowledgement, there remains active denial and blame of the victim; instead of remorse, there is pride for the communal crimes; instead of reparation, there is economic boycott and state denial of rehabilitation; and instead of justice, there is active subversion of the process of law. These profound and comprehensive failures of justice and reconciliation are because of the role of both the state machinery, including the judiciary, and of most sections of formal civil society, including intellectuals, writers, social workers, doctors, lawyers, and their organisations and institutions.

But that fortunately is not the full story. Among ordinary people in both communities, there are spontaneous individual efforts of reconciliation. There is the courage and resilience of the survivors, and many acts of compassion by people of the majority community. In the daily lives of affected communities, as they struggle with the timeless challenges of finding food, work and dignity, hatred and fear are manufactured and sustained by organisations and the state, but also simultaneously these are resisted and overcome by ordinary people in the ways that they lead their lives. As Howard Zinn affirms, “Human history is not just a history of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasise in this complex history will define our lives…”

In subsequent sections, we will consider in turn each of the necessary components of reconciliation – acknowledgement, remorse, reparation and justice – and illustrate the ways in which each of them have been actively arrested and blocked, and indeed, reversed in Gujarat. We will highlight also the resistance to the subversion of reconciliation by unorganised individual actions of ordinary people, which defend the secular fabric and traditions of compassion and peaceful co-living of the land.

Truth and Acknowledgement

For any authentic reconciliation to occur, the first necessary step is indeed truth. And this is a commodity in extreme short supply as far as the events of 2002 are concerned. The few brave lamps of truth that are still lit, like the film Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania, are either blown out by gusts of hate, or are simply lost in the blinding glitter of an allegedly shining Gujarat.

The organised mob censorship by the Bajrang Dal with the tacit support of the state government, of the screening of the film Parzania, five years after the massacre, briefly stirred the public conscience in the nation. The film, an intensely moving and remarkably accurate recreation of the events of the bloody spring of 2002, is based on a true story of the disappearance of a young boy in an assault on the Gulbarg apartments in Ahmedabad. The stoic and brave parents of the missing boy, Dara and Rupa Mody, heartbreakingly appealed repeatedly on national television for the film to be screened in the slender tenuous hope that they continue to grasp, that it will help them locate their lost son. They maintained that the gut-wrenching film depicted only “10 per cent of the truth”. The full reality through which they had to live would have been impossible for viewers to watch.

But this organised blockade of the truth by communal organisations and the state apparatus is consistent with a stubborn denial over the last five years within many sections of Gujarati society and the state about even the facts of the gruesome massacre. This is the most widely and extensively chronicled communal pogrom or riot in India. Not only are there more than 40 citizens’ reports by very credible and senior intellectuals, judges and activists; there is a surfeit of print news reports and video documentation by news channels, amateur photographers and professional film-makers; there are a large number of books and documentary films, of which Rakesh Sharma’s outstanding four hour testimony Final Solutions is the best known. There is unprecedented commentary and documentation by the statutory National Human Rights Commission, which defended the rights of the survivors of the Gujarat massacre and indicted the state for all its failures, and in so doing achieved the finest moment in the history of the commission. Most of all, the highest court of the land has used the sharpest language to condemn the failures of the political leadership, the police, prosecution and judiciary of Gujarat.

Despite such overwhelming evidence of the planned butchery and state complicity, there continues to be a stubborn denial by the senior political leadership, by Sangh organisations, and by the majority of the Gujarati middle class. The position taken even by the former deputy prime minister and home minister of the government of India, Lal Krishna Advani, and the then the NDA convenor George Fernandes, was that the events in Gujarat were similar to those that had occurred in innumerable communal riots, which were blown out of proportion by vested interests. The chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, whenever he is confronted with criticism of his handling of the mass violence, alleges a sinister organised conspiracy to defame the Hindu population of Gujarat, and to portray them as mass murderers and rapists.

This failure of even truth and acknowledgement as the first necessary step towards eventual reconciliation, is encountered also in the average middle class Gujarati Hindu, who denies the gravity of

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

the communal crimes, irrationally ignoring all the evidence available in the public domain. In innumerable conversations in Gujarat in the past five years, I have found on the contrary the widespread and deep conviction that whatever violence took place was understandable, restrained, justified, even righteous, because of the burning alive of women and children on the Sabarmati Express that preceded these. The findings of the Bannerji Commission that the fire on the train could not have been part of a pre-planned conspiracy, but was probably an accident, is dismissed as political mischief engineered by the wily union railway minister Laloo Yadav, in pursuit of the Muslim vote bank. They adhere to the conviction that Muslims are to be feared because they are violent people, and by contrast, Hindus are intrinsically nonviolent, a belief unchanged by a most brutal massacre by people who claimed adherence to the Hindu faith which overwhelmingly targeted Muslim women and children.

I find that even the annual programme reports of many funding and funded NGOs (with some wonderful and courageous exceptions) in Gujarat, tend to completely black out the events of 2002, and the survivors of the communal frenzy, tens of thousands of whom are still internally displaced or facing severe economic boycott, from their analysis of the issues of injustice and poverty in Gujarat that need to be addressed. Reading these reports, one could easily believe that the last major calamity that the people of Gujarat faced was the earthquake of 2001, and no mass upheaval occurred after that.

The denial takes a different, less extreme form, in the villages that actually lived through the mass violence. If one is able to organise a joint meeting of Hindu and Muslim residents of the village, the denial is not that the violence actually took place, but that residents of the village had anything to do with it. The accepted public disclaimer that is almost universal in most such meetings is that the arson, loot, murders and rape were entirely perpetrated by outside mobs, the members of which none recognise. This denial of local involvement is accepted during these meetings by the Muslim residents, because of fear and their utter dependence on their Hindu residents for the security to continue to live and work on sufferance in the lands of their ancestors. But as we shall see in a later section, many are today courageously naming their neighbours who betrayed them, and their motive to accept the consequences of their speaking out at last is not so much the hope for eventual justice, but simply for an acknowledgement that they did, indeed, suffer unspeakable brutalities.

Remorse

Sometimes I wonder if the survivors would eventually be able to find spaces in their hearts for forgiveness, especially with the healing passage of time. And yet, I understand that they will be able to even consider forgiveness only if people who looted and assaulted them acknowledge their transgressions and seek their forgiveness. But in the strange reversal of elementary humanity in Gujarat today, one observes little remorse, even for the most brutal crimes. Instead, the chief minister leads a campaign of pride or “gaurav”, celebrating the massacre as an act of exceptional valour, as though mass rapes and the burning alive of small children were acts of great bravery. In his Gaurav Yatra organised a few months after the massacre, he portrayed the Muslim citizens of his state as unpatriotic, sympathetic to Pakistan and to terrorism. He delighted in caricaturing them as breeding large families with several wives. He portrayed the events of 2002 as a stirring of righteous Hindu impatience and anger, and the subtext was of satisfaction that the slaughter had at last broken the back of the “enemy within”. The same tenor characterised his speeches in other states, when his services are regularly canvassed as the star BJP campaigner in various elections. In remote villages of Jharkhand, for instance, Muslim residents confided to me how Modi had struck terror in their hearts with his election speeches, especially his oft-repeated boast, “to achieve what I did in 2002 in Gujarat required someone like me with a chest of 46 inches”.

Since the earliest days after the massacre, I was struck with the speed with which the new city of Ahmedabad restored itself to normalcy. There were about 1,00,000 people in relief camps in the old city, who had lost their homes and loved ones in the most inhuman circumstances. Yet, barely a few kilometres into the new city mostly populated by Hindus, crowds thronged glittering shopping centres, eating establishments and cinemas, as though there was nothing amiss in their neighbourhood. Ahmedabad and Anand are homes to some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the country, but almost none of the students volunteered for relief work in the camps. The burgeoning crowds of local, national and international relief and development organisations and corporate houses that contributed to rebuilding Kutch after the earthquake of 2001 continue to refuse to even acknowledge that the numbers of persons who were internally displaced by the two calamities were comparable, and that their tragedy continues unabated even five years after because of the climate of fear, and the abdication by the state.

Even the smaller number of middle class residents who express some regret about the extent of brutality of the 2002 violence, still say or imply that the Muslims “had it coming”; that somehow they deserved what they suffered. Their conviction is based on the premise of collective vicarious responsibility by people of a particular faith for real or imagined wrongs done by their co-religionists now or in history. Somehow they do not apply it to themselves, because by that yardstick, all upper caste Hindus today bear responsibility for centuries of cruelty and oppression to dalits, and indeed, all men are responsible for the bondage of women in almost all cultures in all phases of history. Many of those who read this article and most who advocate vicarious hate vengeance, do not deserve to be alive, if these standards were applied to them.

Yet, villages and poor urban settlements abound with untold individual stories of kindness. Walibhai, an aged landless worker in a village in Sabarkantha, asks me if I know how his home with still scorched walls has a shining new roof. A tribal acquaintance visited him, and his friend’s eyes filled with tears when he saw his destroyed home. Without a word, he left, bought corrugated sheets for the roof, hired transport and workers, and sent them to Walibhai’s village with express instructions to not return until his friend’s home had a new roof.

Reparation

The third essential component of reconciliation is reparation. It is obvious that if people lose their homes, belongings or livelihoods to sectarian mob violence, any kind of healing, let alone reconciliation, is virtually impossible unless they are able to rebuild these, preferably to levels comparable to those that prevailed before the destruction. The loss of loved ones, or violation of their bodies, can never be compensated. But physical losses can be

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007 replaced to a degree at least, and although the scars are never likely to disappear completely, nor the memories of fear, loss and betrayal, people are resilient enough to move ahead and can heal if only governments and others partner their efforts to rebuild their lives.

The major responsibility for reparation lies with the state, and the record of the Indian state after independence in securing reparation of survivors of communal violence has been somewhat better than in preventing and controlling communal conflagrations, and in ensuring legal justice. Before Gujarat in 2002, governments have consistently provided relief camps to people who were internally displaced by the violence, either those whose homes were destroyed or those who were too frightened to return to their homes. It has provided monetary compensation for loss of life, limb, shelter and livelihoods. It has also usually mounted programmes of soft loans and subsidies in rehabilitation packages to assist people to rebuild their lives. The limitations have been that the assistance has tended to be too small, delayed, mired in bureaucratic procedures, and implemented by not just a corrupt but communally-driven administrative machinery which has deprived especially poor and working class minority survivors to access even what was accepted as their due.

But even this mixed and modest record was badly sullied in Gujarat, as the government after 2002 carnage refused for the first time in independent India to set up relief camps. This meant that it refused to extend protection, security and basic survival needs to a segment of its citizens who had been brutally attacked and dispossessed. The relief camps set up by mainly Muslim organisations were also forcibly closed six months after they were established, to pave the way for triumphant elections in which the state government rode back to power mounted on the ‘gaurav’ or dubious pride of the state sponsored pogrom. Compensation was fixed at low levels, and these were assessed and distributed by an administration that was openly hostile on communal grounds to the survivors. There was no rehabilitation programme, and very small levels of soft loans under existing schemes were extended to the survivors.

However, the suffering imposed on the survivors did not end with the malafide and partisan denial of reparation assistance by the state government, because of which they are unable to find the resources to rebuild their homes and livelihoods. They also suffer crippling social and economic boycott and humiliating conditions if they wish to return to their old villages, to gather the shattered pieces of their lives. There are villages in Gujarat today that are proud to have “cleansed” themselves of their erstwhile Muslim residents. It is estimated that nearly half of the affected people are still unable to return to the soil of their ancestors, and indeed, today despair of ever returning. Many others have moved into the safety of numbers in Muslim ghettoes, others to makeshift relief colonies.

If they return, a number of humiliating conditions are laid down on the internal

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    Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

    refugees who long to return home. The first is that they will not pursue legal justice, or give evidence against their tormentors to the police or courts, even if their daughter may have been raped or their parents killed in their presence. Other conditions are that they will live in separate settlements, no one will employ or trade with them, there should be no sound of the ‘azaan’, and so on. The acceptance of these conditions amounts to abject social surrender by an entire community, a forced consent to live as second class citizens. The fact that thousands are accepting these terms, and that there is little public resistance to this or outrage in Gujarat or outside it, makes the aftermath of 2002 even more chilling and genocidal, with congealed covert violence embedded in transformed social relations.

    For many of those who have returned to their villages, life is the daily anguish and humiliation of living with hate and rejection among neighbours whom they have lived with peace and goodwill for generations. Many people say that living with economic boycott is hard enough. But much harder is to walk down the village street each day and no one greets you. No one calls you to a wedding. There are villages where each morning, groups of women gather, collect cowdung, and throw it in the village ‘kabristan’ (Muslim cemetery). The survivors know they have nowhere else to go. They are too down and out. Yet, how long can they live with the shame and pain of hate demonstrated in diverse ways every day?

    Families that have chosen to not return to the land of their birth are today living out their lives in wistful, poignant and mostly hopeless longing, in Muslim ghettoes or relief colonies, struggling to find work, settle in their sparse new homes and live with their painful memories. Existence is hardest for more than 4,500 families that are still living in appalling conditions in 81 relief colonies, exiles in their own land. The findings of a recent survey by Aman Biradari are described in the article ‘Gujarat’s Relief Colonies: Surviving State Hostility and Denial’ in an earlier issue of this journal,2 which found that none of the colonies were established by the state government, and an appalling denial of even minimal public services.

    Therefore, even five years after the carnage, instead of reparation and support to rebuild their livelihoods and shelters, the survivors are struggling to survive a government that denies their losses and displacement. Those that have returned to their original villages are instead grappling with economic boycott and social marginalisation in segregated colonies. Others are bunched into Muslim ghettoes, or small tenements in unrecognised relief colonies, without minimal public services and work.

    Justice

    There are many who believe that the pursuit of legal justice by the survivors actually blocks prospects for reconciliation, because the testimonies of survivors would result in the arrest and trail of their estranged neighbours. Some well meaning organisations in fact have actively and successfully brokered the negotiated return of Muslims to their villages, on the condition that they would not give evidence to the police or in courts that name their attackers. They regard these as processes of forgiveness and reconciliation. Some other committed leading activists have advocated the closure of the large majority of criminal cases that were registered after the 2002 carnage, in return for the release of the hundreds of innocent Muslim youth incarcerated with little hope of release under the anti-terror provisions of POTA.

    However, I believe that no authentic reconciliation is possible if it is built on the foundations of injustice. The negotiated return of survivors on the condition of abandoning all their prospects of securing justice as guaranteed under the law of the land for all citizens, for slaughter, rape, arson or loot, is not reconciliation in the sense of a restoration of trust and goodwill, but it is capitulation by a crushed and hapless people. Forgiveness is authentic, if the person who forgives has the option not to forgive. In this case, we are witnessing not forgiveness but abject surrender.

    In the end, the decision of whether or not to pursue legal justice should be of the informed and empowered choice of the survivors themselves. In a campaign we have called Nyayagrah (derived from Satyagrah, this is an attempted people’s resistance to secure justice using the law and its institutions), we have approached survivors involved in over 1,500 criminal cases registered after the 2002 carnage. Despite the prevailing pervasive fear and boycott, and the conditionality of not pursuing legal cases with the police and courts if they are to be allowed by the majority community to live and work in the lands of their ancestors, survivors in more than 500 of these cases have picked up the courage to pursue legal justice, whatever the costs to their security and livelihoods. Since each case involves numerous incidents in a single village, this means several thousand survivors have chosen to stake their lives and futures despite grave threats, to the pursuit of legal justice. They have also resisted inducements of cash that the now beleaguered accused, are offering them to buy their silences.

    It is important to hear the survivors about what motivates their search for justice. Is it only retribution, a longing for revenge? There is no doubt that this is frequently a part of the motivation. But most of all, it is a desperate search for acknowledgement. They do not believe that their tormentors will ultimately be punished in the majority of cases, because even in normal times the legal system is heavily weighted against the poor. But simply the arrest of their tormentors, and their summoning to the police station and courts, satisfies them enormously, because it establishes to the world that despite the deafening denials that surround them, they did indeed suffer unspeakable atrocities, often by the hands of their neighbours. In other words, it forces out a form of acknowledgement even from the jaws of the stubborn and powerful denial of the state and people of Gujarat. It establishes them as human beings and citizens who are equal before the law. They also see in these efforts deterrence, that only if those who attacked them and their properties are forced to face the institutions and processes of criminal justice in this land, whatever the eventual outcomes, they may hesitate to take up arms against their neighbours the next time round.

    It is such forlorn but brave hopes of trampled survivors that most motivates their heroic fight for legal justice. Although the aftermath of the carnage in Gujarat in 2002 has witnessed the most elaborate deliberate subversion of legal justice by the government in independent India, it has also witnessed some of the most effective resistance put by the civil society and human rights activists, and moments of unprecedented judicial remedies by the Supreme Court of India and indictment by the National Human Rights Commission.

    There have been diverse strategies that survivors and human rights defenders have adopted for legal justice. One has been to

    Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007 take up a small number of selected major cases of large massacres, and to fight these with the best available legal talent and financial resources for witness protection. This has been the preferred strategy, carried out with remarkable success and impacts, of organisations like Citizens for Peace and Justice, Foundation for Civil Liberties, Centre for Social Justice, Jan Vikas, Human Rights Law Network and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. A second category of cases relates to arrests and trials under the draconian anti-terrorism law POTA, which has been used exclusively against minorities in Gujarat, charging them with terrorist conspiracies not only to set fire to the Sabarmati Express at Godhra, but also other alleged acts of terror. A third category of litigation relates to the quest for a more just package of compensation, relief and rehabilitation. There is in this, first, the challenge that is being mounted against the paltry and discriminatory norms that are established for compensation, relief and rehabilitation of the survivors. Secondly, even these minimalist entitlements have been systematically withheld by a hostile and partisan state.

    A fourth category of litigation in the Supreme Court relates to more than 2,000 cases that were closed after investigation without even trial, and nearly 300 cases which were heard in court with deliberately weakened and openly partisan investigation and prosecution and the accused were acquitted undertaken by Lawyers’ Collective and Aman Biradari. And, finally there is Nyayagrah, which aims at approaching survivors with the assurance of support if they wish to fight for legal justice, and helping them with legal and moral support to contest these several hundred cases, mainly through the agency of the survivors, community justice workers and a number of young lawyers.

    Far from there being any inherent conflict between efforts for reconciliation and legal justice, with many survivors, we believe that the only an authentic reconciliation is one that is founded on justice. Any peace that is founded on surrender to fear and injustice by trodden people is a counterfeit peace. It is not just peace and reconciliation that we seek. It is peace and reconciliation that is in itself just.

    Epilogue

    Ageing agricultural worker Walibhai from a tribal village in Sabarkantha district felt utterly betrayed that his own neighbours had attacked, looted and torched his home. He tried to file a police complaint with the names of all the attackers, but the policeman threatened him with his life if he persisted with his complaint. Fearing for the safety of his family, Walibhai succumbed then to the police threats, but the stubborn and proud old man felt utterly diminished since. The police complaint claimed, identical to complaints lodged all across Gujarat in 2002, that the enraged mob that attacked his home was anonymous. The case was closed, because it is impossible to catch unknown faceless mobs. Four years later, Walibhai was among the first to grasp the opportunity offered by community justice workers of Nyayagrah to name 14 tormentors in his now reopened case. The elders of the village gathered at his home to offer him money, and persuade him to not persist with his police statement. Even the Muslim residents were angry that his foolhardy stubbornness threatened their ever precarious safety.

    The elders said to Walibhai, “The boys you are naming to the police grew up before your eyes. Why don’t you forgive them? They are like your sons”. Walibhai replied, “Yes, they are like my sons. I want to forgive them. I only wish for them to call a village meeting, and to seek my forgiveness. I pledge that I will not pursue his complaint with the police after that”. They replied that they were willing to give him any amount of money, but they were not willing to publicly ask for forgiveness. Walibhai replied that in that case, he would touch none of their money, and whatever were the consequences, he would pursue the criminal case to the end. He made his statement before the police, and as a consequence, the 14 youth tormentors were arrested.

    I met Walibhai and his wife Mariam after the arrest, which had created a minor earthquake in social relations in the entire region. After his statement to the police, he was boycotted completely by both the Hindu and Muslim residents of his village. Completely isolated in his remote village, but fiercely proud and elated, he declared, “I don’t care if they hack me to pieces now. I feel I am at last restored as a human being”.

    I realised then that the path to reconciliation and forgiveness is an arduous and tortuous one. It is a path, on which people who live with hate and fear, those who perpetrated and survived violence, must meet. They must exchange truth, however fearful and ugly, and remorse and forgiveness, they must together help rebuild shattered lives and trust, establish equality before the law, and then find ways to heal and live and eventually one day love again.

    EPW

    Email: harshmander@reliancemail.net

    Notes

    1 This is persuasively argued by Amartya Sen in

    his seminal book The Argumentative Indian,

    2006. 2 The full survey findings are summarised in the

    article ‘Inside Gujarat’s Relief Colonies:

    Surviving State Hostility and Denial’, Harsh

    Mander Economic and Political Weekly,

    December 23, 2006.

    Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

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