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Silences and the Impossibility of Confabulation after Godhra

The silence on Tehelka's exposure of the state machinery's connivance in the anti-Muslim carnage in Gujarat is not as telling as the creation of an atmosphere where such silence is acceptable. And the opposition has let Narendra Modi set the agenda by arguing about development rather than his government's complicity in the post-Godhra murders and rape.

SILENCES IN GUJARAT

Silences and the Impossibility of Confabulation after Godhra

Amruth M

the carnage and the political opposition) even to acknowledge its gravity has been glaring. Many justify this as a strategic silence lest the issue potentially polarises votes in favour of the ruling regime. But this deafening silence, laying bare the inability to sustain a discussion on the

The silence on Tehelka’s exposure of the state machinery’s connivance in the anti-Muslim carnage in Gujarat is not as telling as the creation of an atmosphere where such silence is acceptable. And the opposition has let Narendra Modi set the agenda by arguing about development rather than his government’s complicity in the post-Godhra murders and rape.

I am thankful to Viswanathan, Sunny Jose, Amita Shah, Jharana Pathak, Tommasso and Ghanashyam Shah who shared with me their observations on Gujarat and especially to Keshab Das and Sanal Mohan who patiently went through a previous draft and made many suggestions for improvements; however, any shortcomings are entirely mine.

Amruth M (amruth@gidr.ac.in) is a social scientist with the Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad.

Economic & Political Weekly december 8, 2007

W
hat follow are thoughts on a congealing paradigm of government in Gujarat. These are in resonance with a recent commentary in the EPW that challenged the validity of the “Vibrant Gujarat” electoral campaign by the Narendra Modi regime.1 While it is on grounds of the state’s blatant refusal to treat victims of the 2002 carnage as citizens (let alone as internal refugees) that the authors countered the claims of development in the state, here the focus is on yet another symbol of the state’s hegemony. This is posed in the aftermath of the weekly Tehelka bringing out new and tell-tale evidence of state connivance in the post-Godhra carnage and in the context of the ongoing electoral campaigns in the state.2 It is the near-total absence of discussions, or as I would prefer to call it, the impossibility of confabulation on the issue, that strikes an observer of these campaigns and functioning of the mass media in the state.3 Here effort is not to unearth the complex roots of this benumbing scenario, but rather to point out the tendentious nature of this void and its consequences.

Though Gujarat has a record of recurrent riots, the post-Godhra carnage remains distinct due to the unprecedented phenomenon of the connivance of state machinery in the killings.4 Pieces of evidence affirming the state’s proactive role in the massacre have been accumulating over the last five years; the Tehelka account is the latest among them. It assumes special significance as it was released less than seven weeks before the first phase of the assembly polls.5

With the polls approaching, the manner in which the public, politicians, media and the regime have (dis)engaged with this disclosure defies simple explanation. The near-total refusal of the media and politicians (including the engineers of injustice, is symptomatic of a disturbing pattern in society. For, this silence demonstrates an impossibility of critical public discourse on the topic. And for me, it is this impossibility that defines the problematic for the moment.6

Silences, Meanings and Memories

Silence has the potential to assume multiple meanings (hence, silences). Here, on the one hand, the refusal to discuss the carnage in the context of the Tehelka exposure by the ruling regime clearly implies a shying away from acknowledging its role in the carnage and wrongfulness of the act. On the other, this amounts to hegemonic valorisation of the violence and thus the creation of a fear factor. The ruling regime, instead, wants to project itself as a deliverer of development. It is obvious that the Modi regime is keen on filling the void it created with the claims of development. Thus, development has come to be a boldly written placard to cover its own bloodstained face for the regime.

Pitifully, even the opposition, while acknowledging its inability to sustain the issue of genocide or the criminality of the act as a central issue of campaign, has ended up reacting to the claims of the ruling regime and its failure to deliver development.7 This hesitation in speaking out with that of Modi’s refusal to discuss the issue (he walked out of an interview on a national TV channel and has refused to discuss the carnage in interviews)8 and his contrasting eloquence on development and Gujarati provincialism, is not accidental but foundational in the constitution of a particular mode of silence in society. While Modi’s taciturnity may be easily interpreted as his losing ground on the issue, the very fact that his opponents were compelled to discuss the agenda set by him (development) proves that the converse is true. For the opposition, this amounts to adopting given idioms and

SILENCES IN GUJARAT

figures of speech and, thus, the rules of the game itself.

It is disheartening to note that the situation renders true the fears aired by Tarun Tejpal (Tehelka editor) in his prophetic “Read, and Be Afraid” remarks on the issue, where he observed that society and politicians are indifferent and hesitant to keeping alive the memory of this injustice, the carnage.9 The current vicissitudes in the larger public morality making discussion an impossibility are a clear indication of the trend. Here, what is significant is not “the silence” that is desired by the ruling regime, rather the created context in which the silence is perpetuated among the contesting and contending agencies on a serious issue pertinent to justice.

Silencing the Media

The incidence of blackout of cable television networks during the broadcast of the Tehelka exposure (following directions by a senior civil servant) on grounds of the programme’s conceived potential to create a communal flare-up and a subsequent ban on four television channels are instances of silencing the media.10 Jamming the cable network is being justified on the pretext of censoring the sensitive contents of the programme. What is invoked here is the idea of existence of a delicate communal situation that is susceptible to a flare-up even at the slightest of provocations. This act of silencing, the silence thus sustained and the near-total failure of resistance are a clear reflection of the state’s role in dampening critical discourses.

This, however, is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, where the invisibility of the state’s role in engendering these silences has wider implications for society. For instance the unofficial and off-therecord ban effected on the movie Parzania is a telling incident;11 a clear indication of the progressive muting in Gujarat’s society. Strategies of silencing have now shifted from the visible to the invisible, record to off-the-record, vocal to silent, pre-empting and defying any attempts to bring it in front of the judiciary. This process is symptomatic and reveals the nature of the power structure and hegemony that makes vocalising those topics for discussion impossible. How was this hegemony made possible? It is not only through the state police. The saffron cadre too functions as perpetuators of insecurity and threat and who have the ability to hold the minority to ransom. In short, the totalitarian potential of the state is decentralised to a near complete level of saffron foot soldiers. The result is an offthe-record regime of terror. Here is not a case of the state failing but a case of extreme consolidation of state machinery for cover-ups and rebuffs – in short, transmutation to an off-the-record paradigm of government where there is no hope for justice.

State of Exception

The Tehelka exposure is said to have “revealed” nothing hitherto unknown to the public.12 The involvement of the state has been a public secret in Gujarat’s society. This public secret has deeper implications as this public knowledge has been silenced, making society unforthcoming and hesitant to engage with the matter in discussions. This also constitutes a kind of insecurity – perpetuated through awareness of the state’s ability to legitimise terror, persecution and yet another carnage and get away with it. All are aware of these capacities of the ruling regime either as witness, prey or predator of the pogrom. In this sense the 2002 carnage, the subsequent act of protecting the accused and trivialisation of the victims was stage-managed to produce a demonstrative effect on not only the spectators but also the predators and prey. This “real drama” turned out to be enormously successful in producing intended results such as production of fear and silence.

Another strategy of manufacturing fear and imposing silence involves perpetuation of a sense of impending insecurity in the state. A sense of existence of such a “state of exception” or “state of possible siege” is enabled by disproportionate publicity to the possibility that episodes similar to the 2002 carnage would be repeated by events of (false) encounters with “militants” in the state. We know very well that the declaration of a state of exception is a strategic excuse made by modern states to legitimise freezing of fundamental rights of their subjects by imposing special rules of law.13 Creation of such twilight zones in democracy has come to stay as a paradigm of government in the state.

The claims of development in Gujarat, (in references to Chandhoke et al (2007)), should necessarily invite the question of who are included and who are excluded from the process. Or more precisely one should ask, “development for whom”? For the victims of the carnage and the displaced this development signifies denigration to a second-class citizenry, and worse still, losing citizenship itself. These victims are unqualified by birth for the best manifestations of governance, the national destiny – development. If development here means also social justice and equality, they are ineligible for these too. The state machinery’s refusal to provide the victims access to customary services such as power, water, public distribution system, education, healthcare, justice, etc, signifies denial of their rightful citizenry.

We hear of the plights of victims stripped of even the last remnants of legal and political privileges and becoming a legal and political non-entity.14 In other words, these are bare lives dumped along with the wastes of galloping urban consumption in India’s “most prosperous state” where the ruling regime projects itself as the messiah of development.15 They are also bare lives whose extermination the state would not care to stall or lament. It is a paradox which society has already come to terms with. And the silences and silencing function as an effective mechanism to engineer social exclusion once again demonstrates how development as an empty signifier can contain so many contradictory meanings.

Controlling Grammar

The silence also points to the perpetuation and reinforcement of an existing structure of hegemony that is effected through violence. The basic features of these structures of hegemony are mutual exclusion or segregation and extreme imparity in accessing facilities and amenities among communities. This gradually leads to the production of different contexts of experiences and meanings. By structures, here we refer not only to urban life, work and commercial spaces, public services, and

december 8, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly

SILENCES IN GUJARAT

financial institutions but also to discourses such as development, justice, citizenship, and equality. For instance, the spatial segregation of urban living, work and commercial spaces is extreme between the Hindu and Muslim communities in Ahmedabad. And this divide is not limited to the material realm alone, but extends to the symbolic realm as well, i e, there are walls of segregation everywhere dividing the meanings and experiences between communities.

The structures of everyday experience of the communities have become so segregated that a particular kind of normalisation has been taking place. And this segregation is productive of majority and minority subjectivity or a “majority becoming” of the Hindu community and a “minority becoming” of the Muslim community.

This polarisation has, thus, simply enabled production of often diametrically opposite meanings, so much so that it is impossible to hold a shared discourse. This divide cannot be seen separately from the silences we are referring to but these are integral to the divide itself. This particular silence and silencing undercuts preconditions for viable civil society discourses, validity of representational electoral process, and efforts to create a more inclusive society. Instead, here the impossibility of shared experiences becomes an instrument for a vocal mode of social exclusion.

Making the Cry Heard

Given these conditions, elements of civil society discourse in existence in Gujarat are but too fragmented and unable to generate a coherent grammar for sustaining counter-discourses.16 This is at the same time cause and consequence, constituting and constitutive, mutually reinforcing of the silence and silencing. So the effort here should be to create a space for viable civil society discourse. The modalities with which such a space can be created would necessarily mean adoption of a variety of strategies from reclaiming of the subsumed biographies, giving voices to erased minority subjecthoods to recreating new structures of experiences. Any such effort should also include founding institutions to keep alive those painful

Economic & Political Weekly december 8, 2007

memories of the injustice and suppression of voices. And it is time to discuss the modalities with which we should go ahead. For we know adequately that the absence of viable civil society discourse is one of the preconditions for failing “programmes to improve human conditions”; it is no surprise that such a failure would worsen human conditions under an oppressive regime.17 Because in Gujarat, with suppression of discussion on carnage, now development is going to be the new rhetoric demanding human sacrifice.

Here, one feels terrorised at the prospects of this particular assortment of situations – national security and development forming the hollow buzzwords of the regime, simplification or levelling of society by ignoring its inherent heterogeneity, conception of the social change and development as an instant mix concoction (for selected sections of society), weakening of the civil society institutions,18 and a regime that denies possibilities of polyphony and refuses to engage with the dissenting voices. As James Scott candidly explains to us through cases quoted from histories of modern western nations, here we have all these potencies ready in Gujarat and the warning of Tarun Tejpal looms large – “Be Afraid”!

Notes

1 Neera Chandhoke, Praveen Priyadarshi, Silky Tyagi and Neha Khanna, ‘The Displaced of Ahmedabad’, Economic and Political Weekly, October 27, 2007, 10-14.

2 A set of stealth video accounts of vainglories aired by predators about their role in the 20

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leased by the Tehelka weekly (on internet see: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main35.asp?filename=

Ne031107gujrat_sec.asp) and telecasted on Aaj Tak television channel (on October 25). 3 Voters in Gujarat’s 182 legislative assembly constituencies are to vote on December 11 and 16.

4 Observers of the Gujarat society have pointed this out. Another distinct feature of the 2002 killings was lack of spontaneity and these killings were virtually one-sided, in which the attackers and causalities were almost completely communally segregated so much so that to describe it with any word that would mean “riot” involving two communal groups would be totally misleading.

5 There is widespread disagreement about the appropriateness of the timing of the exposure, but our concern is not the appropriateness of the timing of the exposure but rather to look at its impact/ reception.

6 These observations are based on the author validating his experiences with observations on Gujarat society by academicians from the state. Besides observations by journalists are also consulted. For instance see Prashant Jha, ‘Gujarat as Another Country: The making and Reality of a Fascist Realm’, cover story, Himal Southasian, October 2006.

7 Times of India, ‘Congress Wary of All-out Attack’, October 27, 2007. 8 He walked out of an interview on October 19, 2007 after having been asked questions pertaining to

post-Godhra carnage. For more details on the interview please visit the following web page: http://www.hinduonnet.com/2007/10/22/stories/2007102254891100.

htm. It is known that one of the conditions for granting an interview with the chief minster is that no questions on the post-Godhra carnage will be asked.

9 Tarun Tejpal, Tehelka internet edition: http://www. tehelka.com/story_main35.asp?filename=Ne031107 Tarunspiece.asp

10 The district collector of Ahmedabad, who also holds judicial powers, ordered four TV channels off the air on October 25, 2007. The channels were: CNN-IBN, IBN7, NDTV and Aaj Tak – CNN-IBN.2007. “Government to meet on news channel blackout in Gujarat. On Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 07:56 in Nation section CNN-IBN, published on Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 07:56 in Nation section.

11 The release of the movie was effectively torpedoed by Hindutwa outfits without there being any official ban against it as different from the case of Fanaa where the state officially banned the movie. See Urvish Kothari, ‘Parzania and the Dictator, of Gujarat: Who Was Responsible for the Ban on the Release of Parzania in Gujarat? Apparently Nobody’, Himal South Asian, March 2007. For the mechanism of effecting such censorship see Amardeep Singh, ‘The Communalisation of Censorship’, Himal SouthAsian, August 2007.

12 As early as March 2002, when the post-Godhra killing was still on, political observer and columnist Praful Bidwai had explicitly alleged state collusion in the killings. See article: Praful Bidwai, ‘End the Butchery, Sack Modi’, Frontline: Volume 19-Issue 06, March 16- 29, 2002. Also see Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002. Crime against Humanity: An Inquiry into the Carnage in Gujarat, List of Incidents and Evidence, three vols, published by Anil Dharkar, for Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai. Many reports in the print as well as visual media also explicitly brought out evidences in the same direction.

13 Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, tr Kevin Attell, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005. In India a variety of constitutional provisions and special laws such as ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’ (POTA) has been the latest among the special laws that has been in force with provisions to detain and suspend the fundamental rights in the pretext of protecting of National security.

14 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, tr Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1998.

15 See the relevant portion Neera Chandhoke et al, ‘The Displaced of Ahmedabad’, Economic and Political Weekly, October 27, 2007, where the internally displaced is shown to be forced to live beside the urban waste dump in Ahmedabad.

16 This is not to ignore the significant role played by a handful of concerned groups, individuals and NGOs. But for their efforts many a victim could not have accessed the judicial system, and society outside Gujarat would not have known the carnage. But here it is to state their state-crafted structural constraints in reaching to a wider public.

17 James C Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve Human Condition Have Failed, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998.

18 For instance see Express News Service, ‘Sibal: Modi to be Booked If Cong Comes to Power’, The Indian Express, posted online: Friday, November 02, 2007. which accuses that the “…post of Lokayukta is lying vacant since 2003; the Deputy Speaker has not been appointed since 2002; the State Human Rights Commission is headed by a Chairman but no members have been appointed”.

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