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EDITORIAL: 1-15 September 2002

Lest we forget

An unhappy development in a section of Indiaís Muslim community since the early days of Gujarat carnage is a tendency towards self-deception, an ostrich-like attitude that if we bury our head in sand the hunter out to kill us would not see us. This could possibly have come as some kind of a riot-fatigue to people who witnessed the brutal fratricide of the Partition and have continuously been subjected to the spectacle of organised massacre of Muslims in India ever since.

In psychology this phenomenon is understood as a coping mechanism that develops in continuously persecuted people. By a conscious denial, they try to de-stress themselves, telling themselves: "See, there is no problem. Donít worry." There are other ways of coping also, like rationalisation of an unpleasant reality. In that case the victim tries to rationalise brutalisation, and sometimes ends up blaming himself, without justification. In case of Gujarat, it would be like some Muslims saying, "we have invited it on our heads through our own fault". There would always be people around who would respond to persecution in such abject manner.

There is yet another way of coping-the one displayed by the Jewish community (supported by the entire world), and that is to pledge that a Nazi holocaust never happens again. For that a people must have a long memory and a firm determination to say "Never Again", and act on that pledge. Sadly, what some of our senior people have been advising since the Gujarat carnage is just the opposite of it. They advise us to forget Gujarat. 

Why? "Because the dead are consigned to dust and would never return. So let us get down to business as usual." That, one must say, is a dangerous delusion, a fatal fallacy.

Every year we read reports of former Nazis in their 80s and 90s being caught in far off places and dragged to court, tried and sentenced for life (or whatever remains of it). It would not have happened if the Jews had forgotten the holocaust.

Just to drive home the point, it is pertinent to recall the case of a European rabbi being taken to a Nazi concentration camp during the height of Hitlerís persecution campaign. When his disciples asked him what should they be doing after he was gone, he said only two words: "Record and document". And the Jews documented with such single-minded devotion that virtually every Nazi of any consequence and his deeds have been recorded. That makes it easy to nab them wherever they are hiding and bring them to trial.

"The dead would not come to life again whatever we do. So, let us move on". That is the crux of the defeatist argument. In real life, however, it does not work that way. Action against the perpetrators of genocides, or what are called "genocide-like" crimes against humanity (the latter being more apt for Gujarat violence) does not bring the dead to life, but the culprits to justice. That shows the entire line of argument pleading collective amnesia is founded on wrong premises.

Self-inflicted amnesia would not help Muslims (or any other human group subjected to monumental violence). Philip Roth, who like Saul Bellow is a writer on Jewish condition and their experience, has a Jewish character in his novel Portnoyís Complaint, who says, "Yes I have a Masada complex. And a Hitler complex". If Jews canít forget Hitler after 57 years, and Masada even after 2500 years, how fair is it for Muslims to be expected to forget Gujarat in six months? Have Sikhs forgotten 1984 in 18 years?

By not forgetting we donít plead reprisal or replying to an illegal and immoral act with another illegal and immoral act. By not forgetting we demand that human dignity be restored, victims be compensated, restituted and rehabilitated, the honour of Indiaís Constitution restored, and the guilty prosecuted and punished, so that they are not free to repeat the same brutal act again.

A point to be remembered here is that justice in Gujarat is no longer the exclusive domain of Muslims because they have been victimised. It is the cause of hundreds of millions of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Budhists, Parsees, agnostics and atheists as well. Even if some among us decide to inflict self-defeating amnesia on ourselves the larger civil society is not going to leave the criminals alone. For every Muslim at least there are half a dozen others who would not allow the new Milosevics and Hitlers to escape. And they must never escape. It is not a communal battle- it is a battle for human rights and common human decency. There is no scope for self- delusion here.

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