Relief work takes communal colour
The RSS and VHP, who seem to have taken charge of the relief operations in Gujarat, are communalising the relief work , say VK Shashikumar and George K
Nature’s fury did not differentiate between Hindus and Muslims and their places of worship but Man is adamant to distinguish between victims on the basis of their religion.
Picture: The shaking minarets of Ahmedabad in an 1809 etching and now after the quake.
Bhuj/Anjar: Relief operations in the Kutch district of Gujarat have
taken a communal colour. The RSS and VHP cadres have set up relief camps in temples and largely Hindu-dominated areas of the Kutch. They have ignored Muslim populated areas like Anjar. The religious divide in relief operations is evident in the way food is being proffered in community kitchens.
The largest community kitchen in Bhuj town is functioning in Swaminarayan temple in the Nirmal Singh Wadi locality. Here puris, potato curry, bread and khichdi are offered to anyone who walks into the langar (community kitchen). There are kind words and encouragement to eat well as one stands in the queue.
However, for members of the minority community queuing up for food, the battle is between hunger and faith. Their lives, irreparably damaged by the monstrous earthquake, now have to contend with matters of faith.
Residents of Bhuj, belonging to minority communities are being asked to chant ‘Jai Swami Narayan’ or ‘Jai Shri Ram’ by the RSS and VHP cadres, as they queue up for food in relief centres run by these organizations. Unfortunately, most of the major relief operations, launched by the government and private Gujarati relief operations, are being manned by RSS and VHP cadres.
We were eye-witnesses to this cruel communal urge to make the minorities helpless supplicants for food in the Swami Narayan Mandir. In Jubilee Ground, where relief materials keep piling everyday and where food is prepared round the clock in huge couldrons, the VHP cadres lead the slogan-shouting and ask everyone to join in when they shout ‘Jai Shri Ram’. We saw Kishanbhai Mamani, VHP pramukh (chief) of Dahod district, exhorting the people queuing up to join him in the sloganeering. It is here that 50 students from the Ahmedabad Medical College are being co-opted in to the relief work by VHP functionaries.
The RSS and VHP are almost running a parallel government. They have their own network and have quickly set up a good organizational structure. They have representatives at the airport to take charge of the government relief being brought by countless Indian Air Force sorties. In fact, they are working in tandem with the revenue officials of the district administration and the officials who have come in from Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad. It is apparent that the BJP's government, headed by Keshubhai Patel, has co-opted the Sangh Parivar and have, therefore, roped in its cadres in a big way for the relief operations. The administrative coordination in the Kutch district is yet to recover from the scale and shock of the earthquake. In any case, government relief camps have also been taken over by the RSS/VHP cadres.
The fact is that the RSS was the first organization to start relief work. According to Shyamji Rupa, a resident of Ratnal village, 25 km from Bhuj, ‘RSS started relief work two to three hours after the earthquake, the cranes and bulldozers came a day later.’ However, that credit seems to be wearing off because of RSS's attempts to communalize the relief operations.
MG Delhi bureau adds:
According to a report in the Asian Age (8 February), over 10,000 quake-hit people in Kutch have decided not to accept ‘government relief’ in protest against what they call ‘the control over relief operations by fascist elements.’The report quoted Imran Shaikh, a Kutch Muslim, as alleging that local relief workers asked him to chant Jai Shri Ram in order to get relief. Minorities in Kutch are reportedly planning to send an SOS to the President and prime minister.Reportedly 35,000 RSS workers have been active in Gujarat since the quake for relief work. They are now joined by VHP and Bajrang Dal elements.
Muslim organizations from all over the country have come forward to provide relief in the quake-hit areas.