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Published in the 1-15 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Gujarat: lengthening shadows of Trident
By Ram Puniyani

While the country is facing the general elections shortly (April-May 2004), the news from Gujarat continues to be very disturbing. During the period of this month two events in particular shook the conscience of those committed to democratic and secular values. The first one was the aftermath of Supreme Court judgement in the Best Bakery case. To recapitulate the apex court has ruled that the deliverance of justice in Gujarat has been flawed from bottom to top. The state Govt. has not been able to protect the witnesses in the case, the goons of Bajarang Dal and VHP intimidated them due to which they turned hostile and the lower court exonerated all the culprits. In response Zahira Sheikh with the help of Citizens committee for Justice and Peace filed a case in the Supreme Court to shift the case away from Gujarat so that justice can be done to the victims of riots. Immediately after this as the judgement came, the local supporters of BJP-VHP came and intimidated Teesta Setalvad, Secretary of Citizens Committee, and Fr. Cedric Prakash of Prashant, an NGO deeply associated with the Human Rights issues of Gujarat victims. The duo had to be given police protection.

The group of youth traveling the country, under the banner of Youth for Peace, (from Anhad), under the program Meri Awaz Suno (Please here me out), was attacked by the followers of same set of political formations. This group has been touring all over the country appealing to uphold the secular democratic values in the forthcoming elections. It is in Gujarat that even the appeal of such a nature is looked down at, as being Anti Hindu and the Hindutva forces, the followers of Modi-Advani, cannot tolerate them. These two incidents remind one of the state of civic society in this state. This has been worsening since the genocide and the post genocide polarization of the communities on religious lines. It is not only that Human rights activists are being targeted, the democratic space has also been constrained at social level. Recently an appeal released by Sahmat and Communalism Combat points out that "Terror continues to be unleashed systematically against the Muslim minority in Gujarat through indiscriminate arrests and illegal detentions by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch of at least 80 Muslim youth, the selective application of POTA against 12 Muslims for alleged involvement in the Haren Pandya murder and 123 accused in the Godhra mass arson. Muslim women, relatives of allegedly absconding accused and even of detained persons, have also been brutally abused during questioning by the Ahmedabad police."

In addition as per the same report the economic boycott of Muslim community that started in the wake of the Gujarat violence also continues in various cities. A person no less than the status of Mallika Sarabhai, in one of her recent interviews given to a newspaper, pointed out that a feeling of terror prevails in the state due to which the democratic right of expression has been curtailed to a great extent. As such also the opposition movement is groping its way to find the way to ensure the preservation of human rights but the odds are too many. There is also a fear in the air that large sections of Muslims may not be permitted to vote in the forthcoming elections by shear force and intimidation.

Is it difficult to imagine as to how a group of youth with an appeal to National integration and shunning of communalism be attacked? How can the civil society be made to keep quiet and forced into submission by the fundamentalist forces? It has become easy for the political activists of BJP-VHP to intimidate the social workers that are trying to preserve the cause of democracy and in turn are defending the rights of riot victims to get justice.

Gujarat has been having the uninterrupted rule of BJP for the last decade or so. The consolidation of section of Hindus in to a solid block backing the politics of RSS and its progeny is by now reaching critical limits. Limits critical enough to be understood as the end of the road for democratic and liberal space. This process began from last two decades first as anti-Dalit riots in sequence 1980, 1981 and 1986. Later through various Rath yatras, which are a modern innovative tool of RSS-VHP politics and upper caste-class section started being consolidated into a camp, which stood to benefit from the suppression of rights of Dalits and OBC. During late 80s a conscious policy was undertaken to co-opt the Dalits and to unleash them upon the 'external' enemy in the form of Muslims. Such politics of hate always requires an external enemy. This process was supplemented by an intense process of communalization of social space through anti-minority propaganda, which was achieved by spreading myths about the minorities, the myths based on history, medieval and present and through the myths based on demographic lies and the international politics. This process of consolidation was boosted by the anti-Christian violence, which was done in mid nineties. This was also accompanied by coopting sections of adivasis through identity politics. Both dalits and adivasis were used by RSS and its progeny in the Gujarat riots.

Meanwhile the state apparatus also has been communalized. It was manifested in its bowing to the butcher of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, during the riots and converting the communal violence into state sponsored genocide. The affluent professional group has not remained far behind. During Gujarat violence even the deliverance of Medical relief was communalized, something which goes against the Hippocratic oath which the members of medical profession are supposed to abide by. This oath affirms that medical professionals will discharge their professional duties irrespective of patients' religion or nationality or whatever that be. The legal community was taken in by various means. Even as the riots were going on the VHP prepared a team of legal professionals to defend the perpetrators of riots. It is not too much surprising that the legal community which sat quiet during the hearing of Best Bakery and turning all the witnesses hostile, now wakes up to make noise against the supreme court's decision to shift the cases away from Gujarat. 

The attitude of civil society during riots was also a big set back to the democratic sensibilities. In a way it reflected the state of communalization of society. A society which witnessed the butchering of two thousand innocents, kept quiet, believing that all this is being done to take the revenge of Godhra. As if revenge is an option in a democratic society, as if by killing the innocents Muslims in different parts of Gujarat will give justice to those killed in the Sabrmati train burning. All this reflected the state of the mind of the dominant sections of society. On the top of it Modi was clever enough to pass off any criticism of his administration as an insult to 50 million (5 crore) Gujratis. The human rights movements are also being put to all the possible obstacles in their functioning.

The tragic events of Gujarat are just a mirror of our democracy. How if unguarded, the fascist tendencies can grow and engulf the democracy lock stock and barrel. Gujarat is very close to 'Fascism in one state' as far as Indian nation is concerned. With the latest victory of BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajsthan and Chattisgargh, the process of fascisisation of these states has also been put on the faster gears. Especially in MP and Rajasthan, the dangerous signals are emerging. The NDA rule, nay the BJP rule during last five years has opened the floodgates for this politics to grow at a higher pace. State sponsored funding of RSS organizations has gone up, various secular institutions are being taken over by the RSS swayamsevaks. With communalization of school textbooks, most of the job of RSS shakhas (branches) of communalization is being parceled out to the schools in a most organised way. 

Gradually the influence of RSS project is growing in different states like Orrisa and Kerala, to name the two. Are we doomed to witness the march of Fascism state by state? Indian polity is at a very precarious crossroad. The return of BJP with similar strength may mean the early arrival of doomsday as now the leash on Togadias and Modis will be totally absent and more of their ilk will proliferate and discover the so called Hindutva issues state by state.

If India is to remain a democracy, secularism has to survive. They are twins, which cannot survive in isolation. There is no single panacea for protection of the society from the onslaught of Fascist trident. Apart from electoral arena, the one at social level are equally crucial if we want our democracy to survive. How will Human rights movement take up the dangers posed by RSS agenda is a million life question!

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