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Published in the 16-28 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Gujarat round up

'Forgive and forget': new policy for riot victims

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani, Ahmedabad

The Milli Gazette Online

Ever since the conclusion of the riots, segments of the establishment in Gujarat have been informally espousing the line that the victims should follow the policy of ‘forgive and forget’.

This in essence meant that they should not insist on prosecution of the culprits. After seeing the deadly violence, large sections of the minority community in the state tended to agree with this suggestion. What is to be gained in trying to meddle with aggressive elements in the majority community was a common refrain heard amongst Muslims post-2002. Also common place was the argument that buying peace is, if not anything else, a damage limitation exercise.

Somewhere down the line, things changed. Although continued peace and de-escalation of tensions was the fervent wish of both the majority and minority communities, the latter and enlightened sections of the former, began to see a ray of hope with riot cases being reopened and investigated afresh. But now with Zahira Sheikh turning hostile, the clock has been pushed back.

While lawyers insist that Zahira’s backtracking will not lead to the Best Bakery case falling flat. Once again, because she is only one of ‘the many’ witnesses in the case, analysts say that she has become more like the boy who cries wolf.

Nobody knows when she is speaking the truth, if anything, the whole episode has demolished her own credibility, they argue.

All this may be true, but at the same time, to use the language of Dalal street, the general sentiments have turned adverse. This will cast its shadow not only over the Best Bakery case, but also a host of other riot cases. It will also put a question mark on NGOs. At the least the question asked will be what is the use of organisations that cannot keep their flock together? The deep internal rivalry that divides the various NGOs will also come to surface.

What is worse is that the old theory of forgive (your aggressors) and forget (about what happened) will rear its head with a bang. Large sections of riot victims may well fall in line, giving a new lease of life to the rioters.

Also, many of the riot aggressors, who had been feeling a little restive lately because their mentors seemed incapable of providing protection to them, would now feel optimistic and ease their pressure on the latter. In recent weeks, senior cops have also said in private meetings that they were feeling the heat from the ranks following the booking of some policemen in riot cases.

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