Gujarat through one Indian’s eyes
A Pakistani diplomat in New York, when asked recently if the Gujarat killings of thousands of Muslims by organised mobs of Hindu zealots on the rampage would be raised by Pakistan at the United Nations, replied that what happened in Gujarat, though regrettable, was a domestic Indian affair and, as such, it was not for Pakistan to bring it up at the United Nations. Was the diplomat speaking in what is called the spirit of Shimla, if not of SAARC?
There was a time when Pakistan used to be the first and, nearly always, the only country in the world to invite international attention to such “domestic affairs.” If the killing of Indian Muslims is no longer Pakistan’s concern, then by the same logic, neither is the killing of Kashmiri Muslims any of Pakistan’s business. Does such an approach not nullify the entire concept of human rights which have for some years now been seen as transcending sovereign and geographical boundaries?
If this philosophy were to be accepted, then every government would be free to do what it wished to those who lived in its territories and under its control. Organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch might then as well shut shop and stop speaking on behalf of the world’s oppressed. One wonders what the instructions of Pakistan’s delegation to this year’s meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission will be. If what the New York-based diplomat said reflects official thinking –and there is no reason to suppose otherwise – then it is not difficult to guess what those instructions will be.
Another official, elsewhere, felt differently and wrote about the happenings in Gujarat. What makes this account especially moving is the fact that the writer is a member of the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian counterpart of Pakistan’s DMG-CSP axis. The name of this courageous Indian is Harsh Mander. ‘Cry the beloved country’, he calls his reportage, a title borrowed from that admirable South African writer, Alan Patton. The 2000-word piece subtitled ‘Reflections on the Gujarat massacre’ was given to me in Vienna by my friend Hayat Mehdi who received it from a friend in Jakarta by e-mail. What Mander wrote deserves to be read widely in Pakistan, as elsewhere.
“Numbed with disgust and horror,” Mander writes, “I return from Gujarat ten days after the terror and massacre that convulsed the state. My heart is sickened, my soul wearied, my shoulders aching with the burdens of guilt and shame.” He speaks of 53,000 women, men and children huddled in 28 temporary settlements. He sees people clutching small bundles of relief materials, their eyes dry and glassy. Some talk in low voices, others busy themselves with humdrum tasks that are necessary to keep body and soul together.
Mander writes that the accounts you hear of what happened are “so macabre, that my pen falters.” The “pitiless brutality” against women and children by organised bands of armed young men has been “more savage than anything witnessed in the riots that have shamed this nation from time to time during the past century.” He narrates stories of such pure horror that one flinches as one reads them. “What can you say about a woman eight months pregnant who begged to be spared; her assailants instead slit open her stomach, pulled out her foetus and slaughtered it before her eyes! What can you say about a family of 19 killed by flooding their house with water and then electrocuting them with high-tension electricity!” A boy of six sees six of his brothers and sisters battered to death. He survives because he is taken for dead. A young woman with a three-year old is shepherded to “safety” by a policemen and is surrounded by a mob which douses her and the baby with gasoline and sets them on fire.
Mander hears reports everywhere of “gang rape, of young girls and women, often in the presence of members of their families, followed by murder by burning alive, or by bludgeoning with a hammer and, in one case, with a screwdriver.” Women tell appalling stories of how armed men disrobe themselves in front of them to cower them down. Most people he meets in Ahmedabad agree that what happened in Gujarat was “not a riot but a terrorist attack followed by a systematic, planned massacre, a pogrom.” The “pillage and plunder” was organised like a “military operation against an armed enemy.” A truck would arrive broadcasting inflammatory slogans, followed by more trucks which would disgorge young men in khaki shorts and saffron sashes, armed with sophisticated explosive materials, weapons, daggers and tridents. The leaders spoke constantly on mobile phones to those directing their operations. Some carried computer-generated lists of Muslim homes. “It was not a spontaneous upsurge of mass anger; it was a carefully planned pogrom,” Mander concludes.
Rich Muslim homes and businesses were prime targets, which after being looted would be set on fire. “Mosques and darghas were razed,” according to Mander, “replaced by statues of Hanuman and saffron flags. Some darghas in Ahmedabad city crossings have overnight been demolished and their sites covered with road-building material and bulldozed so efficiently that these spots are indistinguishable from the rest of the road. Traffic now plies over these former darghas, as though they never existed.” He points out that the “unconscionable failures and active connivance of the state police and administrative machinery is now widely acknowledged.” The police provided a “protective shield” to pillaging mobs and were “deaf to the pleas of desperate Muslim victims.” There are many reports of police firing directly at gathered Muslims. Most of those arrested are Muslims.
Mander charges that not even one administrative officer fulfilled his duty, whereas he was required by law to “act independently, fearlessly, impartially, decisively, with courage and compassion.” No riot can continue, he argues, beyond a few hours without the active connivance of the local police and magistracy, adding, “The blood of hundreds of innocents is on the hands of the police and civil authorities of Gujarat and by sharing in the conspiracy of silence, the entire higher bureaucracy of the country.” Ironically, the gates of the Sabarmati Ashram, founded in honour of Mahatama Gandhi, were closed to protect the property, otherwise some Muslims could have found shelter there. Another “matter of shame” is that the refugee camps are being run entirely by Muslims, the state being nowhere in evidence. “It is as though the monumental pain, loss, betrayal and injustice suffered by the Muslim people is the concern only of other Muslim people, and the rest of us have no share in the responsibility to assuage, to heal and rebuild,” he adds.
Mander ends his poignant account with these words, “There is much that the murdering mobs in Gujarat have robbed me of. One of them is a song I often sang with pride and conviction. ‘Sare jahan se achha, Hindustan hamara.’ It is a song I will never be able to sing again.”