Would those who encouraged the victimisers to kill in Gujarat be willing to apologise or make a conciliatory gesture to the victims? That would be a confession of guilt and guilt is what Narendra Modi is constantly denying

Romila Thapar

In 1947, Partition was accompanied by massacres so gruesome that many said they would not allow this to happen again. But we have been through three genocides since then and the perpetrators of the violence continue to be powerful members of our society. The three I am referring to are the anti-Sikh genocide in Delhi in 1984, the anti-Muslim in Gujarat in 2002, and more recently, the anti-Christian Dalit in Orissa. Genocide seems to follow a pattern in India post-1947. In each case it is the majority Hindu community that targets and kills those of a minority community of a specific and different religion, and in numbers far larger than are killed in communal riots. The justification for the killings is said to be some action on the part of the non-Hindus that is said to have angered the Hindus who then seek revenge. But, apart from the accusation being true or not, does any such action justify genocide? The actual motive often lies in the politics of the region. Religious antagonism or conciliation is what gets discussed in the aftermath, while the political and economic motives get brushed aside.

This raises many questions. These are not irrelevant and we need to have clear answers.

Does this have to do with religion or with the way religion is mobilised politically with religious organisations becoming the agencies of political ideologies? Are Hindus by nature more given to killing, despite all the hype about belonging to a non-violent and tolerant culture? Or, why is it that the agencies of law and order — the police and administration — seem not to protect those attacked when they are members of a religious minority, or Dalits or women? Are they so infiltrated by religious extremist influence — Hindus in the main — that they do not bother to defend those attacked?

Or, does nationalism define ‘Indian’ now to mean ‘Hindu’, and therefore the Hindu has primacy as citizen? Does this make non-Hindus dispensable? One wonders what has happened to the earlier concept of being Indian, a category inclusive of all communities; a concept that my generation of Indians stood by? If the violence is spontaneous, and in the name of a religion, then it is a blot on the religion of the community that perpetrates the violence, be it Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. If it is orchestrated by the State, then a State resorting to genocide can hardly claim to be a well-administered State. Only an incompetent government is unable to control what turns into genocide. This negates claims of good governance.

Given the scale and type of violence, there is little doubt that in Gujarat the police and administration were ineffective, to say the least. These are agencies which, now, all over the country, see themselves not as those whose duty it is to protect citizens, but rather as primarily having to be subservient to political authority, their function being to carry out the orders of those governing. There are a few, but unfortunately too few, who still see themselves as protectors of citizens and defenders of the rights of citizens. Among these few, there have been some police officers and administrators who have suggested that the violence in Gujarat was orchestrated by those governing. Their views cannot be easily dismissed.

If the administration in Gujarat is as efficient as is projected by Modi and his supporters, then some questions still remain to be answered. Even on the specific issues linked to the genocide, there are gross inefficiencies. 

The assault on women is particularly vicious. Women are the most devastated victims because the attack on them cuts both ways 

Of those accused of setting fire to the coaches at Godhra, I am told that 84 are still awaiting judgement. Ten years is a long time for there to be no judgement on what is held to be a simple case of arson. Is it a simple case of arson? Why is it that almost 50 per cent of the persons said to be missing — over 200 persons — cannot be traced, and records are missing? As is usual in such incidents, the paying of full compensation has been delayed. This smacks of normal corruption in the administration from which the Gujarat administration is obviously not free.

Going beyond 2002, there is a need to understand why there was a genocide, particularly in Gujarat. The anti-Sikh and anti-Christian Dalit killings were concentrated in limited areas, but, in Gujarat, the killings were widespread. If Gujarat is a well-administered, prosperous state, where was the need for the killings?

The patedars lived off the rich income from their lands, there was money pouring in from Gujarati NRIs living in the West, and the corporates were investing in Gujarat. What is it that the rich Hindus feared and fear? Is it that there would be a loss of subordinated Muslim labour, employed by thepatedars, if the standard of living of the labourer improves? The import of unskilled labour from UP and Bihar seems to point to a problem with local labour. Is there a competition for employment, making it necessary to destroy skilled Muslim artisans? Is there a fear of the upward mobility of Muslim OBCs and Dalits, also asking for quotas? Why is the Gujarat government unable to bring water to parched areas to relieve the desperation of farmers?

From the print issue of Hardnews :