India: Voices from wounded Gujarat

South Asia Citizen's Wire
In a tribal village Tejgarh in rural Vadodara in Gujarat, economic boycott continues vigorously against the petty local Muslim traders even today.
While destroying their small shops in 2002, a spreading neem tree under which some of the shops had sheltered for generations was also burnt down.
Arjun, a young adivasi teacher of litera-ture, writes a poignant requiem to the fallen mighty neem, "You were like the adivasi: Steadfast of character and generous of spirit".

In an analogy to the violence by adivasis in 2002, he goes on, "It was not you who destroyed the shops of the Muslims. You were set aflame yourself, and fell unknowingly of the shops that stood in your shade".

He adds, "I grieved as you burnt, but did nothing to douse your fires. Just like the intellectuals of my Gujarat". Meanwhile, ordinary survivors cope bravely with the unending catastrophe of a hostile government and divided people.

An autorickshaw driver, Munnabhai, recounts his encounter with a beautiful young woman, who asks him to drive her anywhere, do what he likes with her, but give her some money.

On persistent probing, she confides that she was widowed by the massacre in 2002, and did not know how else to feed her three children. The driver, himself a victim of the carnage, gives her all the money he has, and weeps a little as he drives her home.

Sharief's eyes also well over briefly as he recalls the tribulations of his family while starting life afresh after they lost their home and loved ones in the massacre of 2002 in Naroda Patia in Ahmedabad.

"If there is one man who is most responsible for our recovery, it is the owner of the factory in which my father works. Right from the months that we were at the relief camp, the Hindu seth ensured that my father got his salary every month.

He kept his factory job vacant, and took him back as soon as we moved out from the camp, unlike thousands of other Muslims who were retrenched. He gave him loans to rebuild our home, and said: "Don't bother if you cannot repay". Such stories are untold but abound in Gujarat.

Yet simultaneously the dramatic victory in three quarters of the seats by the BJP in the recent municipal elections in Ahmedabad confirms the emergence of Narendra Modi as a modern folk hero for the adoring middle classes, testifying to a ever-widening engineered communal chasm.

But many bewildered Muslim residents say, "We ourselves worked against the Congress. What could we do when it put up candidates who had led the murdering mobs in 2002".

Just beyond the glitter of commerce and festivities in the city, one constantly hits against astounding hate. Overheard at a petrol pump at Gandhinagar is a Gujarati yuppie on a mobile phone to his friend, commenting on the recent earthquake, "Good that the world is burdened by 30,000 less Muslims".

The mood is similarly drenched in hatred in many affected villages. In Mogha in Kheda, for instance, statues have been erected for two martyrs of Hindutva, killed in the 2002 carnage. You explore further, and find that they were killed several days after all the Muslims of the village were driven out.

The story is that they were probably looting within a Muslim home whose residents had fled, and unknowingly a mob, meanwhile, had set the house on fire. Today, every marriage procession and religious yatra in the village makes a detour to these two statues to pay homage.

A gentle, ageing science professor in Vadodara, whose house was burnt in 2002, is still struggling to come to terms with the loneliness of betrayal.

"My Hindu friends tell me that they like me a lot, because I am almost like a Hindu. They do not understand why their saying this causes me even more hurt. The Muslims also feel angry when I say that we must also search our hearts. I love my faith, but we should not believe that ours is the only path to paradise".

Well-known activist Girish Patel recalls the response of Socrates who said injustice will last as long as the person who does not suffer injustice, does not feel the same anguish and anger as the person who suffers injustice.

by Harsh Mander
The writer is a former IAS officer.

Originally published in The Times of India