By Ranjona Banerji
Is it time to forgive and forget what happened in Gujarat 10 years ago? Is a decade enough to heal all the wounds, wipe all the tears, bury all the pain, dissipate all the rage and decide that punishment and retribution are ungracious sentiments in a state which is booming economically and is upheld as poster child of industrial growth? Is money even better than kindness or regret or generosity or compassion at removing all signs of suffering?
It's a tough call. Estimates of the number of people who died vary between 1,500 and 2,000 since the terrible attack on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, 2002. Most of the people who died in the train were kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, where the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was building a temple to replace the Babri Masjid demolished by them and others in 1992. Most of the people who died in the retaliatory riots were Muslims. Society in Gujarat is very easily polarised on caste and religious lines. Is it then fair to blame only Narendra Modi, who had just become chief minister a few months before, after Keshubhai Patel had to be removed on allegations of inefficiency and corruption in the terrible earthquake of 2001? Did Modi and his government bear any responsibility at all to stop armed mobs from roaming the streets of cities, towns and village, targeting shops, business establishments and houses which belonged to Muslims?
Blissful Oblivion? One of the biggest tragedies of the riots is that civil society believe that the government did no wrong in sitting still while citizens were being attacked
Did the police and the civil administration have any role to play in maintaining law and order and providing help to those who were being attacked?
One has to ask these questions over and over because those who want to 'forget' like to pretend that the riots and the deaths are constructs of imagination, conjured up by evil 'secular' people who want to 'malign' the good name of Gujarat, its Chief Minister Narendra Modi and its people. What a bizarre line of thinking. It is a government's job to protect its people and to provide restitution and justice when they are harmed. This responsibility is not limited to people of a certain colour or caste or religion or class or ideology or gender.
Anyone at all is free to point out that a particular government has failed in its duty -- we do it all the time.
Yet when it comes to Gujarat, the general right wing argument is that some wicked secular people (the worst insult religious bigots can come up with) cooked the whole thing up and now won't let it rest. One of the biggest tragedies of the Gujarat riots is that civil society -- within and outside Gujarat -- believe that the government did no wrong in sitting still while citizens were being attacked -- even if they were largely Muslim.
Surely, the argument ran, any Muslim that was killed in light of the deaths of 58 Hindus on the Sabarmati Express was a justifiable death? Why then is anyone surprised every time we learn that Hitler's Mein Kampf is a best-seller in India? No one gloried in the death of the 'other' better than Hitler.
Luckily for India, this kind of thinking is not as strong or prevalent as it was in Gujarat in 2002. Maybe it no longer exists in Gujarat any more either -- I have not been back there in 2005. Maybe Gujarat has truly decided to forgive and forget. Maybe it is easier for people to live with social polarisation than confront the demons left behind by those riots.
Or maybe, when you forgot to accept your past, it is likely to come back and haunt you again and again. And that, surely, is a terribly price to pay.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist.
Source: Mid Day, Mumbai