By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
19 Dec 2012
Recently, I was in Bangalore to teach a group of students, aspects of Indian society and the important debates that we are witnessing today. What struck me about this twenty something group was their complete remote-ness from issues that have deeply divided the societal fabric of India. Except for the near unanimous opinion that caste reservations was doing more harm than good to the country, these students did not know about the destructions of Babri mosque and the anti-Muslim pogroms that largely followed this destruction in places like Bombay. Although more recent, but their idea of Gujarat 2002 was that Hindus and Muslims had fought each other and that some people had died during the ‘riots’. They had no idea of the state complicity in the so called riots and the role of Gujarat BJP leadership in the premeditated killing of Muslims in these states.
Similarly, the 1984 anti Sikh pogrom in Delhi and elsewhere was too distant a past for them to look into. One might say, (as many do), that it is a good thing in the sense the new generation has other things to worry about, that India has finally gotten over its troubled past of ‘inter community hatred’ and that these post liberalization youth do not care about caste and religion which then might mean that we are finally entering into a more cosmopolitan age.
But is ignorance of one’s past such a blissful state after all? The demolition of the mosque by the Hindutva fanatics and the anti-Muslim pogrom that followed is one of the darkest chapters of Indian history. That it happened just twenty years ago and not in some forgotten past is a reminder that progress is not plotted on a linear graph. The people who demolished the mosque got away even without a hint of remorse, some of them still consider the destruction as something which must be celebrated as a renaissance of the Hindu nation. These people rode to power on the orgies of communal violence and as Muslim corpses littered the towns of India, they took the vows being loyal to the constitutional idea of equality of all citizens.
What happened to that idea, that oath, that ritual? While the killers of composite history and people have become leaders, Muslims who were killed by the mobs still await justice. The Srikrishna Commission Report indicted several leaders of Hindu Right and was thus conveniently consigned to the flames. There has been no movement in terms of what the Report recommended. Thus there is hardly any talk on the anti Muslim bias of the police and there are even fewer voices talking about police reforms. More recently, it has been becoming ominously clear that the police have falsely framed innocent Muslim youth, be it in the case of Mecca Masjid blast or the Malegaon blast. And yet, apart from the clamor within the Rajya Sabha the other day, there was nothing that came out from the establishment. Why is not a national issue when scores of Muslim youths are being picked up, illegally detained and implicated on trumped up charges? Is it because, like the youths that I met in Bangalore, people want to forget inconvenient truths?
Forgetting without a sense of justice does not help. Recent television debates urging Muslims to forget the Gujarat pogroms are just a reminder how we as a society are adept at forgetting inconvenient truths. This is definitely not to say that Muslims should not move on. In fact they must if they have to carve a better future for the coming generations. But such a moving on cannot be devoid of a sense of justice. It will be like the victim is asked to forgive the killers.
Moreover, this sense of persuading people to move on without addressing their concerns will continue till the time we as a society resolve to keep our brutality as part of our collective memory. Such a thing can happen only with due sensitivity to the victims and a realization that as a society we have failed to protect the weaker sections and the minorities. A system of public education must be put in place which tells our present and future generations of the horrors committed in the name of brute majoritarianism.
Our children must be told with requisite empathy what we as a society did to our minorities in Bombay, Gujarat and Kandhamal. Only through this instilling in the minds of the young of the potential of collective violence that we posses as a society can we be sure that such incidents invoke a sense of revulsion and people do not indulge in it anymore. Trying to forget or being in a youthful bliss may not be the panacea. It is only through remembering what horrors we are capable of enacting can we be saved.
Arshad Alam is a writer and commentator on Muslim minority issues. He teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.