Monica Narula on Thu, 4 Apr 2002 18:15:16 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Gujarat

Dear nettimers,

This is an attempt to summarize what has been going on in Gujarat, 
which many of you might know about.

Sitting in Delhi, Gujarat seems far away and uncomfortably close at 
the same time. On television, the images of what is happening in 
Ramallah and what happened in Ahmedabad seem uncomfortably proximate. 
Except of course the violence in Ahmedabad did not happen with tanks, 
but with petrol bombs, handguns, burning tyres, rape.

What is disturbing though is the way in which the violence, like most 
outbreaks of violence in India, is rapidly being normalized. The 
figures of dead and wounded are already statistics of a 'law and 
order' situation and have begun to cease to have meanings for those 
in situations of power. The 'situation' (as we have grown up 
accustomed to hearing in India) 'is tense but under control'.

But of course, it is not, and the pogrom - with the state govt. 
looking the other way, and sometimes behaving in a way tantamount to 
support, continues.

It has been more than a month since violence erupted in Gujarat, one 
of India's richest states. More than 700 people have died and about 
100,000 people have been rendered homeless, and are currently housed 
in Refugee Camps in their own city.

In a telling image in a newspaper yesterday, a demonstrator was shown 
carrying a placard with a caricature that indicated that While Gujrat 
had Narendra Sharon to deal with, Palestine has Ariel Modi. ( A 
juxtaposition of
the names of  Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujrat, and Ariel Sharon )

Today, the Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, pays a 
token visit to Gujrat and will view conditions in two refugee camps. 
News reportage on television showed how the camps have been dressed 
up, had DDT sprays, and how people were suddenly doled out 
compensation after a month, even as people living in the other camps 
(the ones that the PM wont visit) continue to suffer grossly 
unhygeinic conditions.

The people who have been rendered homeless still do not feel secure 
about returning to their homes. And incidents of violence continue 
throughout the state. Two days ago, five Muslim villagers in Abhsana 
village near Ahmedabad, a city that has witnessed intense rioting, 
were torched to death and their houses burnt in the middle of the 
night by
unidentified arsonists.

The incident that sparked off the  month of violence was the massacre 
of a train compartment carrying "Ram Sevaks" - Hindu Fundamentalist 
volunteers returning from Ayodhya - the temple town which is the site 
of a proposed Hindu Temple (to be built on the site of a 16th century 
mosque that was demolished in 1992 by Hindu Fundamentalists forces). 
This incident, named the Godhra carnage, (after the town in which it 
took place on the 28th of February) led to systematic violence in 
major towns, like Ahmedabad and Baroda, with mainly minority 
communities being targeted by organised and well armed mobs, with 
what many have described as the active connivance of the state 
administration. A recently released National Human Rights Commission 
report severely indicts the state administration for their failure to 
safeguard the life and property of Gujrati muslims.

While there have been repeated calls for the resignation of the chief 
minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, his party BJP continues to defend 
him and his highly questionable record during the riots.

All this has taken place against the background of the growing crisis 
of legitimacy of the ruling coalition in power at the centre in 
India, which comprises of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a party 
with a decidedly Hindu
revanchist and right wing agenda. The BJP also runs the government of 
the state of Gujrat. The BJP chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi 
has been widely criticized by many civil society groups of 
contributing to the climate
of violence by making extremely provocative statements, that have 
been read as encouragement to the rioters.

The BJP's rise to power took place on the tide of Hindu 
Fundamentalism that it has stoked consistently. A series of electoral 
defeats in important states, (despite the attempt at manufacturing 
war hysteria with Pakistan, and
trying to take advantage of showing a tough stand on terrorism)  and 
persistent corruption scandals at the highest level have discredited 
the BJP led coalition, and many in India feel that the latest round 
of communal violence is an attempt to effect yet again, a climate of 
the sectarian polarization of everyday life - something that the BJP 
has always benefited from.

The climate of general insecurity that is part of everyday life in 
India today, is further exacerbated by extremely repressive 
legislation like the Prevention of Terrorism Act (recently passed by 
a joint session of the Indian
Parliament) which are widely regarding as contributing to the climate 
of fear in which many Indians belonging to minority communities, 
especially Muslims live in today. The riots in Gujrat come in the 
wake of at least two years of persistent sporadic attacks on 
minorities, especially Tribal Christians in Gujarats poorest 

If anything, they reveal a social fabric with deep and traumatic 
divisions, with powerful political interests playing on these 
divisions cynically and  with total disregard of the human 
consequences of their actions.

It also signals the need to take a long hard look at the entire 
notion of a politics of identity - whether in its secular or 
sectarian forms, because in India - just as everywhere else - it has 
never been able to reap anything other than violence.

Some urls:
Reports on the Indymedia India SIte on the Violence in Gujarat

BBC South Asia News Reports on the Situation in Gujarat

Timeline of Gujrat violence from NDTV a television news corporation


Monica Narula
Sarai:The New Media Initiative
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054

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