More than 700 Muslims have been killed in Ahmedabad
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 tires, 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.
A Muslim woman mourning the loss of family members.
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 unhygienic 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.
Hindu fundamentalist take to the streets
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 organized 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 center 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 districts.
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.
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