Hindu Communalism in Ram Lal ka Kadda: The hope for Indian democracy can only arise from the oppressed sections
For those of us who have been watching with disgust the continuing genocide of muslims, the recent reelection as Chief Minister in the Gujarat State Assembly elections of the modern-day nero, Narendra Modi, who presided over the 2002 genocide against Muslims came as a unavoidably rude shock. Nevertheless, the communal mobilisation that floats beneath the surface of the so-called democratic process in the state is very familiar to those who are involved with issues of justice in Gujarat. NYAYAGRAHA (literally meaning an organisation for justice ) formed in Ahmedabad with the primary mandate of securing legal justice and reconciliation for the victims of the violence notes in its publication titled “Campaign For Legal Justice And Reconciliation in Gujarat” that the “predominant situation, especially in villages that were torn apart by the mass violence of 2002, remains one of settled hate, settled fear and settled despair. In that sense, what has elapsed after 2002 is in many ways even more genocidal that the gruesome events of 2002.”
One of the slums that NYAYAGRAHA – the organisation of courageous local activists – concentrates its legal efforts on is the ‘Ram Lal ka kadda’ (RLKK hereon) located not very far from the recently constructed highway that connects Ahmedabad to Vadodara. The highway itself is stunning and surely worshipped by the Gujarati elite as their new road to eternal nirvana. Last summer in 2007, as I drove with Johanna Lokhande from Vadodara through this very capitalist marvel to Ahmedabad, she narrated to me some of the difficult problems that she as an activist with NYAYAGRAHA faced when trying to help the muslim victims. She informed me that some of the muslim women who had to go through the worst under the assault of the Hindu goons and their political masters, were too psychologically affected that it was very difficult to help them be independent. Often, when health related issues were involved, NYAYAGRAHA lacked resources by itself and would try to find other local people to help the woman concerned in such regards. The Vadodara-Ahmedabad corridor was also chilling as much as it was stunning: zipping through it, I could not find one street vendor or rickshaw puller or bullock-driven carts, things which were almost a certain sight in any of India’s urban localities. Most of the auto-commuters on this highway are as unaware of the plight of the muslim of Gujarat as the road they ride veil away the rickshaw puller and the bullock carts. Later on, my friend who is a member of PUCL in Vadodara and who has been first-hand witness to some of the terrorism by Hindu goons during 2002, indicates that these issues maybe have an international relevance but they are “not a local issue” – meaning that its taboo to even mention about the crimes of the likes of VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS: the ruling taliban headed by the modern-day nero Modi. Truly, the Ahmedabad-Vadodara corridor I was riding on brought back my earlier memories of similar roads in anglo-american outposts in fundamentalist gulf states, where the drive on the road gives very little feel for the culture of the local population who are outcast in the distance in their own country!
Gujarats Hindu Democracy rides on the blood of its Muslim Citizens
On reaching Ram Lal ka Kadda, one sees the difficult living conditions as of any slum in India. Makeshift style housing, flies all-around women who are keenly preparing food for their families. But the muslim inhabitants of this slum are also victims of the orchestrated violence in 2002. People here were subjected by Hindu mobs to murder and arson of a kind that official Hindu scriptures reserve for the reign of the asuras (devils). I was late in arriving and Haneef Bhai, an outspoken male member of the community who is working with NYAYAGRAHA to secure justice for the terror carried out on his family was kind enough to welcome me along with the others. Haneef and others explained – pointing their to the area just behind the slum – how mobs of people from the neighboring Hindu slums descended from three different directions on to Ram Lal Ka Kadda. The mobs poured kerosene on a woman and burnt her, and the victim was one of Haneef’s six daughters. In RLKK, she was the only person to have been killed. Other muslim communities were not so lucky – all over Gujarat, 2000 muslims lost their lives and many thousands more have been displaced.
Making a trip from the US where as a temporary worker, I have been involved with some of the anti-war actions among other things, it stands in stark contrast the fighting spirit of the people of RLKK. While its a common refrain among activists in the US as to how burnt out they are and they are not sure how to do the right thing to change the world, Haneef defiantly demands that the people who poured fuel on his daughters body be arrested. Even when its clear that the higher level government functionaries are likely to go unpunished, such demands for justice are guaranteed to keep alive the memory of the victims and the brutality of the Hindu terrorists who rule a ‘prosperous Gujarat’.
Fighting spirit, trust and generosity
What is remarkable in this process of fighting for justice, is the degree of trust that
has developed between the Nyay-pathiks (para-legals) of NYAYAGRAHA and the people of RLKK, one of several other areas where NYAYAGRAHA concentrates its legal efforts. People of RLKK advised me to give any donation for RLKK towards NYAYAGRAHA, spoke of an achievement in basic human trust which is what the goons of the 2002 campaign sought and seek to destroy. But humanity is something that is too much in abundance here in RLKK and that is something the Gujarats communal rulers cannot take away. There surely was little food in the belly in RLKK, but they were willing to feed me to juice and water when I visited. This kind of generosity is something the middle-class in India has lost even before they were born.
As we were speaking and the time was limited as I had already arrived late, many of the women were speaking at the same time and I was not able to make out what they were saying. When I asked them if things are atleast in some ways better since 2002, there was a clear and damning unanimity in their response: “Ji, kuch nahi chal raha hai” (nothing is moving). It was also the case that the compensation that is on the anvil is more of an insult than an injury. When the Hindu goons invaded their space and after they burnt Haneefs daughter, they also destroyed all the homes in RLKK. The people then took shelter in the near by corporation school. For the compensation towards their lost homes, the state machinery offered them 1000 ruppes (or 20 dollars) that too after a long winded legal process. If one learns about the value of human struggle from the Muslim members of RLKK, one cannot fail to note that this is being done in the face of unflinching and continuing arrogance of the Gujarats state machinery. Johanna Lokhande mentioned that Ration cards were to be restored soon, but this was already 2007 – 5 years after the violence – and does any proud citizen care to ask how poor people can get access to food without a ration card, and if one had to be that way for 5 years, its a question that surely skips the mind with convenience.
Terrorism and Genocide
Surely, for all the concern about terrorism that exists in India today, particularly among the urban middle class reactionaries who have no problems in supporting Americas global war on terror with phoney concerns about Islamic Terrorism or Maoism or some other imagined threat to their imagined glory, there is a sudden and deafening silence when the page turns to the question of their own treatment of the nations minorities. This extends to the entire country, as a recent government report (Rajinder Sachar committee) itself admitted with discrepancies in admitting muslims to various government posts, education etc. But in Gujarat the normal state of affairs assumes the case of a silent genocide. An elderly gentleman wearing a religious cap and a loose white dress at RLKK who was also kind enough to join in the discussions explained that after so many years of the organised 2002 terror, they continue to be denied jobs. Pointing at his greying beard, he said, “they see that we have beards, we are muslims and don’t offer us jobs”, even when the jobs are basic sustenance ones like rickshaw pulling or other labor-type work.
The RLKK members wished me well on my way back and I thanked them for spending their much valued time with me so generously. I joined Johanna and Isakbhai – another member of NYAYAGRAHA who was with us – for a snack at a local restaurant. Johanna and Isakbhai mentioned that even after working with the people of RLKK for so long, they “do not understand how they live” (despite the circumstances). Driving back to Vadodara from Ahmedabad, on one of the roads, we slowed the car briefly. Johanna and Isakbhai pointed to the distance in the middle of a really large waste dump (where the entire city’s waste as well as industrial waste is dumped) spanning several kilometers. Lowering the car windows made the stink of industrial wastes of this area known as “Bombay Hotel” even more intense than it already was. In the distance, in the middle of all this waste spanning several kilometers, one could see a dim set of lights. That is the place where one of the relief colonies called “Citizens Nagar” was setup for some of the victims whose original homes were too dangerous to go back to after the violence. Since the state which sponsored the terrorist violence was disinterested in any relief effort, the only land that these survivors could find was this waste dump donated by some local muslim organisation. When the rains come, the only passageway to this colony floods shut and so do the residents livelihoods. Unlike at RLKK, the visitors to the colony are not offered water as the liquid here is coloured with contaminants from the industrial waste dumps. I should mention one thing before I forget. The people at RLKK agreed on one thing: that those who are being arrested in Gujarat today for terrorism today are innocent people while the real terrorists roam scot-free.
Surely, those normal decent people among us who have the luxury to not “understand how they live” and yet do nothing to change the vicious degree of discrimination and genocide clearly have made a choice in support of freedom – for ourselves, for fascism and their continuing crimes.
[ Johanna Lokhande, an activist based in Vadodara can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ishaakbhai, an activist withNYAYAGRAHA can be reached at email@example.com
Article author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org ]