It has been almost ten years since the Gujarat riots in which more than 2000 Muslims were killed, many of them burnt alive by Hindu mobs. During Narendra Modi’s three-day 'sadbhaavana' fast, the BJP repeatedly emphasised that Modi wants to "move ahead" but "the so-called secularists keep harping on about the past”. A friend recently echoed this - “Gujarati Muslims want to move on. Only you so-called ‘secular’ guys keep bringing up the past. You won’t Let them move on”. So, are secularists just being unreasonable by holding on to an issue, and not letting wounds heal?
Rupa Mody is a Parsi who had lived in Gulburg Society, a Muslim neighbourhood in Ahmedabad. A frenzied mob had attacked it resulting in her house being burnt down. Her 12 year old son Azhar is reported as 'missing'. The question is whether this mother wants to forget or forgive those because of whom she lost her son. Neither any secular atheists nor Hindus nor even other Muslims can speak of ‘forgiving and forgetting’ on behalf of the actual victims of 2002.
A pregnant woman’s stomach was slit open and her unborn baby paraded on a trishul. Another was stripped, made to run naked, tortured, then killed and burned. Women were raped, then tortured by inserting metal rods into their vaginas, then set on fire. These women cannot be forgotten simply because they were the victims of crimes almost a decade ago. They deserve justice.
Rupa Mody is stilling fighting for her son. The “open letter” sent by the Naroda Patiya riot victims to Modi during this ‘sadbhavana’ fast says, “Narendrabhai... have you ever peeped into the hell through which we the victims and the community, as a whole, are going through? No, you have not, and we know you have no desire or intention of giving us justice. We, therefore, dismiss your ‘Sadbhavana Mission' as just another publicity stunt”. It is obvious that the victims are still demanding answers and want to fight for justice. Then who are we to say that it is time to ‘forgive and forget’?
The accused have been charged under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for murder, attempted murder, causing grievous hurt with deadly weapons, kidnapping in order to cause grievous hurt. Our country is a constitutional democracy, and the rule of law must be followed. Till the accused are convicted of these grotesque crimes, to talk of ‘forgiving and forgetting’ is to encourage the circumvention of our constitution and law. Questions of forensic evidence, proof, and justice cannot simply be forgotten.
Modi currently faces charges of violating the International Genocide Convention ratified by India. Leading the prosecution is a lawyer of impeccable training, Indira Jaising, who alleges that the crimes resulted directly from "acts of omission and commission on part of the Gujarati governmental officials named, including Modi".
Modi’s own chief of police, R.B. Shreekumar said in his affidavit that the police force had been pressured by political leaders into not registering riot offenses and going easy on those accused. He had apparently recommended Modi to arrest “Hindu leaders who had been involved in the heinous crimes committed”, but was told that such action "was against state policy". There is no way of knowing the truth yet, but these charges - especially that of genocide - are extremely serious. And they need to be taken seriously. Yet, there is talk of Modi as a priministerial candidate. Yet, during the fast, on the stage stood Dr. Jaideep Patel and Atul Vaidya, the two main accused in the killing 120 and 69 persons, respectively, in the Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya massacres.
As responsible citizens of a constitutional democracy we must be vigilant, and certainly not try and wish away charges of rape, torture, murder and genocide. While these facts cannot be simply forgotten by the victims, they should not be forgotten by the rest of us till court cases are taken to their logical conclusion. It is a matter of law, but also one of empathy towards fellow citizens and, even more importantly, towards fellow humans.
Imagine that it has been ten years since your sister was raped, sexually tortured, and murdered and your parents burnt to death in front of you. Still, those whom you can identify as perpetrators are out on the streets or, worse, running for office. And you’re being told that it is time to bury the past. But surely you can move on only after the killers of your family are identified, tried and put behind bars. You would want others to empathise with you, and would be grateful if they cared enouugh to take an interest in the injustice you have suffered. You would certainly not interpret it them 'harping on about the past'.
So why should it be different with the victims of Gujarat? Their past must be talked about. Cases must be followed very closely till the accused are put behind bars. This is the only way they can heal and even think of forgetting, leave alone forgiving. Those who use the discourse of ‘forgive and forget’ without this being done first not only show a lack of respect for law, but also betray a reprehensible lack of empathy – and ‘sadbhaavana’ - for the victims.
1) What was the Gulbarg Society Massacre? - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulbarg_Society_massacre
2) Charges framed against 60 accused in Naroda Patiya - http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-10-08/india/28109196_1_naroda-patiya-gujarat-riots-godhra-train
3) BJP's statements about 'forgive and forget' and Modi wanting to 'move ahead' on NDTV - http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/the-buck-stops-here/the-modi-makeover-has-it-worked/211319 (see also for Rupa Mody's reaction to Mody's fast)
4) The international convention Modi is accused of flouting: UN convention on Genocide (see also for the definition of ‘genocide’)- http://www.un.org/millennium/law/iv-1.htm
5) More on Rupa Mody
- Begged for police help but to no avail- http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_i-begged-for-help-from-police-commissioner-rupa-mody-tells-court_1310039
- Search for her son - http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/mosiqiacharya/84/1318/search-for-azhar.html
6) Riot victims arrested in September 2011; also, their open letter to Modi -
7) Naroda Patiya survivors and witnesses threatened, May 2012 - http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article3392165.ece
8) Naroda Patiya Verdict, Aug 2012 - - -http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/article3836698.ece