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Slaughter in the Name of Religion - Harsh Mander & Salman Rushdie

The Gujrat Massacre termed as Riots

 Harsh Mander
 Images from Indian Express site

Numbed with disgust and horror, I return from Gujarat ten days after the terror and massacre that convulsed the state. My heart is  sickened, my soul wearied, my shoulders aching with the burdens of  guilt and shame.
 As you walk through the camps of riot survivors in Ahmadabad, in  which an estimated 53,000 women, men, and children are huddled in 29 temporary settlements, displays of overt grief are unusual. People clutch small bundles of relief materials, all that they now own in  the world, with dry and glassy eyes. Some talk in low voices, others busy themselves with the tasks of everyday living in these most basic of shelters, looking for food and milk for children, tending the wounds of the injured. 
 But once you sit anywhere in these camps, people begin to speak and their words are like masses of pus released by slitting large festering wounds. The horrors that they speak of are so macabre, that my pen falters in the writing. The pitiless brutality against women and small children by organised bands of armed young men is  more savage than anything witnessed in the riots that have shamed this nation from time to time during the past century.
 What can you say about a woman eight months pregnant who begged to be spared. Her assailants instead slit open her stomach, pulled out her foetus and slaughtered it before her eyes. What can you say about a family of nineteen being killed by flooding their house with water and then electrocuting them with high-tension electricity.
 What can you say?
 A small boy of six in Juhapara camp described how his mother and six brothers and sisters were battered to death before his eyes.
A police constable directed a young woman and her three month old son,to ‘safety’ and she found herself instead surrounded by a mob which doused her with kerosene and set her and her baby on fire.
 There are reports every where of gang-rape, of young girls and women, often in the presence of members of their families, followed by their murder by burning alive, or by bludgeoning with a hammer and in one case with a screw driver.
In Ahmedabad, most people I met - social workers, journalists,  survivors - agree that what Gujarat witnessed was not a riot, but a  terrorist attack followed by a systematic, planned massacre, a pogrom. Everyone spoke of the pillage and plunder, being organised  like a military operation against an external armed enemy. An initial truck would arrive broadcasting inflammatory slogans, soon followed by more trucks which disgorged young men, mostly in khaki shorts and saffron sashes. They were armed with sophisticated explosive materials, country weapons, daggers and trishuls.
The leaders were seen communicating on mobile telephones from the riot venues, receiving instructions from and reporting back to a co-ordinating centre. Some were seen with documents and computer  sheets listing Muslim families and their properties. They had detailed precise knowledge about buildings and businesses held by members of the Muslims. This was not a  spontaneous upsurge of mass anger. It was a carefully planned pogrom.
  The trucks carried quantities of gas cylinders. Rich Muslim homes and business establishments were first systematically looted, stripped down of all their valuables, then cooking gas was released from cylinders into the buildings for several minutes. A trained member of the group then lit the flame which efficiently engulfed the building. In some cases, acetylene gas which is used for welding steel, was employed to explode large concrete buildings. Mosques and dargahs were razed, and were replaced by statues of Hanuman and saffron flags. Some dargahs in Ahmedabad city crossings have  overnight been demolished and their sites covered with road building  material, and bulldozed so efficiently that these spots are indistinguishable from the rest of the road. Traffic now plies over  these former Dargahs, as though they never existed.
The unconscionable failures and active connivance of the state police and administrative machinery is also now widely acknowledged. The police is known to have misguided people straight into the hands of rioting mobs. They provided protective shields to crowds bent on pillage, arson, rape and murder, and were deaf to the pleas of the desperate Muslim victims, many of them women and children. There have been many reports of police firing directly mostly at the minority community, which was the target of most of the mob violence. The large majority of arrests are also from the same community which was the main victim of the pogrom.
 As one who has served in the Indian Administrative Service for over  two decades, I feel great shame at the abdication of duty of my eers in the civil and police administration. The law did not require any of them to await orders from their political supervisors . The law instead required them to act independently, fearlessly, impartially, decisively, with  courage and compassion. If even one official had so acted in Ahmedabad, she or he could have deployed the police forces and  called in the army to halt the violence and protect the people in a matter of hours. No riot can continue beyond a few hours without  the active connivance of the local police and magistracy. The blood of hundreds of innocents are on the hands of the police and civil authorities of Gujarat, and by sharing in a conspiracy of silence, on the entire higher bureaucracy of the country.
 I have heard senior officials blame also the communalism of the police constabulary for their connivance in the violence. This too is a thin and disgraceful alibi. The same forces have been known to act with impartiality and courage when led by officers of professionalism and integrity. The failure is clearly of the leadership of the police and civil services. The newspapers reported that at the peak of the pogrom, the gates of Sabarmati Asram were closed to protect its properties, it should  instead have been the city’s major sanctuary.
The state, which bears the primary responsibility to extend both protection and relief to its vulnerable citizens, was nowhere in evidence in any of the camps.
 There are no voices like Gandhi’s that we hear today. There is much that the murdering mobs in Gujarat have robbed from  me. One of them is a song I often sang with pride and conviction. The words of the song are:
 Sare jahan se achha
 Hindustan hamara.
 It is a song I will never be able to sing again- Harsh Mander

Slaughter in the Name of Religion

By Salman Rushdie
The defining image of the week, for me, is of a small child's burned and blackened arm, its tiny fingers curled into a fist, protruding from the remains of a human bonfire in Ahmadabad. The murder of children is something of an Indian specialty. The routine daily killings of unwanted girl babies. . . the massacre of Sikh children in Delhi during the horrifying reprisal murders that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination: They bear witness to our particular gift, always most dazzlingly in evidence at times of religious unrest, for dousing our children in kerosene and setting them alight, or cutting their throats, or smothering them or just clubbing them to death with a good strong length of wood.
Meanwhile, India's political masters have been offering the usual soothing lies about the situation being brought under control. (It has escaped nobody's notice that the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Hindu extremists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, are sister organizations and offshoots of the same parent body-RSS)
The horrible truth about communal slaughter in India is that we're used to it. It happens every so often; then it dies down. That's how life is, folks
Of course, there are political explanations. Ever since December 1992, when a VHP mob demolished a 400-year-old Muslim mosque in Ayodhya, which they claim was built on the sacred birthplace of the god Ram, Hindu fanatics have been looking for this fight. The pity of it is that some Muslims were ready to give it to them. Their murderous attack on the train-load of VHP activists at Godhra played right into the Hindu extremists' hands.
The VHP has evidently tired of what it sees as the equivocations and insufficient radicalism of India's BJP government. In state elections across the country, the BJP is being trounced. This may have been the last straw for the VHP firebrands.
The electoral failure of the BJP is thus, in all probability, the spark that lit the fire. The VHP is determined to build a Hindu temple on the site of the demolished Ayodhya mosque -- that's where the Godhra dead were coming from -- and there are, reprehensibly, idiotically, tragically, Muslims in India equally determined to resist them. Vajpayee has insisted that the slow Indian courts must decide the rights and wrongs of the Ayodhya issue. The VHP is no longer prepared to wait.
 What happened in India has happened in God's name. The problem's name is God.
[Salman Rushdie is a novelist and author 'Satanic Verses'. The Muslim fundamentalists have threatened to kill him.] © The Washington Post
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love your article. It's painful and heart wrenching to know this can happen in today's world where education is so available to people. It hurts to know people fight in the name of religion. I don't think any religion teaches rape, kill and mercilessly kill innocent people.

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