The nation, it seems, has a collective conscience. Have you caught it? It's OK if you haven't; it's very hard to find. You have to wait. Then, it will show itself.
Sifting through the government archives for material on communal clashes in the Bombay Presidency, l found a plethora of events which occurred with great regularity. Right from 1893 to 1946 there were Hindu Muslim riots, some sparked off by religious processions, disputes over temples and mosques, cow protection movements and so on. Clashes between Shias and Sunnis during Muharram were also a regular feature.
But the bloodbath during Partition subsumed all that. The collective conscience of this nation is yet to confront that brutal reality and its aftermath in many ways. But we have other things on our mind. In 1970 there were communal riots in Jalgaon, and some other areas in Maharashtra. Before that in the 1960s there were communal clashes in Jogeshwari, a far flung suburb of Mumbai. The Jalgaon riots were investigated by the Justice Madon commission whose recommendations were not implemented.
In 1984 again in Maharashtra, Bhiwandi and parts of Bombay burnt due to riots. That set the scene for clear divides in future on Hindu Muslim lines in the city. I remember we couldn’t pass through certain areas due to curfew. Then, we didn’t realise where these communal divisions would lead us till 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished, sparking off the worst rioting in the city, after the 1893 riots in the Bombay Presidency.
I don’t remember the collective conscience of the nation being shaken or stirred with vociferous demands for bringing the perpetrators to book or justice for the survivors.
There was a sense of triumph for bringing down the mosque and the subsequent carnage. To this day, the survivors of the riots in Bombay are running around in some cases for a simple case to be registered against the policemen who killed with impunity. There was no uproar over thirty one policemen indicted in the Srikrishna Commission of inquiry which probed into the Bombay riots of 1992- 93. A case for the implementation of that report is pending in the Supreme Court till date.
The politicians named in the report except for one were never punished and the victims chased the cases, in one instance right upto the Supreme Court.
The collective conscience of the nation was silent almost in 2002 when Gujarat witnessed a pogrom but vehement about the Ayodhya pilgrims who were burnt to death in the train at Godhra.
Every action has a reaction we were told. The families of the Godhra victims were not sure they wanted such a bloody revenge but no one listened to them. In an overflowing refugee camp in Godhra I met a stunned Bilkis Bano who told her story slowly and calmly. She was gang raped by men she knew and her child flung to death. She was pregnant at that time -- it should have caused a cataclysm in the collective conscience of the nation.
Instead she was threatened and finally her case was shifted to Maharashtra by the Supreme which also ordered the case to be re-investigated by the CBI. The collective conscience of the nation blamed activists for tracking the case and following it through. In 1984 after Indira Gandhi was assassinated, the collective conscience of the nation wreaked bloody vengeance on the Sikh community. Some of the survivors have spent their entire lives testifying futilely in various courts.
In 1993 in the 12 serial blasts in Bombay, over 300 people were killed, hundreds injured and maimed. A dizzy phase of activity ensued, police sprung onto action found scooters, key, RDX , leads which all pointed to a deadly conspiracy. A designated court under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (prevention) act was set up which decided on a 100 convictions, twenty of them death penalties.
There was a collective sigh of satisfaction. There was a connection of sorts between the communal riots which preceded the blasts, and the serial bombings. The riots killed over a 1000 people, many went missing and injured so many but that was forgotten. Then came the repeated bomb blasts, some in Mumbai, some elsewhere.
Young men were arrested, in some cases without proof and often let off by the court. One of them was Khwaja Yunus, an engineer picked up while on holiday. He was killed in custody and his death was covered up by an elaborate charade by the police. That case of suppressing evidence and custodial death still drags on. The others arrested with Khwaja were acquitted by the court for lack of evidence. There was a good chance had he been alive, Khwaja would be proved innocent.
This was not even a blip on the collective conscience of the nation. Then in the Malegaon blasts case of 2006, there were two sets of accused, one lot finally got bail while an army officer and a Sadhvi and the rest of them are in jail amid proclamations of innocence. There are wider links to other blasts. Police investigations in blasts cases drag on forever.
In Dhule, a peaceful city, Hindus and Muslims lived together till 2008 when rumours sparked off fierce rioting destroying temples and mosques and innocent lives. Four years later, riots engulfed the city claiming more lives and this time the policemen who were the perpetrators were caught live on camera. The government had to suspend some of them. They looted and went on a rampage, firing at will, a repetition of what happened on a larger scale over twenty years ago in Bombay.
We didn’t have footage then.
In many parts of the country policemen shoot people, blind them, scheduled castes and women face the brunt of crimes, tribals are treated worse than cattle, thousands are displaced for projects, and land is acquired for industries while people are impoverished and have to beg in cities.
The collective conscience is impervious to the turmoil in Kashmir and the North eastern states, just as it is to any form of questioning, understanding or debate. It rose briefly after the Delhi gang-rape to reclaim the streets. But now it is back in its cocoon, contemplating the next target of vengeance.