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... and the lexicon of its youth

Frustrated youth may have been a variable that determined the turn of events in Ahmedabad. S. GANESH, who was part of a 72-member Harmony Mission that went to Gujarat, says so.

On the rampage ...

I JOINED a 72-member Harmony Mission to Gujarat on April 2-3, led by Swami Agnivesh and other priests and religious leaders from a variety of faiths. The media offers more by way of facts than I can provide but still I feel the need to share some of my perceptions with you.

Ahmedabad is a new type of hot spot in India, different in the following ways: the hands-on involvement of middle, even upper classes in the carnage; the cold-blooded clinical precision that can emanate only from fanatics/terrorists and the complicity of the State in terrorist acts. There is one more factor — the frustration of the middle class youth. But with all their precision, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologues have made a mistake in selecting Ahmedabad as a theatre for action. This is because Ahmedabad is a ghetto city, and strategic parts are in Muslim hands. For now, Muslims are kept under check by extensive curfew in Muslim areas. You can impose a curfew, keep Muslims in camps for days, weeks or months but can it be done for years?

Beirut was multi-ethnic and different from Ahmedabad. Perhaps we will soon see a similar polarisation as in the West Bank in Israel/Palestine — the Sabarmati Bank can we say? I would rather believe that starting with their ill-advised programme of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Ahmedabad, it is the Hindus who will ultimately pay for their actions, and migrate out of the city. I hope I am proved wrong, but this is a 10-year projection for Ahmedabad, and by no means an improbable scenario.

In this comment, I will dwell on just one aspect, so to say one variable, which determines the turn of events in Ahmedabad. It is not suggested that this is the main factor — and surely those who are non-secular, secular and pseudo-secular (now, does that cover all segments?) will all have their own views, which I respect. I will dwell on the Hindu youth, and argue that they have lost their moorings, and are only waiting to express their pent up rage, and frustration — too fertile a ground as the RSS schemers will soon find when they lose control over the movement

Among the Hindu youth of Ahmedabad, between 20 and 25, I see a certain attitude — strike the next deal, and look for the next meal. So, the rich can loot shops and sell stolen goods on footpaths. In Ahmedabad station, amidst miles of curfew darkness, the station was brightly lit and serviced by two corridors and I saw an incredible choice of food options: Chinese, pasta, Udupi.

The boys roam around with sticks in hand (seen once being used on an auto driver). They look lean and mean — similar height and build, hair neatly parted (comb in hip pocket?) in two dress versions: Version 1, dark trousers, light coloured full-arm shirt, chappals or Version 2, in jeans, sneakers and bright coloured shirts. I do not see them aspiring for education, or knowledge, beyond the ability to calculate interest rates and stay informed for TV quiz shows. They might have taken to reading, lately, the hate propaganda widely in circulation, but I suspect little else worthwhile.

Carnage in Gandhiji's land ...a new hotspot.

Remember that Gujarat is not really an industrial state, and does not have an industrial culture despite the hype to the contrary. Driving around with their mobile phones, in groups of four in air-conditioned cars in search of the next eatery, traces of zarda in their mouth, could they be hating the gaddis in the shop that they will one day inherit from their fathers — to sell cloth, or plumbing fittings, or whatever?

The boys indeed might have a practical tradition, and know the art of settling (sauda) but I wonder if their brand of sauda goes beyond mercantile matters. But can a civil society develop in the absence of an intellectual, if not a spiritual tradition?

So the young Hindu terrorist in Ahmedabad does not fit the profile we have of terrorists like the Islamic Al Qaeda, the left-wing Sandinista in Latin America, the nationalist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, or the land-deprived Intifada in Palestine. The closest parallel for me is the gun-toting young Jewish Israeli boys striding the streets of Jerusalem, and Hebron. I am not even quite sure that this is only ethnic hatred we see in Ahmedbad.

I for one believe that the Shiv Sena is not anti-Muslim: they are merely fighting for space in the criminal under-world. Can it be that these Ahmedabadi boys are venting their inner rage on the nearest convenient target? I write this not to disparage these poor lost boys, but to enable us to do some soul searching and examine why in the Mahatma's own city, love and peace have become such a distant vision.

As for the rest of Gujarat there is a ray of hope. The dalits and other minorities including Christians will hopefully realise what lies in wait for them next, and group with the Muslims, bringing in pluralist tension we are familiar with instead of bipolar tension — this will at least allow the Muslims (and our country) to survive.

If the rest of Gujarat does not fall to fascist forces, then who knows, even Ahmedabad may see a semblance of peace.

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