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Witness to violence

A godown catching fire during the 2002 Gujarat riots

A godown catching fire during the 2002 Gujarat riots | Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

In telling the story of the 1994 Rwandan massacres ( When Victims Become Killers), Mahmood Mamdani stresses on the point that one of the most troubling aspects of the killings of millions of Tutsis by Hutus was the “popularity” of the genocide. He recalls a survivor telling him, “In Rwanda the government did not kill. It prepared the population, enraged it and enticed it. Your neighbours killed you.”

Writing on hate

Perhaps no incident of communal violence in India has led to more controversy than the Gujarat riots of 2002 following the arson of a train in Godhra carrying Hindutva activists. In 2012, the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) gave a clean chit to then Chief Minister Narendra Modi; in 2017, the Gujarat High Court too upheld the SIT order; and last Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed the “larger conspiracy” angle, saying inaction or failure of “some officials” cannot be the basis to infer a pre-planned criminal conspiracy by the State government. Zakia Jafri, widow of the Congress leader Ehsan Jafri killed in the Gulberg Society riots in Ahmedabad, moved the Supreme Court raising allegations of a “larger conspiracy”.

There have been several books on the riots and its aftermath. Journalist and writer Revati Laul spent a decade in Gujarat conducting research to find out about the perpetrators of the 2002 violence. In her 2018 book The Anatomy of Hate, she tells the story through three people, Pranav, an upper caste English-speaking ‘outlier in the mob in 2002’, Dungar, a tribal who was part of the BJP and the VHP, and Suresh Langdo, who is serving a 31-year jail sentence for raping and killing Muslim women and men in 2002. In an interview to The Hindu, Laul had said: “Each of these people had very different backgrounds, different ways of entering the space of violence and decidedly different trajectories after. For me, writing about them was a way of telling the story from the inside out and also to leave people with the idea that violence is varied, diverse and ever-changing. And complex. Everything and its opposite is true at the same time.”

If Laul and Ashish Khetan ( Under Cover: My Journey into the Darkness of Hindutva) focused on the perpetrators, trying to understand what spurs a person to hate, in The Fiction of Fact-Finding (2014), Manoj Mitta draws parallels between Gujarat 2002 and the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi to argue that in both incidents there was a “subversion of the criminal justice system”, under legal cover. Mitta writes in detail about the “mistakes committed in the course of fact-finding on the Gujarat carnage. Serious as they were, a lot of these mistakes covered up political and administrative complicity in the post-Godhra violence. The distortions in the findings were thanks to the insidious manner in which issues had been framed, facts selected, evidence recorded or inferences drawn.”

The myth of facts

It had taken Mitta and H.S. Phoolka 23 years to release a book on the 1984 massacre ( When a Tree Shook Delhi) “because there was an even greater delay in that case in the release of official fact-finding material.” Mitta argues that communal politics enjoy “social sanction” and that the “sanction extends to the process of fact-finding, allowing it to be reduced, as in most cases, to an insidious variant of the dictum that history is written by victors.” He writes that barring exceptions such as the Jaganmohan Reddy Commission’s report on the Gujarat riots of 1969 and the B.N. Srikrishna Commission’s report on the Bombay riots of 1992-93, “the fact-finding on communal violence in India has largely been fictitious.”

R.B. Sreekumar, former DGP Gujarat, who turned whistle-blower, wrote about his experience in Gujarat and the subversion of the “rule of law” in his book, Gujarat Behind the Curtain. He was arrested a day after the Supreme Court verdict on June 24 for forgery, criminal conspiracy and other offences under the Indian Penal Code.


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Printable version | Aug 19, 2022 8:07:14 am | https://www.thehindu.com/books/witness-to-violence/article65576081.ece