METRO PLUS

War clouds a carnage

G.N. PRASHANTH

Brinda Karat in a thoughtful moment. — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Brinda Karat in a thoughtful moment. — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy  

THE POGROM against the Muslim community in Gujarat, and the culpability of the law and order machinery, does not any longer figure on the front page, and commentators tell us, that the man at the helm, Narendra Modi, has got his breather. Not entirely untrue. The nation is almost at war, and as it happens, with Pakistan.

Where the nation is at stake, it is not easy to redraw attention to issues of secularism and the protection of minorities — they are "internal matters" that could be taken care of at a later point.

Precisely in the context of a sentiment of war, Brinda Karat, General Secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), is going all out to remind people that Gujarat cannot be forgotten or forgiven, and that all is not well in the movement to normal life.

In a chat with The Hindu, Ms, Karat, who was in Bangalore last week, shared a few thoughts on the hurdles in the rehabilitation of people affected by the riots, both Hindus and Muslims,

Ms. Karat was part of an AIDWA team that has visited Gujarat three times. Speaking passionately about Gujarat, Ms. Karat points to a very disturbing aspect of the riot — the organised, mass sexual violence against women of the minority community — hundreds of women were raped — and the utter insensitivity to the violence.

We ask her what the institutional response has been, particularly the police. "Only three FIRs on the rape of Muslim women have been registered till now. I remember a girl in Godhra telling me how she was the only one who survived a gang-rape of eight women. She managed to file an FIR, the first one, on March 3 and even named the men who committed the crime. Not one among the accused has been arrested in the last two months," Ms. Karat points out rather poignantly. She also tells us how the police are not registering individual cases of rape, insisting on group FIRs.

We ask her what she thinks of evidence in the context of mass sexual violence. Ms. Karat, with absolute conviction, points out that there is need to expand the rules of evidence, particularly in a circumstance such as Gujarat. "Principles of international jurisprudence evolved to try cases of ethnic killings like in Bosnia can be applied here. For instance, emphasis could be on eye-witness accounts of rape as many women were burnt to death following the rape. The law in India is limiting in cases of mass sexual violence."

Can she recollect other instances of mass sexual violence in Independent India? Ms. Karat draws a parallel to partition. "Partition was witness to sexual violence. Sexual violence was reported at the time of the Bombay riots too, and then during riots in Surat and Ahmedabad. But this violence is unprecedented. Women's bodies have almost been made instruments of war." The AIDWA is demanding national official recognition that sexual violence in Gujarat be declared unprecedented in Independent India.

If sexual violence and the half-baked official response to it, , leaves one disturbed, other aspects of the official response do not inspire confidence.

The story of rehabilitation leaves a lot to be desired, Ms. Karat tells us. AIDWA has suggested that people missing for more than two months be declared presumed dead, and compensation be awarded to families concerned, like during the earthquake, where a person was declared presumed dead if the person did not return after seven years time. Ms. Karat though points out that the government is demanding DNA samples from women to identify their missing husbands or brothers. "Many have been asked for proof of death — any available body part. How is it possible to recover a body part charred beyond recognition? Can the women go back to those areas? The women are traumatised. The government thinks people want to secure compensation on false grounds," says Ms. Karat.

Many among widows and orphans are yet to receive compensation. The government, we are told, is offering Rs.1 lakh as compensation. Some of them have received only Rs. 40,000 in cash, while the rest will be in Narmada bonds.

" The bonds will also take a decade to realise. What value will this hold later?" Ms. Karat asks.

Ms. Karat is also quick to point out that in cases where members of the Muslim community sought compensation for loss of their houses, valued at around Rs. 30,000, she saw cheques for Rs. 50, Rs. 70, Rs. 125 and Rs. 151, and this, at the Shah Alam camp. When she did actually see a cheque for Rs. 22,000, it was at the Kankadia camp, which housed Dalits, and Hindus. There, Karat also came across cheques for Rs. 10,000, Rs. 12,000 and Rs. 22,000. "The government seems to be offering some substantial compensation only to the Dalit community," Ms. Karat observes, emphasising the need to compensate everyone equally. We ask her if she thought the riots were also a systematic campaign against the economic base of the Muslim community. Muslims coming back were apparently told that if they were to set up shop again, what they earned on a single day, they would have to spend by the end of that very day — there could not be a saving. Rather tellingly, Ms. Karat observes: "The idea is to break the economic spine of the Muslim community. This threat is an extension of a circular which sought the economic boycott of the community. ."

In the aftermath of the riot — a very uncertain relationship between the Muslims and Hindus, what is the take on the Godhra incident? The immediate official response pointed to ISI. But, observes Ms. Karat: "In the 500-page chargesheet, nowhere is the ISI conspiracy mentioned. It means there is uncertainty about this charge." As things stand today, the return to normal life, atleast for the Muslim community, is double-edged — stay at the camp, and expect eviction for reasons of security, or move back to the colonies to suffer a chained livelihood. War or no war, is there an excuse for protection of life, liberty and property?

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