A silence at the savagery that was witnessed by many around the country in 1984 "needs to be reprimanded and disciplined right away".
A LONG WAIT: For the relatives of the Sikh riot victims of 1984, it has been a time of reliving horror. PHOTOS: SANDEEP SAXENA
WE have sunk to the lowest depths in our history. There is no fervour, no passion, and no straightforward moral principle. To afflict and to exterminate, only to drive home a message, and to fight terror with more terror, seem to be the motivating factors of a government in charge. Aggression by the State during the 1984 Delhi atrocities against the Sikhs becomes a validation for any adversarial event, a lethal weapon to execute further violence.
The last few weeks have been an exercise in recrimination. The media has exposed deceit and fabrication behind the workings of the government machinery and the various commissions set up to look into acts of violence. Some commissions have held various leaders culpable: the Kapur-Mittal Committee, the Banerjee Committee, the Potti-Rosha Committee, the Jain-Aggarwal Committee and the Narula Committee had recommended the registration of cases against a few political leaders. The intention was to bring those responsible to justice. However, the Nanavati Commission has used ambiguity to escape from any clear-cut verdict that would give justice to the victims and their families. It must not be forgotten that the butchery of the Sikhs in 1984 was no less than the Khmer Rouge atrocities or the genocide in Bosnia or Rwanda symbolising a century of extremes and horror.
Memories of dark days
As John Berger writes, "Never again will a single story be told as if it is the only one." Though those from below make history, they do not get to write history. But their story has to be retold, the memories of those dark days rekindled so that one is secure in the belief that we live in a working democracy where justice is the right of all. It is the turn of the powerful to keep quiet for a moment so that we can hear the unheard accounts of death, fears, suffering and struggle.
The provocation offered by the Nanavati Commission report is a result of its slipshod ruling and an inherent judicial inadequacy that can do little to punish the police officers or the politicians involved directly in engineering such calculated massacres.
The judicial process moves at a snail's pace, while the innocent wait for the verdict that would put the guilty in the dock. The inconclusiveness of the Nanavati report must push the government towards quashing the commission headed by the same judge when investigating the Godhra mishap.
ANGUISH: Where is the redress?
A crime against humanity has gone unpunished. For three days after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Congress and its leader Rajiv Gandhi remained "unmindful" and nonchalant about the open and sordid spectacle of the massacre of a minority ethnic group screaming from the rooftops for some State intervention. The police officers on duty who, according to the previous reports by various commissions, were deemed to be responsible for being onlookers of a mass murder, have largely gone unpunished. Not only have they been exonerated, they now hold prize posts; so do leaders like the "diabolic faced" Jagdish Tytler. To not notice this or comprehend the conspicuous working of a leadership behind organised terrorism is an indication of the complicity of the State machinery. How can responsible intellectuals not draw conclusions from the long-drawn-out apathy of the successive governments over a period of two decades? It takes considerable talent to not pay heed to a crime that should have impelled any democratic government into taking ruthless action against a flagrantly criminal act.
Does the State not stand up for human rights and frequently acclaim itself for its robust conviction in liberty and freedom and the right to judicial redressal? The ferocity of the assault on the Sikh community, the death of over 10,000 innocent citizens of India, the misery and suffering of the family members of the dead who face adversity to date has not resulted in convicting even a single perpetrator. We as a nation have failed to react meaningfully to an uncivilised act of barbarism. We have done nothing, taken no decisive steps to see to it that such acts do not recur. If timely and judicious charges had been brought against the culpable political leaders and if the police officers accountable for inaction had appropriately been suspended, there is a likelihood that the Godhra or the Mumbai riots would not have taken place.
The records of our successive governments in the area of human rights will always remain suspect. A silence at the savagery that was witnessed by many around the country in 1984 needs to be reprimanded and disciplined right away. Speeches of confession and apology in Parliament or the removal of the blameworthy holding ministerial positions is simply not enough compared to the anguish of the Sikh community for over two decades. No democratic apparatus can be absolved for its premeditated acts and the responsibility of maintaining the law and order situation to prevent such human carnage. I look around at my colleagues and students and feel that this tragedy has faded from their memory to such an extent that it now amounts to almost some kind of amnesia. They are guilty of the violence of silence, of indifference and of intellectual bankruptcy. Unquestionably, the media and some activists and forward-looking citizens of India have reacted strongly to the attitude of the government, but the voices are not sturdy enough to ask for punitive measures against the guilty.
`Integrity is rare'
Let the intellectual confront this murky event in our history with cautious argument and integrity. As Chomsky writes, "the level of integrity is rare today, an honest inquiry will show." Do we not want the truth about atrocities in Saddam's Iraq or the torture and the suffering in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, or the genocide of the natives of Timor? Are we not always concerned and angry about Auschwitz or Hiroshima? Then why must our children and we not be touched by the Delhi killings; why should we not talk about them and write about them? At least that is what is expected on campuses around the country which are guilty because of their heartless silence and indifference. I am reminded of Frantz Fanon imploring in his The Wretched of the Earth that "each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it." There are no textbook revolutions; we only need to examine the condition of our life and realise that social and political causes are lost as much by inaction as by a betrayal of human values. If a minority ethnic group has been denied the basic redressal, then we have the right to say that this is not the country we would like to live in. The Sikhs have fought for the defence of our nation; can we ask them to sacrifice their lives further when they as a community are hurt? We freedom-loving people of this world are together waging a war on terrorism only because we want to preserve our freedom. We are certain to lose that war if concrete action is not taken against State terrorism. Executive fiats and judicial indifference are the hallmarks of a decaying democracy. A new radical, transformative politics must emerge to subvert the nexus between power and hoodlumism so that a new era of resistance emerges from an environment that seems to be only interested in upholding and safeguarding these who are accountable.
As Emiliano Zapata, Mexican revolutionary, wrote in 1914, "It is not only by shooting bullets in the battlefields that tyranny is overthrown, but also by hurling ideas of redemption, words of freedom and terrible anathemas against the hangman that people bring down dictators and empires ... ." Thus, our writings, our speeches, our lectures must reflect the new reality. The public is a powerful antagonist ready to bring to its knees a government that tolerates, funds and supervises provocateurs to begin violence. And let the leaders not underestimate the power of the broad social base of popular support for the cause of democracy and justice.
The task ahead
What kind of a world are we evolving if we do not involve everyone in its construction? How are we to avoid making the same mistakes again? Armed with questions and human values, we can give a nudge to the rich and the powerful and transform history. Their posturing and their rhetoric can no longer hide their insensitivity. A party that ousts one of its members because he demands that Modi should be removed so as to clear the taint of the post-Godhra riots must not be allowed to return to power.
There is too much of rage, resistance and humiliation in our country to allow any further indifference to the cries of the sufferers. As Emma Goldman, anarchist philosopher, reminds each one of us, "And you, are you so forgetful of your past, is there no echo in your soul of your poets' songs, your dreamers' dreams, your rebels' calls?"
It is for these dreams that we fought for our freedom. Let the leaders of this country not take it away from us. We must continue to raise our voices, and struggle even though we may come to defeat, always knowing that others would follow carrying the same banner.
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