A sane voice in an insane clime
A physicist-turned-peace activist, Prof. Juzar Bandukwala, who suffered like the rest of his community in Gujarat, has no words of bitterness. Do we need Hinduism or Hindutva, is his question.
A man of amazing calm and clarity: Juzar Bandukwala
FOR SOMEONE who has lived through a butchery of hundreds of people that only bettered itself in the land of Gandhi, and witnessed a community being hounded to the point of asking itself where next to run, to be able to share that experience is not easy. Juzar Bandukwala is almost affectionate about life and Hinduism when he tells you how he and his fellow community members lived through seven days of mathematical violence. He isn't in rage, no trace of it.
Prof. Bandukwala was in Bangalore last week to deliver a lecture on the many faces of the Gujarat carnage. It took very little time to grasp the import of his words: the Muslim community has not yet come to terms with the bludgeoning it has received.
Prof. Bandukwala, President of the Gujarat PUCL (People's Union for Civil Liberties), has been articulating issues concerning women's rights, Dalit rights, and communalism. While no stranger to what the riots have done to the Muslims, the attack against the Muslims this time has shaken him like no other in the last 30 years. The riot brought home aspects of Gujarat society the likes of which he has not seen. In fact, the attack this time seems to have begun from his very house. His recount of the experience reveals not only a whole new range of ironies borne out in a communal riot, new ironies that the Muslim community has come to face, and perhaps Prof. Bandukwala himself, but also his remarkable grasp of these.
"I delivered a lecture on Gandhi and Savarkar at a meeting called by the RSS. I told them either we live like what Gandhi hoped, united, or we live like what Savarkar envisaged, divided. I did not know Godhra was to happen the next day. I condemned it in no uncertain terms. But I also did not know what was to come later. My house was first attacked on February 28, and then on March 1. Incidentally, on the same day, I could not see pigs around, and the dogs were not barking. I felt uneasy. Then the VHP called. To express its regret over attacks on me. Was this unnatural? But I still thought the VHP may be sincere. But somebody then told me to get out of the house before 12 p.m.. My daughter said she would stay put. I left around noon. Five minutes later, the mob came. Two policemen who were to guard my house, in fact, told the mob to finish the job in 15 minutes. By around 12.30 p.m., my house had fallen. My daughter jumped out in time, and made it to a friend's place. One wonders if she survived because she was (engaged) to ... a Hindu. Exactly 15 minutes after the attack, a police van came to clean up the place and ask the mob to leave. How could all this be so well synchronised? It is an understatement to say this was planned. From the next day all of us saw what happened to the Muslims." No one could survive the onslaught. Not even Jaffrey, former Member of Parliament.
Prof. Bandukwala is not a man to miss out ironies. After the killings, what? "Most of the Muslims were refugees in graveyards. The graveyards were all over the camps. Was there no place to hold people? And yes, the 46 degrees temperature did not help." Relief was no relief.
Also, the rampage was not by a general mob. Communities participated in the act as though it were a sport. Women were the worst victims of the violence in Gujarat. But Prof. Bandukwala points out that many women also instigated the rioters, took part in attacks on other women, and in the looting.
One other aspect also disturbed him as much as the role of women. That of inter-community harmony.
Dalits, Adivasis, and Muslims were great friends until the February riots. "Dalits were instigated in city areas, and the Adivasis in Adivasi areas, to attack Muslims. This had never happened before. They were told that they had seven days time to complete the attack and loot, and that the Government would not interfere. They did just that. Muslim establishments were destroyed. Overnight, the Adivasis felt emboldened. We then expected they would attack the sahukars, their landlords. They did just that. What turned out? The police shot dead a couple of Adivasis, and the momentary zeal collapsed. As for the Dalits, what can one say? I stood by them in 1981 when there was a campaign against reservation. People then attacked me. Now, the Dalits have attacked the Muslims. In fact, they used the Muslims to bargain a position. We don't want Dalits to be Muslims. All I feel today is that they should stay away from us. I do not want to raise the question of the Dalit reaction now. They too face problems. The tribal-Dalit-Muslim question though is a difficult one for me and my community."
That Gujarat society became polarised to the limits came as no surprise. When the earthquake happened, millions of dollars poured in from the US and UK to save people. For the communal riot, not a single paisa from the expats. What about the cultural response to the violence against the Muslims? Prof. Bandukwala sees a certain hopelessness. "Gujarat is dying culturally. There are no serious writings these days. No serious plays. What society can allow such a perpetration? Gandhism is taking a curious turn. Some well-known Gandhians are turning towards the BJP and the RSS. The Gujarat Vidyapeeth, the only university founded by Gandhi, could not even hold a peace meet. Gujarat has the maximum atrocities against women, BCs, and children. And it has the maximum bride burning cases. Isn't this a sick society?"
Prof. Bandukwala offers what may be the last word in caution.
"The liberal face of Islam suffered when militancy came in. The Sikhs suffered when they turned to Bhindranwale. Hinduism will suffer if it turns to the Sangh Parivar. Do the Hindus want Hinduism or Hindutva?"
A remarkably perceptive and sensitive recount for someone who is actually a man of science.
Prof. Bandukwala has a doctorate in physics from the US. How he got into human rights is interesting.
"I was at a church meeting in the US where I was asked to explain events in India in the early '70s that were leading to the Emergency. People (there) were a disturbed lot. I was also disturbed in my narration of what was happening in India. A nun who keenly listened to all I had to day asked me poignantly why I should not go back to India and work among my own people. I took the comment seriously, and just decided I had to get back."
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