“We hear that governance now will have a different cadence
Tyranny will now be the protector
Cities will be without walls or doors
The sky will tremble with counterfeit grief
Executioners will be in charge of funerals,
Killers will organise mourning
Orphans and widows will find their hands and feet bound
The heads of the faith will be held aloft on spears.
If this be the realization of India’s ancient dreams
Then soon, there will be no India, nor any of its connoisseurs.”
These words are from a poem by Ali Sardar Jafri , recounted by Prof. Upendra Baxi in a lecture nearly a year back. They have stayed with me and came back when I heard and read ministers and head of this government lamenting the lot of the Muslim women and expressing their resolve to secure constitutional rights to them.
“..in the country, lives of Muslim women cannot be allowed to be ruined by triple talaq,” the supreme leader pronounced. He expressed surprise that “some political parties of the country in their lust for vote bank are hell-bent upon committing injustice to women in the 21st century.” And asked indignantly, “ What kind of justice is this?”
With a reformist zeal and faith in the power of education, intellect and progressive ideas, the man hoped, “In Muslim community, knowledgeable and progressive people are there. There are educated Muslim women who can put their views forth.”
With the sagacity of a statesman and with the force of the state, he continued, “Politics and elections have their own place but getting Muslim women their rights as per the Constitution is the responsibility of the government and the people of the country.”
“A shiver ran down my spine when I heard these words,”my father told me .He is an eighty five year old man. A fairly educated and progressive man who introduced me to Einstein and Sukanto Bhattacharya and from whom I, as a child, heard for the first time about ecological consciousness, at a time when talking about ecology was not in fashion. He does not shy from calling himself a Hindu. Why then he agonise over the expression of a pious intent of the man of the nation?
Without taking names, my mama (maternal uncle), again not a practising secular like many of us,wrote,“ I find a sudden rush of enthusiasm in some Hindus regarding the idea of the end of the practice of triple talaq in Muslims. Their new found sympathy for the Muslim women is not genuine, instead it stems from their pathological hatred of the Muslims.”
I felt an unease as I read the words of the first servant of the nation: it was as if a dagger thrust in my heart was being twisted and I could sense the delight of the hand behind it.
Why agonise when the man in charge of your country shows respect for and puts his trust in the power of the educated and the progressive, even if they are Muslims? Unfortunately we are cursed with memory. Words uttered in the past keep hovering in the recess of our minds and throw a cruel light from behind on what is being said today.
So, let us rewind the tape and listen to the man so beholden to the constitutional rights of the Muslim women, He is in a Yatra tom assert the glory of Gujarat. Follwing the foot steps of his mentor, He rides a Guarav- Rath and moves from village to village. The yatra draws thousands of hindus at all it stops. He addresses them: “60 innocent ram Bhakts were burnt alive in Godhra.” After a pause he asks, “ Are you aware of the news?…” He asks again, “ After that, did you burn shops in the village?” There is a faint No in response. He asks again, “ Did you burn houses?” He exhorts them to respond loudly and they oblige by saying No. He persists with his questioning, “ Did you stab or behead anyone?” He continues, “Did you rape anyone?” The crowd now knows that it is in safe company of a friend. Each question is greeted with an enthusiastic and aggressive No. “The enemies of Gujarat go around saying that each village was in flames. In each village , people were being killed. Their heads smashed! They defamed Gujarat so much that I had to embark on this Gaurav Yatra.”
Were not people killed in the violence of 2002 after the burning of coach 6 of the Sabarmati Express? Were not houses burnt? Were not women raped? Were not people displaced from their habitats? And were not they Muslims? What did the report of the National Human Rights Commission say? And what did the chief minister, who was the chief minister of all Gujaratis which included Muslims do to ensure justice to them?
He undertook a Yatra and led the Hindus of his state into aggressive denial of the act of violence. You have to watch videos of the yatra to see how he did it. He established the burning of the coach as a heinous act of demons and puts an erasure over the event of violence against Muslims and made Hindus believe that they were the wronged people. He portrays everyone fighting for justice for these violated Muslims as enemies of Gujarat.
In a video we see him addressing the crowd in a chilling voice, “I am here standing in Godhra where I was at the same time on 27 February… The fire that burns in my heart is the same that burns in your hearts.” The crowd get the message.
It was June of 2002. Heavy rains were lashing Gujarat. The then chief minister of Gujarat chose this time to order closure of all the relief camps where the displaced Muslims were being sheltered. We rushed to the supreme Court to seek relief for the Muslims. The petition was not taken up. Police harassed the men who were running these camps, slapped criminal cases against them. One by one , all the camps shut down. Muslims dispersed and became invisible.
How did the then chief minister justify his act? He told his crowds that these camps were a conspiracy and he could not allow child bearing factories to thrive. Hum panch, hamare pachees, this policy cannot be permitted.
I listen to Bilkis bano fail to muster courage to listen to others: raped, ravaged Muslim women who had to keep changing their shelters to save themselves from the agents of the state who were after them to force them to withdraw the criminal cases.
How were educated men and women from the Muslim community treated then? His house damaged, Prof. Bandukwala was directly threatened by the then chief minister who mocked him by asking why was he hiding in Mumbai.
How had he treated Syeda Hameed, educated, liberal and progressive, the only Muslim in the Planning Commission. He threatened to boycott the meeting of the commission in which Syeda Hameed was present. She had ‘defamed’ Gujarat by speaking about the mass crime against Muslims committed in 2002.
Go and ask Sophia Khan, Sheeba Chachi, Zakia Soman, educated, liberal and progressive Muslim women, all from Gujarat which ought to be our model, about what they feel about this rush of modern, constitutional sympathy of the leader and his ilk for the poor Muslim women.
We have let it pass.We have allowed tyranny to be the protector. What it does to Muslims is a different matter, what it would do to the souls of us Hindus is the question.
- Wire, November, 2016