Two myths have been exposed as false in recent years: one is that you have to be cast in the heroic role to become a hero; the other is that all people are basically peace-loving. Both were exposed in stark reality after reading the strictures passed by our Supreme Court on the Gujarat government, presided over by Narendra Modi. The Gujarat massacres took a toll of over 2000 Muslim lives.
Two and half years ago who had heard of the names of Qutubuddin Ansari or Zahira Sheikh or Bilqis Bano. After frenzied mobs descended on them, they were in all our newspapers and journals. Ansari was a poor tailor in Ahmedabad. His tear-stained face with hands joined in prayer begging his life to be spared appeared on front pages. It touched the hearts of millions who felt ashamed that one of their fellow citizens had been subjected to such humiliation. Zahira, still in her twenties, saw her family’s Best Bakery torched and 14 relatives butchered before her eyes. Bilqis Bano (30) five months pregnant, was gang-raped while her three and-a-half-year-old daughter was killed along with several of her relations.
Zahira swore she would not marry till the perpetrators of the crime whom she recognised and named were adequately punished. However, a few weeks later when she was escorted to the court by the local MLA of the BJP — a burly, bearded man carrying a pistol in his belt, she recanted and said because of the din and smoke she could not recognise any of the assailants.
She took to wearing a black burqa covering her from head to foot and fled to Bombay. Bano was made of sterner stuff and stuck to her story. The Station House Officer refused to register her complaint. She wanted to be medically examined; she was told the doctor would inject her with poison. In neither case were any post-mortems carried out. When the cases came up for hearing, the public prosecutor acted like a defence counsel. All the accused were acquitted for lack of evidence. To such low depths had fallen the police and judiciary of Gujarat.
Nothing would have been heard of these atrocities if Human Rights Activists had not prodded the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), presided over by the retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, A.S. Annand, to file a petition in the Supreme Court. Besides passing strictures on the Gujarat Government, the court ordered the CBI to investigate the cases and trials to be held in Mumbai. The accused have been re-arrested and are under protection of human rights activists. Both Zahira and Bilqis will now be able to come out with the truth.
In the months to come during which men accused of arson, rape and murders will be tried, we will hear a lot about them. Two women, whose identity few people, besides their relatives, neighbours, and friends were aware of, will become household names: heroism will be thrust upon them.
The myth of one community being more peace-loving than others should be treated with derision, as there never has been any substance in it. The myth was blown to smithereens in the nation-wide communal conflict during the Partition of India in 1946-47. e.g. Killings in Calcutta following ‘direct action day’ called by the Muslim League, massacres of Muslims in Bihar, of Hindus in Noakhali, of Hindus and Sikhs in the NWFP and Western Punjab, of Muslims in East Punjab. They made mockeries of claims that Hindus were a non-violent people, as were the Muslims that since the word Islam meant peace, they never indulged in wanton violence. We had some experience of how shallow the Hindu claim of being committed to peace was in the killings of Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and years ago of the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat following the torching of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra.
It is ironic that of all states of the Union it should be Gujarat that has become the epi-centre of sectarian violence. Mahatma Gandhi was born here. After he returned from England as a Barrister-at-law, his most important client was a Gujarati Muslim trader who took him to South Africa to sort out his business litigation in that country. It was in South Africa that Gandhi evolved and put in to practise his faith in Satyagraha (truth force), passive resistance and Sarva Dharma Samabhava — equal respect for all religions. When he returned to India he set up his ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati after which the ill-fated Sabarmati Express is named. Gujarat honoured its greatest son by naming its administrative set-up Gandhinagar. It is from Gandhinagar that the chief protagonist of Hindutva (Hindu ethos) L.K. Advani has been elected to Parliament more than once.
It was from Somnath Temple in Gujarat that Advani landed his Rath Yatra to Ayodhya, which led to the destruction of the 16th century Babri Masjid, believed by his followers without any concrete evidence, built on the ruins of a temple. It nurtured the seeds of communal hatred which led to Hindu-Muslim riots in different parts of our country culminating in the massacre of innocent Muslims of Gujarat. Advani and his supporters should have a lot on their conscience and much to answer to their gods. In their own way they have exploded the greatest myth that we Indians are peace-loving because we are sons of Bapu Gandhi.
India that is Bharat
My friends, this is India, you see,
Not France, Britain or Germany
Nothing here is blamed on bumbling fools
And true to form, as bad workmen, we blame our tools.
When calls to caste and creed
Make people hack each other to death
Or erstwhile friends curse each other with every breath,
Or when the Bombay market goes up or down,
Be sure my friends, ‘tis the work of some small-time fixer in the town.
When pesky little states insist on changing borders.
When once peaceful people refuse to obey social orders,
The reason for this mischief you will understand,
Is the meddling, wayward corrupt politicians who has a hand.
Who then can rule this politically blighted land?
The urbane, suave, gentlemanly Vajpayee and his saffron band,
Or the enigmatic Sonia of the vacuous wave and Congress hand.
Either way, where does the Indian voter stand?
Fearfully perhaps, back to the polls soon we will go,
For shaky governments never have anything to show.
For you and me, dear friends, oratory or a meaningless hand wave,
Means but one thing at the polls-just another close shave:
(Courtesy: Brig Sukhjit Singh, Kapurthala)
A husband explained the phenomenon of inflation to his wife:
When we married, you were 24-36-24 Now you are 42-42-42
There’s more of you, But you are not worth as much:
(Courtesy: H. Kishie Singh, Chandigarh)