18 March, 2010

Salaam Judiciary, Salaam India

Masuma did not live to hear the scolding Narendra Modi government received from the Supreme Court. She died the same night, when at our bidding, she narrated her tale of woe to an international TV channel. Recounting the loss of her husband, two daughters, her own limbs and house at Naroda Gam proved unbearable. We killed her but don't feel guilty. She was too miserable to live.
The thousands of other riot victims of Gujarat riots drew some satisfaction from the indictment Gujarat Government received from the Supreme Court in the Best Bakery and Bilkis rape cases. After the genocide celebrating yatras, denial of compensation and justice, and visible state animosity comes some ray of hope.

Continuing violence and persecution, collapse of justice system and witch hunting of those who worked for the victims, have further alienated Gujarat's largest minority. Of the 240 held under POTA one is a Sikh, the rest are all Muslims.

Sycophantic bureaucracy and spineless police abet a decadent administration of Gujarat in persecuting and even prosecuting the victims themselves through unabashed misuse of law even while sections of judiciary look the other way. The Police often use Muslim goons, passing for local leaders, in perpetuating this stranglehold. As I write this dozens of innocent Muslims of Ahmedabad are said to be held in illegal custody for periods ranging from five to fifty days. Alas, no one speaks for them. No wonder retaliatory terrorism, however counter-productive, has gained some sub-conscious legitimacy. But in Gujarat government's lexicon killing of twenty innocents by two armed desperadoes is terrorism while the killing of two hundred innocents by a mob of two thousand marauders is "natural reaction".

It is in this background that the nation's conscience keeper has reminded Modi Government of its Rajdharma. It is time for the 'Adharmi sarkar' to quit in remorse for the sake of Gujarat's asmita and gaurav. Will the civil servants also now wake up to their duty?

Implicit in the Supreme Court observations is also the emphatic assertion for the Muslims of India: Look within for justice; relief and support is next door from your Hindu neighbors and not from pan-Islamic fraternity beyond. The state may have betrayed you but the nation has not turned a blind eye. That the soul of India is intact. And disturbed.

Caught between the vice-like grip of an unimaginative and opportunistic leadership on the one hand and majoritarian extremism on the other, the common Indian Muslim today lives in a pitiable situation. Firmly rooted, yet uprooted; with a glorious heritage, a dismal present and a bleak future; branded traitors and terrorists, Muslims of India are undoubtedly the suffering children of the subcontinent's painful recent history.

Before Graham Stains a Muslim was similarly burnt to death in Orissa; no one heard about him. The killers of over 2000 Gujarati Muslims are most likely to go scot-free. Meerut, Bhagalpur, Bhiwandi, Bombay.. no one was punished, as Modi government reminded the court. But if Bush can hunt Saddam inside Iraq, if Sharon can imprison Arafat in Palestine, why can Modi not subjugate Gujarati Muslims? How will the ill-trusted Nanavati commission be more effective than the conscientious Justice Shri Krishna commission?

Yet, the ilk of Togadia has successfully convinced the majority that the Indian Muslim is an appeased lot. Some Gujarati Hindus genuinely believe that the genocide has actually benefited Muslims through compensation and insurance claims! Lagging behind in almost every facet of contemporary life, Indian Muslims have been on the defensive for far too long, thanks largely to their own misplaced priorities. One hundred fifty million Muslims of India sadly lack an organizational structure and a courageous, visionary leadership that can challenge the bigots and address the real issues of poverty, illiteracy, irrationality, obscurantism.

Consider that the three lakh residents of Ahmedabad's Muslim Juhpaura do not have one nationalized bank branch, a college, a single public utility office or government hospital. When some hooligans attacked a bus, the government changed the transport route skirting Juhapura by four extra kilometers. A whole generation of Ahmedabadi Hindus has grown without ever visiting Juhapura.

Isn't is time the Muslims turned the tables and aggressively presented to the nation a Muslim Charter espousing their secular cause with all the strength the Indian republic bestows, with all the cooperation the conscientious Hindus will undoubtedly extend?

With extensive credible evidence in support, they should demand fair and equal opportunities in the temporal life of the nation. To bridge the gap they need preferential treatment in credit, education, sanitation, employment and representation in government. Muslims shall not be second grade citizens of India. They must contribute and share in the prosperity of the nation as equal citizens. No need for ritualistic secularism: condemning every terrorist act, distancing from community causes. For this, of course, their commitment to the nation, the next door Hindu friend and to secularism at large should be sincere and unflinching.

To win Gujarati Muslim mind and heart justice should be done and seen. A special federal investigating and prosecuting agency comprising well-known secular police officers and lawyers nominated by NHRC should probe the entire Godhra and post Godhra violence. A statutory compensation commission should be set up to solicit, investigate and grant fair and contemporaneous compensation for losses suffered by all victims. A reconciliation commission may also be set up at the national level to promote interfaith and inter-caste harmony, reuniting the fragmented Indian society into an emotionally unified nation.

The Supreme Court has shown a direction. Masooma is gone but Bilkis lives with her shame and pain. To salute the dead, to celebrate life, to the spirit of unity amidst diversity; humanity amidst bigotry; reason, truth and justice against fanaticism, falsehood and injustice, on this day an Indian Muslim offers salaam.

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