Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Be very afraid"

It was in July 2002 when I looked at my project topic through bleary eyes. "The Godhra Riots" it said. I had a week and I was planning another one of those splash dash attempts at meeting a deadline. Leaning on my crutch, google, I quickly dug up a ton of info on the riots and even chanced upon studies on the mechanism of riots, with socio-political and psychological inputs. As I read, I became hungry, for more, and more until I had read every detail, significant or otherwise. Born of a fertile imagination and healthy sense of revolutionary zeal (in peace of course), a conspiracy theory took seed in my addled brain.

Could the riots have been engineered? Could they have been a result of careful orchestration rather than a raging fire set in motion by a random spark? Could Narinder Modi be nothing but Hitler in saffron? The questions floated around me like phantoms, teasing.

I put together the project with a lot more effort than I first envisaged and got a good grade. Then like so many other 19 year olds, I smiled smugly and promptly forgot all about the riots. Until now.

"Be Very Afraid" read the headline of Tarun Tejpal's editor's note in a landmark issue for journalism. The issue that deconstructed the "rioters and conspirators" and gave them faces and names. He sets the tone for the bleakness, horror and stark raving communalism that follows in its pages.

But before we raise chief investigative reporter, Ashish Khetan on a pandaal and dub him India's answer to Woodward and Bernstein, let us first reflect on what he has done.

W&B, broke down the Nixon brigade and exposed him to a country of complacents.They used an inside source (the famous Deep Throat) and printed a string of stories that never dared reveal his name.

Khetan, with immense personal risk, infiltrated the squalid inner circle of the Hindutva clan. He pretended to be a student doing a report on the RSS, sometimes he was an RSS man travelling across Gujarat to report on its workings to the head office in Delhi. Considering that he was actually a sting journalist knocking at the echelon of violent extremism, his very life hung in a balance. Like he says so often in his note, if at anytime he was searched by any of the goons he was speaking to, they would've found 2 spycams and a mic, three tiny things more powerful than the swiftest death sentence.

The people to whom he was speaking were convinced that he was a Hindutva himself. Can you imagine the acting performance that would take? Here were people telling him, almost salivating with glee that they had cut open a pregnant ladies' stomach and killed the foetus, that they had chopped a Muslim politician limb from limb, that they had raped with impunity ("If the fruit is there, who will not taste"), that they had killed with cold discrimination, that they were bribed, that they were tortured (the muslim tea vendors), that they covered up the truth, that they had doctored evidence and events. These were the men he was talking to - goondas, lawyers, politicos, fundamentalist citizens, chief investigating officers, witnesses, the whole shebang.

I think Watergate is a report on a child's birthday party compared to this.

How do mere mortals find the heart of darkness within them? How do they embrace it with the light of fanaticism in their eyes? How do we ensure that the names Babu Bajrangi, Rajendra Vyas, Mangilal Jain, Ramesh Dave, Prakash Rathod, Suresh Richard among so many others remain etched in our collective memory?

By reading this issue of Tehelka. Yes, you could always go and read most of it on their website ( but that doesn't quite do it. You need the visceral addition of paper, you need a magazine to wrestle with, to flip, fold and almost tear in frustration. Read it and find out the depths and lengths that were employed to cover up a mini-holocaust. Read it and peer into one of India's darkest hours. Read it and weep.

I did. I wept because I was a Hindu and knew this wasn't what Hinduism is all about, just like Terrorism isn't Islam or Christianity isn't the KKK. I wept as a thinking Indian. I wept as a human being. Tears of rage, injustice and sorrow. Then I stopped and decided to channel my rage and write. But I still haven't done justice to all I felt as I read this issue from cover to cover.

The only way I can effectively communicate all that I'm feeling is to urge you all to read this yourself, and soon, very very soon, immediately. Lets not forget that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and in the absence of any justice, it gives me nightmares to imagine the kind of retaliation is brewing.

We might all not feel the same things but hopefully they'll all be in the same direction. The direction of demanding that something be done. That this gross violation of human rights doesn't get swept under the carpet of convenience.

If you happen to be a thinking Indian PLEASE READ IT NOW!!!!!!!!


Ridhi said...

heard about the tehelka report...and in my usual jackassish forgetfulness haven't gotten only THAT copy!!! dammit.

I've also heard from other sources, like my ex-boss Chandita Mukherjee, that artists doing work on the riots have been harassed by normal everyday people in her neighbours... subtle tactics of threatening, bullying, exclusion.

Yes Hari, this is the time we live in now! It feels like a mental state dug up from the 'dark ages' or something. But it's very real... fanaticism that is... and more and more otherwise neutral discerning people are getting on the bandwagon of intolerance. And it scares me.

Shutterfly said...

many thanks for lending me the magazine to read.
and it really shook me up. Even while reading the first 60 pages on the train I was trying to keep myself from bursting out.

I think I Honestly don't understand hatred. I write,think,talk,feel Love. always. I understand forgiveness. But never retaliation.
and even the thought of wanting to hurt. let alone the thought of wanting to break into a million pieces is something beyond my comprehension. The sort of things the people being interviewed said. ..I CANNOT relate much so that its Inhuman. Words fail me. I can't describe my reaction.
I only know that I can't close my eyes to it either. but thats another story. and we'll talk about it sometime.