Friday, June 17, 2005

First Days in Gujarat

Coming to study at IIM Ahmedabad meant setting a foot on Gujarat's soil - a state that has been in news for most of the times in the last three years or so, and on most of the times, for the same reason again and again. Of course I'm talking about the riots - a subject that attracted dozens of documentaries, hundreds of editorials, thousands of news articles and millions of murmurings.

And so when I arrived at Ahmedabad airport, a mix of excitement and curiosity grabbed me. Excitement that I was going to be a part of an institution that was inarguably the best in India, and curiosity to find out how much "ground reality" was there to all the documentaries, articles and murmurings.

Well, in the last 20 days that I have spent here, I have not been able to find out much. In fact, I've hardly made a conscious effort to find out or talk about the riots that took place in February-March 2002. I've moved out of IIM campus either to buy something for my personal consumption or to watch movie and hang out with friends. But that doesn't mean that my curiosity at arrival had died down. In fact that curiosity takes bizarre forms on many occasions.

If I happen to see an uncouth galoot on street, I conjure up images of him taking part in the arsons, murders and rapes that rocked this beautiful state. In fact when I recall those articles where it was reported that even the educated middle class actively took part in the riots, my apparitions become really absurd. Each normal person on street or in the shop appears as someone who might have murdered or raped a Muslim.

And this thing disturbs me. I ask myself if I am over obsessed with the idea, or is it an effect of those documentaries, articles and murmurings. I won't completely absolve myself of my obsession, but I would insist that this obsession is not simply a making of my own. All those documentaries, articles and murmurings have got a role to play.

I feel that in their zeal to combat communalism and bring the culprits to book, the vanguards of civility and secularism have overused the "Gujarat" motif. Their oath that they won't allow another "Gujarat" to happen anywhere, their accusation that "Gujarat" is the laboratory of Sangh Parivar, and their belief that "Gujarat" needs detoxification as prescribed by them - all these things assigned "Gujarat" different connotations as a word. It ceased to be just a name of a state in India. When we talk about "Gujarat Riots", both the words almost become synonyms of each other. Would secularists (I'm not using this term to mock at those who tried their best to bring some sanity to the state of Gujarat) accept that perhaps they might have done a little disservice to their own goal?

What happened in Delhi in 1984 was in no way different from what happened in Gujarat in 2002. However, Delhi was not chastised for the sins Delhi'ites committed, then why had Gujarat the albatross hanged around its neck? Why do we forget that places outlive its inhabitants? They have a soul of their own, and deeds of one generation can't change the whole spirit of a place.

But the secularists seemed to punish "Gujarat" for what happened on her soil. Surely Gujarat also regretted the loss of her sons and daughters, and imagine how she might have felt after being asked to carry the shame with herself. Would you defrock a mother for the crimes her sons committed?

One may say that I'm ascribing my eccentricities to people who need not be blamed for what they have done. Well, I'm not blaming anyone on purpose. But I need an explanation for my peculiar experiences. I'm diagnosing myself, and I might be wrong. But I feel that this might be one of the reasons for the images that I conjure up. I will try to find it out as I spend more and more time here, interacting with the locals, seeking to make those ghoulish images vanish.

The only time a local talked about riots was yesterday, when the housekeeping boy here at IIM chatted with me. He told me that Ahmedabad was a very good place with good people; the only problem is heat and dust. And then as a second thought he added that there were these problems created by Pakistanis who want to ruin the city. He then suggested me not to venture towards a place in the city (I couldn't exactly get the name of the place the way he pronounced) because that place was inhabited by Muslims. He informed me that that particular place was called Mini-Pakistan by them.

He added that Muslims living in that area were "dangerous". And then he talked about riots. He told that Muslims had made a large pool of acid in that area during the riots and used to throw Hindus into that if a Hindu strayed in that area. And so he suggested me again to keep off that area in Ahmedabad.

After hearing such stories, I almost concur with those people whom I just blamed for my apparitions. True, Gujarat shouldn't be allowed to happen again and Gujarat needs to be detoxified. But this is surely not a problem that is unique with Gujarat. Such prejudices between communities are to be found in most of the cities where Hindus and Muslims are in competing proportions. And this is the sorrow of our days.

Not only from Gujarat, we have to get rid of this disease from every part of the country. And this can be done without making the name of a place synonymous with hatred. We need to take an objective view of the problem. And many a times an objective view can be found with a person like that housekeeping boy. His statements reflect the root cause of the disease - lack of trust between communities with real and imagined threats from each other. We need to counter this threat, but maybe we need to be a little circumspect not to make something a symbol of hate, least, the name of a city or state.

Let Gujarat be known for its culture, culinary, Navaratras and Irfan Pathans. Let's celebrate Gujarat, regain its glory stained by riots. And to regain Gujarat from communalists, we needn't throw it into their lap by declaring it their laboratory. Gujarat is a beautiful garden and let us declare it ours - of Indians.

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