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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hindus fight to get justice for Muslims in Gujarat riots: The Great untold story of secular India

RB Sreekumar
If ten years after Gujarat riots, the issue continues to be at the centre stage of Indian politics and the judicial process is moving forward, even if slowly, credit is due to Indian society.

One must admit that it is mostly the non-Muslims, the secular Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Jains who have fought on behalf of Indian Muslims. Putting their lives in danger, they have fought for the minorities' rights and their justice.

It is an incredible story, if someone ever wrote it. Activists who painstakingly fought for victims, journalists who risked lives to do 'stings' and nail culprits, lawyers who have in trying times and braving social stigma [even threats] sided with victims.

Prashant Bhushan
If Gujarat riots were India's shame. The fight for justice is Independent India's glory. A large section disapproves of human rights activists. But mostly this right-leaning segment of middle-class forgets that societies in other countries also act similarly.

In Pakistan, human rights activists who speak and fight for Hindus, Ahmadiyyas or Christian minorities are disliked by a large section, seen as 'noise-makers' and abused on Twitter and Facebook.

It is not an easy job to side with the victim, a person of other community, and take a stand. Particularly, when the might of state is against you. Frankly, majority of Muslim community had no idea how to fight this battle. On every front, it is mostly the non-Muslim leadership that has stood by Gujarati Muslims.

Teesta Setalvad
It was Harsh Mander, who resigned from Indian Administrative Services (IAS) in wake of the riots, openly saying that his colleagues didn't do what was expected from them during the pogrom.

Till date, he has been fighting for relief and rehabilitation. Teesta Setalvad is a symbol of this amazing story. The communalists, the right-wing dislike her.

However, for poor Muslims she is a messiah. Yes, she spoke for the 'other'. You have to be a victim to realise how it feels when someone speaks for you.

How can we forgot Mukul Sinha, whose Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), has painstakingly collected vital evidences, records by scanning thousands of pages of documents, so that the culprits are today feeling the heat.

Rahul Sharma: Ordered firing that saved 300 Muslim  kids
And Prashant Bhushan. At every forum, he has taken up the cause of sufferers. The senior lawyer-activist has been a defender of civil rights and his commitment towards secularism, is surely amazing.

There aren't enough Muslim activists who can take the fight at this level [Of course, Shabnam Hashmi is there but who else?].

The 'intellectual' or common Muslim had little time to think of it or dare do it in Gujarat, let alone act for years in such a hostile atmosphere when section of bureaucracy, society and officials see activists as enemies of Gujarat.

All these are Hindus. How many can dare take on the system in such a way as RB Sreekumar did. The intelligence chief, he was an insider. Disgusted by what happened in Gujarat and driven by pure humanity and conviction, he has been at the forefront in the fight.

Nandita Das
Since 2002, at ever forum he has openly said what others suspected but couldn't have been established easily: about officers' laxity, alleged complicity and the politicians' role in letting the riots go on after Godhra train burning incident.

For many he is a maverick police officer. But IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt has risked his entire career at stake. He named Narendra Modi repeatedly. Even Muslim officers were obsequious and enjoyed plum postings a few years after the riots, content with the fruits of power.

It takes extraordinary courage to speak up when you are in the 'system'. Bhatt has no qualms. Many of these people are staunch Hindus and deeply religious. And yes, their religious beliefs give them the strength when they stand by Muslim Gujaratis.

Mallika Sarabhai
Exemplary commitment towards service was shown by several officials in 2002. Who won't be indebted to Rahul Sharma, the IPS officer, who ordered firing on the mob when rioters were on way to burn a madarsa where 300 children lived, in Bhavnagar.

Sharma later came up with information that showed politicians' nexus with rioters. The government acted against him, gave him charge-sheet. Satish Verma faced departmental harassment.

FIRs were filed against Bhatt. He was arrested as well. I don't know if any other country can have similar example of people in high offices taking such strong stand amidst the typhoon of hate and violence that had swept Gujarat then.

Sanjeev Bhatt
The figure of deaths in Gujarat was enormous. But it could have been even greater but for such brave men in uniform. The combined efforts have resulted in Supreme Court monitoring of cases, constituting the SIT, rapping government, all important steps.

Surely, it is wrong to squarely blame Gujarat or Gujaratis. Innumerable Gujarati Hindus are fighting this battle for the last decade. Their dream is a secular India, a secular Gujarat, for which they are all striving for.

Harsh Mander is a Sikh. Mallika Sarabhai belongs to a Jain family. Christian activists are also involved in this campaign to secure justice. Can we forget the contribution of Indian media that has shown its commitment towards secular India.

Harsh Mander
Artists also expressed their protest. Movies like Rahul Dholakia's Parzania that told the story of a Parsi family which lost its son as he had a Muslim-sounding name or Nandita Das' Firaaq shows the agony they underwent in the aftermath of the massacre.

Ashish Khetan, whose landmark Operation Kalank had established the role of Babu Bajrangi as well as the alleged go-ahead given to Bajrang Dal-VHP leaders in 2002. This is just an example. Innumerable journalists, activists and writers have done every bit to ensure that the wheels of justice move.

So that the society doesn't forget the horrors. When we talk of DG Vanzara, who is in jail for fake encounters, we see only one side of the picture. There are officers who didn't budge despite immense pressure.

Officers who we must salute. V K Gupta, Manoj Shashidhar, Narasimha Komar, Vivek Srivastava, M D Antani, Upendra Singh and Keshav Kumar led from the front and ensured that violence was controlled in their areas.

Mukul Sinha
Go anywhere in India, the respect Teesta Setalvad's name commands, is unbelievable. People have seen her act, speak and passionately fight for Muslims.

Criticising perpetrators of riots is fine for outsiders. It's very easy. But its not an ordinary task to speak for the victims when it is considered 'a moral sin', especially when you are part of the 'system' [bureaucracy] in the Gujarat.

Call it conscience, courage, honesty, humanity or sense of duty, these officers have done something rare. And there are many such officers who have defied the diktats and decided to act as per law.

Whether Gujarat is shining right now or not, whenever history of this period [200-2012] would be written in future, it will be due to these people that the next generations would see as heroes and they would not have to hang their heads in shame for the conduct of rioters.

Rajnish Rai
Honest officers, the courageous activists, the ordinary Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis who fought to ensure justice for their Muslim brethren.

It is this reason that entire Gujarat can't be condemned or defamed. There were no personal gains involved. All of them paid price and faced harassment.

Trolls & hate-filled anonymous cyber warriors con't understand these sentiments. The fighters are not 'pseudos', 'sickulars' or 'Congis', but humans. No wonder we are a mature democracy.

Despite the occasional failures, we can redeem ourselves, bounce back and set new standards. There is no fun fighting for yourself. Everybody does it. But what we have seen in a decade is something extraordinary. It sends the message that humanity and justice ultimately prevail.

This is a story of many heroes and it has a lesson for every society. Our salute to all the heroes. [There are many more activists, lawyers and journalists who played their part in this fight for justice. Some names mentioned above are just to give an indication about the nature of this fight.]

This was second part on the series on post-Godhra killings on this blog on the tenth anniversary of riots. Read first part here.