Within two hours of the blasts in Bombay on August 25, one of the usual suspects wrote in. "I've had enough of this talk of Muslim retaliation for Gujarat!" he said.
Strange, because nobody I knew of had yet produced any such talk: everyone was still shell-shocked by the blasts. But this was one from that curious species, the dudes whose sole response to great tragedy is an immediate bout of e-mail-jockeying, firing off angry letters to everyone they hate. And they hate a long list indeed.
Anyway, he went on: "Naturally Hindus had to retaliate for the horrible massacre in Godhra ... But how many times should we listen to this excuse from Muslims?"
In other words, according to the dude, it's "natural" for Hindus to retaliate. (A greater insult to Hindus would be hard to imagine). But for Muslims to claim that same natural right is unacceptable, a mere "excuse" that cannot be allowed. (Not that retaliation against innocent people, whoever the retaliators are, is ever acceptable anyway). No matter that nearly everyone involved with setting off the bombs says they were deeply affected by what happened to Muslims in Gujarat and are longing for revenge. No matter that we are now tasting the fruits of not just bloodshed and injustice in Gujarat, but hatreds deliberately stoked over many years.
Let's put it down in words we can all understand. Two ghastly crimes -- acts of terrorism, by any standard -- happen in Gujarat in early 2002. In both atrocities, utterly innocent people are slaughtered. The usual
suspects tell the world that the second act -- actually a long series of crimes -- is "natural", "understandable", and a "spontaneous retaliation" for the first.
Eighteen months later, here's a snapshot of some of what happened in Gujarat, and a country's response:
Godhra: 59 killed 60 arrested, 10 given bail (POTA applied)
Best Bakery: 14 killed 21 arrested, all acquitted (no POTA)
Sardarpura: 38 killed 32 arrested, all given bail (no POTA)
Gulbarg: 42 killed 28 arrested, 21 given bail (no POTA)
Naroda Patia: 91 killed 54 arrested, 51 given bail (no POTA)
I am unable to understand how anyone can look at this table and pretend that it amounts to a fair application of justice to the perpetrators of slaughter. Not only have the great majority of the accused in these crimes, except Godhra, been given bail; not only are all the accused in one crime now actually acquitted; but POTA itself, the law that usual suspects say is meant to prevent terrorism, has been applied only to one set of terrorists.
The ones in Godhra.
What's it, the other murderers were not terrorists?
Much the same unfairness applies to previous acts of terror. Slaughter in Bombay over several weeks of rioting in December 1992 and January 1993 left a thousand of my countrymen dead. A series of bomb blasts in March 1993 left three hundred more of my countrymen dead. How did my country respond to these two episodes of terror?
Somewhere between 150 and 200 accused in the blasts have spent nearly a decade in jail while their trial (under POTA's predecessor, TADA) potters along. They are still at least months away from a verdict. But for the riots, to my knowledge nobody has been punished, let alone been put on trial, let alone officially accused. No TADA for the terrorists who roamed the streets of Bombay through those terrifying December and January weeks.
An inquiry into the riots -- not a trial, remember, just an inquiry -- produced a 1998 report that, for all it has done to punish murderers, might as well have been flung in the sea.
Maybe it was.
How is it possible for anyone to look at this greatly skewed history -- Bombay and Gujarat -- and not think there is something seriously wrong with how we react to terrorism?
More important, why wouldn't some Indians look at this skewing and conclude that there's no hope of justice for them in their own country? That those who murder and rape them will never be brought to trial, never even be considered by their country as terrorists, but instead actually be hailed as heroes?
And if some Indians start seeing things this way, how long before some among them decide to lash out murderously, just as many of their fellow citizens decided to lash out murderously after Godhra? How long before they hit on their own perverted idea of "retaliation", just as perverted as their fellow citizens dreamed up after Godhra? And how long before that idea drives them to leave bombs at, picking two crowded areas at random, the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazar?
Answer to that last question: rewind to August 25.
It's all very well to quickly blame some sinister Pakistani murderers for the blasts, as our home minister did after August 25. It's even an astute thing for a home minister to do, as several writers noted: astute because it directs public anger across the border and heads off the kind of retaliation we saw in Gujarat.
But when you grant that astuteness, you're still left to grapple with two troubling thoughts.
Troubling thought one: the very fact that the second-most powerful man in this country has to swiftly search for ways to head off retaliation says things about where we are today. It says that he himself knows how wrong that retaliation was last year: so wrong that he is determined not to have it repeat this year.
Yet, as home minister and thus responsible for law and order in our nation, he shows no desire to demand quick and fair justice in Gujarat.
And think about this: in any normal, ordinary time, we would all understand that the crimes of a criminal few cannot be answered by setting out to slaughter innocents, whether with knives and bonfires or with bombs. Yet we live in times when the fear of just such an answer is so real that our home minister feels he must divert it by blaming Pakistan, and we then applaud his sagacity for doing so. His diversion saved lives! Bravo! But why were lives in danger to begin with?
This is where we are today.
Because we are, we have troubling thought two: what we are seeing around us today, from horrific killing in Gujarat to people blown up at the Gateway to a home minister's deft spin job, is the result of the politics that same home minister has stood for, and propagated, for years now. Once he deliberately set himself on the path that chosen politics dictated, we could not have ended up any place else but where we are today. As Prem Shankar Jha wrote in Outlook (September 8): 'For over 15 years the Sangh Parivar has sown the wind. Now India has begun to reap the whirlwind.'
The wind blew the Parivar's boys into power, which is what they had wanted all along. The rest of us are left to cradle the bloodied bodies of our relatives and fellow citizens: bloodied in the violence that has now put terror in all our hearts. Bloodied by the politics that will maim and kill many more of us before the whirlwind dies down.
If it ever does.
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