Up in flames
When Man Turned Beast
By Pesi D. Muncherji

‘‘I had come to Gujarat with a heavy heart and I’m leaving with a heavier heart.’’? Justice J. S. Verma, Chairman NHRC and former CJI

It was on 26th January, 2001 when nature in all its fury struck Gujarat with a devastating earthquake which killed thousands and rendered many more homeless.

Thirteen months later, on 27th February, 2002, man turned beast and in all his fury, struck Gujarat once again rendering hundreds of innocent people (including women and children), massacred with burning fires raging for days on end and leaving thousands destitute and homeless. Gujarat famous for its forbearance, friendliness, and forgiveness, was wrapped in the flames of religious mob fury, and that too in the land of the Mahatma, which suddenly turned into a land of human slaughter.

Where has our tolerance gone? In 1926 Gandhiji wrote:

‘‘Everybody is right from his own standpoint. Hence, the necessity for tolerance. Tolerance gives us spiritual insight, which is as far from fanaticism as the North Pole is from the South’’.

All religions preach morality, civilized behaviour, kindness, compassion, love, tolerance, all of which lead to peace. In spite of which people have been burnt alive, tortured and killed in the name of religion. But when politics enters religion, it can be called the religion of division, discrimination and death.

Vivekananda’s prophetic words come to mind when he said that each religion is a path towards the same goal of salvation, and each religion must be given utmost respect. To him, no one religion can claim monopoly and say that revenge is the only way to solve problems.

At such a time Gandhiji would certainly have turned over in his grave. So would the ‘‘iron man of India’’, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, and the indomitable Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

These three great men were men of action. One still remembers how Gandhiji single-handedly stemmed the tide of horrific riots in Calcutta. Lord Mountbatten commenting on these riots said: ‘‘In the Punjab we have 50,000 soldiers and large-scale rioting on our hands. In Bengal, our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting’’.


As for Vallabhai Patel, Home Minister in 1947, he was the man who told the Hindu Mahasabha; ‘‘If you think that you are the only custodians of Hinduism, you are mistaken. Hinduism preaches a broader outlook on life. There is much more tolerance in Hinduism than is supposed’’. He outrightly rejected the concept of Hindu Rashtra, when he said: ‘‘If the Government cannot act as Trustee for the entire population, irrespective of caste, religion, or creed, it does not deserve to continue for a single day’’.

The irony of this terrible situation is that Gujarat still burns even to this day.

The present regime seems bent on upsetting and undoing all the hard work the earlier Indian leaders have done to build India as one nation. They just want to put aside what the sensible Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had to say in support of Gandhiji’s unsuccessful efforts in trying to keep India undivided, when he said:

‘‘If we accept partition, we will only create a permanent problem for India. Partition would not solve the communal problems which would become a permanent feature of the country’’. Today we realise how right Maulana Azad was in his firm and strong support to the Father of the Nation. If only the three stalwarts were alive today!

In lighter vein, a lady journalist remarked four months ago on how SANE we were: ‘‘We are a nation of one billion people who are made up of Somebody, Anybody, Nobody and Everybody’’. And so it is.

Gruesome happenings

With this we move on to the gruesome happenings in the State, when Gujarat burns.

It’s time to hang our heads in shame at the turn of events in the last one month or so. It has tarnished the image of Gujarat. All articles of the Constitution were thrown into the fire. In their lust for revenge and human blood, the rioters did not even spare innocent helpless women and children by their cowardly acts performed in the name of religion. Little do they realise that they fight for religion, die for religion, but do not live by religion. It is an unpardonable sin.

Who is responsible for such a gruesome, dastardly, despicable and heinous crime in holding the nation to ransom in such a way? The defenders of our land and our Constitution were not only sleeping during such a carnage, but were snoring away to glory. A little care and alertness on the part of those concerned, could have averted this horrible barbaric crime. How can one condone such a monstrous deed of hypocrisy? It is shameful and disgraceful that this kind of bloodshed took place in the State of the Mahatma, who sowed in Gujarat the seeds of brotherhood and unity, and sacrificed his life for it. These shameless criminals have made a mockery of what Gandhi preached. Yes, Gandhiji has been assassinated once again, but this time brutally in the land of his birth. This is a big blow to our democracy. We have resorted to ancient times of justice in the practice of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But then at that time, society was uncivilized. Today, it is an insult to humanity. This kind of naked aggression revealed the beast in man, and the devastation it has caused is beyond one’s imagination.

This isn’t the first time that there have been riots, looting and death. Nor is it the first time a carnage of this magnitude has taken place. If it was surprise and shock at the time of the earthquake, it was anguish and disgust in the present catastrophe resulting in State-wide destruction.

One is appalled and shocked seeing the lack of human feeling for the affected masses. Many suffered for the lack of administrative control, when they turned a blind eye to help them heal their wounds and allowed them to die on the streets. It would be an insult to call them civilized, for they had fallen from grace.

When one looks back, destruction is not new to Gujarat. The only difference here being, this time ‘‘they threw the baby out with the bath-water’’. Communalism, the old dragon, is still breathing not only in Gujarat, but in the entire country around. These riots are a blot on our integrity, but this time it crossed all limits.

Today, society is divided into two groups.

One group believes that violence will solve problems and so went on a rampage, not being ashamed of what they did. The other group is shocked and ashamed to see Gujarat burning in this manner. Below are some of the reactions of some common people.

‘‘I am ashamed to be an Amdavadi. The way rich people came in cars and gleefully looted the shops is really shameful. It’s more than last year’s earthquake. Better to go to some other State, where life will be peaceful’’.

‘‘There are times I feel like running away from here. All these years I was proud of Ahmedabad and its people. Now, I am really ashamed. I am seriously thinking to move out of this city. How will society cope with such a ghastly episode?’’

‘‘If one justifies violence and feels triumphant about these acts, then there is little hope for the country, particularly when they justify these gruesome acts of violence.’’

Muslim caretaker

Then there is the story of Ansar Hussain, better known as Munnu Babu, who came to Ayodhya from Jaipur in 1990. He was in his mid-eighties. He carried with him the idols of Ram and Sita, which he had made and installed in the sanctum sanctorum. Munnu Babu was the Muslim caretaker of a Ram temple, just a stone’s throw from Babri Masjid.

For years, he had been the keeper of the temple, built by the rulers of Basti in U.P. Every morning he would go to the temple, and return only at night.

Now he was being told that his community had to give up all claim to Ayodhya. This did not make sense to Munnu Babu, for after all he only had the two idols of Ram and Sita for company. Where would he go at this old age? As manager of the Ram temple all these years, what would he do?

Then came 6th December, 1992. The five hours to Ram brought about a complete turn of events. Avadh was a land where faiths had co-existed for centuries, where Muslims carved the ‘‘khadaus’’ (wooden slippers) which sat so well on the feet of Hindu holy men, where Munnu Babu had only Ram and Sita for company, although his family practised Islam.

Today, no one seems to know the whereabouts of Munnu Babu. What happened to the old man, who religiously looked after the two idols of Ram and Sita, which he made with his own hands, and placed in the Ram temple? Is Munnu Babu dead or alive is anybody’s guess?

Then, there was old Amma in Faizabad making and selling ‘rumali rotis?and ‘kababs?in the place she called Janamsthan.

Then, there is the story of the brave doctor, Dr. Sadiq Kazi, Superintendent of Al-Amin Gareebnawaz Hospital in Ahmedabad.

When a mob attacks, saving one’s life is the only thought that runs through one’s mind. But Dr. Kazi was made of a different mould. To him duty came first, riot or no riot, as he rushed from his distant home to the hospital when summoned. He was the only surgeon who worked round the clock for three days without a break, as other doctors were unable to come.

The small hospital was flooded with 100 patients on the first day of the riots. The next day 22 dead bodies, three burnt to death by mobs and 19 killed in police firing, were being taken from this small hospital to the bigger VS Hospital, as they did not have the facilities to preserve corpses. But barbarism prevailed, and the police shot dead the driver and arrested the co-driver on charges of possessing a bomb, as informed by Dr. Kazi.

‘‘It was very sad because we had only one driver who volunteered to take the dead bodies to VS Hospital. After that we were unable to transport the other patients for further treatment. I was the only surgeon. We faced lot of problems as patients suffering from orthopaedic injuries, bullet injuries or those requiring blood transfusion had to be taken to a bigger hospital for better treatment. Later, a few chemists around the hospital gave us drugs. During the 1992 riots when the hospital was not constructed, patients had to undergo a lot of amputations. But this time, not even a single patient had to undergo amputation’’, as their hospital was well equipped, which was some consolation to him.

It is said that Gujarat always recovers soon after it burns, or that is what the Gujaratis want to believe. It will take a while for the scars to heal and vanish, and for people to get back to their normal routine. Many people are convinced that these disturbances have been caused by outsiders.

Religion is endangered when man no longer acts as a friend with his fellow men. It is endangered when people who claim kinship with God, ask for special privileges and try to obtain these even by force and bloodshed.

In May 1996, G.V.G. Krishnamurthy, the then Election Commissioner, had warned that if the current trend of political parties opting for candidates with criminal background continued, which we all know has been the case these last few years, there would soon be 350 criminals as members of the Lok Sabha out of its total strength of 543 MPs. In which case, he said, ‘‘our democracy would be called a democracy of the criminals, by the criminals, and for the criminals, and also, of the corrupt, by the corrupt, and for the corrupt’’.

It is evident that ‘‘criminals and corruption’’ is the root cause of all these disturbances which have spread across the country. Such people can stoop to any level when in power.

I. K. Gujral, ex-Prime Minister, in his speech delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15th August, 1997, said:

‘‘Let us defy those who want bribes. Let us fight them at every level every day’’.

Above all, let us not elect them to power.

Owing to its topicality, ‘Up In Flames?replaces ‘Don’t Write Me Off!? which will be published in the next issue.

Thank you, Lord!

Even though I clutch my blanket and growl when the alarm rings, thank you, Lord, that I can hear. There are many who are deaf.

Even though I keep my eyes closed against the morning light as long as possible, thank you, Lord, that I can see. Many are blind.

Even though I huddle in my bed and put off rising, thank you, Lord, that I have the strength to rise. There are many who are bedridden.

Even though the first hour of my day is hectic, when socks are lost, toast is burned and tempers are short, my children are so loud, thank you, Lord, for my family. There are many who are lonely.

Even though our breakfast table never looks like the pictures in magazines and the menu is at times unbalanced, thank you, Lord, for the food we have. There are many who are hungry.

Even though the routine of my job is often monotonous, thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to work. There are many who are jobless.

Even though I grumble and bemoan my fate from day to day and wish my circumstances were not so modest, thank you, Lord, for life.

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