I have come back with a heavy heart
- August 1, 2005
Since 2002, every time I have been to Gujarat, I have come back with a heavy heart. It’s not easy to go to a state where less than 4yrs. ago over 2000 Muslims (more than 800 in Ahmedabad alone) were killed and more than 250,000 of them ended up in makeshift refugee camps, many of whom still fear to go back to their home and many have no homes left.
Over 180 mosques and shrines were razed to the ground and graveyards desecrated. In some rural areas entire settlements were wiped out leaving no one to even bury the dead. The level of sexual violence against women of all ages was unprecedented. So, at some level figures don’t mean anything.
The legacy of loss left behind for generations of Muslims can never be quantified or truly compensated. This was no ordinary “riot”, far from being a spontaneous combustion of violence. In India, the ‘Gujarat carnage’ has become a metaphor for states of mind that tolerate violence and prejudice. And strangely nothing much has changed since then as the divide has taken roots so deep that there is not even remorse in the air. Of course on the surface it’s all very normal and peaceful!
Last week I was invited to Ahmedabad to give a talk to about 900 students, many of whom were there to defy reason and defend the violence that has marred history. It wasn’t an easy task as I didn’t want to start in a manner that would pull their shutters down before even peace would get a chance. It was a journey that we all took together. I wasn’t ambitious…just wanted to talk about the basics of humanism and at least reduce apathy and dispel the false notion of normalcy. I chose an interactive session over simply giving a talk. Some very pertinent and predictably violent questions came up, and I am glad they did, as they gave me an opportunity to address them. And by the end of 2 hours, there was a glimmer of hope in the air. I kept my fingers crossed that the innate goodness of people would take over the feelings of hatred and prejudice. Well the seeds have to be sown for it to take roots. In any case we can’t afford to be cynical, as optimism is our only hope.