In 2002, in the wake of the terrible communal violence in Gujarat, India, writer and social activist Arundhati Roy wrote a powerful essay, which has been lingering in my mind after violence broke out in Rakhine State, and came back forcefully upon hearing the news of the anti muslim riots in Meiktila, Central Burma/Myanmar.What Arundhati Roy wrote: `… Last night a friend from Baroda[i] called. Weeping. It took her fifteen minutes to tell me what the matter was. It wasn't very complicated. Only that Sayeeda, a friend of hers, had been caught by a mob. Only that her stomach had been ripped open and stuffed with burning rags. Only that after she died, someone carved 'OM' on her forehead.
Precisely which Hindu scripture preaches this?
Our Prime Minister justified this as part of the retaliation by outraged Hindus against Muslim 'terrorists' who burned alive 58 Hindu passengers on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra. Each of those who died that hideous death was someone's brother, someone's mother, someone's child. Of course they were.
Which particular verse in the Quran required that they be roasted alive?
The more the two sides try and call attention to their religious differences by slaughtering each other, the less there is to distinguish them from one another. They worship at the same altar. They're both apostles of the same murderous god, whoever he is. In an atmosphere so vitiated, for anybody, and in particular the Prime Minister, to arbitrarily decree exactly where the cycle started is malevolent and irresponsible. Right now we're sipping from a poisoned chalice—a flawed democracy laced with religious fascism. Pure arsenic.
What shall we do? What can we do?
We have a ruling party that's haemorrhaging. Its rhetoric against Terrorism, the passing of POTA[ii], the sabre-rattling against Pakistan (with the underlying nuclear threat), the massing of almost a million soldiers on the border on hair-trigger alert, and most dangerous of all, the attempt to communalise and falsify school history text-books—none of this has prevented it from being humiliated in election after election .…
Within hours of the Godhra outrage, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal[iii] put into motion a meticulously planned pogrom against the Muslim community. Officially the number of dead is 800. Independent reports put the figure at well over 2,000. More than a hundred and fifty thousand people, driven from their homes, now live in refugee camps. Women were stripped, gang-raped, parents were bludgeoned to death in front of their children. Two hundred and forty dargahs and 180 masjids were destroyed—in Ahmedabad the tomb of Wali Gujarati, the founder of the modern Urdu poem, was demolished and paved over in the course of a night. The tomb of the musician Ustad Faiyaz Ali Khan was desecrated and wreathed in burning tyres. Arsonists burned and looted shops, homes, hotels, textiles mills, buses and private cars. Hundreds of thousands have lost their job.
A mob surrounded the house of former Congress MP Iqbal Ehsan Jaffri. His phone calls to the Director-General of Police, the Police Commissioner, the Chief Secretary, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) were ignored. The mobile police vans around his house did not intervene. The mob broke into the house. They stripped his daughters and burned them alive. Then they beheaded Ehsan Jaffri and dismembered him. Of course it's only a coincidence that Jaffri was a trenchant critic of Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, during his campaign for the Rajkot Assembly by-election in February.
Across Gujarat, thousands of people made up the mobs. They were armed with petrol bombs, guns, knives, swords and tridents. Apart from the VHP and Bajrang Dal's usual lumpen constituency, Dalits and Adivasis[iv] took part in the orgy. Middle-class people participated in the looting . …
The leaders of the mob had computer-generated cadastral lists marking out Muslim homes, shops, businesses and even partnerships. They had mobile phones to coordinate the action. They had trucks loaded with thousands of gas cylinders, hoarded weeks in advance, which they used to blow up Muslim commercial establishments. They had not just police protection and police connivance, but also covering fire.
While Gujarat burned, our Prime Minister was on MTV promoting his new poems. It took him more than a month—and two vacations in the hills—to make it to Gujarat. When he did, shadowed by the chilling Mr. Modi, he gave a speech at the Shah Alam refugee camp. His mouth moved, he tried to express concern, but no real sound emerged except the mocking of the wind whistling through a burned, bloodied, broken world. Next we knew, he was bobbing around in a golf-cart, striking business deals in Singapore. …
At the Goa meeting of the BJP's national executive[v], the Prime Minister of Secular, Democratic India, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, made history. He became the first Indian Prime Minister to cross the threshold and publicly unveil an unconscionable bigotry against Muslims, which even George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld would be embarrassed to own up to. "Wherever Muslims are," he said, "they do not want to live peacefully." Shame on him.
But if only it were just him: in the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat holocaust, confident of the success of its 'experiment', the BJP wants a snap poll. "The gentlest of people," my friend from Baroda said to me, "the gentlest of people, in the gentlest of voices, says 'Modi is our hero.'"[vi]
But in India if you are a butcher or a genocidist who happens to be a politician, you have every reason to be optimistic. No one even expects politicians to be prosecuted. To demand that Modi and his henchmen be arraigned and put away, would make other politicians vulnerable to their own unsavoury pasts—so instead they disrupt Parliament, shout a lot, eventually those in power set up commissions of inquiry, ignore the findings and between themselves make sure the juggernaut chugs on. …’
Obviously, there are a lot of differences between what happened in India in 2002, and what is happening in Burma/Myanmar since the end of 2012. But still, let’s hope and pray and – most importantly – let’s work towards a Burma that doesn’t copy the flawed democracy of its big neighbor, with its violent outburst of communal hatred condoned by those in power, and it’s terrible social injustices.full text of Roy’s essay:http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?215477
[i] Baroda is a town in Gujarat
[ii] POTA – Prevention of terrorism Act, adopted in 2002, extending powers of prosecution against those suspected of being terrorists.
[iii] Hinduist inspired civil organisations
[iv] Casteless hindus and tribal people
[v] This meeting took place not long after the riots in Gujarat
[vi] Narandra Modi is still chief minister of Gujarat and a possible candidate for PM in the upcoming national election